October 14, 1790: If It’s Thursday, This Must Be Pitcairn

When British ships arrived at Pitcairn Island in 1814, two men paddled out in canoes to meet them. Both spoke English well, impressing the officers and men of the ships with their refinement as they met on deck. Their civilized demeanor persuaded the ships’ captains that  the mutineers from the Bounty, had created a proper society (after alcoholism, murder and disease had killed most of them off), and did not merit prosecution for the takeover.

One of the two men was Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian and his Tahitian wife Mauatua. Fletcher, you will remember, was the ringleader of the mutiny that took place on the Bounty‘s voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit. Captain Philip Pipon, commander of one of the British ships, described Fletcher’s son Thursday as being “about twenty five years of age, a tall fine young man about six feet high, with dark black hair, and a countenance extremely open and interesting. He wore no clothes except a piece of cloth round his loins, a straw hat ornamented with black cock’s feathers, and occasionally a peacock’s, nearly similar to that worn by the Spaniards in South America, though smaller.”

Thursday October Christian, born on October 14, 1790, was the first child born on the Pitcairn Islands after the mutineers took refuge there. Born on a Thursday in October, he was given his name because his father wanted him to have “no name that will remind me of England,” forgetting perhaps that there are both Thursdays and Octobers in England. Captain Pipon referred to young Thursday as Friday October Christian,” because the Bounty had crossed the international date line going eastward, but the mutineers had somehow failed to adjust their calendars for this. The mutineers were living on a tropical island where everyone was running around naked. Is it any surprise that they didn’t know what day it was – or care?

As soon as Captain Pipon left, Thursday went back to his original name, not wanting to be confused with that other character from a story set on a tropical island.



September 9, 1754: Et Tu, Fletcher?

When little Billy Bligh, born on September 9, 1754, joined the British Royal Navy at the tcirca 1817: English naval officer and victim of the celebrated mutiny on the bounty William Bligh (1754 - 1817) is cast adrift. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)ender age of seven, he certainly never thought he’d grow up to haul breadfruit around the world. At sixteen, he became an able seaman, then a year later a midshipman. And in 1787, Bligh became Captain of the Bounty.

The Royal Society was offering special prizes to those who would travel to Tahiti, pick up a bunch of breadfruit trees and haul them back to the Caribbean as a source of cheap high-energy food for slaves. It sounded simple enough on paper, but getting there was far from half the fun. First, there was Cape Horn. The Bounty tried to get round it for a month before giving up and taking a longer route. Then Bligh and his crew had to sit around in the tropical sunshine for five months waiting for the little breadfruit babies to get big enough to travel. And when finally they set off for the Caribbean, didn’t Fletcher Christian and his cohorts, having grown fond of the Tahitian ambiance, up and mutiny.

Bligh and his loyalists were loaded into a launch with nary a breadfruit tree and set adrift. Amazingly, they survived and sailed over 4,000 miles to Timor, from where they returned to England. And two years later Bligh headed another expedition and this time successfully carried a load of trees to the Caribbean. However, the slaves refused to eat the breadfruit, wanting no part of a fruit that tasted like day-old bread.

The Ballad of Breadfruit

Once upon a time, according to Hawaiian legend, Kū , the war god, for reasons known only to Kū, decided to live secretly among the common folk and pass himself off as a mortal. He posed as a farmer and even went so far as to marry and have a family. Kū and his family lived quite happily, but being a war god Kū wasn’t such a hot farmer, and famine struck (as famine will). When everybody got pretty darn hungry,

Ku posing as a farmer

Kū realized it was time to shed his disguise and do some god thing. One would think his action would involve a battle of some kind, his being the god of war and all. Instead he disappeared into the ground right before his astonished family’s eyes. They were quite distressed by this, so they stood around where he had last been seen and cried day and night, thus watering the ground until a tiny green sprout emerged. The tiny sprout grew into a magnificent tree heavy with fruits that looked like big ugly green footballs. After tossing one around for a bit, they wondered if they might eat it since they were starving. They tried it, and it tasted awful. But they ate it anyway, saving themselves from starvation, and always remembering that this tree was their beloved Kū, finally providing for his family.