John Tay was born in 1832 in the United States. At the age of 16 he went to work at sea, taking with him two gifts from his mother—a Bible and a book about the mutiny of the Bounty, which sparked his lifelong fascination with Pitcairn Island.
Eventually John left the sea, married a woman named Hannah, and built a house in Oakland, California. One day as he was walking, he heard the sound of singing coming from a large tent. Curious, he went inside. The Adventist message he heard there changed the course of his life. He was baptized in 1873 and filled with a longing to share his newfound faith.
By 1886 John’s health was deteriorating. His doctor told him that he must escape the polluted air of Oakland or most likely die. John decided it was time to take the Adventist message to Pitcairn.
The Pitcairners had received Adventist literature 10 years before from J. N. Loughborough and James White. When John arrived, they were ready to accept the Sabbath. They asked him to baptize them, but John kindly refused, explaining that he was not ordained. He sailed to the United States, promising to return with an ordained clergyman.
When Tay reached California he asked the Church leaders to provide a missionary ship so the Adventist message could be shared with the South Pacific islands. Four years later he and Hannah sailed to Pitcairn Island with the promised minister aboard.
The Tays stayed on Pitcairn for about three weeks and witnessed the baptism of 82 islanders. Then they set sail on the Pitcairn to work among the cannibals of Fiji. But it would be John’s last journey. Within five weeks of arriving on Fiji he contracted influenza and died.
The Pitcairn was built with the first mission offerings ever collected in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1890. It took six months to raise the $12,000 needed to build the missionary ship.
Adventist children began a fund-raising campaign that included such tasks as doing laundry, yard work, and shining shoes. One boy helped his mother make popcorn over the family’s wood-burning stove to make hundreds of popcorn balls to raise $15 for the Pitcairn.
M. C. Wilcox, who was present at the Pitcairn’s dedication described the 90-foot schooner as being “made of the very best timber” and the workmanship being of “the best character.”
Today one out of every 26 people in the South Pacific islands is a Seventh-day Adventist.
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