The Pitcairn Islands comprise Pitcairn Island itself and three uninhabited islands, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. Pitcairn is approximately 3km long and 1.5km wide.
It was first settled in 1790 by some of the HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions.
Pitcairn was left uninhabited between 1856 and 1859 when the entire population was resettled on Norfolk Island. The present community are descendants from two parties who, not wishing to remain on Norfolk, returned to Pitcairn in 1859 and 1864 respectively.
The population totals only 54, all living in the only settlement, Adamstown. The official languages of Pitcairn are English and Pitkern, the latter becoming an official language by declaration of the Island Council in 1997. This is a mixture of English and Tahitian with the former predominating. Henderson Island is the best example in the Pacific of a large raised coral atoll and is an important breeding ground for seabirds.
Henderson has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UK and Pitcairn Governments have been working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to safeguard Henderson’s biodiversity through a project to remove non-indigenous rats.
Pitcairn is a British settlement under the British Settlements Act of 1887, although the Islanders usually date their recognition as a British Territory to a constitution of 1838 devised with the help of a visiting Royal Navy officer.
The office of the Governor was established in 1970, after Fiji (whose Governor had been responsible for Pitcairn since 1952) became independent from the UK. The British High Commissioner to New Zealand is appointed concurrently as Governor (Non-Resident) of Pitcairn. In September 2009, a consultation period began on a new Constitution better to meet the needs of Pitcairn in the 21st century.
The new Constitution came into force in March 2010. For the first time the new Constitution included a fundamental rights chapter.
It also established the role of the Island Council in the Constitution and obliges the Governor to consult with the Island Council before making laws (and, in cases where the Governor acts contrary to advice of the Island Council, entitles any member of the Council to submit his or her views on the matter to a UK Secretary of State).
The new Constitution affirms the independent role of the Pitcairn courts and judicial officers and guarantees the independence of the public service. Pitcairn Islanders manage their internal affairs through the Pitcairn Island Council, for which elections are held every two years.
The economy of Pitcairn is largely based on subsistence fishing, horticulture, and the sale of handicrafts. Pitcairn’s primary source of income was traditionally the sale of postage stamps, but a downturn in the market led to financial reserves being exhausted and Pitcairn now receives budgetary aid from the UK.
The Pitcairn Government is trying to boost revenue through small business development, the sale of .pn domain names, honey production and by increasing tourism. The population of the Territory is self-employed or works for local government. There is no formal taxation.
The dwindling and ageing population of the Island has become an increasing concern. The UK is assisting the Pitcairn Government in developing plans to tackle population decrease and develop the Island’s economy and society.
The UK has provided bilateral aid to Pitcairn since 2002/03. In 2010/11 this aid amounted to £2,447,000.
Over the last decade the UK Government has provided extensive development assistance for a range of projects designed to help provide an environment which encourages economic and social development and meet the reasonable assistance needs of the community.
These have included a health centre, rebuilding the school, upgrading telecommunications and a sealed road from the jetty to the main settlement.
A regular shipping service was established in December 2009 and this provides a necessary life-line in terms of freight and passenger services. Work is also progressing on projects to provide sustainable wind energy and an alternate harbour to make the landing of supplies, tourists (particularly from cruise ships) and islanders easier and safer.