Pitcairn Island's splendid isolation shattered by unwelcome arrival of 'malicious gossip-mongers'

For what seemed like an eternity, the vessel bringing the eyes of the outside world to Pitcairn hovered offshore, waiting for its occupants to be collected. Suddenly the longboat appeared, speeding through the South Pacific surf, steered by one of seven men facing British justice in the island's threadbare public hall tomorrow.

The media has come to Pitcairn, and the Pitcairners are not happy. The fabled island settled by Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers has spent two centuries shielding itself from publicity. Now the mask is about to be ripped off this strange and secretive place, with half of its menfolk going on trial on multiple child rape and sex abuse charges.

Few people have ever set foot on this isolated lump of volcanic rock located 3,300 miles east of New Zealand. Journalists were banned from the island, Britain's last colonial possession in the South Seas, many years ago. A notice outside the weatherboard public hall warns locals of the penalties of spreading "malicious gossip" to outsiders.

There had been rumours that the longboat, manned by locals familiar with the treacherous coastline, would refuse to pick up Pitcairn's most unwelcome visitors. But it was hard, perhaps, for the men to break the habits of a lifetime. The arrival of a boat is a major event, whether it brings supplies from New Zealand or cruise ship passengers to whom islanders can sell their carved wooden replicas of the Bounty .

Strong arms seized our luggage, and helped us into the longboat. At Bounty Bay, where the mutineers torched the ship to cover their traces, most of Pitcairn's population of 47 had turned out. The wharf was a hive of activity, with people feeding their pet frigate birds and shouting out to each other in Pitkern - the local dialect based on Polynesian and 18th century English.

The seven men, who are facing 55 charges including 14 counts of raping children, are still living freely in the community. On bail for the last 18 months, their labour is required to keep the island running. Even if convicted, they will be allowed out of the newly built six-cell jail under supervision to carry out essential work.

Pitcairn's most respected elder, Tom Christian - who, like many islanders, is directly descended from the mutineers - was happy to talk about the island's colourful history. But the criminal case, which has plunged the island into its biggest crisis since his ancestor arrived in 1790, was a more touchy subject.

"I can't wait to get this whole mess behind us and look to the future," said Mr Christian, 68, leaping aboard one of the three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles that are the only mode of transport on Pitcairn's rutted dirt roads. "In a small community like this, everything that happens affects everyone."

On the surface, daily life appears unchanged on Pitcairn, where the locals perform government jobs and grow fruit and vegetables in the fertile red volcanic soil. But beneath its placid exterior, this is a community at war with itself. In the village square of Adamstown, the only settlement on the island, stand a handful of public buildings including a library and post office. A carpet has been laid in the public hall, where the alleged victims of generations of abuse will give evidence from New Zealand by video-link.

Pitcairn's population has been almost doubled by the influx of lawyers, judges, court officials and police officers. The island is the most remote inhabited spot on earth, accessible only by a 36-hour voyage across the high seas from French Polynesia.

To glimpse the island for the first time is a curious feeling. This is a place so romanticised, so shrouded in myth and fiction, that to see it appear - after a day and a half at sea with only churning blue water in every direction - makes the flesh tingle.

It announces itself first as a tiny smudge on the horizon. This is what Christian must have seen as he scoured the South Pacific for a safe haven. As you get closer, the speck becomes a loaf-shaped chunk, two miles long by one mile wide, carpeted with coconut palms and Norfolk Island pines.

The island is surprisingly green and lush, ringed by a fortress of towering granite cliffs that descend to a rocky coastline lashed by high waves. A sign near the boatshed points to the "final resting-place of the Bounty ". Carved high into a granite hillside is Christian's Cave, where the Bounty's first mate - still revered by modern-day islanders - was said to have watched out for ships bringing British justice. Now, 214 years on, justice has finally arrived.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn