Wednesday, June 20, 2012

1821 visit of the Surry to Pitcairn Island

We have received another wonderful donation to the Museum. Belinda Cohen from NSW has sent us a CD with photographs her grandmother Muriel Ramsay took while living on the island for a year in 1925. Belinda says that Muriel came here for a year after her husband died and while she doesn’t know what she did while here on the island, from the look of her photographs she certainly led a very busy social life! If anyone has information on Muriel’s time on the island we would love to hear from you.

Belinda also has a link to Pitcairn Island. Her great great grandfather David Ramsay visited the island when a ship’s surgeon on the Surry when it stopped at Pitcairn in 1821. The Captain of the ship was Thomas Raine and he recorded the visit to Pitcairn in his log, as did Dr Ramsay. While Dr Ramsay did not go ashore he copied much of Captain Raine’s visit into his own record of the visit. This document was left by Dr Ramsay in the office of the firm, Raine and Ramsay, and so came into the possession of the Raine family (of Raine and Horne Real Estate). It was then transcribed in 1961 by Jean Marginson and subsequently typed up by Belinda.

This extract is from Dr Ramsay’s account:

April 11th  This morning the Weather cleared up, at 8 a.m. saw Pitcairn Island right ahead, altho’ 55 miles dist. At 4 p.m. close up with it, and altho we saw many cultivated spots no habitations presented themselves. We hauled our Wind intended round the South East point, in  a little while to our great astonishment we saw the British Flag hoisted, we immediately laid along that part of the Island, and in a few minutes after a Canoe came alongside with two Men, who asked us in good English “How you all do” – we hove to and they came on board. Their names were Edward Quintal and George Young – two more Canoes also shortly came alongside in which were Donald McKay and Charles Christian – Robert Young and Edward Young who were equally kind and warm in their salutations – The effect which the appearance of these men had on all of us is difficult to describe, they were quite naked except for a covering round the middle, so neatly put on – the most delicate eye could not be offended. – Here we saw the features of Englishmen and heard them talk in our Native tongue and their colour was so light, that it appeared more the effect of the sun than the Mixture of Blood. As the night was coming on we prepared to depart, upon seeing which they begged Capt. Raine in so earnest and warm a manner to stay the night with them and in the morning they would procure us a good supply of Yams, bananas, etc. – that he consented to their Wishes. – Accordingly the Gig was Lowered down and the Capt. Doctor and Mr. Powers went on shore, in Company with the Canoes…

April 12th 1820 … 11 A.M. Cutter returned, loaded with all sorts of fruit, bringing some Men and Women, who appeared to be very happy, the men were pulling the Boats and the women chanting a bit of an old Song. Some few Words of which I caught they were these “When I am single then I’m free, Love shall never conquer me,” – the Dress of the Women was neat, it was composed of a large piece of cloth made fast just under their bosoms and extended to below the Knee, and their hair which was a bright black hung in curls down their back and laid on their breasts – they were very pretty women and might have vied with many of our beauties at home…

At 6 P.M. Captn. Raine came on board accompanied with 3 Canoes one man in them and young Adams came in the Gig. From this time we were engaged till 8 o’clock in talking and bidding them farewell. Their conversation evinced a great deal of Simplicity and Innocence. They were very happy to see us, and if we were good men and did as God bid us, we should see each other in a far happier world, so one of them told me in a very feeling manner, but, added he, if you do not love God and do as the Bible bidde (sic) you you go to a very bad place – all fire. – As they were in want of books we contrived to give them as many as we could spare, several spelling books, Prayer Books, Bibles and Tracts etc., were what best suited them.- At 8 P.M. we lowered down their canoes and gave them three cheers, and which they returned with all the cheerfulness possible. As Captn. Raine was kind enough to let me see the Acct. he had drawn up of his “Welcome” on shore and his remarks on them and on the Island I took the opportunity of gaining his liberty to make a copy of it. Thinking it would highly amuse my dear Friends at home, and if they enjoy the reading of it as much as I did on seeing these people – I shall be double paid for my trouble in copying it.-

(from Captain Raine’s log)
…As soon as we got into the House we found the Women had not been idle, by the fine supper we saw provided viz – a fine large roasted pig, Yams, bananas, etc. and a pleasant beverage made from the Cocoa nut tree.

Old Adams I was glad to find had felt himself so much revived as to be enabled to join us. When these good people who knew not how to express their joy with their company, having seated us all round at table… they then spread some plantain leaves on the floor and they sat down in a ring for their supper also, leaving two or three of the women to attend upon us.- thus being all seated  - Adams said Grace for our table and one of them for theirs… Supper being finished before anyone arose Grace was again said as I before remarked, they were as cheerful as possible. The women now entertained us with an Otaheitean Dance in which the expression of the eyes and the movement of the hands have the greatest share…

On retiring to Bed they all assembled but at their own Habitations, sang a Psalm and said their Prayers, concluded with a Hymn and then an end to Mirth. We were provided with very comfortable Beds in a room upstairs, about 25 ft. long and 15 broad – in a corner of which stood a Bed place, the Bed consisted of dry leaves very soft and comfortable, and the sheets were Otaheitean cloth – which answered the purpose extremely well….

At present many of them read very well and are very fond of it – for they frequently took their Bibles up, and we heard them read several chapters – none of them can write, nor do I think they ever will, unless someone remains with them to teach them – altho’ Adams can write, he is now too old to undertake to teach them. In this conversation with Young his Brothers joined and they all repeatedly expressed “that we wish to do what is right and suppose this Man come we pay great attention and do everything he tells us – two years now since we heard this Man coming, so we think now he never come.” – I told them when I went home I would do my best to get one sent out to them, when they said in great joy “oh you good Captain you never forget us we never forget you”.-

The simplicity and genuine goodness so manifest in all these poor fellows conduct and expressions filled me with Admiration.- to one another was such brotherly affection evinced – such a willingness to comply with each other’s wishes that quarrelling appeared almost impossible. This remark I made to Adams who confirmed it by saying they were the happiest people in the world he thought – for as we then saw them so they always were, and one of their greatest pleasures is having an opportunity in doing good to each other…In their conversation they were always anxious for information on the Scriptures and expressed their sorrow they did not understand all they read.

The following is a list of the ships which have touched at this Island since the settlement of Adams. The Topaz Captn Folger – an American, his was the first vessel they had communication with for Adams told our Captain that some years before this they saw two vessels, one passed the Island, the other landed and cut some Wood and procured some Water. He thinks this last one knew of the inhabitants, but had no communication. The next was the English frigate Britton – 1814.- The Sutton, American – Hercules, an English country Ship.- The Elizabeth English, South Seaman which vessel touched here twice, and the Stanton, American Whaler and lastly ourselves in the Surry, making in all Seven Ships in the course of Thirty Years”.

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