Mutiny on the Bounty

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This article is about the historical event. For other uses, see Mutiny on the Bounty (disambiguation).
Fletcher Christian and the mutineers turn Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift; 1790 painting by Robert Dodd

The Mutiny on the Bounty[n 1] was a mutiny aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty in the south Pacific on 28 April 1789. Disaffected crewmen, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain Lieutenant William Bligh and turned him and 18 loyalists afloat in Bounty's open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island, where Christian's group burned Bounty in January 1790; Bligh meanwhile undertook an epic voyage to Timor in the launch, using only a sextant and a compass to navigate what he recorded as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi).

Tasked to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies, Bounty left England in December 1787. During the ten-month outward voyage Bligh promoted the master's mate Christian to be second-in-command. The need for the plants to mature before transport necessitated a five-month layover in Tahiti, during which the crew lived ashore with Bligh's approval; many of them formed sexual attachments with native Polynesians. Relations between Bligh and his crew disintegrated after he began handing out harsh punishments and oral criticisms, particularly targeting Christian. Three seamen deserted on Tahiti, but were quickly recovered. About three weeks after Bounty left Tahiti, Christian successfully mounted a mutiny.

Bligh returned to England in March 1790 and seven months later was formally acquitted of any responsibility for Bounty's loss. The Admiralty despatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Christian's group had by this time split, with 14 Bounty men on Tahiti and nine, including Christian, on Pitcairn. Within a week of Pandora‍ '​s arrival all 14 fugitives at Tahiti had been imprisoned in a makeshift cell on the ship's deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. The surviving 10 Bounty men were repatriated to England in 1792 and thereupon court martialled. Three were hanged, four were acquitted, and three were pardoned.

Christian's group remained undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, by which time only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. Apart from Ned Young, who died of natural causes in 1800, all the other Bounty men on Pitcairn, including Christian, had been killed—either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. The descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts live on Pitcairn to this day.


Bounty and her mission[edit]

A replica of HMS Bounty, built in 1960

His Majesty's Armed Vessel (HMAV) Bounty, or HMS Bounty, was built in 1784 at the Blaydes shipyard in Hull, Yorkshire, as a collier named Bethia. She was renamed on her purchase by the Royal Navy for £1,950 in May 1787.[1] A small vessel, 91 feet (28 m) in overall length, Bounty was acquired for a single mission—to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti (then rendered "Otaheite"), one of the Society Islands in Polynesia in the south Pacific, to the British colonies in the West Indies.[2] The expedition was promoted by the Royal Society and organised by its president Sir Joseph Banks, who shared the view of Caribbean plantation owners that breadfruit might grow well there and provide cheap food for the slaves.[2]

Bounty was refitted under Banks's supervision at Deptford. The great cabin was converted into a greenhouse for over a thousand potted breadfruit plants, with glazed windows, skylights and a lead-covered deck and drainage system to prevent the wastage of fresh water used for feeding. These alterations substantially reduced the size of Bounty's living quarters, meaning she would sail with a reduced crew and only a single commissioned officer, without the usual detachment of Royal Marines to support his authority.[3] Because of the small crew, it was not deemed necessary to give the vessel's commander or "captain" the full rank of captain; he would instead hold the most junior commissioned rank in the Royal Navy, lieutenant.[3]

Banks recommended Lieutenant William Bligh, an accomplished navigator of Cornish origin, to command Bounty.[4] Bligh had been Captain James Cook's sailing master during the explorer's third and final voyage (1776–80), which had included a stop in Tahiti,[5] and had since transferred to the Merchant Navy as a lieutenant aboard the merchantman Britannia.[6] Away in the West Indies at the time, Bligh returned to England with Britannia on 31 July 1787; on 16 August he accepted command of Bounty.[7] He was ordered to enter the Pacific via Cape Horn and then, after collecting the breadfruit plants, sail westward through the Endeavour Strait and across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans to the West Indies. Bounty would thus incidentally circumnavigate the Earth.[8]

Bligh and his crew[edit]

Lieutenant William Bligh, captain of HMS Bounty

Bounty would carry 46 men: 44 Royal Navy seamen (including Bligh himself) and two civilian botanists engaged to oversee the breadfruit. Directly beneath Bligh in the chain of command were his warrant officers, headed by the sailing master John Fryer. These were appointed by the Navy Board,[9] but Bligh was able to exercise some influence on selection; he personally approved every man aboard (except for the botanists, chosen by Banks),[10] and successfully recommended Fletcher Christian to be one of the two master's mates. Christian, from Cumberland and descended from Manx gentry, had served under Bligh on Britannia and twice sailed with him to the West Indies; he had indicated to Bligh his willingness to serve on Bounty even without pay, so long as he could be one of the ship's "gentlemen".[11][12] Christian and the other master's mate William Elphinstone were berthed in the wardroom with Fryer and the surgeon Thomas Huggan.[13][n 2]

Social convention divided the "gentlemen" of the commissioned officer class from the skilled tradesmen generally appointed by the Navy Board, such as the boatswain, the gunner and the carpenter. These "non-gentlemen" occupied the gunroom.[9] Next in the official rank structure were the midshipmen, housed in the cockpit along with several "young gentlemen"—prospective officers who were mustered alongside the most junior ratings on Bounty, the able seamen, but whose social distinction gave them the right to walk the quarterdeck and eat and sleep in the cockpit.[9][15] The large majority of those aboard were below 30 years old.[10] On Bounty's departure Bligh was 33 years old, Fryer was 34 and Christian was 23—the youngest aboard were the young gentlemen John Hallett and Peter Heywood, who were both 15 when they left England.[16]

