Mauatua, also Maimiti or Isabella Christian, also known as Mainmast[1] (c. 1764 – 19 September 1841) was a Tahitian tapa maker, who settled on Pitcairn Island with the Bounty mutineers. She married both Fletcher Christian and Ned Young, and had children with both men. Fine white tapa, which was her specialty, is held in the collections of the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, amongst others.

Bornc. 1764
Died19 September 1841(1841-09-19) (aged 65–66)
OccupationTapa maker
Tapa cloth made by Mauatua


Whilst the date of Mauatua's birth is not historically recorded, in later life she claimed to have witnessed the arrival of James Cook in Tahiti in 1769.[2] This information, combined with an estimate that she was 23 or 24 years old in 1788 when HMS Bounty arrived, suggests that she was born circa 1764.[2] She was reputedly the daughter of a chief,[1] or at least was born in a high social group.[3] The suffix -atua means 'for god/gods' and indicates a position within nobility.[4]

Fletcher Christian

Mauatua left Tahiti with Fletcher Christian and the mutineers; before they reached Pitcairn Island, they attempted to begin a new settlement at Tubuai.[5] She was the oldest woman to travel with the mutineers, and became a matriarch of the new society that was ultimately founded by them on Pitcairn Island.[6] She married Fletcher Christian, and they had two sons and a daughter.[2] Their sons were Thursday October and Charles Christian; their daughter was called Mary Anne and she was born after her father was murdered on 20 September 1793.[2][7] After Christian's death, Mauatua became the partner of Edward Young, with whom she had three children: Edward, Polly, and Dorothea.[2]

Along with the other Polynesian women, Mauatua brought the practice of beating tapa cloth to Pitcairn.[6][8] They adapted the process to reflect the natural materials they had access to.[6] During her lifetime, she gave tapa that she had made as gifts, including a bale of the cloth to Frances Heywood, wife of naval officer and mutineer, Peter Heywood.[4] From surviving examples and contemporary observations, it appears that Mauatua specialised in making a fine white tapa.[4]

In 1831 Mauatua was part of the group who returned to Tahiti, landing there, according to historian Henry Maude, on 23 March 1831.[9] Many of the group were killed by infectious diseases they had no immunity to – this included her son Thursday October.[2] She returned to Pitcairn Island the same year.[10] According to her descendant, Glyn Christian, Mauatua was instrumental in having the right to vote for women on Pitcairn made into law in 1838.[11]

Mauatua died on 19 September 1841 after catching influenza.[2][4] After her death, Teraura remained as the only survivor of the original settlers and the island's oldest inhabitant.[2]


Many of the families living on Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island can trace their ancestry back to Mauatua.[6][12]

Three examples of tapa cloth made by Mauatua are held in the collections of the British Museum and at Kew Gardens in London.[1][4] Examples made by her daughters Polly and Dorothea (Dolly) are found in collections of the Turnbull Library in New Zealand and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, respectively.[6][13] Cloth made by her great-granddaughter, Helena Beatrice Young, is also held at both the British Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum.[13]

Mauatua's craft as a tapa beater inspires the work of her descendant Jean Clarkson, whose work is held in the collection of Te Papa.[14]

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1984 film The Bounty, Mauatua was played by Tevaite Vernette.[15] In the film, the romance between her and Christian is portrayed as a cause of the mutiny.[16] In the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty she was played by Tarita Teriipaia, who received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[17] In Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Mamo Clark acted in the role.[18]

Mauatua is the subject of several books, including a biography of her and Fletcher Christian by her great-great-great-great-grandson Glyn Christian.[19][11] He also wrote a work of historical fiction based on her life.[20] A novelisation of her life, and that of the other Polynesian women to live on Pitcairn, entitled Transit of Venus, was written by another descendant, Rowan Metcalfe, and published posthumously.[21][22]

The artist Pauline Thompson, who was also a descendant, created several paintings inspired by Mauatua's life and those of other Pitcairn Islander women.[23]


