Pitcairn Islanders

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Pitcairn Islanders
Pitkern Ailena
Total population
800-1,000 worldwide[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Pitcairn Islands47 (2021)[2]
Norfolk Island484 (2016)[3]
 Australia262 (2016)[4]
 New Zealand48 (2018 birthplace)[5][6]
 United Kingdom30
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Related ethnic groups

Pitcairn Islanders, also referred to as Pitkerners and Pitcairnese, are the native inhabitants of the Pitcairn Islands, a British Overseas Territory including people whose families were previously inhabitants and maintaining cultural connections. Most Pitcairn Islanders are descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

The mainstream Pitcairn culture is a mixture of British (specifically English, Cornish, Manx and Scottish) and Polynesian (specifically Tahitian) cultures derived from the traditions of the settlers that landed in 1790, plus a few that settled afterwards.[7][8] As of 2021, there are a total of 47 people inhabiting the island.[1][9]

There is also a Pitcairnese diaspora, particularly in Norfolk Island, New Zealand and mainland Australia. Fearing overcrowding, in 1856 all 194 Pitkerners immigrated to Norfolk Island aboard the Morayshire (including a baby born en route) but 16 of them returned to Pitcairn on the Mary Ann in 1858, followed by a further four families in 1864.[10]


Early map of Pitcairn by Robert Bénard published in 1774.


Pitcairn Island was sighted on 3 July 1767 by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Carteret. The island was named after Scottish midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a fifteen-year-old crew member who was the first to sight the island.

“we discovered land to the northward of us. Upon approaching it the next day (Friday, 3 July), it appeared like a great rock rising from the sea... and it having been discovered by a young gentleman, son to Major Pitcairn of the Marines, we called it Pitcairn’s Island.”[11]

— Philip Carteret

These words, recorded in Carteret's log, describe the first sighting. Robert Pitcairn was a son of British marine major John Pitcairn, who later was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution.

Settlement of Pitcairn[edit]

In 1790, nine of the mutineers from the Bounty, along with the native Tahitian men and women who were with them (six men, eleven women and a baby girl), settled on Pitcairn Islands and set fire to the Bounty. The nine were Fletcher Christian, John Mills, William Brown, Isaac Martin, John Williams, John Adams, William McCoy, Matthew Quintal, and Edward Young.

The wreck is still visible underwater in Bounty Bay, discovered in 1957 by National Geographic explorer Luis Marden. Although the settlers survived by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by serious tensions among them. Alcoholism, murder, disease and other ills took the lives of most mutineers and Tahitian men. John Adams and Ned Young turned to the scriptures, using the ship's Bible as their guide for a new and peaceful society. Young eventually died of an asthmatic infection. The Polynesians also converted to Christianity (Church of England). After the rediscovery of Pitcairn, John Adams was granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny.[12]

Population history[edit]

Year Population
1790 27
1800 34 (two men and nine women from the Bounty remain)
1810 50
1820 66
1830 70
1840 119
1850 146 (last person from the Bounty, Teraura died)
1856* 193 (uninhabited after emigration to Norfolk Island)
1859** 16 (lowest, after first group returns from Norfolk Island)
1870 70
1880 112
1890 136
1900 136
1910 140
1920 163
1930 190
1936 250 (highest)
1940 163
1950 161
1960 126
1970 96
1975 74
1980 61
1985 58
1986 68
1987 59
1988 55
1989 55
1990 59
1991 66
1992 54
1993 57
1994 54
1995 55
1996 43
1997 40
1998 66
1999 46
2000 51
2001 44
2002 48
2003 59
2004 65
2005 63
2006 65
2007 64
2008 66
2009 67
2010 64
2011 67
2012 48
2013 55
2014 56
2015 -
2016 49
2017 -
2018 50
2021 47


Pitcairn Islanders in 1916.