Bligh eschewed the watch timetable traditionally used by the Royal Navy—that of two shifts alternating between four hours on duty and four hours off throughout the day and night—in favour of the three-watch system pioneered by Captain Cook, whereby each four-hour shift would be followed by eight hours' rest. Bligh shared Cook's view that this was more efficient and better for the health of the crew.[17] In a similar vein he carried over to Bounty Cook's strict discipline regarding sanitation and diet, enforcing these rules "with a fanatical zeal", according to Sam McKinney, "continually fuss[ing] and fum[ing] over the cleanliness of his ship and the food served to the crew."[17]


Outward voyage[edit]

Bureaucracy delayed Bounty at Spithead on the south coast of England for several weeks after its departure from London on 15 October 1787,[n 3] leading Bligh to successfully request permission from the Admiralty to sail via the Cape of Good Hope if the lateness of the season made the Cape Horn route too hazardous.[19] The ship left England only on 23 December.[20] By the time she reached Cape Horn in mid-March 1788 Bligh had promoted Christian, appointing him an acting lieutenant, and thus Bounty's second-in-command. Bligh could not commission officers; this would await review by the Admiralty on their return to England. The main immediate effect of this promotion at sea was that Christian now commanded the crew's third watch, a duty that had heretofore alternated between Fryer and the ship's gunner William Peckover.[21]

An 1871 depiction of a vessel attempting to round Cape Horn

As Bligh had predicted, their late arrival at Cape Horn led them to encounter extremely severe weather. "I suppose there never were seas, in any part of the known world, to compare with those we met ... for height, and length of swell", Heywood later wrote to his family; "the oldest seamen on board never saw anything to equal that ..."[22]

After about a month failing to make substantial progress against westerly gales and enormous seas, Bligh finally turned the ship on 18 April 1788 and headed east towards the Cape of Good Hope—a decision "to the great joy of everyone on board", according to Heywood.[22] The much longer Cape of Good Hope route would take Bounty across the Indian Ocean, then around the south of Australia and New Zealand and finally northwards to Tahiti.[23] The ship reached Cape Town on 24 May.[22] While there, Bligh loaned Christian money, receiving in exchange a credit bill that he sent to England to be redeemed at a profit by the junior officer's elder brother, the jurist Edward Christian. Fletcher Christian, borrowing on wages he would receive only on Bounty's return to England, was thus indebted to both his brother and his captain.[24] The historian Greg Dening ponders the affect that Bligh's favour towards Christian, in first promoting him and then loaning him money, may have had on the younger man's mindset: "A lieutenant who was not a lieutenant, who was dependent on status by personal favour and subject to being reminded continually of this and other obligations had the high potential to be 'in hell'".[11]

Bounty sailed from Cape Town on 1 July and reached Tasmania on 19 August. The voyage's last stages saw signs of trouble between Bligh and his officers and crew; rows and disagreements grew steadily more frequent.[25] For example, after Huggan's drunkenness led to the death of the Scottish seaman James Valentine from scurvy on 9 October 1788, Fryer refused to sign the ship's expense books, a routine duty, demanding that Bligh first sign a paper attesting to the sailing master's faultless conduct aboard Bounty. Fryer backed down after Bligh mustered all hands on deck and read them the Articles of War.[26] Bligh was not, as is commonly depicted in fiction, particularly given to physical punishments or violence[4]—according to Dening, Bligh gave out the fewest floggings of any late-18th-century British commander in the Pacific[4]—but he did deal with those under his command extremely harshly, reacting to any perceived incompetence or dereliction of duty with "violent tornadoes of temper", characterised by streams of insults, rhetorical threats and wild gesticulations with his hands.[4] These outbursts were "not obscene in the modern sense", Alan Frost asserts, but rather "dislocating and humiliating"; the captain's terms of contempt included "jesuit", "vile man", "blackguard", "damn'd infernal scoundrel" and "disgrace to the service".[4] To J C Beaglehole, Captain Cook's biographer, Bligh made "dogmatic judgements which he felt himself entitled to make", "saw fools about him too easily" and "never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them".[27]

Bounty came to anchor in Matavai Bay, Tahiti on 26 October 1788, concluding a journey of 27,086 nautical miles (50,163 km; 31,170 mi).[28] Bligh set up a shore camp that would act as a nursery for the breadfruit plants, manned by a group including Christian—a "situation of comfort and privilege" which, according to the historian Richard Hough, was much envied by those required to spend their nights on the ship.[29][30]


A Polynesian woman, painted in 1777 by John Webber

Whether crew were ashore or on board, duties during Bounty's five-month stay in Tahiti were relatively light. Some men took regular partners from the native women, while others led promiscuous lives; Bligh recorded the treatment of Christian, Heywood and 10 other crewmen for venereal infections.[31] Bligh does not seem to have recorded any objection to such activities, though he himself remained loyal to his wife Betsy.[32] He was not surprised by his crew's reaction to the Tahitians:

The women at Otaheite are handsome ... and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The chiefs were so much attached to our people, that they rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made them promises of large possessions. Under these, and many other attendant circumstances, equally desirable, it is now perhaps not so much to be wondered at ... that a set of sailors, most of them void of connections, should be led away; especially when, in addition to such powerful inducements, they imagined it in their power to fix themselves in the midst of plenty, on the finest island in the world, where they need not labour, and where the allurements of dissipation are beyond any thing that can be conceived.[33]

