The Heritage of the Bounty

by Harry L. Shapiro
[Simon and Schuster, $3.00]
BY this time almost everyone is familiar with the main outline of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. Not many events which happened to a handful of people a century and a half ago have received such skillful attention or aroused so much popular interest. In adding another volume to the growing Pitcairn bibliography, Dr. Shapiro has made a distinguished contribution, and has approached the subject with a new purpose. His interest lies not so much in the initial drama as in the living descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts.
According to the familiar narrative, the mutineers killed first the Tahitian men whom they had brought with them and then each other, leaving twenty-five hybrid children under the pious care of the semi-literate patriarch John Adams. Under his tutelage this brood grew up in an atmosphere of innocence and Christian righteousness, unknown to the outside world until a chance visit revealed their presence some thirty-five years after the initial settlement.
Since 1825 the history of Pitcairn has been punctuated by the arrival of ships stopping for fresh water and vegetables. This popularity reached its peak in the whaling days, and slacked off to a second era of isolation after the invention of the ship’s refrigerator. Some of the visitors remained and contributed their share to the development of a distinctive Pitcairn culture, but for the most part this growth has been a natural one with but little outside influence.
The social history of the islanders is an interesting document. They have, in six generations, worked out a suitable system of democratic government; they have maintained the religious spirit of their first-generation ancestors; and they have preserved an attitude of kindly tolerance toward each other and toward those strangers who have come within their limited vision. Their general manner of living is more English than Tahitian, and apparently has been so from the beginning; their speech is also English, although local peculiarities have, of course, arisen and a few Polynesian words and constructions remain.
Dr. Shapiro’s primary purpose in visiting Pitcairn was to study anthropometrically the results of this unique experiment in race mixture and inbreeding. To do this he was well equipped, for he had already examined their cousins on Norfolk Island, as well as several thousands of both pure and mixed Polynesians. He also knew to a certain extent, from tedious archive work, what were the origin and physical features of each of the mutineers. With no unknowns in the formula, he obtained the material from which to deduce principles — the rules of heredity in human hybridization. Laboratory experiments in human genetics are not yet possible, and a natural experiment such as this one is of great scientific value.
The last part of the book, which is a collection of extracts from the author’s daily notes, will probably prove to be of widest interest. In it are revealed vignettes of the normal life of this island Arcadia, in all its vitality and simplicity. His background in Pitcairn lore has given Dr. Shapiro an understanding of every happening, which, in his lucid writing, is blended with a warm sympathy. This excellent book is to be recommended not only for Anthropology 3b, but also for the common American evening armchair.