Lonely Port

Chapter 3 

 Discovery at Pitcairn

It seemed that there was no hope. The past was following them too closely. Liquor and passion were bringing the lawlessness of civilization to this once-peaceful island.

Of all the men once on the island, John Adams now stood alone. What was he to do? The future seemed dark and bleak. There must be an answer.

With eleven women and twenty-three children on the island, sons and daughters of his companions, Adams began to realize that he had a great responsibility to lead them into a better way of life. Going down one day to Christian's Cave, he lay down and spent some time gazing out across his island home and over the waters that stretched to the great beyond. He thought over the experiences of the past, and recalled the many happy times when Christian had read to him from the Bible and they had talked about how the island might have a better way of life.

But while he was thinking on these things, he fell asleep. In his own words, he describes what followed: "I had a dream that changed my whole life. There seemed to be standing beside me an angel who spoke to me, warning me of my past life, and then he called me to repent and go down and train the children in the way of Christian's Bible." With this, he awoke and he seemed to feel the very presence of God about him. Kneeling there, he asked his Creator for forgiveness for the sins of a lifetime.

From that day on, he carried with him a deep and abiding repentance for his former way of life, and he tried not only to live on a higher level himself, but he also determined that he must help those young people learn of God as well. It was now the year 1800.

John Adams had four children of his own, but he was very much attached to Fletcher Christian's eldest son. This boy had been the first to be born on the island, and because he was born on a Thursday in October, his father had named him Thursday October Christian. By now Thursday was ten years of age. Adams told him of the dream and Thursday asked that he might learn to read his father's Bible. Digging it out of the old sea chest, they went with it frequently to the cave and there in the Quietness of this shady den, they learned to read.

Sorry for his past life and zealous for the honor of God, this tough old sailor became a softened man and began to teach the minds of the younger people about him the love and fear of God. He prayed for them and conducted morning and evening worship, a custom that is still practiced on the island.

As the families of the island gathered morning and evening and studied the Word of God together, they grew strong in its messages. A depth of character and a firmness to do the right began to mark their bearing. A wonderful peace came into their lives, and with thankfulness of heart they determined never to return to the old ways of life.

From the Bible they learned their duty to be kind and helpful to one another. And they learned the importance of obedience to the will of God as revealed in His Word. Repeatedly, they found in Scripture that when the people of God did not obey His moral law, the results were always disastrous. Together, from the written Word, they found that which other civilizations of our time have yet to learn—that God means what He says, and that He sent His Son to enable man to obey all that He says. And that those who refuse obedience, will always suffer.

When it was suggested that a small school building be built, the five older boys—Thursday Christian, his brother Charles, Daniel McCoy, George Young, and Matthew Quintal—set to work and soon with the help of the younger boys their first school house was completed.  

At first the daily program consisted of study from the one Bible. These were happy times for all. On one occasion, Adams asked Arthur Quintal and Robert Young to prepare a plot of ground for some yams. When the ground was plowed, he offered them a little gunpowder. They both declined and said they would rather have some extra lessons out of the Bible, a request which he happily fulfilled.

Adams diligently sought to teach his people the importance of prayer—prayer for protection, prayer for guidance and the prayer of thanksgiving. On one occasion when he and some of the women went out fishing on the south side of the island, the surf broke their canoe. It was impossible to scale the cliffs, and so gathering them together he offered a simple prayer for strength to swim to a distant point All having reached it safely, they shared the story with the others at home. It was experiences such as this, combined with the daily study and prayer, that day by day strengthened and ennobled this quiet people of the Pitcairn.

Alone, Adams began every day with earnest prayer to God that he might guide his people aright. He had had no formal schooling, and as both pastor and teacher of the entire settlement, he felt his need of divine help. And it was given, day by day, as he needed it.

He was attentive to the needs of all. If any were ill, he went and prayed with them. Consistently, he asked God for help and then went forward and did what he knew to be right. On this island where looseness of morals and indifference to religion had once prevailed, a wonderful new way of life was being discovered. The sordid round of crime and treachery that had marred its early history were becoming only a memory, as a younger generation of a strange blood-mixture was growing to maturity, under the influence of the book that Adams had opened before them—the Book of God.