Huggan died on 9 December 1788.[34] Despite the relaxed atmosphere, relations between Bligh and his men, and particularly between Bligh and Christian, continued to deteriorate. Christian was routinely humiliated by the captain—often in front of the crew and the native Tahitians—for real or imagined slackness,[35] while severe punishments were handed out to men whose carelessness had led to the loss or theft of equipment.[36] Floggings, rarely administered during the outward voyage, now became a common occurrence; as a consequence, three men, including the master-at-arms Charles Churchill, deserted the ship in early January 1789. They were quickly recaptured, and a search of their belongings revealed a list of names that included those of Christian and Heywood. Bligh confronted the pair and accused them of complicity in the desertion plot, which they strenuously denied; without further corroboration Bligh could not act against them.[35]

At each of the subsequent punishment musters, Bligh excoriated the midshipman Thomas Hayward for having slept on watch and so aided the deserters.[32] "Such neglectful and worthless petty officers, I believe, never were in a ship as are in this", Bligh said, according to the journal of the boatswain's mate James Morrison; "they have driven me to every thing but corporal punishment, and that must follow if they do not improve."[37] Christian formed a close relationship with a native woman, Mauatua, and gave her the name "Isabella" after a former sweetheart from Cumberland.[38] As the date for departure grew closer, Bligh's outbursts against his officers became more frequent.[39] One witness reported that "Whatever fault was found, Mr Christian was sure to bear the brunt."[40] Tensions rose among the men, who faced the prospect of a long and dangerous voyage, that would take them through the uncharted Endeavour Strait and then many months of hard sailing. Bligh was impatient to be away, but in Hough's words he "failed to anticipate how his company would react to the severity and austerity of life at sea ... after five dissolute, hedonistic months at Tahiti".[41] On 5 April 1789, Bounty finally weighed anchor and made for the open sea with her cargo of 1,015 breadfruit plants.[39]

Return voyage[edit]

As Bounty made its way west towards the Endeavour Strait, Bligh's castigation of his officers continued.[38] The captain agonised constantly about the welfare of the breadfruit trees.[4] On 26 April 1789, three weeks into the return voyage, Bligh landed at Nomuka, one of the Friendly Islands (now called Tonga), where he replaced some of the breadfruit plants and picked up supplies, including a quantity of coconuts. The next day he found some coconuts from his personal stock were missing. Mustering the entire complement on deck, Bligh thrust his fist in the faces of his men, mocked their perceived fear of the Endeavour Strait, and said he would make them "eat grass like cows" or throw them overboard before the voyage was done.[42] When Christian said he had taken a coconut in the night to quench his thirst, Bligh called him a thief.[43] Bligh's "great failing", Frost asserts, "was that he was so unaware of the effect his mood swings and harsh criticisms had on those about him".[4] That evening Bligh invited his second-in-command to dinner, but Christian refused, saying he was unwell—"hardly an untruth", the historian Leonard Guttridge suggests, as Christian had become severely depressed and brooding. Bligh either failed to consider or chose to ignore Christian's psychological state, which Guttridge posits may have been disrupted by the venereal disease contracted in Tahiti.[44] Hayward joined the captain for dinner.[44]

During the night of 28 April (27–28 April civil time) Christian asked the ship's carpenter William Purcell for planks, ropes and nails with which to construct a raft, telling Purcell and some others that he intended to go overboard and paddle about 30 nautical miles (56 km; 35 mi) north-east to the island of Tofua. Purcell provided the items, perhaps to humour him, but there is no evidence that Christian got far in building the raft. He went to bed about half an hour before Midshipman George Stewart roused him at 04:00 to relieve the second watch.[44] Hayward and Hallett were respectively mate and midshipman of the third watch; Christian found neither was awake. Over the next hour Christian, aided by Churchill and another disaffected seaman, Matthew Thompson, secured control over the upper deck and enlisted the support of most of the able seamen for an attempt to seize the ship.[45]


Seizure of Bounty[edit]

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers seize HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. Engraving by Hablot Knight Browne, 1841

Christian went below around 05:15 and, after waking Hallett, who was sleeping on the chest containing the ship's muskets, distributed arms to his followers. He posted armed guards at each hatchway and then, with Churchill and four other mutineers, made for Bligh's cabin,[45] which was always left unlocked.[38] Bligh, wearing only a nightshirt, was awoken by his door swinging open; he sat upright to see Christian brandishing a cutlass. Three men grabbed Bligh and tied his hands, threatening him with death if he rose the alarm.[46] Bligh ignored them and "called as loudly as I could in hopes of assistance".[47] Hearing the commotion from his quarters directly opposite, Fryer woke and, through the door window, saw the mutineers frogmarch Bligh from his cabin. Christian's men promptly entered the master's cabin and, according to Fryer's account, "told me to lay down again, and hold my tongue or I was a dead man".[45]

Bligh was brought to the quarterdeck naked from the waist down and held captive abaft the mizzenmast, his hands bound by a cord held by Christian. According to some accounts, Christian had a sounding plummet hanging from his neck so he could jump overboard and drown himself if the mutiny failed.[45] The mutineers put trousers on Bligh. The captain would recount that when he pressed the two men holding him for an explanation, one nervously said he was "only acting as the others do".[45] The senior officers and the botanist David Nelson were prevented from emerging by Christian's guards. Fryer was briefly permitted on deck to speak to Christian, but was then forced below at bayonet-point; according to Fryer, Christian told him: "I have been in hell for weeks past. Captain Bligh has brought this on himself."[45]

