The Mutiny Of The Bounty

The circumstances detailed in the following narrative are altogether of

so singular and romantic a character that but for the undeniable

authenticity of every particular, the whole might be considered as the

production of the ingenious brain of a Defoe. Some of the incidents

indeed surpass in impressive interest anything to be met with in the

fictitious history of Alexander Selkirk's solitary existence and


In December 1787 the Bounty sailed from Spithead for Otaheite under

the command of Lieutenant Bligh, who had previously accompanied Captain

Cook in his exploiting voyages in the Pacific Ocean. The object of the

present expedition was to convey from Otaheite to our West Indian

colonies the plants of the bread-fruit tree which Dampier, Cook, and

other voyagers had observed to grow with the most prolific luxuriance in

the South Sea Islands, and which furnished the natives with a perpetual

and wholesome subsistence without even the trouble of cultivation.

The crew of the Bounty consisted of forty-five individuals, including

the commander and two skilful gardeners to take charge of the plants,

for the removal of which every accommodation had been provided on board,

under the superintendence of Sir Joseph Banks who had personally visited

Otaheite with Captain Wallis. After a most distressing voyage, in which,

after reaching Cape Horn, they were compelled to put the helm a-weather

and take the route by Van Diemen's Land, the voyagers anchored in

Matavia Bay, Otaheite, on October 26th, 1788, having run over, by the

log, since leaving England, a space of 27,086 miles, or an average of

one hundred and eight miles in twenty-four hours.

The simple natives, who had experienced much kindness from Captain Cook,

testified great joy on the arrival of the strangers, and loaded them

with presents of provisions of every sort. The character, condition, and

habits of the islanders, as described to us even by their early

visitors, present a most extraordinary contrast to the usual features of

savage life. They were a kind, mild-tempered, social, and affectionate

race, living in the utmost harmony amongst themselves, their whole lives

being one unvaried round of cheerful contentment, luxurious ease, and

healthful exercise and amusements.

Bligh appears to have been tempted to remain at this luxurious spot much

longer than was either proper or necessary, as the bread-fruit plants,

and provisions of hogs, fowls, fish, and vegetables of every description

were amply supplied him by the kind natives. The liberty which he gave

his crew to go on shore and enjoy all the indulgences which the place

afforded, was extremely imprudent; and this, together with the

capricious harshness and unjustifiable insult with which he occasionally

treated every one on board--officers as well as men--appears to have

been the sole cause of the unfortunate occurrence that afterwards took

place. The Bounty which, as we have mentioned, arrived October 20th,

1788, did not sail till April 4th, 1789, when she departed loaded with

presents, and amid the tears and regrets of the natives. They continued

till the 27th amongst the islands of that archipelago, touching many of

them, bartering and interchanging presents with the natives, many of

whom remembered Bligh when he accompanied Cook in the Resolution.

