- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

LONDON — Seven men, six of whom descended from the sailors who staged the 18th-century “Mutiny on the Bounty,” have gone on trial in the remote British colony of Pitcairn Island on charges of underage sex, rape and indecent assault dating to 40 years.

The defendants, led by Pitcairn Mayor Steve Christian, make up nearly half the adult male population among the island’s 47 residents, and their defense is that consensual underage sex involving girls as young as 12 has become a tradition in Pitcairn over the past two centuries and more.

The trial is being staged in the island’s ramshackle community hall in its solitary settlement, Adamstown, but the eight purported victims identified in the 55 sex charges are thousands of miles away in New Zealand, where they are testifying via video link.

If the trial is a strange one, it is perhaps befitting of Pitcairn and its curious history. The island is one of the most isolated dots on the Earth — 9,250 miles from London, halfway between Peru and New Zealand, and so distant that, as one observer remarked, the word “remote” doesn’t do it justice.

Mr. Christian, who faces six charges of rape and four of indecent assault, is a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the “Mutiny on the Bounty” — a revolt in which mutineers seized control of the British vessel HMS Bounty in 1789.

Fletcher Christian’s men dumped the Bounty’s captain, William Bligh, and 18 of his loyal crewmen into a 23-foot open boat, in which they floated across the Pacific for 47 days before washing up, weary but alive, on the shores of Java.

Eight of the mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, sailed across the Pacific for another year, picking up native Polynesian men and women, before pitching up on Pitcairn, a hitherto unpopulated island 2 miles long and a mile wide where the longest walk takes about 15 minutes.

Life on Pitcairn has taken its own odd course over the centuries, not least in the matter of sex. According to the British Broadcasting Corp., even the local women defend the practice of sex with underage children as “an island tradition and consensual.”

But the prosecution says the cases it is arguing have been going for 40 years and that it was time to bring a halt to this “ingrained culture of having sex with underage children.”

Reports from the six journalists covering the trial — the only ones allowed on Pitcairn — quote public prosecutor Simon Moore, a New Zealander, as saying that Mr. Christian displayed a “callous and cavalier” attitude to the four women he is accused of raping and indecently assaulting.

Inadvertently conjuring up comparisons with the defendant’s ancestor Fletcher Christian, Mr. Moore described Mr. Christian as “a prominent and influential figure within his peer group. He was leader of the pack.”

“It was as if he was exercising some right he believed to be his,” the prosecutor said. “There was no question of consent.”

The other defendants, all of whom also have pleaded not guilty, include Mr. Christian’s 30-year-old son Randy, as well as Len Brown, his son Dave, Jay Warren, Terry Young and Dennis Christian. All except Mr. Warren are descendants of the Bounty mutineers.

Because of their predicament, Pitcairn’s economy is enjoying a temporary boom. The island has no airport, and normally its only visitors arrive on ships that drop by every few months. But in addition to the half-dozen journalists, judges, lawyers and other staff had made the long sea voyage from New Zealand for the trial.

One side is arguing that Pitcairn, however remote in space and even time, is still a British territory and subject to British rule. But most Pitcairn residents think that unwelcome outsiders are interfering with their way of life.

It’s English law versus island tradition. But with the trial, the 21st century has arrived, and whatever the result, life on Pitcairn island likely will never be the same.

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