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Mutiny on the bounty

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The tale of the mutiny on the Bounty remains one of the most intriguing stories of adventure on the high seas more than 200 years after the ill fated voyage that made Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian legends. 

 

Bound for Tahiti, the Bounty sailed from Spithead, England on 23 December 1787 under the famous Captain William Bligh. This was Bligh's second visit to Tahiti and he had many friends on the island. The Bounty stayed in Tahiti nearly six months. Having completed her mission to collect breadfruit trees from the colony, she set sail but the crew was dispirited at leaving such an easy life behind.

The Bounty was underway to the West Indies when, on the morning of 28 April 1789, Fletcher Christian and part of the crew mutinied. He set the captain and 18 members of the crew adrift in the ship's cutter.

Bligh was a master seaman who had previously navigated for Captain James Cook. He managed to sail the tiny vessel almost four thousand miles to Timor.

Christian and the mutineers took the Bounty back to Tahiti and then, with six Polynesian men and twelve women, sailed the ship to Pitcairn Island where they burnt it at sea. After this desperate beginning, they established a colony that remains to this day, settled by the descendents of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives.

William Bligh's Log Book

Transcript: 

Page Title: Rems Tuesdy at Sea 28 April 1789 

[page 54]

Light Winds and cloudy Nr Wind NE-E & WE 
I kept near ogodoo untill 5 O'Clock this afternoon in hopes to have had some cannoes off but I saw none Therefore directed my course to the West & went to the Southward of Tofoa - Mr Sayer The Master had the first watch. Mr Pickover The Gunner the middle' and Mr Christian one of the Mates who I had given an acting order to' the Morning watch. - This was the tour of duty for the Night - But I am now unhappily to relate one of the most atrocious acts of Piracy ever committed. 
Just before Sunrise Mr Christian & The Master at Arms & several officers came into my cabbin while I was fast asleep' and seizing me tyed my hands with a Cord & threatened instant death if I made the least noise' I however' having a reverie' called sufficiently loud to alarm the officers' who found themselves equally secured by Centinels at their Doors - There were now three men at my Cabbin Door & four inside (a) - Mr Christian had a Cutlass & the others were armed with Musquets & Bayonets - I was now carried on Deck in my shirt' in torture with a severe bandage round my wrists behind my back' where I found no man to rescue to me. I ask'd The reason for such a violent act' but I was threatned to be put to death if I said a word. Mr Hayward & Hallet were in Mr Christian's watch' but had no idea that any thing was doing untill they were all armed - The Arms were all secured' so that no one could get near them for Centinels - Mr Elphinston The Mate was secured in his Hammock Mr Nelson & ' 

(a) Fletcher Christian - (a) Chas Churchill (a) Thos Burkitt' (a) Jno Mills - Alexander Smith Jno Sumner - Mathew Quintal assisted under Arms on the outside

Page 54 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
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Digital ID: 
a286062
Transcript: 

& Peckover in their Cabbins. The fore Hatchway guarded by Centinels through which the Boatswain and Carpenter were admitted on Deck where they saw me standing abaft the Mizen Mast with my hands tyed behind my back' under a Guard with Christian at their head - The Boatswain was now ordered to hoist the small cutter out' with a threat if he did not do it instantly to take care of himself:- but on a representation that this boat was very leaky he was directed to hoist the Launch out which was done. Mr Hayward and Hallet midshipmen and Mr Samuels Clerk were now ordered into the Boat' upon which I assumed my authority & demanded the cause of such an order' endeavouring to bring some one to a sense of his duty' but it was to no effect "Hold your tongue Sir or you are dead this Instant" was constantly repeated to me.
The Master by this time had sent to be allowed to come on deck and was permitted' and as soon was ordered back to his Cabbin again' where he returned. --
I continued to endeavor to change the Tide of Affairs when Christian changed the Cutlass he had in his hand for a Bayonet that was brought to him' and holding me with a strong grip by the Cord that tied my hands' he continued to threaten me with instant death if I did not be quiet.- The Villains round me had their pieces Cocked & Bayonets fixed' and particular People were now called on to go into the Boat' and were hurried over the side' and with those people I concluded of course I was to be set a drift' I therefore in making another effort to bring about a change expressed myself loudly in such a a manner' as to be saluted with "blow his Brains out"

Page 55 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a286063
Transcript: 

The Boatswain and Seamen who were to go in the Boat set to work and collected canvas twine' lines' sails and cordage and an eight and twenty Gallon Cask of Water with four empty Beakers and the Carpenter got his Tool Chest.- - Mr Samuels got abt 150 lbs of Bread with a small quantity of Rum and Wine and was allowed to take a Quadrant and Compass into the Boat' but forbad on pain of death of touching any Map whatever - Ephemerise Book of Astronomical observations Sextants or Time Keeper' or any of my drawings or Surveys. The Mutineers were now hurrying every one into the Boat' and the most of them being in' Christian directed a dram to be served to each of his Crew: - I was now exceedingly fatigued and [indecipherable] unhappily saw I could do nothing to effect the recovery of the Ship - every endeavor was threatened with death' and the following People were now in the Boat:
John Fryer - - Master
Thos. Ledward -- Surgeon
David Nelson -- Botanist
Wm Peckover -- Gunner
Wm Cole -- Boatswain
Wm Purcell -- Carpenter
Wm Elphinston -- Masts Mate
Thos Hayward - Mid.
Jno Hallet - Mid.
Jno Norton -- Qur Master
Peter Linkletter -- Qur Master
Lawrence Lebogue -- Sail Maker
Jno Smith -- Ab
Thos Hale -- Ab
Geo. Simpson -- Qur Master's Mate
Rob Tinkler -- Ab
Rob Lamb -- Ab
Mr Samuels -- Clerk

