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How real-life Bounty mutineer John Adams moved from Hackney to one of the world's most remote tropical islands

PUBLISHED: 09:53 04 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:34 04 September 2019

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers cast Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift; 1790 painting by Robert Dodd. Picture: © National Maritime Museum, London.

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers cast Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift; 1790 painting by Robert Dodd. Picture: © National Maritime Museum, London.

© National Maritime Museum, London.

The Pitcairn Islands might well be the most remote country on earth to issue its own stamps - and one features St Augustine's Tower. Emma Bartholomew finds out how John Adams - who the capital Adamstown is named after - moved from Hackney to the South Pacific after taking part in the Mutiny on the Bounty

The Pitcairn Islands commemorative stamp depicting St Augustine's Tower where John Adams was baptised.The Pitcairn Islands commemorative stamp depicting St Augustine's Tower where John Adams was baptised.

Even today it's a 36-hour boat ride to reach the Pitcairn Islands from Mangavera - and the vessel only departs four times a year. So it's incredible to think that a man from Hackney ended up settling there in 1789.

John Adams was born in Stoke Newington and went on to take part in the real-life "Mutiny on the Bounty", depicted in the 1962 epic film starring Marlon Brando.

The Royal Navy merchant vessel HMS Bounty had left England the year before to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti to feed slaves in the West Indies. But the crew became increasingly resentful towards their cruel captain, William Bligh.

Acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian led an uprising which saw Bligh and 18 loyalists set adrift in a rowing boat on 28 April 1789. The mutineers meanwhile settled in Tahiti and the Pitcairn Islands where Adams ended up. Against all odds, Bligh travelled 3,500 nautical miles to safety and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.

The parish church of Hackney in 1750, St Augustine's Church. Picture: LMA Noble Collection of EphemeraThe parish church of Hackney in 1750, St Augustine's Church. Picture: LMA Noble Collection of Ephemera

In 1790 14 of them were captured in Tahiti. But the group in Pitcairn remained undiscovered until 1808, by which time John Adams was the only one still alive - the rest having succumbed to alcoholism, illness or murder.

He was granted amnesty, and descendants of the mutineers still live in Pitcairn today - although there are only 50 of them. An official British Overseas Territory, Pitcairn is a troubled place. In 2004 rape and child sex assault charges were laid against seven men on Pitcairn and six living abroad - accounting for nearly a third of the male population - most of whom were convicted. 
John Adams' grave is now on display in the Pacific Encounters Gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, along with his pigtail and a sea-chest that belonged to him.

His links with Hackney have gone under the radar - until St John at Hackney Church discovered them completely by chance this year.

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Community engagement officer Zac Lloyd's internet sleuthing unearthed Adams' connection to John at Hackney, where Adams was likely baptised.

Church warden John Parmiter then discovered the tower is depicted on Pitcairn's stamps - and Zac decided to buy the collection for 90p on eBay. There are four stamps in the set, released in 1990 to mark the bi-centenary of the country's founding, which commemorate links of original mutineers with the UK - in Hackney, Plymouth, Cockermouth and Whitehaven.

Zac, whose work is funded through a National Lottery grant to engage the community with St John at Hackney's history, as part of the church's multi-million pound restoration project, told the Gazette: "The nice thing about this is it's a quirky connection to just about the most far flung place you can imagine.

"It's one of the most remote places on earth, and it's absolutely unbelievable that they settled there - and this tiny community has this image of Hackney in their heads as being one of the places they came from."

John Adams is credited with introducing Christianity to Pitcairn, which bound the community together - although he did murder a man to reach that goal. In 1799 John Adams, Ned Young, and Matthew Quintal were the last three surviving mutineers when Adams and Young apparently got the thuggish Quintal drunk, and killed him with a hatchet.

Adams and Young turned to the Scriptures and the ship's Bible as their guide for a new and peaceful society. They taught the island's children to read and write. After Young's death Adams continued educating the women and children until his death aged 62 in 1829.

Zac, who has researched Adams' life, said: "He learned about the Christian faith and the Bible during his upbringing, but he fell astray in his 20s and became a petty criminal and vagrant.

"To escape the law and start a new life he signed on as an able seaman on a ship and made his way into the Navy. As the story of the mutiny on the Bounty unfolded he became a leader. He obviously had qualities that made people follow him, and he eventually became the de facto leader and was instrumental in distilling a Christian faith in the settlers which bound the community together."

He added: "Part of my job is to unearth these quirky stories about the role of Hackney in the world and St John at Hackney's history is full of interesting people who have changed the world in interesting ways.

"Unearthing these weird and wonderful stories gives people a sense of Hackney's importance in the world beyond our own streets."

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