Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Wreck of the Khandeish on Pitcairn Island

Back in March this year we met with visitor Barry Guttridge (pictured) visiting with his Cameron Park Probus Group. Barry most kindly provided us with a copy of a letter written by his great, great, grandfather’s brother, Arthur Moreland White. In 1875 Arthur was a 22 year old Second Mate in the merchant navy on board the British ship the Khandeish when it was shipwrecked off the coast of Oeno Island, one of the Pitcairns Islands. Arthur’s letter was written to his sister Laura Phoebe White while on board the Ennerdale, the vessel that eventually took them back to San Francisco after spending 6 weeks marooned on Pitcairn Island. The letter provides a wonderful insight into life on Pitcairn including the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and, in particular, the musicality of the islanders.

After describing the luck of the crew to make it to their longboats immediately following the shipwrecking, and after 3 days sailing to find Pitcairn, he describes their welcome by the islanders: “indeed such kindness as we received on that island would put miserably to shame our own Countrymen at home”.

Over their six week stay the sailors became involved with the work of the island. White describes that his usual day included “to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and go up the mountain and get a load of wood, come down again with the Barrow, and after breakfast go up and plant yams or, Oval potatoes, or Indian Corn or else go fishing down the Rocks. We very seldom had any dinner on the island indeed there was such quantities of fruit growing that we did not want any. The oranges especially grow so thick, that they are a regular nuisance and fall down and we could not consume half of them, tho’ I think we used to go through about 1,000 per day among us. There are also Cocoa-nuts, Bread-Fruit plantations, Jack-Fruits, guavas, Rose-apples and many other fruits in abundance, tho I think the Cocoanut is the most indispensable Tree on the Island as they make Oil to burn and cook with, food for Fowls out of the refuse, thatch for their houses, and Brooms fro the Leaves and the wood for their building purposes”.

Further on White describes the inhabitants of the island: “There are 73 inhabitants at present on the island. Simon Young is looked up to and respected as the chief man among them; he is about 56 years old and has had 14 children, one of them was killed with Bishop Patterson on one of the South Sea Islands. He conducts the Service in Church on Sundays and teaches singing and also keeps school every day for the younger people from 10 till 2, he is the most unaffected, pious, simple man I ever came across. He has 3 grown up daughters viz Rossalind, Mary Ann and Johanna; they are all very pretty, with beautiful hair.

It is Rosey that composed the Poetry I am sending, she is a very clever Girl and has the sweetest voice I have ever heard, in fact all the people on the Island are splendid singers, they are all taught and sing in parts according to their voices, they have a singing School at Simon Young’s House every Sunday night for sacred Music. And such melody I never heard before in my life. They do not sing anything but sacred music. They have an accordion, two fiddles, and a Concertina on the island, and some of them can play them very well….”

“…The Islanders are just like goats, they go anywhere, they all go barefooted. I never had a pair of boots while I was there, except on Sundays, and they were lent to me, as I did not save any from the wreck….There are plenty of fowls, pigs, sand goats, on the island, also a few sheep. There are no cows, as the do not require them, they make excellent butter and milk out of the cocoanut…On Sundays they have a Sunday School from 7 till 9 in the morning, Church begins at ½ past 10, they use the English Church Service, and read a sermon afterwards. The Church is like one of their houses, but better furnish’d and is used for a School on Weekdays. Church again in the afternoon and at ½ past 2, and after Church School again till about 5. They then get supper, and after Supper the singing School till about 10. I wish you could have heard them singing. It was like being in Heaven, I never heard anything like it before. The Women dress vey simply “in white generally” with their hair in nets…The men are very good carpenters on the Island and I think can do anything they lay their hands to”.

When the time came to leave the Island White records the sorrow they all felt: ”…[Our last night] was a sorrowful night for all of us, as the people on the island had become like Brothers and Sisters and even dearer still to some of us. I never felt leaving home even as I felt leaving that loved Rock for it is no world “it is paradise” on earth, and I believe the people live as pure lives as it is possible for poor humanity to lead…I went in the last boat and then such crying and weeping as there was on the Boat they made a Baby of me ‘altho I am not much given to that sort of thing. I believe it is the first time any one cared for me”.

After arriving in San Francisco the Captain, Officers and crew of the Khandish told of their time on Pitcairn and of the needs of the islanders. Rosalind Amelia Young records in her book “The Mutiny of the Bounty and Story of Pitcairn Island 1790-1894  by a Native Daughter”, that “the generous citizens of San Francisco responded with such heartiness that contributions kept pouring in, and every useful and necessary article that was thought of,—cooking utensils, tinware of almost every description, cups, plates, spoons, etc., etc., wooden pails and tin pails,—testified to their large-hearted liberality. Clothing made and unmade, buttons, pins, needles, etc., almost enough to stock a respectable haberdasher's shop, were contributed to the immense stock of goods collected in response to the call of charity and benevolence. A good supply of flour, a luxury to the islanders, was sent by Captain Skelly of the Khandish, as his contribution to the general stock. As a crowning gift to the whole, a beautifully-toned organ, of the Mason & Hamlin Organ Company, was sent”.

Another of the crew of the Khandish Peter Butler, returned to Pitcairn and married the poetry writer “Rosey” - Rossalind Eliza Young. Our sincere thanks to Barry for the copy of this fabulous letter written by his common ancestor, Arthur Moreland White.

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