August 22, 2016

Will Hair Unlock The Secrets Of The Bounty Mutineers?


Most people have heard of this famous mutiny. It has been made into movies at least four times, and for television as well.
The picture of The Bounty, above, is a reconstruction. 


They do not look up to much — just some scraps of hair stored in a dirty old tobacco tin. But the historic pigtails are about to spark a piece of detective work to unlock one of the last mysteries of the mutiny on the Bounty.
Seven of the 10 pigtails are said to have belonged to the mutineers who rose up with Fletcher Christian against William Bligh.

The others supposedly belonged to three of the Polynesian women who sailed with the mutineers from Tahiti to Pitcairn ­Island in September 1789.

Their identity has never been proven, however. Britain’s leading experts in forensic genetics have joined the effort to prove that the scraps of hair really are a link with one of the most infamous episodes in British naval history.

Using the latest DNA testing techniques, the team at King’s College London hopes to establish whether the DNA in the hairs can be directly linked with those of the mutineers’ families.

Disaffected crewmen led by Christian seized control of HMS Bounty in the South Pacific and set Bligh and 18 loyal crewmen adrift in the ship’s launch.

Some of the mutineers settled on Tahiti, where they were captured in 1791, and the others on Pitcairn Island, where the last was found alive 1808. Their descendants still live on the island today.

The pigtails, given to the ­Pitcairn Islands Study Centre in California in 2013 were part of a collection which included a handkerchief said to have belonged to Sarah, daughter of the mutineer William McCoy.

“We need to know the truth — as much as humanly possible — about these locks of hair,” said centre director Herbert Ford.

“If the tests and genealogical studies of this hair authenticates that it is of seven of the nine mutineers who hid out from British justice on Pitcairn Island in 1790, it will be the only tangible physical evidence of their having existed.”

There is only one known mutineer grave on Pitcairn, that of John Adams.

One of the problems facing the King’s College team is that hair does not contain nuclear DNA, which is only to be found in hair roots. It does, however, contain mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the female line.

The team will use next generation sequencing to analyse DNA. King’s College’s Denise Syndercombe-Court said: “First, we will have to determine whether we can recover mitochondrial DNA of appropriate quality to be ­analysed. ”

Finding a DNA sample to compare it against will be even more difficult. That will involve finding a maternal ancestor of the mutineers and then tracing down through the female line to a living descendant.

By Valentine Low
With many thanks to The Australian 


Picture credits: Wiki.

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