usa | world | animals | vocabulary | health | science | math | history

Mutineers of the HMS Bounty

The Mutiny on the Bounty was a historical event in the late 18th century, most widely known through fiction, of an officer and part of the crew of a British Royal Navy ship rebelling against their commander.

His Majesty's Armed Vessel (HMAV) Bounty was, before her purchase on May 26, 1787 by the British Royal Navy and renaming, the collier Bethia, a coal-carrying merchant ship. She was a relatively small sailing ship at 215 tons, mounting only four pounders (2 kg cannon) and ten swivels. By way of comparison, Cook's Endeavour displaced 368 tons, and Resolution 462 tons.

Her only two commanders were Lieutenant William Bligh, and the mutineer Fletcher Christian. William Bligh, 33-year-old former sailing master of HMS Resolution, was appointed commanding officer of Bounty on August 16, 1787. Though now routinely portrayed as the epitome of abusive sailing captains, Bligh received the appointment because he was considered an exceptionally capable naval officer -- an evaluation he was to prove correct. He had also served under Captain James Cook and was familiar with navigation in the area, as well as local customs.

The ship had been purchased by the Royal Navy for a single mission in support of an experiment: they were to travel to Tahiti, pick up breadfruit plants, and transport them to the West Indies in hopes that they would grow well there and become a cheap source of food for slaves. The experiment was proposed by the wealthy botanist Joseph Banks, who recommended Lieutenant Bligh as the commander.

In June 1787, Bounty was refitted at Deptford. The great cabin was converted to house the potted breadfruit plants, and gratings fitted to the upper deck. Her complement was 46 officers and men.

On December 23, 1787, Bounty sailed from Spithead for Tahiti. For a full month, she attempted to round Cape Horn, but adverse weather blocked her. Bligh ordered her turned about, and proceeded east, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the width of the Indian Ocean. During the outward voyage, Bligh demoted the ship's Sailing Master, John Fryer, replacing him with Fletcher Christian with appointment as acting Lieutenant. This act seriously damaged the relationship between Bligh and Fryer, and Fryer would later claim Bligh's act was entirely personal. Bounty reached Tahiti on October 25, 1788, after ten months at sea.

Bligh and his crew spent five months in Tahiti, then called Otaheite, collecting and preparing a total of 1015 breadfruit plants. Bligh allowed the crew to live ashore and care for the potted breadfruit plants, and they became socialised to the customs and culture of the Tahitians. Master's Mate and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian married Maimiti, a Tahitian woman.

Captian William Bligh

Bounty left Tahiti on April 4, 1789. On April 28, in the Friendly Islands, Fletcher Christian led the famous mutiny. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 11 joined Christian in mutiny while 31 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship's master, two midshipmen, and the ship's clerk into Bounty's launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard. In all, 18 of the loyal crew were in the launch with Bligh; the other 13 were forced to stay and man the ship with the mutineers. The mutiny took place about 30 nautical miles (56 km) from Tofua. Equipped only with a sextant and a pocket watch -- no charts or compass -- Bligh navigated the 23 foot (7 m) launch first to Tofua and then on an epic 41 day open-boat voyage to Timor. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6710 km). He passed through the difficult Torres Strait along the way and landing on June 14.1 The only casualty of his voyage was a crewman who was stoned to death by the natives of the first island they tried to land on.

Meanwhile, the mutineers sailed for the island of Tubuai, where they tried to settle. After three months, however, they returned to Tahiti to put 16 of the crew ashore. Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women, one with a baby, set sail in Bounty hoping to elude the Royal Navy.

The mutineers passed through the Fiji and Cook islands, but feared that they would be found there. Moving on, they rediscovered Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy's charts. On January 23, 1790, they burned the ship in what is now Bounty Bay. Her remains continue to be visible there into the 21st century.

Lieutenant Bligh returned to England and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on March 15, 1790. HMS Pandora, under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, was dispatched November 7, 1790 to search for Bounty and the mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti on March 23, 1791. Four of the men from Bounty came on board Pandora soon after its arrival, and ten more were arrested in a few weeks. These fourteen, mutineers and loyal crew alike, were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora's deck, which they derisively called "Pandora's Box". On May 8, 1791, Pandora left Tahiti, and spent about three months visiting islands to the west of Tahiti in search of Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without finding anything except flotsam -- some spars and a yard. Heading west through the Torres Strait, Pandora ran aground on a reef (part of the Great Barrier Reef) on August 29, 1791. The ship sank the next day, and 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners were lost. The remaining 89 of the ship's company and ten prisoners (released from their cage at the last moment) assembled in four small boats and sailed for Timor, arriving there on September 16, 1791.

After being repatriated to England, the ten prisoners were tried by a naval court. In the judgement delivered on September 18, 1792, four men whom Bligh had designated as innocent were acquitted. Two were found guilty, but pardoned; one of these was Peter Heywood, who later rose to rank of captain himself. Another was reprieved due to a legal technicality. The other three men were convicted and hanged. In other trials, both Bligh and Edwards were tried for the loss of their ships, and both were acquitted.

Bligh resumed his naval career and went on to attain the rank of Vice Admiral. However, his career was marked by another challenge to his authority when he was a Governor of New South Wales; in 1808 the troops of New South Wales arrested Bligh in an incident known as the Rum Rebellion.

When the American sailing ship Topaz, commanded by Mayhew Folger, rediscovered Pitcairn Island in 1808, only John Adams, ten women and some children still lived. Murder accounted for most of the deaths, though suicide, accident, and disease played parts. Fletcher Christian was believed to have been one of the murder victims; he was survived by Maimiti and their son Thursday October Christian, the first child born on the island. However, rumours say that Fletcher left the island and made it back to England. In 1825, John Adams was granted amnesty for his mutiny; Pitcairn's capital, Adamstown, is named for him. On November 30, 1838, the Pitcairn Islands (which include the uninhabited islands of Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno) were incorporated into the British Empire.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "HMS Bounty ".