The mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard a Royal Navy ship on 28 April 1789 which has been made famous by several books, films, and other media such as songs. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against the captain, William Bligh. Bligh was then cast adrift in a small open boat with 18 loyal men.
The only two men ever to command her as the Bounty were Lieutenant William Bligh and Fletcher Christian, the latter of whom illegally took command through mutiny. Bligh was appointed Commanding Lieutenant of Bounty on 16 August 1787, at the age of 33, after a career that included a tour as sailing master of James Cook's HMS Resolution during Cook's third and final voyage (1776-1779). Though commonly portrayed as the epitome of abusive sailing captains, this portrayal has recently come into dispute. Caroline Alexander, in her book The Bounty, points out that Bligh was relatively lenient compared with other British naval officers. Bligh received the appointment because he was considered an exceptionally capable naval officer—an evaluation that would prove to be correct. He enjoyed the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks, a wealthy botanist and influential figure in Britain at the time. That, and his experience sailing with Cook and familiarity with navigation in the area and local customs, were probably prime factors in his appointment.
On 23 December 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, whom he appointed 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 26 October 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 socialized to the customs and culture of the Tahitians. Many of the seamen and some of the "young gentlemen" had themselves tattooed in native fashion. Master's Mate and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian married Maimiti, a Tahitian woman. Other warrant officers and seamen of the Bounty were also said to have formed "connections" with native women.
Bligh was not surprised by his crew's reaction to the Tahitians. He recorded his analysis (spelling and capitalisation is retained as in the original):
Three crewmen deserted and were recaptured (Millward, Muspratt & Churchill). Instead of hanging them, as the crime of desertion was usually punished, Bligh ordered them flogged. All three would be among the mutineers.
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 (site of a Portuguese settlement) 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 was chased by cannibals in what is now known as Bligh Water, Fiji, and passed through the difficult Torres Strait along the way, and landed in Portuguese Timor 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. .
Two of the mutineers died in Tahiti between 1789 and 1790. Matthew Thompson shot Charles Churchill and was subsequently stoned to death by Churchill's Tahitian family in an act of vendetta.
Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from the 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 8 May 1791, Pandora left Tahiti, spending about three months visiting islands to the west of Tahiti in search of Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without finding anything except flotsam (including some spars and a yard on Palmerston Island). Heading west through the Torres Strait, Pandora ran aground on a reef (part of the Great Barrier Reef) on 29 August 1791. The ship sank the next day, and 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners (Skinner, Sumner, Stewart and Hillbrandt) 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 launches and sailed for Timor, in a voyage ironically similar to that of Bligh. They arrived at Timor on 16 September 1791.
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 as Governor of New South Wales. In 1808, the troops of New South Wales arrested Bligh in an incident known as the Rum Rebellion.
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 Williams' 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).
Rumours persisted that Fletcher left the island and made it back to England. There are other reports that Christian actually committed suicide.
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.
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 ...one man, nine Tahitian women and dozens of children.
The islanders reported that it was not until 27 December 1795 that first ship after the Bounty seen from the island, but as she did not approach the land, they could not make out to what nation she belonged. A second appeared some time in 1801, but did not attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see their habitations, but did not venture to send a boat on shore. The American trading ship Topaz under the command of Mayhew Folger was the first to visit the island and communicate with them when they spent 10 hours at Pitcairn in February 1808. A report of Folger's find was forwarded to The Admiralty—which mentioned the discovery and the position of the island at latitude 25° 2' south and 130° longitude, however this rediscovery was not know to Sir Thomas Staines who commanded a Royal Navy a flotilla of two ships (HMS Briton and HMS Tagus) which found the island at 25°. 4' S. (by meridian observation) on 17 September 1814. Staines sent a party ashore and wrote a detailed report for the Admiralty.
In 1808 when the Topaz reached Pitcairn Island only John Adams, nine women, and some children still lived. 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.
At the top of the official rank hierarchy were the commissioned officers — on a larger warship, the commissioned officers included the captain, several lieutenants to command watches, and the officers commanding the Royal Marines on board the ship. The Bounty, however, carried no marines, and no commissioned officers other than Lieutenant Bligh himself, who served as master and commander of the ship. As he was effectively the captain he occupied a private cabin.
Next below the commissioned officers came the warrant officers, such as the sailing master, master's mates, surgeon, boatswain, purser, and gunner, who were as likely to be considered skilled tradesmen as gentlemen. As the senior warrant officers, the sailing master and his mates were entitled to berth with the lieutenants in the wardroom (though in this case there were no lieutenants there); other warrant officers berthed in the gunroom. Like commissioned officers, warrant officers had the right of access to the quarterdeck and were immune from punishment by flogging. They held their warrants directly from the navy, and the captain could not alter their rank. Roman Catholics were allowed to serve as warrant officers, but not as commissioned officers.
Below the warrant officers came the petty officers, who were technically ratings like the seamen. The petty officers included two separate groups: young gentlemen training to be future commissioned officers, often serving as midshipmen or master's mates, and tradesmen working as skilled assistants to the warrant officers. Although the young gentlemen technically were ratings, holding a rank below warrant officers at the mercy of the captain, as aspiring future commissioned officers they were considered socially superior and were often given a watch (with authority over some warrant officers) or a minor command.