As a result of the families who returned to the island starting in 1859 after settling Norfolk Island, most names therefore are descended from those six families. Occasionally a new person would arrive on the island bringing with them a new surname such as the American Samuel Russell Warren born 1830 in Rhode Island, U.S., fathered children with Agnes Christian (daughter of Thursday October Christian II), whose descendants still live on the island today.[14] The McCoy surname (from the mutineer William McCoy) died out in 1973 with the death of Violet McCoy, who had married Floyd Hastings McCoy, a great-great grandson of William.[15][16]

List of surnames in 2016[17]
Rank Surname Population Origins
1 Christian 15 Manx, English
2 Warren 10 English
3 Warren-Peu 6 English-Polynesian
4 Brown 4 English
5 Young 3 Manx,[18] English
6 Lupton-Christian 2 Manx, English
6 Griffiths 2 Welsh
7 Evans 1 Welsh
7 Jaques 1 French
7 Menzies 1 Scottish
7 O'Keefe 1 Irish
7 Peu 1 Polynesian


Hattie Andre's school, Pitcairn Island.

The once-strict moral codes, which prohibited dancing, public displays of affection, smoking, and consumption of alcohol, have been relaxed in recent years. Islanders and visitors no longer require a six-month licence to purchase, import, and consume alcohol.[19] There is now one licensed café and bar on the island, and the Government Store sells alcohol and cigarettes.[citation needed]

Fishing and swimming are two popular recreational activities. A birthday celebration or the arrival of a ship or yacht will involve the entire Pitcairn community in a public dinner in the Square, Adamstown.[citation needed] Tables are covered in a variety of foods, including fish, meat, chicken, philhi, baked rice, boiled plun (banana), breadfruit, vegetable dishes, an assortment of pies, bread, breadsticks, an array of desserts, pineapple and watermelon.[citation needed]

Public work ensures the ongoing maintenance of the island's numerous roads and paths. The island has a labour force of over 35 men and women (as of 2011).[20]


The majority of the resident Pitcairn Islanders are the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Tahitians (or other Polynesians). Pitkern is a creole language derived from 18th-century English, with elements of the Tahitian language.[20][21] It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside standard English at the island's only school. It is closely related to the creole language Norfuk, spoken on Norfolk Island, because Norfolk was repopulated in the mid-19th century by Pitcairners.


Church of Adamstown.

The entire population is Seventh-day Adventist.[20] A successful Seventh-day Adventist mission in the 1890s was important in shaping Pitcairn society. In recent years, the church has declined, with only about eight islanders worshipping regularly, but most of them still attend church on special occasions.[22] The Sabbath is observed as a day of rest and as a mark of respect for observant Adventists.

The church was built in 1954 and is run by the Church board and resident pastor, who usually serves a two-year term. The Sabbath School meets at 10 am on Saturday mornings, and is followed by Divine Service an hour later. On Tuesday evenings there is another service in the form of a prayer meeting.



The 2016 census showed that there were a total of 746 people with Pitcairn ancestry. However, this includes the population claiming Pitcairn descent in Norfolk Island.[23] There were 262 people of Pitcairn ancestry for the usually resident population in other states and territories of Australia (notably Queensland and New South Wales).[24]

In the 2011 Australian census, there were 75 people speaking the Pitkern language (also called Pitcairnese) at home, an increase of 21% from the 2006 census which had 62 people speaking the language.[25]

Norfolk Island[edit]

The 2016 Australian census included Norfolk Island for the first time. It showed that 20.0% or 484 people claimed Pitcairn ancestry.[26] As in previous censuses, the 2011 Census asked a question relating to Pitcairn descent. Though for the first time, the 2011 Norfolk Island Census focuses on the Pitcairn descent of the "ordinarily resident population" rather than the "permanent population" of previous Censuses. 45.0 percent of the permanent population are of Pitcairn descent and 38.4 percent of the ordinarily resident population were of Pitcairn descent.[27] Thus for every two persons of Pitcairn descent, there are three persons of non-Pitcairn descent in the ordinarily resident population on Norfolk Island.[28] Norfolk's Pitcairn descendants are already at least 7th or 8th generation, and those in younger age groups are probably 9th generation and the affinity with their heritage is naturally waning.[10]