Page 56 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a286064
Transcript: 

There remained on board as Pirates and under Arms -
Fletcher Christian {Mate & acting {Lieutenant
George Stewart acting Masr Mate
Peter Haywood 2nd Mid
Edward Young 2nd Mid
Charles Churchill Ship's Corporl
Jno Mills Gunner's Mate
Jas Morrisson Boatn Mate
Thos Burkitt Ab
Math. Quintal Ab
Jno Sumner Ab
Jno Millward Ab
Wm McKoy Ab
Heny Hillbrandt Ab & Cooper
Wm Muspratt Ab & Taylor
Alex Smith Ab
Jno Williams Ab
Thos. Ellison Ab
Isaac Martin Ab
Richd Skinner Ab & Mastr Sevrt Ship's Barber
Mathew Thompson Ab
Wm Brown Botanist assistant
Michl Byrn Ab Fidler Boat Keeper & worthy of mercy
22 besides these were kept contrary to their inclinations
Josh Coleman Armourer
Chas Norman Carp. Mate
Thos McIntosh do. Crew
In all 25 Hands
This is briefly the statement of the Case. - The officers were called & forced into the Boat while I was under a Guard abaft the Mizen Mast' Christian holding me by the bandage that secured my hands with one hand' & a Bayonet in his other. The Men under arms around me had their pieces

Page 57 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a286065
Transcript: 

cocked' which so enraged me against those ungratefull Wretches that I dared them to fire and they uncocked them. 
Isaac Martin one of the Guard I saw I had brought to a sense of his duty' and as he fed me with Shaddock' (my lips being so parched in endeavoring to bring about a change in my situation)' we explained to each other by our Eyes reciprocally our wishes. This was however observed' & Martin was instantly removed from me whose inclination then was to leave the Ship' but for a threat of instant death if he did not return out of the Boat. 
The Armourer Joseph Coleman & two Carpenters McIntosh & Norman were kept contrary to their inclination' and they begged of me (in a flood of tears) to remember' before every one that they had no hand in this transaction. Michl Byrne the Fidler who is half blind I am told had no knowledge of what was done and wanted to leave the Ship. These unfortunate Men therefore are deserving of Mercy. 
It is of no moment for me to recount my endeavors to rally & bring to a sense of their duty the offenders - all I could do was by speaking to every one in general' for none one was suffered to come near me. I did my duty as far as it was possible to save the Ship' and they knew me too well to put much in my power and therefore bound me very securely' whilst every one else except the Master' Doctor' Botanist' Gunner

Page 58 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a286066
Transcript: 

and Mr Samuels my clerk who were confined to their Cabbins' were at liberty.- To the latter who got leave to quit his Cabbin I am indebted for securing my Journals' my commission and some material ship papers' also my uniforms and some cloaths without the former I had nothing to certify what I had done' and my honor and character would have been in the power of calumny' without a proper document to have defended it - All This was done with great resolution being guarded & strictly watched - He attempted to save the Time Keeper and my Maps & Drawings (b) for 15 years past which were numerous when he was hurried away with "damn your Eyes you are well off to get what you have".- (a) 
The Masters Cabbin was opposite to mine. He saw them in my Cabbin for our eyes met each other through his Door Window' and he had a pair of Ships Pistols loaded and Ammunition in his Cabbin. a firm resolution might have made a good use of them - These Pistols I had ordered for the use of the Officer of the Watch since the (c) 24th Jany and they were at first kept in the Binnacle' but upon consideration That there they might be stolen from thence' they were ever after kept in the Masters Cabbin. - After he had sent twice or thrice to Christian to be allowed to come on deck' he was at last permitted' and his question to Christian then was' will you let me remain in the Ship? - "No" - have you any objections Captn Bligh? - I whispered to him knock him down Martin is good' for this was just before Martin 
(a) I was frequently saluted with' "blow his brains out" There was not one however who had resolution to do it. 
(b) Among which were my original surveys of West Coast of America and the Sandwich & Friendly Islands done with Capt. Cook [then?] for 15 Years past 
(c) Publish orders issued this day. See order Book

Page 59 - Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty in a Voyage to the South Seas, (to take the Breadfruit plant from the Society Islands to the West Indies,) under the Command of Lieutenant William Bligh, 1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
1 Dec. 1787 - 22 Oct. 1788
View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a286067

William Bligh's Mementos

About this item: 


Signatures / Inscriptions: "Captn Wm Bligh / Royal Navy" -- engraved on inner brass cylinder
"Troughton / London" -- engraved on inner brass cylinder

General Note: Undated. Date approximated to between when Bligh first joined the navy and when he returned to London following the Bounty mutiny

William Bligh's telescope
Between 1770 & 1790
Digital ID: 
a1139002
View collection item detail
About this item: 

Undated. Date approximated from when Bligh reached adulthood

Wax impression of William Bligh's private seal
After 1770
Digital ID: 
a928120
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About this item: 

Signatures / Inscriptions: "Mrs Maurice Oakes / Ring & seal of Governor Bligh. Property of his great-great-grandson Maurice Oakes. Lakeside Rd. Eastwood" -- written on a calling card inside the original box

General Note: Undated. Date range based on Bligh's birthdate and death date
Wax impression of the seal at R 241d
For identification of stones see DR 188n

William Bligh's signet ring & seal
Between 1754 & 1817
Digital ID: 
a1138006
View collection item detail
William Bligh's signet ring & seal
Between 1754 & 1817
Digital ID: 
a1138003
View collection item detail