On 14th June 1789 Captain Bligh and 18 crew landed at Timor having all survived the 3618 mile voyage in the 23-foot open launch from the HMS Bounty which began on 28th April 1789 on the day of the Mutiny on the Bounty. This sealed the fate of the mutineers who thought they were home free when they sent Captain Bligh on his impossible journey!
Eleven months after the mutiny, and against all odds, Captain Bligh reached the home shores of England. He took rightful pride in his accomplishment and in his Narrative of the Mutiny, published just months after his return, he devoted a scant six pages to the mutiny and eighty to the story of his remarkable 3618-mile subsequent voyage in an overloaded, under provisioned boat. The English Chronicle called Captain Bligh‘s navigation of “his little skiff through so dangerous a sea” a “matchless undertaking that seems beyond the verge of probability.” The court-martial found him innocent of any wrongdoing. The nation hailed Captain Bligh as a hero and within a year he was appointed captain of a new breadfruit expedition, this one with a full complement of lieutenants and marines for better security.
A great deal of fiction, romance and drama has been added over the years to the most well-known mutiny story, but what can’t be denied is the professionalism of Captain Bligh and the respect held for him by those who survived to tell the tale. Not one soul was lost during the hazardous, stormy voyage in an over-laden vessel with only 7 inches of freeboard. Set adrift in the ship’s launch by the mutinous crew headed by Fletcher Christian they had scant provisions for a seven week voyage of survival from Tofua to Kupang. Captain Bligh listed his provisions as 150 lb of bread, 16 pieces of pork, each weighing 2 lb, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine and 28 gallons of water, all of which he strictly rationed to his starving men.
Fortunately at the start, conditions were calm, so that Captain Bligh and his men were able to row and, when the wind sprang up, they sailed to the nearby island of Tofua where, after searching for extra water and food, they were attacked by hostile natives. One crew member, John Norton, was stoned to death on the beach from which they made their escape while being pursued by a dozen stone-throwing natives in their canoes. Captain Bligh distracted them by dropping clothes into the water which they duly retrieved. Afterwards it was nearly dark and the natives gave up their chase. The voyage from there was one of abject misery because of storms causing the men to continuously bail the boat as she ran before the wind. With very little in the way of protective clothing, they suffered severely from the cold and being wet all the time. They avoided landing on any of the Fijian islands, the New Hebrides islands, New Guinea and the North Australian coast for fear of meeting hostile natives. Fortunately they were able to supplement their provisions by catching noddies, small birds the size of a pigeon, and boobies, much bigger birds, about the size of a gannet.
HMS Bounty had left England in 1787 on a mission to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. A five-month layover in Tahiti, during which many of the men lived ashore and formed relationships with native Polynesians, proved harmful to discipline. Relations between Captain Bligh and his crew deteriorated after he began handing out increasingly harsh punishments, criticism and abuse, Fletcher Christian being a particular target. After three weeks back at sea, Fletcher Christian and others forced Captain Bligh from the ship. Twenty-five men remained on board afterwards, including loyalists held against their will and others for whom there was no room in the launch.
Captain Bligh reached England in April 1790 whereupon the Admiralty despatched HMS Pandora to apprehend the mutineers. Fourteen were captured in Tahiti and imprisoned on board HMS Pandora which then searched without success for Fletcher Christian‘s party who had hidden on Pitcairn. After turning back toward England, HMS Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef with the loss of 31 crew and 4 of the prisoners from HMS Bounty. The 10 surviving detainees reached England in June 1792 and were court martialled; 4 were acquitted, 3 were pardoned, and 3 were hanged.
Fletcher Christian‘s group remained undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, by which time only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. Almost all his fellow mutineers, including Fletcher Christian, had been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. No action was taken against John Adams. Descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts live on Pitcairn into the 21st century. The generally accepted view of Captain Bligh as an overbearing monster and Fletcher Christian‘ as a tragic victim of circumstances, as depicted in well-known film accounts, has been challenged by late 20th- and 21st-century historians from whom a more sympathetic picture of Captain Bligh has emerged:
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) – here’s a Trailer on YouTube
- The Bounty (1984) – here’s the whole Mel Gibson movie on YouTube
- The true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty according to the Telegraph
- The Story of the Court-Martial of the Bounty Mutineers by Douglas Linder