Nobody came to Bligh's aid. In Guttridge's words, "proficiency, fatherly solicitude, and fair play in command had lost out to a thoroughly dislikeable personality."[45] On the other hand, only a minority of those aboard, no more than a dozen or so, actively mutinied.[45] The majority of the crew looked on uneasily as they attempted to grasp the situation and decide how to react. Hours of confusion followed.[48][49] The boatswain, William Cole, obeyed Christian's instruction to hoist out the ship's cutter, in which Bligh and any who wished to join him would be turned adrift; the smaller 23-foot (7 m) launch was hoisted out instead when the cutter was found unseaworthy.[45] Overcome by what was happening around him, the near-blind Irish fiddler Michael Byrne hid himself in the cutter and cried.[45]

Bligh turned adrift[edit]

The captain's clerk John Samuel set about loading the launch, bringing Bligh's journal, commission papers and other documents from the commander's cabin; the mutineers forced him to leave the maps and a box containing Bligh's navigational work over the past 15 years.[45] The mutineers initially forbade the loyalists seafaring instruments, but ultimately begrudged them a sextant, Peckover's compass and Purcell's tool chest.[50] Fryer begged to be allowed to stay on board—in the hope, he would claim, that the mutineers would get drunk and enable him to retake the ship[45]—but Christian ordered him into the launch with 17 others.[51] Bligh was the last to be put into the boat; around 10:00 the mutineers brought him to the ship's side and untied his hands.[48][49] "The remembrance of past kindnesses produced some signs of remorse in Christian", Bligh would recall. "When they were forcing me out of the ship I asked him if this treatment was a proper return for the many instances he had received of my friendship? he appeared disturbed at my question and answered with much emotion: 'That, Captain Bligh, that is the thing; I am in hell, I am in hell.'"[52]

Christian's mutineers turning Bligh and the loyalists adrift, as depicted in the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty

In the launch with Bligh were Fryer, Nelson, Cole, Peckover, Purcell, Elphinstone, Hayward, Hallett, Samuel, the acting surgeon Thomas Ledward, the quartermasters Peter Linkletter and John Norton, the sailmaker Lawrence Lebogue, the cooks Thomas Hall and John Smith, the quartermasters' mate George Simpson, the butcher Robert Lamb and the young gentleman Robert Tinkler—19 men in all, including the captain.[53] This overloading of the launch, which was designed to carry only 15 people, forced some loyalists to stay with the ship under duress. There thus remained 25 men aboard Bounty, including non-mutineers.[54] The ship's armourer Joseph Coleman and the two carpenter's mates, Thomas McIntosh and Charles Norman, called down to Bligh to remember that they had remained with the ship against their will.[51] "Never fear, lads, I'll do you justice if ever I reach England", Bligh said.[54]

On the ship with Christian remained the young gentlemen Heywood, Ned Young and George Stewart, Churchill, Morrison, the gunner's mate John Mills, the botanist's assistant William Brown, Coleman, McIntosh, Norman and 14 able seamen: Thompson, Matthew Quintal, John Sumner, John Millward, Thomas Burkitt, William McCoy, Henry Hillbrant, William Muspratt, Thomas Ellison, John Williams, Isaac Martin, Richard Skinner, "Alexander Smith" (actually John Adams) and Byrne.[53] Some of the mutineers drunkenly taunted the loyalists from the side of the ship, and tossed breadfruit plants overboard;[55] others looked down at the small boat in silence.[56] The men in the launch had for supplies 150 pounds (68 kg) of bread, some pork, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine and 28 gallons of drinking water. When Bligh called for weapons, the mutineers jeered and threw down four cutlasses.[56] "After having undergone a great deal of ridicule", Bligh would recount, "and having been kept some time to make sport for these unfeeling wretches, we were at length cast adrift in the open ocean."[53] The captain would claim to have heard shouts of "Huzzah for Otaheite!" from Bounty as the mutineers sailed away.[57]


Bligh's voyage in the launch[edit]

Map showing Bounty's movements in the Pacific Ocean, 1788–1790
  Voyage of Bounty to Tahiti and to location of the mutiny, 28 April 1789
  Course of Bligh's open-boat journey to Coupang, Timor, between 2 May and 14 June 1789
  Movements of Bounty under Christian after the mutiny, from 28 April 1789 onwards

Bligh quickly resolved that his only option was to attempt to reach the Dutch East India Company settlement at Coupang (now Kupang) on the island of Timor, over 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) to the west through the Endeavour Strait.[58] To this end he initially directed the boat to Tofua, where he hoped essential supplies such as water might be acquired from the natives. Bligh instructed his men not to mention the mutiny to the Tofuans and to say instead that they were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. The Tofuans were initially friendly and gave the Britons breadfruit, coconuts and plantains, but little water. Scanty as these supplies were, Bligh would assert that they helped to revive morale[59]—by 2 May the crew "no longer regarded me with those anxious looks which had constantly been directed towards me since we lost sight of the ship: every countenance seemed to have a degree of cheerfulness, and they all seemed determined to do their best."[60]

