Mutiny’s Bounty: Pitcairn Islanders and the Making of a Natural Laboratory on the Edge of Britain’s Pacific Empire (2016)
In 1789, Fletcher Christian led 18 sailors in a mutiny on HMAV Bounty. They set Captain William Bligh and his loyal crew adrift, took twelve Tahitian women and six Tahitian men captive, and eventually settled on Pitcairn Island, a remote volcanic isle in the Southern Pacific.
Their descendants still live both there and on Norfolk Island, to which many of them migrated in 1856. My dissertation follows the making of these islands into sites for the production of knowledge about race, language, national identity, and colonial governance. Writers and researchers came to construe the islanders as near-perfect research subjects, describing their home islands as “accidental experiments” and “natural laboratories.” However, that metaphor elided the intentional and careful construction of both islands as exemplary, insular, and
experimental spaces. During the nineteenth century, moralists, missionaries and evangelical authors made the islands into object lessons in Victorian and Anglican virtue. The migration to Norfolk Island in 1856 was authored by colonial administrators as a morally freighted “experiment” in colonial settlement and racial destiny—an experiment that bureaucrats later termed a dysgenic failure after a series of on-the-ground investigations. Stepping into field spaces engendered by that long history of observation and scrutiny, twentieth-century social scientists measured, interviewed, and recorded Pitcairn Islanders in order to define the boundaries of race and language. The dissertation unpacks their field practices to relocate the making of modern biological anthropology and creole language studies to situated encounters in the southern Pacific.