Barkcloth made by Fletcher Christian's widow

Pitcairn Islands, probably late 18th/early 19th century AD

The people of the Society Islands, in common with most other Polynesian islanders, made a form of felted cloth known as barkcloth (tapa) by beating out the inner bark of a tree - mostly that of the paper mulberry. The cloth was used for garments and bedding.

This barkcloth is said to have been made by Mauatua, the daughter of a Society Islands chief and the partner of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny on HMS Bounty in 1789.

In 1787, Lieutenant William Bligh, who had recently served as sailing master to Captain James Cook on his voyages to the South Pacific, was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks and the British Admiralty to undertake a voyage to collect breadfruit plants from the Society Islands and transport them to the West Indies to be cultivated as food for slaves. Christian was one of several crew who had formed relationships with local women during their long stay in the Society Islands. The mutineers set Bligh and his supporters adrift in the ship's boat and sailed to the remote and uninhabited Pitcairn Island.

They were accompanied by twelve new 'wives' and a few men from the Society Islands. Mauatua was given the nickname 'Mainmast' in recognition of her tall stature, but Christian called her Isabella. She bore him three children. It is thought that Christian was murdered on Pitcairn Island.

The British people, on learning of the mutiny, were greatly interested. Bligh was regarded as a hero and a great navigator, and his account of the mutiny was published in July 1790.

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More information


T. Lummis, Pitcairn Island: life and deat (Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1997)

S. Kooijman, Tapa in Polynesia (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 234, 1972)


Length: 29.000 cm

Museum number

AOA Ethno 1937,3-8.1



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