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Norfolk Island: What happened after Mutiny on the Bounty

There is something tantalising at the end of the film Bounty, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. The movie tells the epic true story of the south Pacific rebellion on board a Navy ship in 1789 when the tyrannical Captain Bligh was finally confronted by his restive crew led by Fletcher Christian.

The crew cast Bligh and a few officers adrift and then made for a remote island to make a new life, far from the gaze of Royal Navy.

They chose Pitcairn Island, which didn’t appear on Admiralty charts. A tiny speck of rock in the south-west Pacific. The film ends (spoiler Alert) with the crew setting the Bounty alight, to deliberately maroon themselves on Pitcairn to start a new community free from the strictures of 18th century society.

Pitcairners were eventually offered a new island, Norfolk Island. Credit: On Assignment

But what I find so tantalising is what happened to that community, so cut off from the outside world they may as well have been on another planet.

I always thought exploring the isolation and Lord of the Flies style violence and disputes that followed would have made a great sequel. If that movie was ever made it could explain how the islanders lived on the Pitcarin for 28 years before finally being "rediscovered" by a passing ship, by which time the mutineers and their Polynesian wives had bred several generations.

It could depict the years of increasing violence between the mutineers with murders, sickness and tyranny plunging the supposedly idyllic community into chaos, before finally only one mutineer was left, John Adams, who eventually reorganised what was left of the small society into a devout group of 7th day Adventists.

Eventually the Pitcairners were too numerous for their tiny island and John Adams was pardoned by Queen Victoria, amid a surge of romantic affection for this cut-off Christian community.

The islanders were offered a new home on the larger Norfolk Island, some 3,000 miles from Pitcairn on the other side of the Pacific, not far (relatively speaking) from Australia. And that is really when the problems began.

The descendants of the original settlers claim they were offered Norfolk Island by the British government as a new home, but it was to be administered by officials from New South Wales.

But when Australia gained independence Norfolk became an "external territory" of Australia’s.

The already confusing status of the island and its people were further muddied by it gaining its own legislative assembly in 1979 which was then abolished this summer.

It sparked a furious protest movement on the island, which I have explored in this On Assignment.

I’ve travelled literally to the other side of the world to find out more about that wrangle is now playing out between some islanders on Norfolk and the Australian government.

It was a privilege to visit such a beautiful island and discover its history and culture. I hope in the absence of a Hollywood sequel, this will tell the story of what happened after the Mutiny on the Bounty.

  • Dan Rivers' report on Norfolk Island can be seen on ITV's On Assignment tonight at 10:40pm.