Pitcairn's rocky coast is ridden with names of places laden with tragedy: Oh Dear, Dan Fall, Nellie Fall, Lin Fall, McCoy's drop, are just a few. When on island, the Pacific seems a barrier, a trap.
Instead of freedom, the ocean is an insurmountable wall. Pitcairn's rocky outline juts abruptly from the blue, hemming the island in on all sides.
Ship's Landing point, sitting high above the Landing at Bounty Bay - the perfect place to watch for passing ships. On island I spent much time up there looking down at the strip of Adamstown buildings, and scanning the horizon in hope of newcomers.
There is no safe harbour on Pitcairn. Bounty Bay is a tiny inlet, and a trained longboat coxwain must aim the aluminium longboat at the rocks and wait for the swell, turning at the last second to enter the bay.
Passing cruiseships rarely land, instead, islanders sell their wares aboard by heading out on the longboat and climbing onto the ship by rope ladder. Here, more than 3/4 of the islanders sit aboard the longboat, Moss, heading out to a cruiseship. If this longboat were to sink, Pitcairn would have been decimated.
The Longboat is Pitcairn's lifeline, its only ship to shore connection. Every trip to Pitcairn begins with a hair-raising adventure aboard the longboat.
Brandon Young, descendent of Midshipman Edward Young. Brandon arrived on island at the same time as me. He currently lives in New Zealand, and was on island for an extended stay. Brandon's experience was the antithesis to mine. The island went into overdrive trying to entice him to settle.
They taught him to fish, to cut down banana trees, how to carve, where to find all of the hidden spots. I, instead, was treated like a problem, or prey. Brandon wanted to be a paramedic and had no intention of becoming a Pitcairn Islander. Sometimes we walked together. I took this Polaroid double exposure of Brandon and the island’s volcanic rock, at Down Rope, a secluded area of pebble beach where you can see petroglyphs from early Polynesian peoples.
Down Rope is a steep climb, and not for the faint of heart. Brandon said he felt a part of the land itself, but not the people, adding that maybe “Pitcairn would be better off without them”...
The rifts and cracks in Pitcairn's rock read like hidden scars of the islanders themselves.
Kevin Young. Kevin is Steve Christian's first cousin and the first person I met on island. He has moved back to Pitcairn to try to set up a business to bring an alternative funding stream into the island. He has bought the home of one of his distant relatives, a man who was also convicted in the trials (Brian Young) but who managed to leave thanks to a medical evacuation where he lost a toe due to diabetes. This picture was taken in his bedroom on my last day. Kevin holds the ardent belief that the trials did not present the full truth.
Tania's room lies empty. Steve and Olive Christian's room is now left untouched, filled with the accoutrements of childhood, and a Princess and the Pea stack of mattresses, still partially made up. In Tania's room the absence is felt - a girl's room, pink and dusty. A childhood forgotten.
Famous man and baby copycat poster sits in a long empty bedroom, abandoned when its owner left at 15 for school in New Zealand, before the trials. It sits, ominously, at the end of the bed. A hint of what was to come...
Cushana, aged 6 (b. 2009). The only child living on Pitcairn Island during my stay, and daughter of the youngest female Pitcairn Islander and a benevolent Cook islander who was brought to Pitcairn to work on the electrical supply.
Cushana is the youngest of five, but is the only child left after her siblings have left for New Zealand to finish their schooling. Cushana is ferried to and from Pulau school by the island police officer. At no time is she left alone. When she grows up she wants to see snow and meet the Queen.
A doll belonging to Cushana Warren-Peu, sits, dusty and open legged in her bedroom.
This image features one of the girls who testified in the sexual abuse trials of 2004. It was the only image or reference of her that I found anywhere on the island, most were unwilling to acknowledge her existence, including her own family. This was discovered stashed in the back of an album destroyed by water in the last remaining traditional dunnage house on Pitcairn. The girl was repeatedly raped by Randy Christian, her first cousin. One one occassion, Randy and his brother Shawn stuffed a t-shirt in her mouth and raped he in turn. Both were convicted for their crimes.
Her face has been obscured and distorted, as though the physical environment of Pitcairn itself has slowly destroyed her, or erased her. In a sense this may be the most powerful image of my trip, drawing the parallel between Pitcairn's particular geography and some of the lasting effects on its people. When I left Pitcairn, I too felt emotionally destroyed - to leave the intensity behind was the greatest sense of freedom I have ever experienced.
Randy Christian is Steve Christian's middle son. In the 2004 trials he was convicted of five rapes and four indecent assaults, including the gang rape of his underage first cousin (with his brother Shawn).
