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The last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific, the Pitcairn Islands, are a group of four islands extended over several hundred miles in the Southern Pacific Ocean. Of the four, only Pitcairn is inhabited.

Henderson Island, the largest of the group, is presently uninhabited, although archeological evidence shows that a Polynesian settlement existed there between the 12th and 15th centuries. Henderson Island makes up about 86% of the island group's land area and supports a variety of animals in its nearly inaccessible interior. The island would be capable of supporting a small human population despite the scarcity of potable water, but access is difficult. Henderson is a raised coral atoll. The coral limestone island sits on top of a volcanic mound. Except for the north end, the coastline of Henderson Island is made of steep limestone cliffs up to a height of nearly fifty feet. In the island's center is a raised lagoon. A spring on the north shore is the island's only drinkable water source. In 1988, Henderson Island was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

Also known as Holiday Island, Oeno Island is about eighty-nine miles northwest of Pitcairn Island. Although it has no permanent population, it serves as a holiday site for residents of Pitcairn Island, who stay there for two weeks in January. The island has forest and scrub growth at the southwestern portion of the atoll's lagoon. There is a water tap installed on the island for drinking. Oeno has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, largely for its colony of Murphy's petrels, believed to be the second largest in the world.

More than three hundred miles east of Pitcairn Island, Ducie Island is an uninhabited atoll that includes a lagoon and four islets: Acadia, Edwards, Pandora, and Westward. Ducie has a total land area of 1.5 square miles. Although the island was visited frequently since it was first discovered in 1606, Ducie Island is rarely visited today. More than 90% of Murphy's petrels in the world nest on Ducie, however.

Pitcairn is the only populated island in the group, and it had a population of under 70 in 2011. The first settlers of the islands were Polynesians who lived on both Pitcairn and Henderson islands for several centuries but left before the islands were discovered by Europeans in the early 1600s. The island was named for a 15-year-old midshipman, Robert Pitcairn, of the HMS Swallow, who was the first to sight the island.

The first Europeans to settle the island were nine of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty, who came to the island in 1790, along with a small group of Tahitians. They set fire to the HMS Bounty, and the wreck is still visible underwater. Although alcoholism, murder, and disease took the lives of most of the original settlers, many of its current residents are descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian wives. By the time the British were able to locate the mutineers, John Adams was the only one of the mutineers still alive, and he was given amnesty.

In 1832, a missionary arrived and founded a temperance society, a monthly prayer meeting, a juvenile society, a peace society, and a school. Pitcairn Island was made a British colony in 1838. By the 1850s, the population of the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the ability of the island to sustain them. Britain offered Norfolk Island, and the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk in 1856. Just over a year later, seventeen of them decided to return, and they were followed by another twenty-seven five years later. A Seventh-day Adventist missionary came in 1886 and converted most of the Islanders. Ever since most Pitcairners have been Adventists.

Pitcairn Island is accessible only by boat through Bounty Bay. Its population supports itself by subsistence farming and fishing, through honey production, and tourism.

 

 

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