Serpent in Paradise
Shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award
I was sitting in the darkened cinema at the Elephant and Castle,
central London, watching the film The Bounty, starring Anthony
Hopkins as Captain William Bligh and Mel Gibson as mutineer Fletcher
Christian. It was drizzling outside; my mood was as dreary. The
story of youthful rebellion unfolded before me on the screen.
Fletcher Christian led his cast of mutineers against the authoritarian
Captain Bligh, casting him over the side of the ship. Ten months
later, Christian and his mutinous crew, together with a handful
of Tahitian men and, most importantly, women, landed on Pitcairn Island to found a new Utopia.
As the credits for the film rolled, the words came up on screen, ‘ .
. . his descendants live on Pitcairn Island to this day.’ When
I emerged into the darks street and it was still drizzling, I
resolved to leave for Pitcairn Island.
Pitcairn has no airstrip, and the only way to reach it is to
hitch a lift on a cargo vessel working the route from Panama
Canal across the South Pacific. It took two years of planning
and persuasion to eventually land on this uttermost end of the
earth. And what I found was not a living Paradise, but an outcrop
of Hell. Serpent in Paradise is the story of that slow revelation.
Pitcairn is currently in turbulent times, as half the men of
the island have been convicted of sexual abuse against children.
Mayor Steve Christian has been found guilty of five counts of
rape against minors. I knew all these people well, and have written
many articles on my experiences on the island and thoughts on
the current troubled situation.