His victim's testimony led to widespread awareness of the sexual abuse issues on Pitcairn, and kickstarted the investigation. He is now father to three and stepfather to one, though his children live in New Zealand. With his record, he is unable to get immigration clearance to visit.
Mayor Shawn Christian. Convicted of two rapes and one count of aiding and abetting a rape. Shawn, like his father, evaded my attempts wherever possible. Only in my last week did we finally align, and only after I had sat with him (in his mayoral role) to dissect a complaint I had made against his cousin.
Shawn’s portrait haunts me, I can see it sometimes when I close my eyes – real island memories have been replaced by my pictures or the obsessions of making them. His eyes stare blankly into the abyss, pupils wide. He dressed for the occasion, a flowery shirt. But even this does not cheer the scene.
The weight of his troubles seems impossible to bear. You could be forgiven for thinking he was a patient at a Victorian asylum, being the Mayor of Pitcairn would certainly have been maddening enough. When I look back at this image, I am reminded of the island as a prison – all on it are trapped in a kind of purgatory.
The convicted men, like Shawn, are routinely denied visas to travel. If Pitcairn’s days are numbered, where will they go? To Britain, more than 14,000 miles away – the only country obliged to settle them? It is impossible to separate Pitcairn from the trials - even the island's public face is marred.
Sign hanging at the entrance to Steve and Olive Christian's spawling home, Big Fence. Steve Christian was convicted of multiple rapes of underage girls. His wife, Olive, sat at the eye of the storm. Her two sons, hisband, father and brother were all implicated and convicted in the sexual abuse trials.
Big Fence was my home for more than half my time on island. Without acceptance from Steve Christian my project would certainly fail. Hints at Pitcairn's past seem inescapable. Big Fence is forever associated with the extended Christian family, or the ‘Big Fence Gang’ as the convicted men were often collectively known.
'Pirate' Pawl Warren is a gentle giant. He calls his home “Switzerland” as there you are free to speak openly. It was a friend of his daughter’s who first reported a sexual assault, and Pawl has been steadfast in his support of the island women.
He is one of the few islanders able to hold a gun license. Licenses were revoked for all convicted men when the trials took place, for fear of suicide.
Steve Christian, former mayor, and Fletcher Christian's nearest living descendent sports a black eye.
Steve is the unofficial monarch of Pitcairn, so placed because of his ancestry. Here, that means something. Steve was untouchable and his reign as ringleader of the “Big Fence Gang” was absolute. He was forcibly removed from his role as Mayor and was convicted of five rapes of young girls. The cause of his black eye remains a mystery.
Nanwe fish caught by Olive Christian at Tedside.
Olive cannot believe that the trial outcomes were true. Denial it may be, but perhaps this is understandable. After all, her brother, two sons, father and husband were all convicted. Today, Olive has multiple jobs and scurries between them, being busy provides a necessary distraction. Here she maintains the island's dirt roads - a constant fight between man and the encroaching jungle.
Len Brown, the island’s oldest male, is Olive Christian’s father, and 'Belinda's' grandfather. After a severe stroke, he now lives with his son in law’s sister Brenda, the island’s police officer.
When he was young, Len was athletic and would swim against the current, around the whole of Pitcairn Island. Here he sits in the molasses shed, the site of several rapes for which he was convicted.
To monitor the prisoners, wardens were brought from New Zealand, one of whom, Sue, fell in love with ‘Pirate Pawl’ Warren – and returned permanently. Though they have each other, the ravages of isolation can be seen across Sue’s face, aided by chain smoking and cheap alcohol.
Royal Warren was one of the most agreeable islanders that I met. She lived with her two children, warring siblings Melva and Mike – a family of devout Seventh Day Adventists. While I was there, Mike was on trial for child pornography, and was naturally suspicious of me. I battled through, and forged, I suppose, what one could call a friendship with Mike, or at least by Pitcairn standards. I reserved judgement while his trial was taking place, playing dominoes at their home while Royal looked on.
I often wondered what she was thinking of – her sharp and curious eyes flickering occasionally, before settling into a distant stare. She always looked as though she was remembering a better time, when life was easier, and then she would remember where she was, and what her family was going through, and her eyes would glass over in reticence.
Cushana, Pitcairn's only child waits for the frigate birds that circle the landing with detritus from the day's catch. Frigate birds are taken from Pitcairn's other islands as chicks, and hand reared. They are allowed to fly free, but retain certain loyalties to particular households on Pitcairn Island.