Mutiny on the Bounty – 224 Years Ago Today
April 29, 2013 | Exploration
244 years ago today the most famous mutiny in maritime history was committed, sailors led by Fletcher Christian taking over the HMAV Bounty commanded by Captain William Bligh. Bligh wrote this in his logbook:
Bounty Logbook Apr 28, 1789
I now have to report one of the most atrocious acts of piracy ever committed.
Just before Sun rise Mr. Christian, Mate, Chas. Churchill, Ships Corporal, John Mills, Gunners Mate, and Thomas Burkett, Seaman, came into my Cabbin while I was a Sleep and seizing me tyed my hands with a Cord behind my back and threatened me with Instant death if I spoke or made the least noise. I however called so loud as to alarm every one, but the Officers found themselves secured by Centinels at their Doors. There were four Men in my Cabbin and three outside, Viz. Alexr. Smith, Jno. Sumner and Matw. Quintal. Mr. Christian had a Cutlass in his hand, the others had Musquets and bayonets. I was forced on Deck in my Shirt, suffering great pain from the Violence with which they had tied my hands. I demanded the reason for such a violent Act, but I received no Answer but threats of Instant death if 1 did not hold my tongue. Mr Hayward & Hallett were in Mr Christians 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. Elphinstone, the Mate, was secured to his Birth. Mr Nelson Botanist, Mr. Peckover Gunner, Mr Ledward Surgeon & the Master were confined to their Cabbins, as also Mr. Jno Samuel (Clerk) but who from finese got leave to come upon Deck. The Fore Hatchway was guarded by Centinels, the Boatswain and Carpenter were however allowed to come on Deck where they saw me Standing abaft the Mizen Mast with my hands tied behind my back, under a Guard with Christian at their Head.
The Boatswain was now ordered to hoist the Boat out, with a threat if he did not do it instantly to take care of himself.
Mr. Hayward and Hallet, Midshipmen, and Mr. Samuel were now ordered into the Boat, upon which I assumed my Authority and demanded the Cause of such an Order, at the same time 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 peices Cocked & Bayonets fixed, and particular People were now called upon to go in the Boat, and were hurried over the side. With these 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 in such a Manner as to be saluted with ‘Blow his Brains out’.
The Boatswain and Seamen who were to go in the Boat, collected twine, canvas, Lines. Sails, Cordage and eight and twenty Gallon Cask of Water, and the Carpenter got his Tool Chest. Mr. Samuel got 150 lbs. Bread with a Small quantity of Rum and Wine. He also got a Quadrant and Compass into the Boat, but forbid on Pain of death touching any Map whatever, Ephemeris Book of Astronomical Observations, Sextants, Time Keeper or any of my Surveys or drawings.
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 unhappily saw I could do nothing to effect the Recovery of the Ship, every endeavor was threatened with death…. In all 25 Hands and the most able Men on board the Ship.
This is breifly 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, and a Bayonet in the other. The Men under Arms round me had their Peices cocked which so enraged me against those ungrateful 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, and 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 and the two Carpenters McIntosh and Norman were kept Contrary to their inclination, & they begged of me After I was veered astern in the Boat to remember that they declared they had no hand in the transaction. Michael Byrne the Fidler who is half blind I am told had no knowledge of what was done and Wanted to leave the Ship.
It is of no moment for me to recount my endeavors to rally and bring to a sense of their duty the Offenders, all I could do was by Speaking to every one in general, for no 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.
To Mr. Samuel I am indebted for Securing to me my Journals and Commission with some Material Ships Papers. Without these 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 he did with great resolution, being guarded and Strictly Watched. He attempted to save the Time Keeper and a Box with all my Surveys, Drawings and remarks for 15 Years past which were numerous. Among which were my general Surveys of the West Coast of America, East Coast of Asia, the Sandwich and Friendly Islands, when he was hurried away with ‘—- your Eyes you are well off to get what you have’.
The Masters Cabbin was opposite mine, he saw them in my Cabbin for our Eyes met each other through his Door Window. He had a pair of Ships Pistols loaded and ammunition in his Cabin. 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 24th of January, in case of desertion in the Night, and they were at first kept in the Binnacle, but upon consideration that 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 then was, Will you let me remain in the Ship? No. Have you any objection, Captn. Bligh? I whispered to him, Knock him down, Martin is good: for this was just before Martin was removed from me. Christian however pulled me back, and the Master went away with Orders to go again to his Cabbin, and I saw no more of him untill he was put into the Boat. He afterwards told me on my questioning him that he could find no Body to act with, that by staying in the Ship he hoped to have retaken her, and that as to the Pistols he was so flurried and surprized that he did not recollect he had them. His Brother said on my enquiring how the Keys of the Arms Chest came out of his Cabin, that Richard Skinner who attended on him had taken them away which was certainly the case.
As for the Officers whose Cabbins were in the Cockpitt, there was no releif for them; they endeavored to come to my Assistance, but were not allowed to put their heads above the Hatchway.
The Boatswain and Carpenter were fully at liberty, the former was employed on pain of death to hoist the Boats out, but the latter
I saw acting the part of an Idler with an impudent and ill looking countenance which led me to believe he was one of the Mutineers, untill he was among the rest Ordered to leave the Ship, for it appeared to me to be a doubt with Christian at first, whether he Should keep the Carpenter or his Mates, but knowing the former to be a troublesome fellow he determined on the latter. The Carpenter was then Ordered into the Boat, upon which he got his Tool Chest with little difficulty over the Side.
