On July 3, 1767, Robert Pitcairn onboard the HMS Swallow sighted what would become known as the Pitcairn Islands. We’ll be mixing the Ti Punch to celebrate that achievement, even if the drink comes from the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. So if you’ve ever wondered what to drink in honor of the mutiny on the Bounty we have the answer.
A volcanic island in the South Pacific, Polynesians formed colonies on Pitcairn in the 11th century, but for unknown reasons decided to leave. Spain discovered it in 1606 but ignored it. When Robert Pitcairn spotted the island in 1767 his captain, Philip Carteret, named it for him. The island’s history was left to fate. It was up to England to supply all the drama and they delivered.
Mutiny on the Bounty
Fast forward 1787 and the HMS Bounty under the command of William Bligh left England on a mission to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. It took until October of 1788 for the ship to arrive in Tahiti. The island’s leaders remembered Bligh from a visit 15 years earlier under the command of Captain James Cook and received him warmly. A portion of the crew was given the duty of nurturing and potting the required plants.
At the same time…well…sailors on shore. Duties were light, the local women were friendly, and some 18 out of 46 crew members required treatment for venereal disease. Work slackened and Bligh got out the lash to show them who was boss.
As you might expect, many of the men were not too happy when it came time to leave Tahiti on April 1, 1789. The mutiny itself was not in the works, but Bligh became increasingly irrational and brutal. A few weeks later, Christian Fletcher, supported by half the crew, took over the ship. The mutineers cast Bligh and his loyalists adrift in an overloaded 23-foot launch. They survived, eventually landing in Indonesia, and the hunt for the mutineers was on.
Fletcher commanded the Bounty and realized that even if Bligh perished before reporting the mutiny a search mission would eventually happen. Mutiny was highly frowned upon and he knew that could be trouble. Heading back to Tahiti Fletcher concocted a story that he, Bligh and Captain Cook were founding a new settlement at Aitutaki. Mentioning Cook’s name got them generous gifts, and a well-provisioned Bounty sailed off with nearly thirty Tahitian men and women added.
Onward to Pitcairn
Fletcher tried to take over the island of Tubuai about 500 miles south of Tahiti instead of heading to Aitutaki. This didn’t go well and he found himself at war with the natives. Fleeing Tubuai and heading back to Tahiti didn’t go so well either, as the leaders had learned from a visiting British ship that the Aitutaki story was a lie and that Cook had been dead for years. On top of that all but nine of his crew members decided they would just take their chances in Tahiti rather than go further.
Christian knew he’d better leave, so one evening he threw a party onboard for a bunch of Tahitians, mostly women. He cut the anchor rope during the festivities and sailed away with his captive guests.
They reached the uninhabited Pitcairn Island in 1790. Fletcher Christian with eight remaining crew, six Tahitian men, twelve Tahitian women and a baby girl. They settled in, but not without difficulty. Fights, killings, and other drama, generally over the women. By 1793 several children had been born.
This isolated colony was not discovered until an American whaling ship wandered by in 1808. England was occupied with the Napoleonic Wars, so they ignored it. By 1856 the population was 156 and increasing. But they remained isolated until after the opening of the Panama Canal, when the island was a convenient stop for ships sailing to New Zealand. The population peaked in 1937 at 233 but has since declined, leaving as of 2018 a population of 56. It’s a lonely rock full of descendants of the Bounty mutineers.
The Ti Punch
Many of our astute readers will be aware of cordyline fruticosa, the ti plant, as decorative. It turns out that one of the Bounty mutineers had been a distiller in Scotland before landing in the South Pacific. Setting out to create a potion to lift spirits he developed a brew fermented and distilled into a sort of moonshine from the roots of the ti plant.
We don’t believe it, but the brew was credited with causing the suicides and murders mentioned above. They banned all liquor on the island and it took until 2009 to remedy that disaster.
It turns out that Island Distillers in Honolulu has re-created this brew as 100 proof Hawaiian moonshine. But alas, it’s not so easily available and we turn to the ti plant in name only with the ever-popular Ti Punch.
Ti Punch is the national drink of Martinique and Guadeloupe and is not what you would typically envision when you think of a punch. The name itself is a Creole term for “small punch” and it bears a striking resemblance to the Caipirinha we made with Cachaca. In Martinique it’s traditional for the bartender or host to provide each guest with the glassware, rum, lime and syrup so that they can make the drink to their own liking. As they say, “chacun prépare sa propre mort” (“each prepares their own death”).
- 2 oz Rhum Agricole
- 1 tsp Simple syrup
- 1 Lime wheel
- Add all ingredients to your preferred glass.
- Add ice.
- Drink and dream of islands.
Ti Punch is a shortened and anglicized version of its original French name of “Petit paunch” or “little punch” in English, with the “ti” just being a shortened version of “petit” pronounced “puh-tee”.