It was on the night of the 27th that the mutiny broke out. The affair,

as far as can ever be learned by the strictest investigation, was

entirely unpremeditated, and resulted entirely from the commander's

giving way to one of those furious and ungovernable fits of passion

which he from time to time exhibited. On the day previous (the 26th),

Bligh, having missed some of the cocoanuts that were piled up on deck,

ordered a search to be made; but none being discovered, he burst into a

paroxysm of passion, calling them all scoundrels and thieves alike,

swearing he would make the half of them jump overboard before they got

through Endeavour Straits, and ordering the villains' (officers) grog to

be stopped and gave them half a pound of yams for dinner. The officer of

the watch, a young man of respectable family, named Fletcher Christian,

who was master's mate, and had been two voyages with Bligh, incurred the

greatest share of abuse, the latter cursing him for a hound, and

accusing him of having stolen the cocoanuts for his own use. Christian,

who was a fiery-spirited young man, appears to have become exasperated

at this ignominious treatment, to much of the same kind of which he had

been subjected for some time previous; so much so, indeed, that he

declared to some of his messmates that he had been in hell for the last

fortnight, on account of Bligh's usage of him, and expressed his

determination to leave the ship in a raft on the first opportunity, and

commit himself to the waves rather than remain on board. During the

night of the 28th he accordingly began to prepare his raft; and while so

employed, one of the crew unfortunately suggested that it would be

better for him to seize the ship at once. The idea which Christian does

not seem to have thought of till that moment, was instantly caught at,

and a few whispers amongst the crew showed that the majority were quite

ready for the scheme, which was forthwith put into execution. About

sunrise on Tuesday, April 28th, Christian, with three of the crew,

entered Bligh's cabin and secured him in bed, tied his hands behind his

back, and hurried him on deck. Their companions had in the meanwhile

secured those who were suspected to be disinclined to the mutiny; among

whom was Mr. Peter Heywood (afterwards so much distinguished in the

royal navy service), and two other midshipmen, who were detained

(contrary to their express wishes) to assist the mutineers in managing

the vessel. Several other of the crew, likewise, who disclaimed all

share in the mutiny, were thus forcibly detained. A boat was then

hoisted alongside, and Bligh, with eighteen unfortunate companions, was

forced into it. Some provisions, clothes, and four cutlasses were given

them, and they were cast adrift in the open ocean. Twenty-five remained

on board, the ablest of the ship's company. As the boat put off, "Huzza

for Otaheite!" was shouted by the mutineers, thus indicating the

destination of their further proceedings.

Being near the island of Tofoa, the castaways rowed towards it for the

purpose of obtaining some bread-fruit and water, with which the natives

at first seemed very willing to supply them, until Bligh imprudently

advised his men to say, in answer to the queries put them about the

ship, that it had overset and sunk. The consequence was, that the

natives attacked them, stoned one man to death, and it was with

difficulty that the remainder escaped. Bligh's companions then entreated

him to steer for home at all risks and hazards; and on being told that

no hope of relief could be entertained till they reached Timor, off the

coast of New Holland, a distance fully twelve hundred leagues, they

readily agreed to be content with an allowance, which, on calculation,

was found would not exceed an ounce of bread and a quarter of a pint of

water per day for each man. After taking them, bound by a solemn promise

to this effect, these unfortunate men boldly bore away, on May 2nd,

across a sea where the navigation was little, in an open boat

twenty-three feet long and deep, laden with eighteen men. It is not our

purpose here to detail the particulars of this adventurous voyage.

Suffice it to say that, after enduring the most horrible distresses from

cold, thirst, famine, and running a distance by the log of more than

three hundred miles, the whole reached the island of Timor alive on June

14th, but so much spent as more to resemble spectres than men. They were

treated with great kindness by the inhabitants, but, notwithstanding

every attention, four or five of them here died; the rest proceeded to

Batavia, whence they obtained passages to England, where Bligh arrived

in March, 1790.

The intelligence of the mutiny, and the sufferings of Bligh and his

companions, naturally excited a great sensation in England. Bligh was

immediately promoted to the rank of commander, and Captain Edwards was

despatched to Otaheite in the Pandora frigate, with instructions to

search for the Bounty and her mutinous crew, and bring them to

England. The Pandora reached Matavia Bay on March 23rd, 1791; and even

before she had come to anchor, Joseph Coleman, formerly armourer of the

Bounty, pushed off from shore in a canoe, and came on board. He

frankly told who he was, and professed his readiness to give every

information that might be required of him. Scarcely had the ship

anchored, when Messrs. Heywood and Stewart, late midshipmen of the

Bounty, also came on board; and in the course of two days afterwards,

the whole of the remainder of the Bounty's crew (in number sixteen)

then on the island surrendered themselves, with the exception of two,

who fled to the mountains, where, as it afterwards appeared, they were

murdered by the natives.