  1. ^ a b c "Mauatua". British Museum. Archived from the original on 27 November 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Pitcairn Islands Study Center". Pacific Union College Library. 2021-10-01. Archived from the original on 2021-10-01. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  3. ^ Langdon, Robert (2000). "'Dusky Damsels': Pitcairn Island's Neglected Matriarchs of the "Bounty" Saga". The Journal of Pacific History. 35 (1): 29–47. doi:10.1080/713682826. ISSN 0022-3344. JSTOR 25169464. PMID 18286752. S2CID 38078038.
  4. ^ a b c d e Mesenhöller, Peter; Stauffer, Annemarie (2016-11-14). Made in Oceania: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Social and Cultural Meanings and Presentation of Oceanic Tapa. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-8772-4.
  5. ^ Erskine, Nigel (2004). The historical archaeology of settlement at Pitcairn Island 1790–1856 (phd thesis). James Cook University.
  6. ^ a b c d e "The Women of Pitcairn and their Descendants – History Matters". History Matters  – University of Sydney. 2021-04-17. Archived from the original on 2021-04-17. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  7. ^ Albert, Donald Patrick (2020). "The Bounty ̓s Primogeniture and the Thursday-Friday Conundru m". Athens Journal of Humanities & Arts. 7 (2): 105–120. doi:10.30958/ajha.7-2-1. ISSN 2241-7702. S2CID 218828235.
  8. ^ Young, Adrian; Amoamo, Maria; Gibbs, Martin; Mawyer, Alexander; Nash, Joshua; Nechtman, Tillman W.; Reynolds, Pauline (2021-09-30). "When Margins Are Centres: De-ranging Pitcairn Island's Place in Pacific Scholarship". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 130 (3): 197–226. ISSN 2230-5955.
  9. ^ MAUDE, H. E. (1959). "TAHITIAN INTERLUDE: The Migration of the Pitcairn Islanders to the Motherland in 1831". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. 68 (2): 115–140. ISSN 0032-4000. JSTOR 20703726.
  10. ^ Albert, Donald Patrick (2021). "Teehuteatuaonoa aka 'Jenny', the most traveled woman on the Bounty: Chronicling female agency and island movements with Google Earth". Island Studies Journal. 16 (1): 190–208. doi:10.24043/isj.153. S2CID 234260181.
  11. ^ a b Morrison, James (2010). After the Bounty: A Sailor's Account of the Mutiny, and Life in the South Seas. Potomac Books, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59797-371-7.
  12. ^ "Norfolk Island Council of Elders | NI People for Democracy". NIPD. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  13. ^ a b Reynolds, Pauline (2016-07-02). "Tapa Cloths and Beaters: Tradition, Innovation and the Agency of the Bounty Women in Shaping a New Culture on Pitcairn Island from 1790 to 1850". Textile History. 47 (2): 190–207. doi:10.1080/00404969.2016.1211435. ISSN 0040-4969. S2CID 163849896.
  14. ^ "Cloak (Prince of Peace)". 2021-11-28. Archived from the original on 2021-11-28. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  15. ^ Kempey, Rita (4 May 1984). "Bounty's Good Captain Bligh Finally Gets His Just Deserts". Archived from the original on 28 November 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  16. ^ "Reflecting on the Pacific: Representations of the – ProQuest". ProQuest 1306156401. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  17. ^ "Golden Globe Awards: Winners & Nominees 1963". Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Mamo Clark; She Played Gable's Wife in 'Mutiny'". Los Angeles Times. 1986-12-20. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  19. ^ "Pen and Sword Books: Titles by Glynn Christian". 2021-01-27. Archived from the original on 2021-01-27. Retrieved 2021-11-28.
  20. ^ Christian, Glynn (2011). Mrs Christian : 'Bounty' mutineer. [Place of publication not identified]: The Long Riders' Guild Press. ISBN 978-1-59048-050-2. OCLC 795137574.
  21. ^ Metcalfe, Rowan (2004). Transit of Venus. Wellington, N.Z.: Huia Publishers. ISBN 1869690834.
  22. ^ "What I'm reading". Dominion Post. 18 September 2004. p. 10.
  23. ^ Kelly, Emma (2020-12-01). "Mainmast Speaks: The paintings of Pauline Thompson". Back Story Journal of New Zealand Art, Media & Design History (8): 49–68. doi:10.24135/backstory.vi8.57. ISSN 2703-1713. S2CID 239184316.

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