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Delving into the South Pacific island’s past, the authors chronicle its 10-year clash with the British legal system, which ripped apart a tiny society.
T he venerable Privy Council sits behind the usual barricades of modern life on prime London real estate at No. The court’s power has faded from its colonial heights, when one of its decisions banned suttee, the Hindu practice of burning the widow with her husband’s body atop his funeral pyre.
Pitcairn is the last holding of the British Empire in the Pacific, a place and people so remote, so unlikely, and, until recently, so lost in time that they often seemed more myth than reality. The island emerges alone out of the South Pacific more than 3,000 miles from any continent, a hunk of red volcanic rock not much larger than New York’s Central Park.
The news that has come off the rock in the last decade shocked the world and tainted the myth.
In 2004, six men—a third of the island’s adult male population, including Pitcairn mayor Steve Christian, a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian’s—had been convicted under English law of 33 sexual offenses, some dating back as many as 40 years.
The open sea has pounded at it for millennia, creating a fortress of 500-foot cliffs fringed with just enough vegetation—banyan, coconut, breadfruit—to support a small population.
Pitcairn has lured dreamers and adventurers in the two centuries since Fletcher Christian and his tiny band of rogues and Tahitian wives found it the perfect hideout from a British Navy seeking to avenge one of the great maritime heists of all time, the mutiny on the The year was 1789, and the mutineers acted just 23 days after leaving the sensual pleasures of Tahiti.