British blueprint to double numbers on troubled Pitcairn

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am

Britain has announced it wants to double the population of Pitcairn Island, its last imperial outpost in the Pacific, which last year attracted international attention with revelations of systematic sexual abuse.

The volcanic island, which lies half-way between New Zealand and South America, is home to just 47 people, but British authorities want to signal the start of a new chapter in its troubled history by increasing that to at least 100.

That would herald something of a return to Pitcairn's glory days - at the start of the second world war it boasted a population of 233.

It would also answer the criticisms of some islanders, who have accused London of wanting to wash its hands of one of the last relics of empire.

Those keen to take up the offer of settlement on the island can expect an idyllic sub-tropical climate, a bucolic rural existence and a retreat from the pressures of the modern world. The island's fertile valleys support citrus fruits, bananas, yams and sugarcane, and hunting wild pigs in the dense scrub is a popular past-time.

The downsides of living on Pitcairn include no airstrip, difficult communications, limited leisure opportunities and a lack of privacy which could verge on the claustrophobic, given that the island covers just 47 sq km.

Britain's colonial representative to Pitcairn, commissioner Leslie Jacques, this week announced a GBP3.5 million ($51.8 million) programme of infrastructure development, reversing years of under-investment.

It will include the construction of a new slipway, jetty and breakwater in Bounty Bay, the island's lifeline to the outside world.

The mud track that leads from the bay up the Hill of Difficulty to Pitcairn's only settlement, Adamstown, will be replaced with a sealed road.

The island's tiny honey industry will be expanded, and fishing and adventure tourism will be developed.

Pitcairners who now live in Australia and New Zealand will be encouraged to return.

The island, which survives on subsistence farming, has been running at a loss for years.

Selling stamps and handicrafts to passing cruise ships brings in GBP134,000 a year, compared with the GBP580,000 it costs to maintain the colony. London wants to see Pitcairn in the black within three years.

Pitcairn is still trying to come to terms with the revelations of endemic sex abuse that emerged from the trials of seven island men late last year.

'Pitcairners have to realise that we've got to go forward now,' Mr Jacques said. 'There's been a complex trial process, and that's divided the island. But what we have to do now, as Pitcairn comes to terms with its past, is build the future.'

Pitcairn was first settled in 1790 after the crew of the Royal Navy ship Bounty mutinied against Captain William Bligh, set him adrift in an open boat and fled to the island with their Tahitian lovers, led by first mate Fletcher Christian.


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