For those of you scratching your head in confusion to where on earth the British Overseas Territory of the Pitcairn Islands actually are, you need not think that this is part of the Outer Hebrides or perhaps even an offshoot of the Falklands. Basking in the Pacific Ocean with miles upon miles of sea water on either side of the group of islands, it’s closest neighbour happens to be the more notable Tahiti (encased within French Polynesia). The history of the Pitcairn Islands group is a curious one, perhaps best exemplified in the drama epic ‘Munity on the Bounty’ (1935) and it’s numerous remakes. To cut an extremely long story short, the HMS Bounty sailed on an experimental mission to retrieve breadfruit from Tahiti and deliver it to the West Indies, so it could be cultivated to feed the slaves working on the plantations. However disgruntlement with the captain of the HMS Bounty led to a mutiny in 1789 several few weeks after leaving Tahiti and this lead Captain Bligh, and a few loyal seamen to paddle away on their own from the ship eventually back to England. The remaining crew unexpectedly discovered the Pitcairn Islands and settled with their Polynesian concubines. The HMS Bounty was later burnt upon arrival, leading to a permanent population in the Pitcairn Islands.
As much as it pains me to simplify the famous Mutiny on the Bounty story, it is extremely easy to simplify what happened after the settlement. The population of the territory (which Britain eventually annexed in the 1850’s) grew, and the only inhabited island of the Pitcairn Group soon grew too big for it’s boots and suffered overcrowding. The British government offered the islanders some extra space in Norfolk Island, which lay roughly between Australia and New Zealand, and many of the islanders took up this offer. Unfortunately, immigration to Norfolk Island was not a fruitful endeavour and a majority of the inhabitants returned back to Pitcairn. The anticipated wave of emigration finally took hold after the 1930’s, when the population peaked at 233. Many islanders sought greater opportunities, particularly in New Zealand and the population has since dwindled to only 56 people today.
The ‘Modern’ relationship between the Pitcairn Islands and Britain is on much friendlier terms than in the 1790’s. Interestingly, the British government sees potential in it’s remote outpost in the pacific and this came especially after the public relations disaster during the Pitcairn sexual assault trials back in 2004 when 7 men went on trial for various suggestive offences. Over 10 years on, Pitcairn is in a much better place. There is a regular tourist vessel to dispatch adventure seekers to the far-flung island, providing much needed finance to the inhabitants. Honey production on Pitcairn has become a full fledged cottage industry, with Queen Elizabeth supposedly being a fan of sweet stuff from the South Pacific. Whilst the most recent developments in Pitcairn sounds rosy and upbeat- there is now an even bigger issue the territory has to contend with- extinction.
With the birth rate being so low, and the emigration rate steady, the Pitcairn Islands face a demographic crisis. When news reached the Foreign and Commonwealth office in London, the mother country had a card up it’s sleeve- to encourage immigration to Pitcairn. On the Pitcairns Government website, you could actually apply to become a resident of Pitcairn as long as you are of working age and have a skill. In a Robinson Crusoe-style campaign, you could actually have the opportunity to escape your miserable grey existence in a cold damp country, and start a new pioneer’s existence on a tropical island! Of course you are expected to actually settle there, not just as an expatriate, and your job is to contribute to the islands population growth. Britain’s foreign policy is not just focused on the Middle East, or the European Union, but appears to be more involved in its overseas territories then we might expect. These remnants of the British Empire may not be regarded as colonies no more, but the places coloured pink on the world map still have people living on them, as well as a voice, opinions and issues. So next time you are pushing a trolley full of Hob-Nobs in your dead end job at the Milton Keynes branch of ASDA, just remember that the Empire (or it’s remnants) needs YOU to re-populate it’s remote desert islands and to give them an even greater voice.
By Stuart Chapman, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.