About 200 Tofuans gathered along the beach where the launch was moored during 2 May and, late in the day, began to knock stones together, which Bligh correctly interpreted as a signal that they were about to attack. Bligh told his men to return everything to the boat for a quiet departure, but as they were casting off the natives attacked; the quartermaster John Norton was caught and stoned and death.[61] Surmising that the other nearby islands would only give similar receptions, Bligh steered the launch west towards Timor.[61] With no charts and little to steer by—the nights were often pitch-black, with no stars in sight—Bligh navigated largely from memory, in Guttridge's opinion "an astonishing feat of seamanship", particularly as for equipment he had only the sextant and compass the mutineers had allowed him, a second quadrant found in the launch and some navigation manuals.[58]

They sighted the eastern shore of Timor around 03:00 on 12 June, 41 days after leaving Tofua. Bligh logged the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi).[62] "It is not possible for me to describe the pleasure which the blessing of the sight of this land diffused among us", Bligh would write.[63] The launch anchored at Coupang soon after dawn on 14 June.[64] Here the sailors recuperated, and Bligh made his first report of the mutiny, while awaiting transport back to England.[65] David Nelson caught a fever during a day botanising in the mountains around Coupang, and died on 20 July.[66] Bligh left Coupang on 20 August 1789, sailing a small schooner west to Batavia (now Jakarta), whence he proceeded to Europe aboard a Dutch vessel.[67] Of the 19 men who had sailed in the launch, only 12 would reach England—apart from Norton and Nelson, Elphinstone, Linkletter and Hall died in Batavia, and Lamb died on a Dutch East India Company ship. Ledward was apparently left behind in Batavia.[67]

Bounty under Christian[edit]

Tubuai, where Christian attempted to settle after the mutiny (2008 photograph)

With Bligh turned adrift, Christian became de facto commander of Bounty. Realising that Bligh or other loyalists might well survive and make the mutiny known in England, prompting the despatch of Royal Navy ships to search for them, Christian resolved that it would not be prudent to simply go back to Tahiti. He steered the ship east with the intent of settling on Tubuai (then spelt "Toobouai"), an island about 450 nautical miles (830 km; 520 mi) south of Tahiti.[68] A month's sailing brought Bounty to Tubuai on 28 May 1789.[69]

Despite a hostile reception from the island's natives, Christian spent several days surveying the land and selecting a site for a fort before taking Bounty on to Tahiti.[69] When they reached Matavai Bay Christian concocted a story that he, Bligh and Captain Cook were founding a new settlement at Aitutaki. Cook's name ensured generous gifts of livestock and other goods, and on 16 June the well-provisioned Bounty sailed back to Tubuai with nearly 30 Tahitians, some of whom had been taken aboard by deception.[70] The attempt to establish a colony on Tubuai was unsuccessful; the repeated raids by the mutineers for "wives" and the near-mutinous dissatisfaction of the duped Tahitians wrecked Christian's plans.[71] On 18 September 1789 Bounty sailed back to Matavai Bay for the final time. Sixteen of the sailors now decided that they would remain in Tahiti and risk the consequences of discovery,[72] while Christian, with a number of Tahitian men and women and eight mutineers—McCoy, Quintal, Young, Williams, Mills, Brown, Adams and Martin—took off in Bounty for an unrevealed destination. Before departing, Christian left messages for his family with Heywood, recounting the story of the mutiny and emphasising that he alone was responsible.[73]

Those from Bounty who had remained behind in Tahiti set about organising their lives. The largest group, led by James Morrison, began building a schooner, to be named Resolution after Cook's ship.[74] Thompson and Churchill chose to lead drunken and generally dissolute lives which ended in the violent deaths of both—Churchill was murdered by Thompson, who was in turn killed by Polynesians who considered Churchill their "king".[75] Heywood preferred quiet domesticity in a small house with a Tahitian wife, studying the Tahitian language and fathering a daughter.[76] Over a period of 18 months he gradually adopted native manners of dress, and was heavily tattooed around the body.[77]

Admiralty reaction[edit]

HMS Pandora[edit]

Bligh landed in England to public acclaim on 14 March 1790, two years and 11 weeks after Bounty's departure.[67] He was quickly promoted to post-captain. In the following months he wrote his account of the mutiny, and on 22 October was honourably acquitted at court martial of responsibility for Bounty's loss.[78] The Admiralty resolved to send the frigate HMS Pandora, under Captain Edward Edwards, to capture the mutineers and return them to England to stand trial. Pandora departed England on 7 November 1790 with a crew of 134, including the Bounty loyalist Thomas Hayward.[79]

HMS Pandora in the act of foundering, 29 August 1791; 1831 depiction by Robert Batty, from a sketch by Peter Heywood

Sailing via Cape Horn, Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791, ending what Dening calls an "arcadian existence" for the ex-Bounty seamen.[80] Heywood's first reaction on seeing the ship was, he would write, "the utmost joy"; as Pandora anchored he paddled out in a canoe to introduce himself.[77] The reception given him was frosty, however, as it would prove for others who came aboard voluntarily. Edwards made no distinctions among the former Bounty men—all became prisoners, and were manacled and taken below.[81] Within a few days all the 14 surviving fugitives in Tahiti had surrendered or been captured.[82]

Pandora remained at Tahiti for five weeks while Captain Edwards tried without success to obtain information on Bounty's whereabouts.[83] A cell was built on Pandora's quarterdeck, a structure known as "Pandora's Box" where the prisoners, legs in irons and wrists in handcuffs, were to be confined for almost five months.[84] Pandora left Tahiti on 8 May 1791 to search for Christian and the Bounty among the thousands of southern Pacific islands. Apart from a few spars—which had probably floated from Tubuai—discovered at Palmerston Island (Avarau), no traces of the ship could be found.[85] Physical attacks from natives were frequent; early in August Edwards abandoned the search and headed for the Dutch East Indies via the Torres Strait.[86]