New Zealand[edit]

In the most recent 2018 census, 48 of the ‘usual residents population’ were born in Pitcairn island.[29] In 2013 the Pitcairn Islander ethnic group comprised 177 people. 80.7 percent were born in New Zealand with 36 born overseas - 91.7% on Pitcairn Island. Between 2006 and 2013, the population decreased by 13.4 percent. This compares with an increase of 15.5 percent between 2001 and 2006.[30]

  • 96.6 percent lived in the North Island and 1.7 percent lived in the South Island.
  • The most common region this group lived in was Wellington Region (59.3 percent).
  • The median age (half are younger and half are older than this age) was 37.2 years.
  • 81.9 percent were born in New Zealand and 19.4 percent were born overseas.[31]

Ethnic identity:

  • 27.1 percent said Pitcairn Islander was their only ethnicity.
  • 35.6 percent said they belonged to two ethnic groups and 37.3 percent said they belonged to three or more ethnic groups.

Notable Pitcairn Islanders[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Official Pitcairn Immigration and Repopulation Web Site Community". Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Pitcairn Islands Tourism | Come Explore... The Legendary Pitcairn Islands". Visitpitcairn.pn. Archived from the original on 19 September 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  3. ^ 2016 Census QuickStats – Norfolk Island – Ancestry, top responses
  4. ^ Census and Census Data, Australia - 2016 - Understanding ancestry in the Norfolk Island population
  5. ^ "2018 New Zealand census". 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  6. ^ Born in Cook Islands
  7. ^ "The People of Pitcairn Island". Government of the Pitcairn Islands. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  8. ^ "Pitcairn's History". Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  9. ^ "Pitcairn Islands Tourism Come Explore... The Legendary Pitcairn Islands". Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  10. ^ a b www.government.pn Pitcairn Island Diaspora Survey (2014)
  11. ^ History of Pitcairn Island - Government of the Pitcairn Islands
  12. ^ "Pitcairn's History". The Government of the Pitcairn Islands. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  13. ^ Pitcairn Islands Tourism - Come Explore... The Legendary Pitcairn Islands
  14. ^ "TIMOTHY YOUNG TULL about SAMUEL WARREN" (PDF). Pitcairn News. 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  15. ^ "Last of the McCoys". Pacific Islands Monthly. November 1963. p. 125. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  16. ^ "Mrs Violet McCoy". Pacific Islands Monthly. November 1973. p. 109. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  17. ^ "Pitcairn Residents". library.puc.edu. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Individual Page". Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  19. ^ Pitcairn Island Government Ordinance. government.pn
  20. ^ a b c "CIA World Factbook – Pitcairn Islands". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  21. ^ Pitcairn Island. Encyclopædia Britannica
  22. ^ "Turning Point for Historic Adventist Community on Pitcairn Island" 30 September 2006
  23. ^ 2016 Census QuickStats - Norfolk Island - Ancestry, top responses
  24. ^ 2016 census Data, Australia - Understanding ancestry in the Norfolk Island population
  25. ^ www.omi.wa.gov.au The people of Australia.The People of Australia - Statistics from the 2011 Census (Page: 32) Archived 29 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ 2016 Census QuickStats - Norfolk Island - Ancestry, top responses
  27. ^ The Norfolk Island 2011 Census Addendum to the Norfolk Island 2011 Census Report
  28. ^ 2011 Norfolk Island Census Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Ordinarily Resident Population of Pitcairn Descent (Page 16)
  29. ^ "2018 New Zealand census". 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  30. ^ Ethnic group profile: Pitcairn Islander - 2013 New Zealand census
  31. ^ "Pitcairn Islander ethnic group". stats.govt.nz. Retrieved 12 January 2021.