Winchester chases diminishing empire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 April, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 April, 1993, 12:00am

FAST on the heels of our story last week about esteemed scribe Simon Winchester's proposed trip to remote Pitcairn Island on a New Zealand navy frigate, a distinguished-sounding gentleman called us to cast light on the nature of Simon's trip to the far-away South Pacific island.

According to our informant (he may well have been Pitcairn's envoy in Hongkong, but it was a bad line so we cannot be sure), Simon has set himself the challenge of visiting all parts of the fast-receding British Empire before the sun finally sets on it.

Pitcairn, with a steadily dwindling population of around 50 descendants of Fletcher Christian (not Clark Gable, as is commonly thought), who led the mutiny on the Bounty, is apparently the only part of the British Empire where colonial chronicler Winchester has yet to erect his lap-top.

Of course, had Simon prepared himself more thoroughly, he could have visited Pitcairn in a style much more to his nature (as those of us who spot him every so often at the China Club with a glass of fine port in one hand and a cigar in the other can attest) than travelling steerage with a load of Kiwi squaddies.

For earlier this year the Cunard liner MV Sagafjord became the first cruise ship to visit the place, although any excitement the visit stirred was contained entirely to the inhabitants of the island rather than those on the ship.

We are told the islanders almost besieged the Sagafjord in their desire to savour civilisation, while totally ignoring the needs of the ship's passengers to look around the ''Pacific Paradise'', as the island would almost certainly have been described inthe cruise itinerary.

Let's also hope Simon does not meet the fate of one cruise passenger who, venturing out on to the island and trying to engage the locals in conversation, was advised to go and visit a taxidermist - or words to that effect.

Simon, no doubt, will produce a well-practised stiff upper lip if faced with similar trying circumstances.