On 29 August 1791 Pandora ran aground on the outer Great Barrier Reef and began to fill with water. Most of the men in "Pandora's Box" were ignored as the regular crew went about their efforts to prevent the ship from foundering. At dawn the officers gave the orders to abandon ship. The armourer was ordered into the "box" to knock off the remaining prisoners' leg irons and shackles; however, the ship sank before he had finished. Heywood, stripped naked, was one of the last to get out of the cell. Four Bounty men—Stewart, Hillbrant, Skinner and Sumner—were drowned, as were 31 of Pandora's crew. The 99 survivors, including ten prisoners, recovered on a nearby island where they stayed for two nights before embarking on an open-boat journey which largely followed Bligh's course of two years earlier. The prisoners were mostly kept bound hand and foot on the slow passage to Coupang, which they reached on 17 September 1791.[86]

From Coupang the prisoners were taken to Batavia, where they were confined on a Dutch East India Company ship for seven weeks, then transported to Cape Town on a Dutch vessel, still under the charge of Captain Edwards. They left for England on a British warship, HMS Gorgon, on 5 April 1792 and arrived at Portsmouth on 19 June. There they were moved to the guardship HMS Hector.[87] Bligh, who had been given command of a second breadfruit expedition, had left England in August 1791 and thus would thus be absent from the court martial proceedings that awaited the returned mutineers.[78]

Court martial[edit]

Painting of an elderly man in a wig, wearing naval uniform and holding a sheet of paper in his right hand. In the background two ships in full sail are visible.
Admiral Lord Hood, who presided over the Bounty court martial

The court martial opened on 12 September 1792 aboard HMS Duke in Portsmouth Harbour, presided over by Lord Hood, naval commander-in-chief at Portsmouth.[88] Peter Heywood was central among the accused—his influential family attempted to pull strings on his behalf, and helped him to build a defence emphasising his young age.[89] Accused with him were Coleman, McIntosh, Norman, Byrne, Morrison, Burkitt, Ellison, Millward and Muspratt. Coleman, McIntosh and Norman had all been exonerated in Bligh's account and could confidently expect acquittal, as could the sightless Byrne.[88]

Lord Hood announced the court's verdicts on 18 September. As expected, Coleman, McIntosh, Norman and Byrne were acquitted. Heywood and the other five were found guilty of the charge of mutiny, and were ordered to suffer death by hanging. Lord Hood added that "in consideration of various circumstances, the court did humbly and most earnestly recommend the said Peter Heywood and James Morrison to His Majesty's Royal Mercy."[90] On 26 October 1792, on Hector's quarterdeck, a royal pardon from King George III was formally read to Heywood and Morrison by Captain Montagu. Heywood responded with a short statement that ended: "I receive with gratitude my Sovereign's mercy, for which my future life will be faithfully devoted to his service."[91] William Muspratt, the only other of the accused to employ legal counsel,[92] was reprieved on a legal technicality and pardoned in February 1793.[93]

Millward, Burkitt and Ellison were hanged from the yardarms aboard HMS Brunswick on 29 October 1792. Dening calls them "a humble remnant on which to wreak vengeance".[94] There was some unease expressed in the press, a suspicion that "money had bought the lives of some, and others fell sacrifice to their poverty."[94] A report that Heywood was heir to a large fortune was unfounded; nevertheless, Dening asserts that "in the end it was class or relations or patronage that made the difference."[94] Some accounts claim that the condemned trio continued to protest their innocence until the last moment,[93] while others speak of their "manly firmness that ... was the admiration of all".[95]



Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island, where Christian's men burned HMS Bounty on 23 January 1790

Christian's group of himself, eight mutineers and 18 Polynesians—men, women and a small girl—passed through the Fiji and Cook Islands, but feared that they would be found there. Continuing their quest for a safe haven, on 15 January 1790, they rediscovered Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy's charts. After the decision was made to settle on Pitcairn, livestock and other provisions were removed from Bounty. To prevent the ship's detection, and anyone's possible escape, the ship was burned on 23 January 1790 in what is now called Bounty Bay.[96]

The Pitcairn Island community began life with bright prospects. There was ample food, water, and land for everyone, and the climate was mild. Although many of the Polynesians were homesick, and the Britons knew they were marooned on Pitcairn forever, they settled into life on Pitcairn fairly quickly. A number of children were born. Little is agreed upon regarding Fletcher Christian's role once the mutineers were established on Pitcairn Island.[97] John Adams would later describe Christian as being "always cheerful" on Pitcairn, but he also claimed that Christian would brood in a cave, and had "by many acts of cruelty and inhumanity, brought on himself the hatred and detestation of his companions."[98]

Adams variously claimed that Christian had been killed "in a single massacre that occurred on the island about four years after arrival" or that Christian had "committed suicide".[98] Adams at another point asserted that the "mutineers had divided into parties, 'seeking every opportunity on both sides to put each other to death.'"[99] While the details were inconsistent, Adams usually agreed with the account in Young's journal, which described Christian's death as part of a massacre: "The massacre ... had taken place in several waves of violence, and principally arose from the fact that the Englishmen had come to regard their [Tahitian] friends as slaves."[100] The women, "passed around from one 'husband' to the other, as men died and the balance of power shifted", eventually "rebelled" as well.[101]

In 1793, a conflict broke out on Pitcairn Island between the mutineers and the Tahitian men who sailed with them. Fletcher Christian and four of the mutineers (Jack Williams, Isaac Martin, John Mills, and William Brown) were killed by the Tahitians. Christian's last recorded words, supposedly, were "Oh, dear!"[102] By 1794 all six of the Tahitian men were dead, having been killed during the on-and-off fighting—some by the widows of the murdered mutineers and others by each other.

