It has been a while since I have added anything to this website. The main reason for that is that I have been working on a new book which I am pleased to say is now complete, and available to buy from Amazon – Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Pitcairn Island via the Panama Canal in the 1920s is a 172 page paperback book including over 100 rare black and white illustrations, extensive extracts from passenger Logs, and contemporary newspaper reports.
The book has a Foreword written for me by Garry Law, whose amazing Remuera website may be well known to readers. If you haven’t seen it, you really should take a look: CLICK HERE
The book tells of life on a ship in the 1920s, from the wealthy to the poor, who were travelling to make a new home for themselves in New Zealand, or taking long and expensive touring holidays, as they experienced the steamship Remuera, the highs and lows, from excitement to boredom. From a baby, born to the Twin family, James Arthur Pitcairn Twin, named after both the ship’s Captain and Doctor, and the Island that the ship had recently visited, to the very sad accident which brought a sudden halt to the fun of a fancy dress party on board ship.
With over 100 rare photographs, large extracts from diaries written by holidaying passengers, and contemporary newspaper reports of voyages, it will be possible to imagine yourself on board the ship amongst this diverse collection of people from all walks of life. I have not edited their stories, so you may find that their language or point of view is not acceptable by today’s standards, but history needs to be shown as it was, and not sanitised, so that we can learn from it, and not let ourselves slip back into the old ways when white assumed they were better than black and the rich considered themselves superior to the poor. We still have a long way to go, but I think we are getting there, and the Black Lives Matter movement must surely help.
On each long voyage there were two major points of interest to break up the sometimes tediously long journey – the Panama Canal, and the short stop at Pitcairn Island, home of the descendants of the mutineers from HMAV Bounty. The Remuera had been the first New Zealand Shipping Company vessel to transit the Canal, back in 1916, and this amazing feat of engineering is well described by my two diarists in these pages, together with the many photographs taken by passengers and also the ship’s barber who printed up his images with postcard backs and sold them from his hairdressing saloon on the Remuera’s main deck.
Pitcairn Island has always fascinated me. It is still a very difficult place to visit today, and there are many people in the UK who do not realise where it is, or even that it is a British territory with Islanders who hold British passports. There are not many Pitcairners today, something in the region of 40 to 50 people live on the Island. In the 1920s the population was higher, rising from 163 in 1920 to 190 by 1930. In the 1920s Pitcairn was extremely isolated, and the population relied greatly on the visits of the New Zealand Shipping Company’s vessels to bring much needed supplies and correspondence. Today the Pitcairners have the internet, but there is no air strip, and only two places where small ships can berth. Large cruise ships still have to drop anchor out at sea.
The Pitcairners are presented in this book with widely differing opinions. I have never been to the Island myself, but I know people who have. I’ve met Pitcairners who have visited the UK in recent years and they have invariably been nice, friendly people. I find some of the opinions of them that were printed in 1920s newspapers to be offensive, but again, I have not sanitised the original text in any way. Today, life on Pitcairn is hard. If you were to suffer a serious injury or illness, you would face a difficult evacuation by sea. One Islander died in recent years because he could not reach help in time. There are fairly regular supply ships, but there is only one shop, one small school, one teacher and a doctor or nurse from New Zealand. An Islander has been trained in dentistry, but it is not his full time job. The Islanders still rely on sales of fruit and curios to passengers on visiting cruise ships to supplement their income.