Monday, 28 April 2008

Mutiny on the Bounty

On this day in 1789 The Mutiny on the HMS Bounty took place. Captain William Bligh and 18 sailors were set adrift, and the rebel crew returned to Tahiti briefly and then set sail for Pitcairn Island.

A great footnote of Aussie history!!! And an amazing feat of seamanship by Bligh too. Bligh went on to become the Governor of New South Wales and was the victim of an armed rebellion - fuelled by RUM!

(Source for the following)

"...After five months in Tahiti, the Bounty set sail with its breadfruit cargo on 4 April 1789. Some 1300 miles west of Tahiti, near Tonga, mutiny broke out on 28 April 1789. From all accounts, Fletcher Christian and several of his followers entered Bligh's cabin, which he always left unlocked, awakened him, and pushed him on deck wearing only his nightshirt, where he was guarded by Christian holding a bayonet. When Bligh entreated with Christian to be reasonable, Christian would only reply, "I am in hell, I am in hell!" Despite strong words and threats heard on both sides, the ship was taken bloodlessly and apparently without struggle by any of the loyalists except Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined Christian in mutiny, two were passive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship's master, two midshipmen, the surgeon's mate (Ledward), and the ship's clerk into Bounty's launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard, as they knew that those who remained on board would be considered de facto mutineers under the Articles of War...

"... In all, 18 of the loyal crew were in the launch with Bligh; the other four were forced to stay and man the ship with the mutineers. The mutiny took place about 30 nautical miles (56 km) from Tofua (Bligh spelled it Tofoa). Bligh and his loyalists attempted to land here (in a cove which they subsequently called "Murderers' Cove") in order to augment their meager provisions. The only casualty during this voyage was a crewman, John Norton, who was stoned to death by some natives of Tofua.

In a remarkable feat of seamanship and navigation, Bligh navigated the overcrowded 23 foot (7 m) open launch on an epic 47-day voyage first to Tofua and then to Timor equipped only with a sextant and a pocket watch, with no charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6710 km). He passed through the difficult Torres Strait along the way and landed on June 14. Shortly after the launch reached Timor the cook and botanist passed away. Three other crewmen died in the coming months.

Lieutenant Bligh returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790. HMS Pandora, under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, was dispatched on 7 November 1790 to search for Bounty and the mutineers. Pandora carried twice the normal complement, as it was expected that the extras would man the Bounty when it was recovered from the mutineers..."

"... Immediately after setting sixteen men ashore in Tahiti in September 1789, Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women, one with a baby, set sail in Bounty hoping to elude the Royal Navy. According to a journal kept by one of Christian's followers, the Tahitians were actually kidnapped when Christian set sail without warning them, the purpose of this being to acquire the women.

The mutineers 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 the 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. Some of her remains, such as her ballast stones, are still partially visible in its waters. Her rudder is displayed in the Fiji Museum in Suva. An anchor of the Bounty was recovered by Luis Marden in Bounty Bay.

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. Fletcher Christian became the established leader of the community, and followed a policy of fairness and moderation toward all. He wanted the Polynesians to have an equal say in community affairs, and was supported in this by several of the Britons. Other mutineers, however, treated the Polynesians as servants, even those of high rank, and attempted to deprive them of land. The natives resented this unfair treatment, which caused relationships between the Britons and the Polynesians to deteriorate. The hostility increased when Jack William's wife died, and one of the Polynesians' consorts was "given" to Williams as a "replacement". Despite Fletcher Christian's efforts to maintain peace, the Polynesian men revolted against their British oppressors.

In 1793, a conflict broke out on Pitcairn Island between the mutineers and the Tahitian men who sailed with them. Four of the mutineers (John Williams, Isaac Martin, John Mills and William Brown) and Fletcher Christian were killed by the Tahitians. All six of the Tahitian men were 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 Maimiti and their son Thursday October Christian (originally "Friday October Christian").

Concerning the original Tahitian women: Early on, one died in a fall while gathering eggs from a cliff and another from a respiratory illness (thus precipitating the taking of the Tahitian men's consorts). Later, another woman fell while gathering eggs...

Christian's death caused a leadership vacuum on the island. Two of the four surviving mutineers, Ned Young and John Adams (also known as Alexander Smith), assumed the leadership role, 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 Pitcairn women.

The women revolted a number of times --with the men continually "granting pardons" (each time threating to execute the next revolt heads) --and some of the women attempted to leave the island on a make shift raft; it swamped in the 'bay'. Life in Pitcairn continued thus until the deaths of McCoy and Quintal, and the destruction of the still.

William McCoy died after a drunken fall. Matthew Quintal was subsequently killed by John Adams and Ned Young after threatening to kill the whole community. Eventually John Adams and Ned 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.

After Young's death in 1800, Adams assumed the role as leader of the community, and took responsibility for educating its members. Smith started holding regular Sunday services and teaching the Christian religion to the settlement. His gentleness and tolerance enabled the small community to thrive, and peace was restored to Pitcairn Island at last man, nine Tahitian women and dozens of children.

In 1808 the American sailing ship Topaz, commanded by Mayhew Folger, reached Pitcairn Island and discovered the fate of the Bounty mutineers and their companions. Only John Adams, nine women, and some children still lived. From that time on, the Pitcairn Islanders have maintained contact with the outside world. In 1825, John Adams was granted amnesty for his mutiny; Pitcairn's capital, Adamstown, is named for him. On 30 November 1838, the Pitcairn Islands (which include the uninhabited islands of Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno) were incorporated into the British Empire. In 1856 the British government granted Norfolk Island to the Pitcairners for settlement since population growth was rendering their original refuge uninhabitable...

As of 2007, Pitcairn Islands is a British Overseas Territory with a small population of about 50 inhabitants. Bounty Day is celebrated on 23 January by Pitcairn Islanders in commemoration of the 1790 burning of the Bounty, and on 8 June as the national holiday on Norfolk Island to commemorate the 1856 arrival of settlers from Pitcairn Island..."

Peas be with ewe

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  1. Thanks for that. I'd never heard the full story of what happened on Pitcairn before.

  2. It's an amazing piece of history, isn't it? It's always fascinated me.
    Mal :)

  3. I remember the story from history but had forgotten it. Its amazing really. Thanks