25th November 2022

‘Isles of the southern seas, deep in your coral caves’ – a line in a great Advent-themed hymn on the coming of Christ to the whole world. One such isle has been in the news again recently.

In 1790, the crew of HMS Bounty who’d mutinied against the unpopular Captain Bligh, settled (with their Tahitian ‘wives’) on tiny Pitcairn Island in the immensity of the South Pacific. The Pitcairn islanders community, today numbering barely 50 but proud of its democratic status, has just elected a new mayor (from Yorkshire!). Pitcairn has had a chequered social history, but it was the second country in the world to give women the vote, and Christianity has played its part there – notably the Adventist Church.

While I was minister at Downend Baptist Church in Bristol a copy of a letter was discovered there from John Buffet, the very first Englishman to visit and settle on Pitcairn after the mutineers. He’d been carpenter on a whaling ship that called there in the 1820s. Noting the dire needs of the islanders the captain appealed for a crewman who might join them and teach the skills for housebuilding and suchlike. Buffet, aged 26, volunteered and spent the rest of his life on Pitcairn and similar islands. His motivation? Well, in that letter he spoke affectionately of his upbringing at Downend, recalling especially the chapel choir.

He died aged 93. As a young apprentice carpenter, he could not have imagined that what he was learning in Bristol would be used on those distant ‘Isles of the southern seas…’ Advent faith leaps at unexpected needs and opportunities.

Keith Clements