3 July 1767: Pitcairn Island is discovered

One of the remotest places on earth, Pitcairn Island was spotted on this day in 1767 by 15-year old midshipman Robert Pitcairn, serving on HMS Swallow.


Pitcairn's sole harbour can only be accessed by longboat

Pitcairn Island is a lonely lump of rock stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,500 miles from the nearest continent, and 350 miles from the nearest inhabited place Mangareva, in French Polynesia.

It has an area of just 18 square miles, it has no airport and just one supply boat, the MV Claymore II, which visits 12 times a year. Otherwise, the only visitors are whoever happens to be passing by.

For a whileit was inhabited by Polynesians. But by 1450, they had all upped and left, abandoning the islandto the birdsuntil this day in 1767, when the HMS Swallow sailed by, and a 15-year-old midshipman by the name of Robert Pitcairn spotted it.

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Pitcairn was duly added to the charts, but in the wrong place its latitude was right, but the longitude was off by some three degrees, equivalent to over 200 miles.

It remained undisturbed until the mutinous crew of the HMS Bounty, along with their Tahitian companions, turned up in 1789, and settled.

The population flourished, nearing 200 by the mid-19th century. But since then, it has declined. Now, just 46 people live in Adamstown, the capital and only settlement.

The island relies on subsidy from Britain to the tune of around £2.5m a year, which covers the cost of a police officer, a teacher, a doctor and a family and community adviser'; a shipping subsidy; and the cost of the Pitcairn office in Auckland.

But the island is refusing to die. The Pitcairn government has instigated a repopulation plan. To become a Pitcairn Islander you have to bring a skill and NZ$30,000 (around £13,000). For that, you will get a plot of land to build on. Unfortunately, the repopulation plan has small flaw: you can't bring your children, after a child sex scandal that left a third of the island's male population in jail.

Also on this day

3 July 1884: Dow Jones launches the world's first stock index

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Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.