Fletcher Christian was survived by Mauatua and their son Thursday October Christian (sometimes called "Friday October Christian"). His death caused a leadership vacuum on the island. Two of the four surviving mutineers, Ned Young and John Adams, assumed leadership, and some peace followed, until William McCoy created a still and began brewing an alcoholic beverage from a native plant. The mutineers began drinking excessively and making life miserable for the women. The women revolted a number of times—with the men continually "granting pardons" (each time threatening to execute the leaders of the next revolt)—and some of the women attempted to leave the island on a makeshift raft; it swamped in the "bay". Life in Pitcairn continued thus until the deaths of McCoy and Quintal, and the destruction of the still. McCoy died after a drunken fall. Matthew Quintal was subsequently killed by Adams and Young after threatening to kill everyone. Eventually Adams and Young were reconciled with the women, and the community began to flourish.

Ned Young succumbed in 1800 to asthma, the first man to die of natural causes. Only Adams, nine women and 19 children now remained.[96] Adams became the leader of the community and took responsibility for educating its members. Using the ship's Bible from Bounty, he taught literacy and the Christian religion, holding regular Sunday services. His gentleness and tolerance enabled the small community to thrive, and peace was restored to Pitcairn Island.[96]

Later contacts; geopolitical legacy[edit]

Pitcairners aboard HMS Briton in September 1814; 1877 depiction by Frederick Whymper

The Pitcairners reported that after the burning of HMS Bounty, the first ship they saw was one that passed the island in December 1795. She did not approach the island and they could not identify to which nation she belonged. A second vessel was seen soon thereafter, and later still a third. None of these made contact with the islanders, though the third came close to the shore and seemed to those on Pitcairn to be observing them.[103] Outside contact with the people of Pitcairn Island was first established on 6 February 1808, by the American whaler Topaz, commanded by Mayhew Folger.[104]

A report of Folger's find was forwarded to the Admiralty, along with a correct latitude and longitude for the island, but the rediscovery was not known to a flotilla of two British warships, HMS Briton and HMS Tagus, that found Pitcairn on 17 September 1814. The seamen of Tagus were astonished when two inhabitants paddled out in canoes, came alongside and hailed them in fluent English, calling out: "Won't you heave us a rope now?"[105] The first Pitcairner to come on deck introduced himself as Thursday October Christian; his companion was Ned Young's son George.[105] Briton‍ '​s commander Sir Thomas Staines sent a party ashore and wrote a detailed report for the Admiralty, noting a population of 46, "mostly grown-up young people, with a few infants".[105] Thursday October Christian—so named, he said, because he was born on a Thursday in October—impressed the visitors with his pleasant disposition, eloquence in English and thorough knowledge of Bounty's history.[105] "Added to a great share of good humour", Captain Philip Papon of Tagus reported, "we were glad to trace, in his benevolent countenance, all the features of an honest English face."[105]

The Admiralty chose not to take action against Adams, who spent the rest of his days on Pitcairn and died there in 1829.[104] The island's only settlement, Adamstown, is named after him. In 1838 Pitcairn and the uninhabited islands of Henderson, Ducie and Oeno were incorporated into the British Empire as the Pitcairn Islands. Britain transported all 193 Pitcairners to Norfolk Island in 1856; six families returned to Pitcairn over the next decade, and in 1937 the population peaked at 233. In the 21st century the Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory with a population of under 50, mostly direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian consorts. Nearly half of the people bear the surname Christian; the rest are called either Young, Brown or Warren. Each 23 January they celebrate Bounty Day, marking the anniversary of Bounty‍ '​s destruction by burning a small replica in the bay.[96]

Cultural impact[edit]

Poster for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian.

The story of the mutiny has been adapted numerous times to the page, stage and screen. Bligh, who was 34 years old at the time of the mutiny, is often depicted as considerably older than he actually was.[4]

