Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mutiny on the Bounty

Last Saturday 28th April was the 223rd anniversary of the Mutiny on the Bounty. It is perhaps the most famous mutiny and one that has captured the mind of Hollywood with no less than 5 movies being made since 1917. Some of the facts of the mutiny have been blurred as a result of their Hollywood treatment but it is still an amazing story none the less.

The Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery in the Pier Store tells the story of the mutiny and houses a number of artefacts from the Bounty including a cannon, kettle, iron stone plate and smaller pieces from the ship. What happens is as follows…

The Bounty left England on 23 December 1787 on what should have been a straight forward mission. Bligh’s orders were to sail via Cape Horn but delays meant that they experienced the notoriously harsh weather conditions of Cape Horn late in the season – snowstorms, gails, constant rain and high seas. In April 1788 Bligh admitted defeat and turned for the Cape of Good Hope.

Ten months after leaving England the Bounty reached Tahiti on 25 October 1788. After the harsh conditions of the voyage Tahiti must have seemed like a tropical paradise. Six months were spent in Tahiti cultivating the breadfruit seedlings so they would survive the long journey to the West Indies. Fresh food, a pleasant climate, friends and sexual relationships were a predominant improvement on life at sea!

The Bounty left Tahiti on 4 April 1789. There was some tension on board between Bligh and Fletcher Christian. However there was no air of impending mutiny – this is pure invention by Hollywood script writers. Bligh slept at night with his door open, without guards or weapons. Three and a half weeks after leaving Tahiti, on the 28th April just before sunrise, Christian accompanied by Charles Churchill, John Mills and Thomas Burkitt went to Bligh’s cabin and woke him. They forced him on deck with his hands tied. It seems to have been an impulsive action.

The mutineers decided that Bligh should be set adrift in the jolly boat – the smallest of the three boats carried on the Bounty. The jollyboat, however, was unseaworthy, as was the cutter. The longboat, the largest of the boats, 23foot long (7 metres) and 6ft 9inches across (2 metres) was then chosen and into this went nineteen men. Some were forced, some went voluntarily. There began Bligh’s story of his amazing feat of sailing 3,700 nautical miles in an open long boat to safety.

After Bligh was put to sea in the longboat Fletcher Christian and his twenty-four man crew sailed back to Tahiti in the Bounty. Christian intended to settle in Tubai despite a violent clash with the natives when they first arrived. They sailed on to Tahiti to stock up on plants and animals required for their Tubaian settlement. Nine Tahitian women were taken with them, eight men and ten boys. Peter Heywood reported that most went of their own free will. The settlement was a failure as they continued to have disputes with the natives. After three months the mutineers abandoned it and returned to Tahiti. Sixteen mutineers decided to remain on Tahiti in spite of the risk of capture.

On the night of 22nd September 1789 the bounty left again. This time there were nine white men, six male and nineteen female islanders and one baby girl onboard. Many of the women had been kidnapped. One jumped overboard and swam for shore, another six were put onto a neighbouring island because they were considered too old.

The Bounty then sailed towards Tofoa, but changed direction and headed for the tiny, remote island of Pitcairn. It arrived on 21 January 1790. There began another chapter of this amazing story – the story of our ancestors.

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