From his prisoners, and the journals kept by one or two of them, Captain

Edwards learnt the proceedings of Christian and his associates after

turning Bligh and his companions adrift in the boat. It appears that

they steered in the first instance to the island of Toobouai, where they

intended to form a settlement; but the opposition of the natives, and

want of many necessary materials, determined them to return in the

meantime to Otaheite, where they arrived on May 25th, 1789. In answer to

the inquiries of Tinah, the king, about Bligh and the rest of the crew,

the mutineers stated that they had fallen in with Captain Cook, who was

forming a settlement in a neighbouring island, and had retained Bligh

and the others to assist him, while they themselves had been despatched

to Otaheite for an additional supply of hogs, goats, fowls, bread-fruit

and various other articles. Overjoyed at hearing their old friend Cook

was alive, and about to settle so near them, the humane and unsuspicious

islanders set about actively to procure the supplies wanted, that in a

few days the Bounty received on board three hundred and twelve hogs,

thirty-eight goats, eight dozen of fowls, a bull and a cow, and a large

quantity of bread-fruit, plantains, bananas, and other fruits. The

mutineers also took with them eight men, nine women, and seven boys,

with all of whom they arrived a second time at Toobouai on June 26th,

where they warped the ship up the harbour, landed the live stock, and

set about building a fort fifty yards square. Quarrels and

disappointments, however, soon broke out among them. The poor natives

were treated like slaves, and upon attempting to retaliate, were

mercilessly put to death. Christian, finding his authority almost

entirely disregarded, called a consultation as to what steps were next

to be taken, when it was agreed that Toobouai should be abandoned; that

the ship should once more be taken to Otaheite, where those who might

choose it would be put ashore, while the rest who preferred remaining in

the vessel might proceed wherever they had a mind. This was accordingly

done: sixteen of the crew went on shore at Matavia (fourteen of whom, as

already stated, were received on board the Pandora, and two were

murdered), while Christian with his eight comrades, and taking with them

seven Otaheitan men and twelve women, finally sailed from Matavia on

September 21st, 1789, from which time they had never been more heard of.

Captain Edwards instituted a strict search after the fugitives amongst

the various groups of islands in the Pacific, but finding no trace of

them, he set sail, after three months' investigation, for the east coast

of New Holland. Here, by some mismanagement, the Pandora struck upon

the singular coral reef that runs along that coast, called the Barrier

Reef, and filled so fast that scarcely were the boats got out when she

foundered and went down, thirty-four of the crew and four of the

prisoners perishing in her. It is painful to record anything to the

discredit of that service which has proved the pride and safeguard of

Great Britain, and made her the acknowledged sovereign of the sea. But

the concurring testimony of the unfortunate prisoners exhibits the

conduct of Captain Edwards towards them in colours which are shocking to

contemplate. They were confined in a small round house, built on the

after deck on purpose, which could only be entered by a scuttle in the

top, about eighteen inches square. From this narrow prison they were

never allowed to stir, and they were, over and above, heavily loaded

with irons both at the wrists and ankles. When the Pandora went down,

no attempt was made to save them, and the ten survivors escaped almost

in a state of complete nudity. After reaching a low, sandy, desert

island, or rather quay, as such are nautically termed, Captain Edwards

caused his men to form tents out of the sails they had saved, under

which he and his men reposed in comparative comfort; but he refused the

same indulgence to his miserable captives, whose only refuge, therefore,

from the scorching rays of the sun, was by burying themselves up to the

neck amongst the burning sand, so that their bodies were blistered as if

they had been scalded with boiling water. But we refrain from dwelling

on facts so disreputable to the character of a British sailor. The

Pandora's survivors reached Batavia in their boats, whence they

obtained passages to England in Dutch vessels. A court martial was soon

after held (September, 1792), when six of the ten mutineers were found

guilty and condemned to death--the other four were acquitted. Only three

of the six, however, were executed. Mr. Heywood, who was amongst the

condemned (chiefly by the perverted and prejudiced evidence of Captain

Bligh and a fellow-midshipman), was afterwards pardoned upon the strong

recommendation of the court, who, notwithstanding the vindictive

evidence against him, were perfectly convinced of his innocence. His

subsequent honourable career proved him fully deserving the favourable

opinion of his judges, as well as of the promotion he obtained.

Nearly twenty years elapsed after the period of the above occurrences,

and all recollection of the Bounty and her wretched crew had passed

away, when an accidental discovery, as interesting as unexpected, once

more recalled public attention to that event. The captain of an American

schooner having in 1808 accidentally touched at an island, up to that

time supposed to be uninhabited, called Pitcairn's Island, found a

community, speaking English, who represented themselves as the

descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty, of whom there was still

one man, of the name of Alexander Smith, alive amongst them.

