Ten pigtails of hair thought to be from seven mutineers of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame and three of their female Polynesian companions will be analyzed in a collaboration between the Pitcairn Islands Study Center at Pacific Union College and the forensic DNA group at King’s College London, one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities.
The Pitcairn Islands Study Center (PISC) holds the world’s largest collection of information about the 1789 mutiny on the British ship H.M.S. Bounty and its aftermath. Strands from the pigtails, currently on display at the PISC, have been sent to King’s College London for testing.
As the pigtails purportedly date back to the pre-1800s, the King’s team will first attempt to extract DNA from the historical hair samples after cleaning the outside, and then digesting the hair matrix using a chemical process. Nuclear DNA is not found in hair shafts, only the roots which are not available here; however, mitochondrial DNA may be present. If sufficient mitochondrial DNA can be collected, the first step will be to investigate the ancestral origins of the owners of the pigtails.
Herbert Ford, director of the Center, says, “If the tests and genealogical studies of this hair authenticates that it is of seven of the nine mutineers who hid out from British justice on Pitcairn in 1790, it will be the only tangible evidence of their having existed. There is only one known mutineer grave on Pitcairn, that of John Adams. Of the whereabouts of the remains of the eight others we can only speculate.”
Ford said the reason for requesting the collaboration with a world-class research center like King’s College London is that “We want to be very sure we are not traveling under false colors about these hairs. The Pitcairn Islands Study Center was founded on the requirement that we provide only accurate information about all aspects of the Bounty Saga. This present study seeks to better meet that requirement.”
Much has been written about the possible descendants of the mutineers, but this information will not be helpful with regards to the male mutineers; instead, their maternal line will need to be traced. The study will therefore try to identify their maternal ancestors, such as their respective mothers and maternal grandmothers, and research other direct female descendants down to individuals living today.
According to Ford, the hair is a gift from Joy Allward, wife of the late Maurice Allward of Hartfield, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. In 2000, Mr. Allward successfully bid for the hair at a Sotheby’s auction in London. The pigtails were housed in a nineteenth-century cylindrical tobacco tin. A handkerchief was also with the locks of hair and were said to have belonged to Sarah, the daughter of William McCoy, one of the Bounty mutineers.
A worn, faded label with the pigtails notes it is attached to the pigtail of hair of the mutineer McCoy, who died on Pitcairn in 1800. Notes written on the label also state the pigtails are of seven of the mutineers of H.M.S. Bounty, and “also that of three of the Tahitian women” who accompanied the mutineers to Pitcairn in 1790. Further information on the label notes that “The holders of the hair have been (1) Teio, wife of McCoy. (2) Mrs. Sarah Christian. (3) F. G. Mitchell. Given to F. G. Mitchell, 22nd June 1849 (Jubilee day) by Mrs. Sarah Nobbs.” More contemporary information about the ownership of the hair pigtails comes from V. J. Evans, of the Isle of Wight, who wrote a letter in 2001 to Mr. Allward in which he shared the pigtails and handkerchief were a gift to his great-grandmother.
Located in the Nelson Memorial Library at Pacific Union College, the Pitcairn Islands Study Center is a museum-research facility providing information about the mutiny and its aftermath to academics, journalists, researchers, authors, students, and others throughout the world. The center holds the world’s largest collection of information about this still popular and much-studied sea saga. For more information, visit pitcairnstudycenter.org.