On April 5, 1789, the HMS Bounty began sailing back to England from Tahiti with its cargo of breadfruit plants. Three weeks and 1,300 miles later, mutiny broke out.
The mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, took control of the ship. They sent commanding officer Lt. William Bligh and the rest of the crew out on a small boat.
The mutineers returned to Tahiti. Most stayed there. The rest sailed on to Pitcairn Island, bringing with them a group of kidnapped Tahitian women.
The first baby born to the mutineers and their Tahitian wives was Fletcher Christian’s son. He arrived in mid-October, 1790, on what was thought to be a Thursday, so he was named Thursday October Christian.
The choice of name is perhaps emblematic of a willingness to forgo the past by not using a name common in the Christian family whilst not choosing to adopt a name more redolent of a Polynesian present and future.
Subsequent babies born to the mutineers were given common English names. Thursday October’s younger siblings, for instance, were Charles and Mary.
In mid-1814, toward the end of the War of 1812, a pair of British warships happened to spot Pitcairn.
Thursday October Christian came aboard one of the ships and was sketched by Lt. John Shillibeer. The men on the warships had discovered that the Islanders’ calendar was set a day too fast, so Shillibeer tried to correct the discrepancy by captioning the sketch “Friday Fletcher October Christian.”
If this adjustment was done to make the name of Pitcairn’s first-born conform to the Western or American date, the sketch should have been captioned “Wednesday October Christian.” The name change in Shillibeer’s account (which gained wide circulation) was to bedevil a host of subsequent writers.
Thursday October Christian (1790-1831) had seven children, the seventh of whom was named Thursday October Christian II.
Thursday October II (1820-1911) went on to have 17 children, but did not pass the name down again.
- Bartky, Ian R. One Time Fits All: The Campaigns for Global Uniformity. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007.
- Lewis, Andrew. “Pitcairn’s Tortured Past: A Legal History.” Justice, Legality and the Rule of Law: Lessons from the Pitcairn Prosecutions. Ed. Dawn Oliver. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 39-62.