On September 17, 1814, quite by accident, two British frigates, the "Briton" and the "Tagus," arrived at Pitcairn. They were searching for a pirate ship, the "Essex," which had been seizing English whalers. Headed for Valparaiso from the Marquesas Islands, they suddenly came in sight of land that they were not expecting, for by an error in reckoning, they thought Pitcairn to be 200 miles distant. Adams recognized the flags and well knew that captains in command of British naval ships were not given to sentiment. Calling Thursday, he requested him to go out and meet the captains. So, accompanied by eighteen-year-old George Young, Thursday paddled out in a small canoe to the side of the "Briton." Captain Staines was astonished to hear Thursday call out in good English, “Won't you heave us a rope now?" Arriving on board, the mystery of how English-speaking people happened to be on this little island was quickly explained by the boys. Their deportment and natural, easy manners interested everyone. To the question, 'Who are you?" twenty-four-year-old Thursday replied with frankness, "I am Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian, the mutineer, by a Tahitian mother, and the first born on this island." They then ate lunch with the captain and he observed how they prayed before taking food. When asked, they told him that John Adams had taught them this. To these naval men this was amazing—the simple piety of these young men, living so far from all civilized lands, yet in the vicinity of islands whose peoples were sunken in heathenism and ignorance.

Both Captain Staines and Captain Pipon went ashore and saw the colony and interviewed Adams. He offered to return with them and stand trial in England for his part in the mutiny. Immediately the islanders gathered around and pled that he might remain. Both captains were deeply touched by the scene and resolved not to disturb the colony. Upon their return to England an official report was presented, with the request that Adams not be sought for. Since Bligh was now dead, it was decided that the case should remain closed.

On March 6,1829, John Adams peacefully passed to his rest at the age of sixty-five. And Thursday October Christian became the recognized leader of the island. With the passing of the years additional vessels stopped at the island and reported on the remarkable way of life to be found there, and the fact that it was directly attributable to the reading of the Bible.

New insights from the Word of God will continually be found by those who in humility and prayer search its pages. And this was to be the experience of the faithful Christians on the island of Pitcairn. Coming in at night from their gardens, they would study the Bible to learn more of its treasures.

In 1876, the little group came upon the truth that Jesus is soon to return to this earth for His own. How this cheered their hearts! All they had was the word of God but they knew that as they studied and trusted themselves to it, they would always be guided aright. 

Noble stories and wonderful principles were to be found in this Book of books. But the more they studied, the more they learned. In October of 1886, after checking and rechecking, they came upon the truth that Sunday sacredness was not to be found in the Bible. This came as something of a shock to them, as you might imagine, but additional reading confirmed this fact.

Thursday October Christian II (Thursday's son) was the leader of the island at the time. He and Simon Young, the beloved and respected elder of the church, were the first to accept this new Bible truth. And so it was that within a short time the church bell was no longer tolling on Sunday the first day, but on Saturday the seventh day, as it called the people to worship. For each of the families had studied it out for themselves and nearly all on the island had accepted the simple facts it taught about this.

Over the years, a better way of life had opened up before this quiet people who chose to pattern their lives according to the Bible. And as they studied, they learned a simple, Biblical way of life that has become a model for many in other lands.

It is of interest that in 1838 the Pitcairners drafted a constitution for the government of the island. Within it were enlightened laws, far in advance of the rest of the world. For example, as of 1838, every 18-year old might vote, but this did not come to the United States until 1971. England still does not have it. In 1838 women were granted the right to vote on Pitcairn. But not until 1920 in the United States and 1928 in Great Britain were women given equal voting rights.

After the first nine-year orgy of violence on Pitcairn, the island found the Bible and thereafter became a model of moral prosperity for the entire world. During those first years, while John Adams was the leader, his island had no written laws. They were not needed. Later when they began to appear, most of them dealt with crimes by or against animals: chickens digging up yam patches, etc. One important law prohibited liquor on the island. The reign of terror created by McCoy's tee-root (ti-root) whiskey was never to be forgotten. There is a jail on Pitcairn, because the British authorities thought one should be constructed. But none of the islanders can remember when it was last used. At this time, the iron door stands ajar, rusted tight in a half-open position. But no one sees any need to replace it.

In the story of Pitcairn, we find what the Bible can do for men and women. Ever since John Adams and Edward Young dug Fletcher Christian's Bible out of the old sea chest, the Word of God has played an important role in Pitcairn affairs. A recent Bible census noted that there were 247 Bibles on Pitcairn. This is about 3 for every man, woman, and child on the island. The pastor declares that the Bible is the best read book on the island, and he is probably right.

Would you like to live with the Pitcairners? We both would, I am sure. But though it may not be practical to move there, yet we can have the faith of the Pitcairners. For it is the Word of God hidden in their hearts and an open Bible before them, that is the real secret of the happiness of this little island in the South Pacific.

The story of Pitcairn has indeed been a fascinating one. It has explained mysteries but has uncovered still more. Now we must travel across the world in order to find the answers we are seeking. This trip will take us to other lands and other places, but this is necessary.

For we must now go back—beyond Pitcairn—to peoples and events of many centuries earlier.

And only then will we understand the mystery of Pitcairn.