Much altercation took place among the Mutinous Crew during the whole business, some Swore ‘I’ll be —–d if he does not get home if he gets anything with him’ (meaning me). Others, when the Carpenters Chest was carrying away ‘—- my Eyes he will have a Vessel built in a Month,’ while others laughed at the Situation of the Boat being very deep, and not room for those that were in her. As for Christian, he seemed to be plotting instant destruction on himself and every one, for of all diabolical looking Men he exceeded every possible description.
I asked for Arms but they laughed at me and Said I was well acquainted where I was going and therefore did not want them. Four Cutlasses were however thrown into the Boat after She was veered astern.
When the Officers and Men were put into the Boat (with whom I was suffered to have no communication) they only then waited for me, and the Ships Corporal informed Christian of it, who then told me ‘Come, Captn. Bligh, your Officers and Men are now in the Boat and you must go with them. If you attempt to make the least resistance you will instantly be put to death,’ and forcing me before him, holding by the Cord that frapped my hands behind my back a Bayonet in his other, with a Tribe of Armed Ruffians about me I was forced over the side where they untied my hands, and being in the Boat we were veered astern by a Rope. A few peices of Pork were now thrown into us and some Cloaths, and after having undergone a great deal of ridicule we were at last cast adrift in the open Ocean. Having little or no wind we rowed pretty fast towards Tofoa, which bore NE about 10 leagues, and while the Ship was in sight she Steered to the WNW, but I consider that as a blind to me for when we came away, Huzza for Otaheite was frequently heard among the Mutineers.
Christian, the Captain of the Mutineers, is of a respectable Family in the North of England. This was the third Voyage he had made with me, and as I found it necessary to keep my Ships Company at three Watches, I gave him an Order to keep the third, his abilities being thoroughly equal to the task, and by this means my Master and Gunner were not at Watch and Watch.
Heywood is also of a respectable family in the North of England and a Young Man of Abilities as well as Christian. These two were objects of my regard and attention and with much unwearied Zeal I instructed them for they realy promised as professional Men to be an honor to their Country.
Young was a Person recommended to me by Sir George Young, Captain in the Navy. He appeared to me to be an able and Stout Seaman and therefore I took him, he however always proved a Worthless Wretch.
Stewart was a Young Man of creditable Parents in the Orkneys. He was a Seaman and bore a good Character.
Here we may observe to what a height the baseness of human Nature may arrive at, not only ingratitude in its blackest die, but eternal criminality against their Country and connections.
I had scarce got a furlong on my way when I began to reflect on the vicisitudes of human affairs; but in the midst of all I felt an inward happiness which prevented any depression of my spirits, conscious of my own integrity and anxious solicitude for the good of the Service I was on. I found my mind most wonderfully Supported, and began to conceive hopes notwithstanding so heavy a Calamity, to be able to recount to my King and Country my misfortune.
What Mans situations could be so peculiarly flattering as mine twelve hours before? I had a Ship in the most perfect order and well Stored with every necessary both for Service and Health; by early attention to those particulars I had acted against the power of Chance in case I not get through Endeavor Straights as well as against any Accident that might befall me in them, and to add to this I had very successfully got my Plants in the most flourishing and fine order, so that upon the whole the Voyage was two thirds completed and the remaining part no way doubtfull. Every person in the most perfect health, to establish what I had taken the greatest pains and bore a most anxious care the whole course of the Voyage.
It is certainly true that no effect could take place without a Cause but here it is equally certain that no cause could justify such an effect. It however may very naturally be asked what could be the reason for such a revolt, in answer to which I can only conjecture that they have Idealy assured themselves of a more happy life among the Otaheitans than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some Female connection, has most likely been the leading cause of the Whole business.
The Women are handsome, mild in their Manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The Cheifs have acquired such a likeing to our People that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desireable it is therefore not to be Wondered at tho not possible to be foreseen, that a Set of Sailors led by Officers, and void of connections, or if they have any, not possessed of Natural feelings sufficient to Wish themselves never to be separated from them, should be governed by such powerfull inducements but equal to this, what a temptation it is to such Wretches when they find it in their power, however illegally it can be got at, to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest Island in the World where they need not labour, and where the alurements of disipation are more than equal to any thing that can be conceived.
Desertions have happened more or less from the Ships that have been at the Society Islands, but it ever has been in the Commander’s power to make the Cheifs return their people. They therefore knew such a plan could never succeed, and perhaps suggested that never so small a Ship and so elligible an Opportunity would Offer to them again.
The Secrecy of this Mutiny is beyond all Conception, and surprizing it is that out of thirteen of the party who were sent with me and lived always forward among the People, no one could discover some symptoms of bad intentions among them. This Mutiny or design against the Ship has however been long planned if I with propriety may take the Cutting of the Cable as a beginning on the 6th Feby. for that act was certainly done by some of these People to Strand the Ship, altho at that time I naturally thought it was done by the Indians, but who it now Appears were certainly innocent. With such deep laid plans of Villany and my mind free of any Suspicions it is not wonderful I have been got the better of. But the possibility of such a Catastrophe, was ever the farthest from my thoughts. Christian was to have dined with me and Supped the preceding Evening but he desired to be excused as he found himself unwell, about which I was concerned rather than suspecting his integrity and honor.
The exact quantity of Provisions I found they had got in the Boat was 150 lbs. Bread, 16 peices of Pork, 6 Quarts of Rum, 6 Bottles of Wine with 28 Galls of Water and four Empty Breakers
And thus began one of the most famous open boat journeys in naval history. For 47 days the loyalists would sail over 4,000 miles to safety, combating the elements, hostile natives, and starvation.