The Pitcairn Islands, officially the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, also known as British Polynesia, is a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the sole British Overseas Territory in the Pacific Ocean. The four islands—Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno—are scattered across several hundred kilometers of ocean and have a combined land area of about 18 square miles (47 km2). Henderson Island accounts for 86% of the land area, but only Pitcairn Island is inhabited. The islands nearest to the Pitcairn Islands are Mangareva (of French Polynesia) to the west and Easter Island to the east.
Pitcairn is the least populous national jurisdiction in the world. The Pitcairn Islanders are a biracial ethnic group descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and a handful of Tahitian captives – as is still apparent from the surnames of many of the islanders. This famous mutiny and its aftermath have been the subject of many books and films. As of January 2020, there were only 47 permanent inhabitants.
Ducie and Henderson Islands were discovered by Portuguese sailor Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, sailing for the Spanish Crown, who arrived on 26 January 1606. He named them La Encarnación (“The Incarnation“) and San Juan Bautista (“Saint John the Baptist“), respectively. However, some sources express doubt about exactly which of the islands were visited and named by Queirós, suggesting that La Encarnación may actually have been Henderson Island, and San Juan Bautista may have been Pitcairn Island.
Pitcairn Island was sighted on 3 July 1767 by the crew of the British sloop HMS Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Carteret. The island was named after midshipman Robert Pitcairn, a fifteen-year-old crew member who was the first to sight the island. Robert Pitcairn was a son of British Marine Major John Pitcairn, who later was killed at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill in the American War of Independence.
Carteret, who sailed without the newly invented marine chronometer, charted the island at 25°02′S 133°21′W, and although the latitude was reasonably accurate, his recorded longitude was incorrect by about 3°, putting his coordinates 330 km (210 mi) to the west of the actual island. This made Pitcairn difficult to find, as highlighted by the failure of captain James Cook to locate the island in July 1773.