The first film version, The Mutiny of the Bounty, was produced in Austalia in 1916.[106] A second Australian film, In the Wake of the Bounty, followed in 1933; this film, directed by Charles Chauvel, starred Errol Flynn in his screen debut as Fletcher Christian.[106] Two years later the first Hollywood film of the mutiny, Frank Lloyd's Mutiny on the Bounty, was produced. A remake of the same name was released in 1962, followed by a fifth screen adaptation, The Bounty, in 1984.[106]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Mutiny on the Bounty", while the prevailing term for the event, is technically a misnomer; the incident would be correctly called the "Mutiny on HMS Bounty" or similar.
  2. ^ Huggan's first name is sometimes recorded as John.[13] Thomas is the name used by Bligh in the ship's log.[14]
  3. ^ Dates are given as recorded by Bligh in Bounty‍ '​s log (where applicable), which was kept according to the "nautical", "navy" or "sea" time then used by the Royal Navy—each day begins at noon and continues until noon the next day, twelve hours ahead of regular "civil", "natural" or "land" time. The nautical "15 October", for example, equates to the land time period between noon on the 14th and noon on the 15th.[18]
  1. ^ Winfield 2007, p. 355.
  2. ^ a b McKinney 1999, p. 16.
  3. ^ a b McKinney 1999, pp. 17–20.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Frost 2004.
  5. ^ McKinney 1999, pp. 7–11.
  6. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 17.
  7. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 1.
  8. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 48.
  9. ^ a b c McKinney 1999, pp. 164–166.
  10. ^ a b McKinney 1999, p. 23.
  11. ^ a b Dening 1992, p. 70.
  12. ^ McKinney 1999, pp. 20–22.
  13. ^ a b McKinney 1999, p. 24.
  14. ^ Dening 1992, p. 25.
  15. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 44–46.
  16. ^ McKinney 1999, pp. 17–23, 164–166.
  17. ^ a b McKinney 1999, pp. 13–14, 28.
  18. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 180.
  19. ^ McKinney 1999, pp. 25–26.
  20. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 78–80.
  21. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 31.
  22. ^ a b c Dening 1992, p. 68.
  23. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 92–95.
  24. ^ Dening 1992, p. 69.
  25. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 96–102.
  26. ^ Guttridge 2006, p. 20.
  27. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 13.
  28. ^ McKinney 1999, p. 47.
  29. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 108.
  30. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 112–115.
  31. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 112; Dening 1992, p. 311; Hough 1972, pp. 122–125.
  32. ^ a b Guttridge 2006, p. 24.
  33. ^ Bligh 1790, p. 9.
  34. ^ Bligh 1792, p. 102.
  35. ^ a b Hough 1972, pp. 122–125.
  36. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 115–120.
  37. ^ Barrow 1831, p. 81.
  38. ^ a b c Guttridge 2006, p. 26.
  39. ^ a b Alexander 2003, pp. 124–125.
  40. ^ Hough 1972, p. 132.
  41. ^ Hough 1972, p. 128.
  42. ^ Dening 1992, p. 58.
  43. ^ Dening 1992, pp. 86–87.
  44. ^ a b c Guttridge 2006, pp. 27–29.
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Guttridge 2006, pp. 29–31.
  46. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 140.
  47. ^ Bligh 1792, p. 154.
  48. ^ a b Alexander 2003, pp. 134–141.
  49. ^ a b Hough 1972, pp. 160–162.
  50. ^ Guttridge 2006, pp. 29–33.
  51. ^ a b Guttridge 2006, pp. 31–32.
  52. ^ Bligh 1792, p. 161.
  53. ^ a b c Bligh 1792, pp. 158–160.
  54. ^ a b Hough 1972, p. 158.
  55. ^ Dening 1992, p. 88.
  56. ^ a b Guttridge 2006, pp. 32–33.
  57. ^ Dening 1992, p. 329.
  58. ^ a b Guttridge 2006, p. 33.
  59. ^ Barrow 1831, p. 97.
  60. ^ Bligh 1792, p. 171.
  61. ^ a b Bligh 1792, pp. 171–177; Barrow 1831, pp. 97–98; Guttridge 2006, p. 33.
  62. ^ Guttridge 2006, p. 35.
  63. ^ Barrow 1831, p. 118.
  64. ^ Bligh 1792, pp. 227–233.
  65. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 152–156.
  66. ^ St John 1976, p. 2.
  67. ^ a b c Barrow 1831, pp. 118–120.
  68. ^ Guttridge 2006, p. 36.
  69. ^ a b Hough 1972, pp. 194–196.
  70. ^ Dening 1992, p. 90.
  71. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 197–200.
  72. ^ Hough 1972, p. 201.
  73. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 201–203.
  74. ^ Dening 1992, pp. 215–217.
  75. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 219–222; Alexander 2003, p. 8.
  76. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 219–222; Alexander 2003, p. 188.
  77. ^ a b Tagart 1832, pp. 81–84 (letter from Heywood to his mother, 15 August 1792).
  78. ^ a b Hough 1972, pp. 216–218; Alexander 2003, pp. 164–179.
  79. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 9.
  80. ^ Dening 1992, p. 217.
  81. ^ Dening 1992, pp. 238–239.
  82. ^ Hough 1972, p. 221.
  83. ^ Hough 1972, p. 226.
  84. ^ Hough 1972, pp. 226–227.
  85. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 15–18.
  86. ^ a b Alexander 2003, pp. 22–26; Hough 1972, pp. 227–230.
  87. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 27–35.
  88. ^ a b Hough 1972, p. 276; Alexander 2003, pp. 214–215, 220.
  89. ^ Guttridge 2006, p. 42.
  90. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 283.
  91. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 297–298.
  92. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 212.
  93. ^ a b Alexander 2003, pp. 300–302.
  94. ^ a b c Dening 1992, pp. 37–42.
  95. ^ Dening 1992, p. 48.
  96. ^ a b c d Stanley 2004, pp. 288–296.
  97. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 348.
  98. ^ a b Alexander 2003, p. 371.
  99. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 371–372.
  100. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 365.
  101. ^ Alexander 2003, p. 369.
  102. ^ Hough 1972, p. 257.
  103. ^ Alexander 2003, pp. 354–355.
  104. ^ a b Guttridge 2006, p. 86.
  105. ^ a b c d e Barrow 1831, pp. 285–289.
  106. ^ a b c Dening 1992, pp. 344–348.
Journal articles
  • St John, Harold (1976). "Biography of David Nelson, and an Account of His Botanizing in Hawaii". Pacific Science (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press) 30 (1): 1–5. hdl:10125/1529. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 25°4′7.26″S 130°5′42.52″W / 25.0686833°S 130.0951444°W / -25.0686833; -130.0951444