Intelligence of this singular circumstance was sent by the American

captain (Folger) to Sir Sydney Smith at Valparaiso, and by him

transmitted to the Lords of the Admiralty. But the government was at

that time perhaps too much engaged in the events of the continental war

to attend to the information, nor was anything further heard of this

interesting little society until 1814. In that year two British

men-of-war cruising in the Pacific, made an island, which they could not

at first believe to be Pitcairn's Island, as it was more than three

degrees out of the longitude assigned it by Captain Carteret, who first

discovered it in 1797. They were confirmed in this opinion by observing

symptoms of cultivation, and, on nearing the shore, saw plantations

regularly and orderly laid out. Soon afterwards they observed a few

natives coming down a steep descent with their canoes on their

shoulders, and in a few minutes perceived one of these little vessels

darting through a heavy surf, and paddling off towards the ships. But

their astonishment may be imagined, when, on coming along side, they

were hailed in good English with--"Won't you heave us a rope now?" This

being done, a young man sprang up the side with extraordinary activity,

and stood on the deck before them. In answer to the question, "Who are

you?" he replied that his name was Thursday October Christian, son of

the late Fletcher Christian by an Otaheitan mother; that he was the

first born on the island, and was so named because he was born on a

Thursday in October. All this sounded singular and miraculous in the

ears of the British captains, Sir Thomas Staines and Mr. Pipon, but they

were soon satisfied of its truth. Young Christian was at this time about

twenty-four years old, a tall, handsome youth fully six feet high, with

black hair, and an open, interesting English countenance. As he wore no

clothes except a piece of cloth round his loins, and a straw hat

ornamented with black cock's feathers, his fine figure and well-shaped

muscular limbs were displayed to great advantage, and attracted general

admiration. His body was much tanned by exposure to the weather; but

although his complexion was somewhat brown, it wanted that tinge of red

peculiar to the natives of the Pacific. He spoke English correctly both

in grammar and pronunciation; and his frank and ingenuous deportment

excited in every one the liveliest feelings of compassion and interest.

His companion was a fine, handsome youth, of seventeen or eighteen years

of age, named George Young, son of one of the Bounty's midshipmen.

The youths expressed great surprise at everything they saw, especially a

cow, which they supposed to be either a huge goat or a horned sow,

having never seen any other quadruped. When questioned concerning the

Bounty, they referred the captains to an old man on shore, the only

surviving Englishman, whose name they said was John Adams, but who

proved to be the identical Alexander Smith before mentioned, having

changed his name from some caprice or other. The officers went ashore

with the youths, and were received by old Adams, as we shall now call

him, who conducted them to his house, and treated them to an elegant

repast of eggs, fowls, yams, plaintains, bread-fruit, etc. They now

learned from him an account of the fate of his companions, who, with

himself, preferred accompanying Christian in the Bounty to remaining

at Otaheite--which account agreed with that he afterwards gave at

greater length to Captain Beechey in 1825. Our limit will not permit us

to detail all the interesting particulars at length, as we could have

wished, but they are in substance as follows:--

It was Christian's object, in order to avoid the vengeance of the

British law, to proceed to some unknown and uninhabited island, and the

Marquesas Islands were first fixed upon. But Christian, on reading

Captain Carteret's account of Pitcairn's Island, thought it better

adapted for the purpose, and shaped his course thither, Having landed

and traversed it, they found it every way suitable to their wishes,

possessing water, wood, a good soil, and some fruits. The anchorage in

the offing was extremely dangerous for ships, and it was scarcely

possible for boats to get through the surf that broke on the shore. The

mountains were so difficult of access, and the passes so narrow, that

they might be maintained by a few persons against an army, and there

were several caves, to which, in case of necessity, they could retreat,

and where, as long as their provisions lasted, they might bid defiance

to all pursuit. Having ascertained all this, they returned on board, and

having landed their hogs, goats, and poultry, and gutted the ship of

everything that could be useful to them, they set fire to her, and

destroyed every vestige that might lead to the discovery of their

retreat. This was on January 23d, 1790. The island was then divided into

nine equal portions amongst them, a suitable spot of neutral ground

being reserved for a village. The poor Otaheitans now found themselves

reduced to the condition of mere slaves; but they patiently submitted,

and everything went on peaceably for two years. About that time,

Williams, one of the seamen, having the misfortune to lose his wife,

forcibly took the wife of one of the Otaheitans, which, together with

their continued ill-usage, so exasperated the latter that they formed a

plan for murdering the whole of their oppressors. The plot, however, was

discovered and revealed by the Englishmen's wives, and two of the

Otaheitans were put to death. But the surviving natives soon afterwards

matured a more successful conspiracy, and in one day murdered five of

the Englishmen, including Christian. Adams and Young were spared at the

intercession of their wives, and the remaining two, M'Koy and Quintal

(two desperate ruffians), escaped to the mountains, whence, however,

they soon rejoined their companions. But the further career of these

villains was short. M'Koy having been brought up in a Scotch distillery,

succeeded in extracting a bottle of ardent spirits from the tea root;

from which time he and Quintal were never sober, until the former became

delirious, and committed suicide by jumping over a cliff. Quintal being

likewise almost insane with drinking, made repeated attempts to murder

Adams and Young, until they were absolutely compelled, for their own

safety, to put him to death, which they did by felling him with a


Adams and Young were at length the only surviving males who had landed

on the island, and being both of a serious turn of mind, and having time

for reflection and repentance, they became extremely devout. Having

saved a Bible and prayer-book from the Bounty, they now performed

family worship morning and evening, and addressed themselves to training

up their own children, and those of their unfortunate companions, in

piety and virtue. Young, however, was soon carried off by an asthmatic

complaint, and Adams was thus left to continue his pious labours alone.

