The Chairman's View
by David Sleep
As published in the January 2009 magazine
In my report to members at the Annual General Meeting I used the opportunity to recognise the tremendous and committed work undertaken by your officers and members of the committee, all of whom were unanimously re-elected. It is a great privilege for the Group to have Jennifer Toombs as our President. Not only have Jennifer’s outstanding designs for Pitcairn Islands stamps inspired us all to adopt this collecting theme, but she brings an immense wealth of knowledge and expertise to our meetings and to assist members with their collecting interests and research. It was equally rewarding to see articles about Jennifer’s work in the philatelic press, which greatly assists in promoting Pitcairn philately.
Not only is Austin Meares our Vice President, but he also undertakes the vital role of Secretary, ably assisted by his wife Valerie. It is important to recognise the amount of work Austin undertakes not just at meetings but ‘behind the scenes’ to ensure our London meetings are the memorable and successful occasions they are, the enrolment of new members and administrative support to the officers and committee. On a personal note I would like to thank Austin for all the advice and encouragement he has provided me and our frequently productive discussions.
Our Treasurer, Alan Game, who has held this position since the Group was formed, keeps our finances in excellent order and maintains the vital link with the worldwide PISG in membership and auction matters. The accounts are always well presented and expertly audited by Joyce Ford.
There can be little doubt that our bi-annual publication The UK Log is recognised worldwide as a superb and outstanding magazine, reflecting all our collecting themes and interests and a great deal more. Our Editor, David Ransom, and with your contributions puts together a magazine that just improves with every issue, with such absorbing and incredible articles and photographs. David not only produces this splendid publication but also maintains our website, which recently exceeded 3,000 separate hits. A great accolade to David and the Group, that this website continues to be an immense source of information for members and a wider audience.
Our committee members of Maurice Allward, Graham Ford and John Smith all bring their own experience and expertise to the Group. Maurice always fascinates us with his informative articles in our magazine and links he has with Pitcairn, particularly through his generous proceeds from the sales of his book Pitcairn Island: Refuge of the Bounty Mutineers. Graham Ford, our publicity officer, who in 2008 worked hard to ensure that the Group’s 20th anniversary celebrations received wide coverage in the philatelic press and our auctioneer, John Smith, who always ensures our auctions are lively and gets the best price for the vendor and a good commission to Group funds! I would also like to thank Marigold Mann for her service and valuable advice she brought to the committee. It is also important to remind members of the vast collections in our Archives so well maintained by our archivist, Jeff Thomas. Please continue to use this service and contact Jeff. You may be surprised at the wealth of items we hold.
Undoubtedly the highlight to our autumn 2008 London meeting was Steve Ragnall’s superb illustrated talk on “Pandora’s Box – The aftermath of The Bounty mutiny and how and why Bligh’s reputation was ruined”. Steve, a speaker on maritime history and pacific exploration, brought to the Group what must have been a first, a close study of the Pandora voyage to search for the mutineers and the role of a young midshipman, Peter Heywood, who was pardoned by a king. Steve’s talk began on that infamous day at Spithead on 29th October 1792 when three seamen were hanged for mutiny. It was 18 months earlier in Matavai Bay, that the three, together with eleven others including Heywood who was first to ‘welcome’ the English ship, were chained and placed in a ‘small shed’, just measuring eleven by eighteen feet and only three and a half feet high, on board HMS Pandora. We would know it as ‘Pandora’s Box’. It was their home for nearly three months, with little food or water and sanitation, before Pandora foundered near the Great Barrier Reef, in part from poor leadership by its commander, Captain Edwards. It would take nearly three hours for the Pandora to sink, with many men lost, including four mutineers. Those that survived made it to dry land, but the mutineers that survived were still treated harshly all the way in open boats to Coupang and then to England to meet their possible fate.
Steve described in detail the eventual court martial of the mutineers and that three would be eventually hanged from the yardarm of HMS Brunswick on 29th October 1792. Peter Heywood would rise to the rank of Captain, he would have a distinguished career during the wars with France and retired from active service in 1816.
Like Heywood, William Bligh would have a distinguished naval career, however his popularity after the incredible open boat voyage, was blackened with the return of the mutineers to England, while he was away on his second breadfruit voyage. This was in part from the efforts of Fletcher Christian’s brother, Edward who maintained a constant barrage in support of Fletcher and from which Bligh was not able to sway public opinion back in his favour.
Central to Steve’s fascinating talk was of course Peter Heywood and as I write this report, it was a great privilege to join other members and invited guests to a ceremony on 8th December at the Chapel of St Michael, Highgate School to dedicate a plaque in memory of Peter Heywood, who died in 1831 and was buried in the Chapel’s public vault. UK Group member, Donald Maxton from the United States, must be congratulated in his quest to mark the final resting place of a midshipman who at sixteen years old was caught up in a mutiny that still intrigues us all to this day. A more detailed account of this memorable event will appear in the next issue of The UK Log.
All members would have been saddened to learn of the news of the death of long time UK member, David Hume, from South Africa in November. Many of you would have purchased his handbook Pitcairn Islands Philately, which has been a great and exhaustive source of information and will long continue as a must have handbook for this captivating collecting theme.
Your committee will be convening in January for its annual full day meeting. We will have much to discuss. There is a growing interest in whether the Group should include other territories, mainly Norfolk Island, given its strong links with Pitcairn and its popularity with collectors, and whether Norfolk should be added to the Group’s name. This could attract new members and the impetus to draw more members to our London meetings, which noticeably have decreased over recent meetings. Do we still want to call ourselves a ‘study group’ or change to ‘society’ given the diverse range of topics and interests we cover, including aspects of 18th century Pacific exploration and maritime history. Any changes we propose will have full consultation and discussion, particularly with officers of PISG, but in the meantime do give this some thought and let us have your ideas and views.
May I wish you all a very peaceful and rewarding 2009 and look forward to seeing many of you at our next London meeting on 21st March.