At the farthest extremity of the Polynesian family lies the famous Pitcairn Island. It is an irregular pyramid of volcanic rock two miles in diameter, with shores almost inaccessible, except in one place. Its soil is fertile, and it shares the rich vegetable growth of its distant companions. In the year 1790 this lonely island became the asylum of certain British sailors, of the ship “Bounty,” who had mutinied against the tyrannical rule of their officers. After setting the captain and his party adrift in a small boat, they took charge of the ship, and sailed her back to Tahiti, which they had lately left. Some of the crew chose to remain there. The others, being joined by some native men and women, sailed in search of the little lone island of whose whereabouts the world had nothing more than a hint. Having been fortunate in finding it, they effected a landing, destroyed the ship, and sunk her guns. But trouble arose in the party, which finally resulted in murder. The quarrel proceeded until but four males were left upon the island. One of these, having succeeded in distilling a spirit from the fermented sap of the ti tree, gave himself up to inebriety, and in this state fell over a cliff, and was killed. Another one of the remaining men likewise became an inebriate, and was finally put out of the way by the two survivors.
These two survivors were named Young and Adams, the former of whom soon died. Among the effects saved from the “Bounty” were a Bible and a prayer-book. While a boy, Adams had learned to read and write in the streets of London. He now began to read the Bible, and collecting the children of the little community, he formed a school, and taught them, as well as the whole settlement, to read the Scriptures. Public worship was established after the forms of the Church of England. The tone of morals was at once improved, and when the island was visited in 1808 and 1814, a model community was found dwelling in peace, and cherishing the principles and practices of purity. Since that time the island has been visited at quite regular intervals. In 18i1 all the inhabitants were taken off to Tahiti, but not being satisfied, they returned a few months later to their lonely, rocky island. In 1852-3 a dry season prevailed, and the island having become quite crowded, the people reluctantly consented to go to Norfolk Island, situated to the north of New Zealand, but this migration did not prove wholly satisfactory. A few years later two families, consisting of sixteen persons, returned to their old home. These have been joined by others, and the two islands have since remained closely related, though widely separated. The population of Pitcairn is now a little over one hundred.
The principles implanted in the hearts of the people by Adams were not suffered to die out by those on Pitcairn, but since that time they have lived in the enjoyment of the fruits of peace. In their simplicity they have, to a great extent, had all things in common, together striving for mutual improvement. Passing vessels and the regular visits of the British war ships have kept them in touch with the outer world, yet sufficiently isolated from its contaminations.
In the year 1886, Mr. John I. Tay, of San Francisco, obtained a passage to the island, and was welcomed by its inhabitants. He was an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. As the result of his visit, the majority of the people of the island accepted the faith he taught, and within a few months the remainder fell in with the new-found faith. The revolution, though sudden and complete, was accomplished peacefully, and to the entire satisfaction of all concerned.
The people whose agent originated this movement, had but just begun their work in the Pacific Islands. They had established a society at Honolulu, and this was their second effort in Oceania. Since that time they have built and operated a missionary vessel named “Pitcairn.” Their missionaries have visited many of the islands, and their work is now established in several of them. This people form but a comparatively small body, but their activity is greater, in proportion, than their numbers, for although their history dates only from 1846, they are now found in all parts of the world.
The name they have adopted suggests the principal peculiarities of their faith. They observe the seventh-day Sabbath in harmony with the literal reading of the fourth command ment of the decalogue. Going back to creation, we learn that God created all things in six days. In commemoration of that work, he sanctified the seventh day as the Sabbath, thus forming the week. The Seventh-day Adventists claim that there is no scriptural account or authority for the change of the Sabbath, but that it was instituted by the church after her apostasy, and therefore that as Christ and the apostles kept the ancient Sabbath, and did not sanction the change, Christians ought to keep the seventh day as God commanded.
By their study of the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments this people are convinced that these are the last days, and that the second coming of Christ is near. This belief gives fervor to their work. As Christians they are thoroughly evangelical. They inculcate the principles of gospel truth. Their interpretation of the Scriptures is plain, simple, and largely literal. Consequently it is not to be wondered at that in the simplicity of faith the islanders readily adopted their teachings, and the observance of the seventhday Sabbath of the Bible. The effect of the change has not been detrimental to the islanders in any way. Those who were addicted to the use of tobacco and other bad habits, discontinued them, and a more careful and earnest Christian life was instituted, which resulted shortly in the conversion of nearly if not quite every soul on the island. A school has been established by the denomination. The missionary spirit has also come upon them, and there are now several of their number preparing in various ways to work for the good and uplifting of their fellow beings on other islands.
There is, perhaps, no other part of the world where Christianity can show such evident fruits as in Oceania. In many instances the people, as a body, have accepted the religion brought them by the white men. It is true that it has in many instances been in a very nominal way, and it is also true that with the introduction of light, vices and wickedness have been brought in, but it shows that the people, as a race, are tractable and susceptible to good influences. Moreover it is true here, as in other places, that where the gospel gathers its trophies for eternal life, sin and vice mark their victims for degradation and death.