DNA tests could prove that seven pigtails kept in a 19th-century tobacco tin belonged to the infamous mutineers on HMS Bounty, the first physical evidence of the men’s existence.
While the story of the mutiny against Captain William Bligh by his disaffected crew in the South Pacific in 1789 is famous, the only tangible evidence of those who hid from justice on the remote Pitcairn Islands is the grave of mutineer John Adams.
But scientists at King’s College London hope tests on strands of hair can eventually link the 10 pigtails to seven of the mutinous sailors and three of their Polynesian companions.
Herbert Ford, director of the Pitcairn Islands Study Centre at Pacific Union College in California, where the pigtails are displayed, said the potential proof was “extremely exciting” and would be “solid evidence” of the men being on Pitcairn.
“If it’s found to be the real hair, it would be the only real, tangible evidence that we have of the existence of the known mutineers.
“There’s one grave on Pitcairn Island today, that of John Adams, and that’s the only thing you can put your hands on of the nine mutineers that were there on the island, starting in 1789... We are very much hoping that the researchers at King’s can see if we can really find the truth about this hair.”
The Bounty mutiny was led by acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian, who cast Bligh and 18 loyal crew adrift on a 23ft launch.
Bligh managed to sail back to England while Christian, after a stop in Tahiti, went on to Pitcairn where he and eight others founded a colony, eventually being discovered in 1808. Their descendants still live there.
Dr Denise Syndercombe-Court, from King’s College, said: “The hairs, if from the mutineers, are over 200 years old and we have no idea what environments they might have been exposed to in the inter-vening time.”
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