Finally, at the bottom of the hierarchical tree, were the seamen, divided into Able Seamen and Ordinary Seamen. Aboard some vessels, an even lower grade existed called Landsman, who were seamen-in-training with very little or no naval skill. Note, however, that the young gentlemen might also be rated as seamen rather than midshipmen on the ship's books, though they were still considered the social superiors of the seamen, petty officers (excluding other young gentlemen), and most warrant officers, and could be given authority over them.
In the immediate wake of the mutiny, all but four of the loyal crew joined Captain Bligh in the long boat for the voyage to Timor, and eventually made it safely back to England unless otherwise noted in the table below. Four were detained against their will on the Bounty for their needed skills and for lack of space on the long boat. The mutineers first returned to Tahiti, where most of the survivors were later captured by the Pandora and taken to England for trial. Nine mutineers continued their flight from the law and eventually settled Pitcairn Island, where all but one died before their fate became known to the outside world.
|Category||Name||Position|| Mutiny |
|Lieutenant William Bligh||Commander|
|John Fryer||Sailing Master||loyal|
|Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian||Master's Mate||mutinied||to Pitcairn; killed 20 Sep. 1793|
|William Elphinstone||Master's Mate||loyal||died in Batavia Oct. 1789|
|Thomas Huggan||Surgeon||died in Tahiti 9 Dec. 1788 before mutiny|
|Charles Churchill||Master-at-Arms |
|mutinied||to Tahiti; murdered in Tahiti Apr. 1790 prior to trial|
|Joseph Coleman||Armourer||loyal||detained on Bounty against his will; to Tahiti; tried and acquitted|
|Peter Linkletter||Quartermaster||loyal||died in Batavia Oct. 1789|
|John Norton||Quartermaster||loyal||killed by natives in Tofua 2 May 1789|
|Henry Hillbrandt||Cooper||mutinied||to Tahiti; drowned in irons during wreck of Pandora 29 Aug. 1791|
|David Nelson||Botanist |
|loyal||died 20 July 1789 at Coupang|
|Peter Heywood||Acting Midshipman||loyal||detained against will on Bounty; to Tahiti; sentenced to death, |
but pardoned; aka Roger Byam in novels by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall
|George Stewart||Acting Midshipman||loyal||detained against will on Bounty; to Tahiti; drowned in irons during |
wreck of Pandora 29 Aug. 1791
|Ned Young||Midshipman||mutinied||to Pitcairn; died 25 Dec. 1800|
|James Morrison||Boatswain's Mate||loyal||stayed on Bounty; to Tahiti; sentenced to death, but pardoned|
|Thomas Ledward||Surgeon's Mate||loyal||promoted to Surgeon after death of Thomas Huggan; presumed |
lost at sea in sinking of Welfare 1789
|George Simpson||Quartermaster's Mate||loyal|
|John Williams||Armourer's Mate||mutinied||to Pitcairn; killed 20 Sep. 1793|
|Thomas McIntosh||Carpenter's Mate||loyal||detained against will on Bounty; to Tahiti; tried and acquitted|
|Charles Norman||Carpenter's Mate||loyal||detained against will on Bounty; to Tahiti; tried and acquitted|
|John Mills||Gunner's Mate||mutinied||to Pitcairn; killed 20 Sep. 1793|
|William Muspratt||Tailor||mutinied||to Tahiti; sentenced to death, but released on appeal and pardoned|
|Richard Skinner||Barber||mutinied||to Tahiti; drowned in irons during wreck of Pandora 29 Aug. 1791|
|William Brown||Botanist's Assistant||mutinied||to Pitcairn; killed 20 Sep. 1793|
|Robert Lamb||Butcher||loyal||died at sea 11 Oct. 1789 en route Batavia to Cape Town|
|John Adams||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Pitcairn; pardoned 1825, died 1829; aka Alexander Smith|
|Thomas Burkitt||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Tahiti; condemned and hanged 29 Oct. 1792 at Spithead|
|Michael Byrne||Able Seaman||loyal||detained against will on Bounty; to Tahiti; tried and acquitted|
|Thomas Ellison||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Tahiti; condemned and hanged 29 Oct. 1792 at Spithead|
|Isaac Martin||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Pitcairn; killed 20 Sep. 1793|
|William McCoy||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Pitcairn; committed suicide 1797/98|
|John Millward||Able Seaman||mutinied||condemned and hanged 29 Oct. 1792 at Spithead|
|Matthew Quintal||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Pitcairn; "executed" 1799 by Adams and Young|
|John Sumner||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Tahiti; drowned in irons during wreck of Pandora 29 Aug. 1791|
|Matthew Thompson||Able Seaman||mutinied||to Tahiti; murdered Apr. 1790 prior to trial|
|James Valentine||Able Seaman||died of scurvy at sea 9 Oct. 1788 prior to mutiny|