Phileas French

Travel Writer

Phileas French

Phileas French

Travel Writer | Exploring every country in the world, one adventure at a time

Guest Blog: Journey to Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn_Longboats

My previous guest blogger and fellow traveller Rhiannon Adam is about to undertake the Journey of a Lifetime - not hyperbole but its official assignation after she won a prestigious Royal Geographical Society Award. Here, she exclusively explains what this extraordinary adventure is all about in her own words.

Have you ever wondered where the most remote country on the planet is, or which is the least populous nation?


I’m sure at some point we all have, and it’s probably not the answer you were expecting. It turns out that these accolades lead to one and the same place – a tiny piece of rock measuring just two miles long and one mile wide that lies in the South Pacific and goes by the name of Pitcairn.


You may never have heard about it, save for some rather bad press a few years back relating to some of the most bizarre and prolific sexual abuse trial of recent times, but there really is much more to Pitcairn. Its remote positioning ensures few visitors, and attempts to reach the island are often marred by poor weather, high seas, and astronomical costs. Pitcairn is more than 340 miles away from Mangareva, French Polynesia’s most remote airstrip, which itself involves a once weekly flight from Tahiti to reach.


pitcairn_stretch


To reach Pitcairn is no mean feat, there are only three options – firstly, to have your own boat, secondly, to travel on a supply vessel from New Zealand, or thirdly, to travel on the supply ship when making a passenger run from Mangareva, French Polynesia. The later two options occur on 3 month rotations, meaning you have a choice to stay for a few days, or for 3 months until the boat returns. Medical evacuation costs can understandably run into the million and as a visitor from London you’re looking at close to £6000 on transit costs (on a good day).


It’s certainly not a trip for the faint-hearted. When you finally reach the island, communications are unreliable and electricity runs a few hours each day. There is just one shop, which is open a few hours a week. A little known curious fact - it was also the first place in the world to grant women the vote, in 1838!


The tiny island is also Britain’s last remaining overseas territory in the Pacific (there are 14 overseas territories in total), but has country status of its own. Due to its unique geographical position, Britain can boat the fact that the sun never sets across its Empire. Should Pitcairn be lost, the UK will experience the first unified darkness of the last two centuries. That’s not all…


pitcairn_sign


Pitcairn is home to fewer than 50 people, most of whom are direct descendants from the HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian followers. Though so many people have seen the films, or read the book, few have ever asked what became of the mutineers and their descendants. I’ve been fascinated by the Mutiny of the Bounty for many years, first being given a copy of the book when my family and I were sailing on our 40ft steel boat, Jannes. I think it was a parental attempt to get me behind the idea that life at sea could be exciting, and didn’t just mean long periods of boredom, solitude and queasiness. In some ways it must have worked, because here I find myself more than 20 years later planning my own rather epic journey to Pitcairn island, where I will live for the next 3 months.


I’ve never done things by halves, and I suppose this is no exception. Life has taken many turns, and I’m now embarking as a photographer and documentary maker, partially supported by the Royal Geographical Society and the BBC. I depart London on February 21st, so I’m in the final stages of preparation though it still feels like a marathon is ahead – planning for every eventuality. Antibiotics – check, portable solar panels – check, micro screwdriver set – check, electrical tape – check. The list is long and drawn by a pessimist’s hand. Should anything go wrong there’ll be no recompense.


The aim of all of these excess baggage charges? ... To make a lasting record of the island and its inhabitants, and to photograph each and every resident, 225 years on from the Bounty mutiny. I am attempting to preserve the unique culture of this island – it is a side of Britain we know little about, a forgotten place on the edge of the world. It is place that shares our Queen, our government, and our laws, but little else.


 Pitcairn_viewtoharbour


Though a portion of our own taxes are spent on supporting it, almost no one has heard of it, and it is perhaps partly for that reason that the islands population is rapidly declining. The island recently commissioned a diaspora survey, attempting to lure former residents and relatives home in order to safeguard its future, and fight the rapidly ageing population, but to little positive result. Few return once they’ve left, and there is no education post age 15 for those that choose to bring up their families on the island. Island life ensures a series of tough choices are made early on. Pitcairn’s story is unique, but it shares many of the burdens of other isolated communities.


I’ll be shooting largely on expired Polaroid film, drawing out the parallels between the fragility of the community, and the delicate nature of Polaroid film, which is itself adapts chemically to the environment in which it is shot. These images could not have been taken anywhere else, and are a part of the place that they were born in. I see this project as an extreme follow up to my Dreamlands / Wastelands project that Emma kindly featured here a while back – a project also dealing with ideas of Britishness. I’ve always questioned ideas of nationality and nationhood in part because of my own disjointed history, and Pitcairn brings my own explorations full circle.


 RhiannonAdam_MargatePolaroid


It really is a life changing project, and will result in a varied output – particularly because while I’m there I will also be working on a radio documentary for the BBC, a completely new avenue for me. Those that know me might find it strange, but I really do hate the sound of my own voice. Just one of the many things I’m having to get over to make this trip happen! That, and UHT milk in tea. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it really is!


Because of the sheer expense of my endeavour…And I use the word endeavour with no hint of irony – this is certainly NOT a holiday! – I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to help me with the more than £20,000 of costs associated with realising this project. I’ve made a little video that goes into the project a little more which you can see on the campaign page.


If you feel like it, do take a look, and please support it if you can, or pass on/share to others who may be interested. I have two weeks left for the campaign to run, and Kickstarter is an all or nothing platform - unless I reach my target I lose everything pledged so far. That would be rather disastrous, so I’m hoping some of you might be compelled to assist in my quest. There are many rewards, so it’s not just money for nothing…promise. I’ll be keeping you all in the loop, and if postcards from Pitcairn sound like your thing, have a look.

I’d be delighted if you would share it far and wide – I’ve got more than 18, 000 miles to travel round trip and a 2 week sea voyage on my return leg. I haven’t been on a boat for any length of time for many years, so I’ll need moral support too! You can help keep my feet on the ground on Twitter @blackbirdsfly

See you on the other side!


Rhiannon Adam


boat_I_grew_up_on1

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[…] Pitcairn was in the paper this week with this rather daft and slightly factually incorrect article… My friend Emma French, aka Phileas French also published a guest blog about my journey which you can read here. […]

[…] Pitcairn was in the paper this week with this rather daft and slightly factually incorrect article… My friend Emma French, aka Phileas French also published a guest blog about my journey which you can read here. […]
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Monday, 20 November 2017