Pitcairn Island Post has prepared for releasing a special set of stamps that is devoted to the Breadfruit Saga – one of the most important shots of the island’s history. The issue consisting of three stamps is to be put into circulation on the 26th of August.
In 1787, Lieutenant William Bligh took command of the HMAV Bounty whose mission was to sail to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit saplings to take to the British Colonies in the West Indies and Jamaica in particular. This was an experiment to find an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed the large number of slaves who worked the island’s numerous sugar plantations.
The whole project encountered difficulties beginning with the voyage to Tahiti which was troubled with notoriously stormy weather and forced to take the longer way around Africa. Further delays arose from having to wait over five months for the breadfruit plants to mature sufficiently to be transported. The Bounty departed Tahiti in April 1789 and sailed into history when Fletcher Christian and the mutineers took over the ship.
The story that Bligh took drinking water meant for his crew and used it to water the breadfruit plants has never been proved. After casting Bligh and his followers adrift in a small boat Christian and his fellow mutineers threw the breadfruit plants into the sea and went in search of Tubuai and ultimately Pitcairn Island. According to Bligh’s diary, Fletcher Christian shouted at his former commander, “There goes the Bounty bastard, breadfruit Bligh!”
Bligh persevered in his small craft with limited food and water and after being adrift for a remarkable 47 days in the Pacific, covering 3,618 nautical miles with only a sextant to guide him and his men, he arrived at Timor. From there he returned to Britain, where he was court-martialed for the loss of the Bounty. After his exoneration Bligh remained in the Royal Navy and was promoted to Captain. From 1791 to 1793, as master and commander of HMS Providence he undertook again to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies.
Two thousand one hundred twenty-six breadfruit plants were carried from Tahiti, in pots and tubs stored both on deck and in the below-deck nursery. The expedition’s gardener described ravages inflicted by “exceedingly troublesome flies, cold, unwholesomeness of sea air, salt spray and rationed water” nonetheless, 678 survived to the West Indies, being delivered in 1793. It was from this shipment that Bligh delivered specimens to the island of St. Vincent and Jamaica’s Bath Botanical Gardens in St. Thomas, and Bluefields in Westmoreland.
The operation was deemed successful even though the early slaves in the Caribbean islands did not take to it. It is now an important staple crop in Oceania and can be found in over 145 countries worldwide.
The presence of the breadfruit trees on Pitcairn according to an accurate narrative*, proves that the early settlers came from some volcanic island. The breadfruit is absent in Rapa, so it is assumed that they must have come from the Austral Islands farther to the west or from Mangareva.
There are two types of breadfruit on Pitcairn Island. The smooth-skinned, white-fleshed breadfruit is widespread throughout the island. The other breadfruit was introduced from Fiji and has a yellow flesh, a different, sweeter flavour, and a different texture.
Eating breadfruit is similar to eating a potato. Some favourites are pilhi, or stewing breadfruit with onion, coconut milk and seasoning; making breadfruit salad; eating it mashed or as chips or making breadfruit puff where boiled breadfruit is mashed, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Breadfruit cooked in gravy made from oxtail to give it flavour is also popular.