Bounty Day is celebrated on 8 June each year, marking the anniversary of the arrival of Pitcairn Islanders to Norfolk Island. Although the HMS Bounty never arrived on Norfolk Island, the holiday marks the day their descendants arrived.
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The HMS Bounty left England for Tahiti in December 1787, planning to collect a breadfruit sapling cargo to deliver to the West Indies that would serve as food for slaves. The ship was controlled by Captain William Bligh and his master’s mate, Fletcher Christian. The ship spent five months in Tahiti and, while there, Christian fell in love with a Tahitian woman.
Captain Bligh was an oppressive commander, insulting to those he commanded. After the ship left Tahiti, Christian along with 25 petty officers and seamen mutinied, seizing the ship. They set Captain Bligh and 18 of his supporters adrift in a small open boat. It is believed that the mutineers intended for Captain Bligh to die, but he was an expert seaman. He and his men arrived in Timor two months later after traveling 3,600 miles.
Christian and his men attempted to colonise the island of Tubuai, but were unsuccessful. They returned to Tahiti where 16 crewmen decided to remain. Christian and eight others searched for a safe haven and settled on Pitcairn Island. Those who remained in Tahiti were captured by the British and returned to England where three were hanged. The remaining mutineers lived on Pitcairn Island, although sickness and internal strife led only one survivor, John Adams, to be discovered by an American ship in 1808.
The population of the Pitcairn Islands had grown significantly, so many of the descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers were moved to Norfolk Island, a former penal colony nearly 4,000 miles west. Less than two years later, 17 of them returned to Pitcairn. Today, about 40 people call Pitcairn Island home and all but a handful are descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers.
Celebrations and Traditions
Bounty Day begins with Islanders, dressed in the traditional clothing worn by the mutineers, landing at Kingston Pier. They travel to the Cenotaph to lay wreaths in honor of those who died during war. Children place flowers on the grave of family members at the island’s cemetery at the end of Quality Row while family members sing hymns.
The main goal of Bounty Day is to celebrate heritage and family. There is a contest for the best-dressed family as well as one for the most well-humoured family. There is a large community picnic with traditional foods, island dancing and music. Children often play cricket during the picnic while adults relax with friends and family.
The night of Bounty Day is celebrated with the Bounty Ball where people arrive dressed in their finest clothing to dance the night away.