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The Infamous Mutiny on the Bounty

J. Ruffell portrait of William Bligh
Back in 1798, the most infamous mutiny in history occurred on a ship known as the Bounty. The story has been immortalized in film and the history books. While, it's often sensationalized for the sake of entertainment, the true story is just as action-packed.

Captain William Bligh was in command of the Bounty when it went on its fateful journey. He was hired to bring the Bounty to the South Pacific in search of breadfruit trees. Bligh was able, but quite strict. During the voyage, he kept a meticulous account of the ship's provisions, rationing out food carefully based on his calculations. He was also keen on keeping his men on task. At one point during the voyage, Captain Bligh was compelled to flog some of his men for attempting to desert the Bounty. A harsh punishment surely, but it was the practice.

Captain Bligh's nature began to wear on master at arms Fletcher Christian, who began to show visible disdain for the captain. However, Bligh later claimed that he believed he was on good terms with Christian and did not sense that the man was mutinous. There is evidence to the contrary. Reports say that Christian announced he had been in hell on the Bounty. There was also an incident over missing coconuts, in which Fletcher Christian was involved. Nonetheless, Captain Bligh didn't notice or failed to act. It all came to a head when Christian rounded up a gang of co-conspirators.

On the night of April 28, 1789, Captain Bligh was asleep in his cabin when he was awakened and tied up. It soon became obvious to him that Christian and some other men were intent on taking over the Bounty. The Captain was brought up on deck and forced into a 23-ft. launch with only meager provisions for himself and his supporters. They were then cast out into the Pacific. William Bligh’s account of the incident suggests that the mutineers planned on returning to the island of Otaheite. The island was something of a paradise to the men and the natives were extremely friendly.

In all, 18 men were on the launch with Captain Bligh-25 remained on the Bounty. It was later revealed that not all of the men that stayed with the Bounty were willing participants in the mutiny. As for those that set out on the launch, they would soon have reason to be thankful for the captain’s strict provisioning. The food and water on the launch were not nearly enough for the journey the men were forced to take.

Captain Bligh and his men were quickly forced to seek out food and water on any island they came across. At one island natives confronted them, and one of the men was killed on the beach. From then on, Captain Bligh was careful to seek out islands that had no inhabitants or at least obviously friendly ones. They were able to gather more small provisions on these stops, but the men were quickly suffering from hunger and exposure.

The launch finally reached Coupang in Timor on June 14. The men had been traveling for 48 days and had traveled an astounding 3,618 miles. They were forced to remain there for some time and one of the men succumbed to his ailments and died while in Coupang. Captain Bligh was eventually able to procure a vessel and the men went on their way to England. After changing ships and some minor incidents, Captain Bligh finally returned home to England on March 14, 1790–11 months after the mutiny on the Bounty.

A ship called the Pandora was sent out to capture the mutineers and find the Bounty. When the Pandora arrived in Tahiti, three of the mutineers from the Bounty swam out to meet her. They were immediately arrested. One of them told the captain of the Pandora what had occurred after the Bounty left Bligh and his men. Apparently, Christian left sixteen of the men on Tahiti and left; obviously Tahiti was not the paradise he had been looking for.

The men of the Pandora managed to find thirteen of the mutineers in Tahiti. The ship then set out in search of the other mutineers from the Bounty. They were ultimately unsuccessful in finding Christian and his men and were forced to head home. Unfortunately, the Pandora sank off of the Great Barrier Reef and three of the captives went down with the ship. Ten were brought back to England to face trial. Seven of the men were released and on October 29, 1974, three of them hanged for their crimes.

Fletcher Christian and the other men were never brought to justice. Twenty years later it was discovered that they had settled on Pitcairn Island. Their descendants still reside there to this day.

Sources

Linder, Douglas, The Story of the Court Martial of the Bounty Mutineers, retrieved 7/27/09

Lindon, George, Nicol, 1790, William Bligh’s Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty, retrieved 7/27/09, law.umkc.edu/faculty/ftrials/Bounty/blighnarrative.html

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