British Overseas Territory
50 (2020 estimate)
18 sq. miles
New Zealand Dollar (100 cents = $1) NZ$1 = US$0.71 (as of 2021)
The Pitcairn territory consists of four islands – Pitcairn, Ducie, Oeno and Henderson. The small (1.7 square miles) island of Pitcairn is the only one inhabited. Henderson, the largest, is located about 95 miles to the northeast and visited by the islanders from time to time to collect miro wood for carving or, in former times, for fuel. Oeno, about 75 miles to the northwest, is the source of shells, corals and pandamus leaves for baskets. Ducie, the smallest of the islands, is 300 miles east and is hardly ever visited by the islanders.
Pitcairn was discovered by the British in 1767 and named after the crewman who spotted the island. It was uninhabited until 1789, when nine (of the original 25) members of the mutinous crew of the HMS Bounty arrived on Pitcairn with 18 Tahitians, 12 of them women. Within 10 years of landing, death by illness or murder had reduced the party to 34: John Adams, a former able seaman, 10 Polynesian women and 23 children, all born since the mutiny. Under Adams’ leadership, the island became a peaceful, Christian community by 1808, when they were found by American whalers.
Overpopulation had been a recurring problem. Declining yields from their gardens and an erratic water supply convinced the residents – and the British government - that they should be relocated. As a result, the entire community was evacuated to Tahiti in March 1831. The move was disastrous. Some became ill from infectious diseases against which they had no immunity and others became homesick. In October the entire group of 65 returned to Pitcairn. In 1856, the same problems led the Crown to give them the now unoccupied former penal colony of Norfolk Island. Most settled into their new home, but about a quarter of them missed Pitcairn. By 1864, 43 residents had returned. By 1937, the population had risen to 233, the most ever. Since that time, the island has lost residents, mainly due to emigration to New Zealand.
Pitcairn was placed under the jurisdiction of the British High Commissioner for the Pacific in 1898. It was transferred to the governor of Fiji in 1952. When Fiji became independent in 1970, the British High Commissioner in New Zealand was assigned administrative responsibility. Local government was in the hands of a six-person elected Legislative Council.
Some ship mail is known, but Pitcairn had little need for postal service in the 19th century. In 1921 Great Britain and New Zealand agreed to accept mail from the island, handstamped “Posted at Pitcairn Island/No stamps available.” On June 7, 1927, New Zealand opened a postal agency on the island. New Zealand stamps were used until October 15, 1940, when Pitcairn Island stamps were first issued – eight stamps printed by Waterlow & Sons. After that, postage stamps became an important source of income for the colony. Pitcairn continues to produce two or three sets of attractive stamps each year.