updated 10/28/2004 10:29:35 PM ET 2004-10-29T02:29:35

The mayor and five other men on the small Pacific island of Pitcairn were sentenced to up to six years in prison for a string of rapes and sex attacks dating back 40 years on the remote and isolated home of the HMS Bounty mutineers, British authorities in New Zealand said Friday.

Steve Christian, the mayor of Pitcairn island who claims to be a direct descendent of Bounty mutiny leader Fletcher Christian, was sentenced to three years after being convicted Monday of five rapes. The other sentences ranged from community service to six years in prison.

The sentences will not begin until next year, after appeals by defense lawyers against Britain’s jurisdiction over the island, which has a permanent population of just 47. If the men’s sentences are upheld, they will serve time in a cell block they helped to build on the island.

Prosecutors — who based their case on the testimony of eight women — painted a picture of a male-dominated society in which underage sex was commonplace.

But some of the island’s women came out in defense of the men, saying that while underage sex did happen, it was consensual and important to the island’s survival.

Pitcairn, lying midway between Peru and New Zealand, has long fascinated the world for being the refuge of the men who mutinied aboard the Bounty and cast Capt. William Bligh adrift with his supporters in 1789.

Residents on the island fear that prison terms will prevent the men from crewing a longboat that is Pitcairn’s lifeline — ferrying vital supplies like fuel and food to the island from passing ships that cannot dock along its rocky coastline.

Professor John Connell, an expert on the South Pacific from the University of Sydney, said earlier this week that if the men were incarcerated, they likely would be released temporarily when needed to crew the longboat.

None of the victims of the alleged abuse still lives on the island; they testified by way of a video link from the northern New Zealand city of Auckland.

The trials, lasting three weeks, were held in makeshift courtrooms set up in the island’s community hall and were presided over by three judges from New Zealand.

Steve Christian’s son, Randy, was sentenced to six years for four rapes and five indecent assaults.

Len Brown, 78, was convicted of two rapes and sentenced to two years. His son, Dave, was convicted of nine indecent assaults and sentenced to community service.

Dennis Christian, 49, the postmaster and another descendant of Fletcher Christian, was convicted of one indecent assault and two sexual assaults he pleaded guilty to at trial. He also was sentenced to community service.

Terry Young was convicted of one rape and six indecent assaults. Judges imprisoned him for five years.

Jay Warren, the island’s magistrate, was found innocent of indecent assault.

The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five rocky volcanic outcroppings — only the largest of which is inhabited — with a combined area of just 18 square miles.

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