The Pitcairn Islands, officially named the Pitcairn,
Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, form a group of four volcanic islands in the
southern Pacific Ocean. The islands are a British Overseas Territory (formerly
a British colony), the last remaining in the Pacific. The four islands are
spread over several hundred miles of ocean and have a total area of about 18
square miles (47 km2). Only Pitcairn, the second largest and measuring about 2
miles (3.2 km) across, is inhabited.
The original settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were
Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson for several
centuries. Ducie and Henderson Islands were discovered by Portuguese sailor
Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, sailing for the Spanish Crown, who arrived on 26
Pitcairn Island became a British colony in 1838 and was
among the first territories to extend voting rights to women. By the mid-1850s
the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the island and its leaders appealed to
the British government for assistance. They were offered Norfolk Island and on
3 May 1856, the entire community of 193 people set sail for Norfolk on board
the Morayshire, arriving after a miserable five-week trip. But after eighteen
months on Norfolk, seventeen of the Pitcairners returned to their home island;
five years later another twenty-seven did the same.
Since a population peak of 233 in 1937, the island has been
suffering from emigration, primarily to New Zealand, leaving some fifty people
living on Pitcairn.
The majority of the resident Pitcairn Islanders are the
descendants of the “HMS Bounty” mutineers in 1789 and Tahitians (or
Polynesians). Pitkern is a creole language derived from 18th century English,
with elements of the Tahitian language. 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.