At the time Captain Staines and Pipon visited the island, this

interesting little colony consisted of about forty-six persons, mostly

grown-up young people, and all living in harmony and happiness together;

and not only professing, but fully understanding and practising, the

precepts and principles of the Christian religion. Adams had instituted

the ceremony of marriage, and he assured his visitors that not one

instance of debauchery or immoral conduct had occurred amongst them.

The visitors having supplied these interesting people with some tools,

kettles, and other articles, took their leave. The account which they

transmitted home of this newly-discovered colony, was, strange to say,

as little attended to by government as that of Captain Folger, and

nothing more was heard of Adams and his family for nearly twelve years,

when in 1825, Captain Beechey, in the Blossom, bound on a voyage of

discovery to Behring's Straits, touched at Pitcairn's Island. On the

approach of the Blossom a boat came off under all sail towards the

ship, containing old Adams and ten of the young men of the island. After

requesting and obtaining leave to come on board, the young men sprang up

the side, and shook every officer cordially by the hand. Adams, who was

grown very corpulent, followed more leisurely. He was now dressed in a

sailor's shirt and trousers, with a low-crowned hat, which he held in

his hand in sailor fashion, while he smoothed down his bald forehead

when addressed by the officers of the Blossom. It was the first time

he had been on board a British vessel since the destruction of the

Bounty, now thirty-five years ago; and it was evident his mind

recurred to the events of that period. Captain Beechey procured from

Adams a detailed narrative of the whole transaction of the mutiny and

subsequent events, which has since been published by that gentleman, and

of which we have already given an abstract. The little colony had now

increased to about sixty-six, including an English sailor of the name of

John Buffet, who at his own earnest desire had been left by a whaler. In

this man, the society luckily found an able and willing schoolmaster. He

instructed the children in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and

devoutly co-operated with old Adams in affording religious instruction

to the community. The officers of the Blossom went ashore, and were

entertained with a sumptuous repast at young Christian's, the table

being spread with plates, knives, and forks. Buffet said grace in an

emphatic manner, and so strict were they in this respect, that it was

not deemed proper to touch a morsel of bread without saying grace both

before and after it. The officers slept in the house all night, their

bed-clothing and sheets consisting of the native cloth made of the

native mulberry-tree. The only interruption to their repose was the

melody of the evening hymn, which was chanted together by the whole

family after the lights were put out; and they were awakened at early

dawn by the same devotional ceremony. On Sabbath the utmost decorum was

attended to, and the day was passed in regular religious observances.

All that remains to be said of these excellent people, concludes

Beechey, is, that they appear to live together in perfect harmony and

contentment; to be virtuous, religious, cheerful, and hospitable beyond

the limits of prudence; to be patterns of conjugal and parental

affection, and to have very few vices. We remained with them many days,

and their unreserved manners gave us the fullest opportunity of becoming

acquainted with any faults they might have possessed.

In consequence of a representation made by Captain Beechey, the British

government sent out Captain Waldegrave in 1830, in the Seringapatam,

with a supply of sailors' blue jackets and trousers, flannels, stockings

and shoes, women's dresses, spades, mattocks, shovels, pickaxes,

trowels, rakes, etc. He found their community increased to about

seventy-nine, all exhibiting the same unsophisticated and amiable

characteristics as we have before described. Other two Englishmen had

settled amongst them; one of them, called Nobbs, a self-constituted

missionary, who was endeavouring to supersede Buffet in his office of

religious instructor. The patriarch Adams, it was found, had died in

March, 1826, aged sixty-five. While on his death-bed he had called the

heads of families together, and urged upon them to elect a chief, which,

however, they had not yet done; but the greatest harmony still prevailed

amongst them, notwithstanding Nobb's exertions to form a party of his

own. Captain Waldegrave thought that the island, which is about four

miles square, might be able to support a thousand persons, upon reaching

which number they would naturally emigrate to other islands.

Such is the account of this most singular colony, originating in crime

and bloodshed. Of all the repentant criminals on record, the most

interesting, perhaps, is John Adams. Nor do we know where to find a more

beautiful example of the value of early instruction than in the history

of this man, who, having run a full career of most kinds of vice, was

checked by an interval of leisure and reflection, and a sense of new

duties awakened by the power of natural affection.

The Mutiny Of 1797 The Story Of Admiral Benbow facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail