Historical References

April 28, 1789 was the darkest day of Lieutenant William Bligh’s life. Early in the morning he was awakened by men of his own crew on HMAV Bounty, tied up and taken on deck. There he was told that Fletcher Christian (Acting Lieutenant), along with several others, had taken command and would now abandon him. And so Bligh found himself in an 8m long boat, together with 18 others of the crew, who remained loyal to him and provisions for 5 days, in the middle of the Pacific. Against all odds, Bligh managed the impossible, after seven weeks at sea, with no charts and only the most basic navigational equipment, he guided the overcrowded boat 4000 nautical miles to Coupang, Indonesia.

Just about everyone knows this part of the famous mutiny on the Bounty, and yet the journey had started so innocently.

The 1960 replica of HMS Bounty II, she sank during Hurricane Sandy 2012

HMAV Bounty sailed to Tahiti on behalf of the Admiralty to pick up breadfruit plants and bring them to the West Indies. Plantation owners had approached the Admiralty with this request because they needed a cheap source of food for their plantation slaves. To transport these plants, even the great cabin was converted into a greenhouse.

Bligh, himself just a lieutenant, had worked his way up from the bottom and had even sailed alongside the famous Captain Cook as Master and Captain. Before the voyage on the Bounty, he met Fletcher and developed a close relationship with him, which is why he took him along on his voyage. With 46 men on board, they set sail for Tahiti in 1787. Two deaths occurred on the way. After a ten-month voyage, the Bounty arrived in Tahiti in October 1788 and stayed there for more than five months. In Tahiti, the crew enjoyed an idyllic life, reveling in the pleasant climate, the lush surroundings and the famous hospitality of the Tahitians. On 4 April 1789, the Bounty left Tahiti with her supply of breadfruit seedlings. On 28 April, near the island of Tonga, Christian and 25 non-commissioned officers and seamen captured the ship.

Bligh was often said to have a very strict command and to have behaved like a despot. But in fact he was a strict commander and strictly adhered to the Articles of War. Something he had learned from Cook, and also learned from him, was not to punish the men excessively and to try to ensure their well-being. The crew were mainly on Bligh’s side. The actual core of the mutiny consisted of only 10 men. But since the boat was already too small, most of them had to stay on board against their will.

Some cite that the men wanted to return to Tahiti, where they had experienced months of idleness. And it was difficult to return to order and discipline. But that alone was not the reason for the mutiny, even if Fletcher, who had fallen in love with a local woman, certainly had a reason to return there.

Another point to note is that Fletcher himself was a man who had been promoted to acting lieutenant by Bligh during the voyage, but was completely overwhelmed by the task himself, and that led to his incurring the anger of his commander.

All things considered, it was probably Fletcher Christian’s unstable psyche as well as the personal problem he had with Bligh, that led him to find 9 more comrades to carry out this mutiny.

Now, however, things moved on, Bligh and his now only 12 companions returned to England in 1790, where Bligh, however, had to undergo a court martial for the loss of the Bounty. But he was honorably acquitted and received the rank of captain as a special distinction for having survived the whole thing.

In 1791 he sailed with a new expedition to Tahiti to finally finish his last one. In the meantime, Fletcher Christian was declared an outlaw and stripped of his rank. When Bligh returned in 1793, 10 of the mutineers had been captured. Among them was the midshipman Peter Heywood, who came from a very influential family. They did everything they could to make Bligh out to be the culprit in the mutiny and was partially successful. Of the 10, four were acquitted and six sentenced to death. Three of the condemned, including Heywood, were pardoned by the king. The remaining three were hanged at Portsmouth on HMS Brunswick on 29 October 1792. The others remained untraced. Bligh himself saw a great career ahead of him, even if his public reputation had suffered greatly due to an ongoing campaign of character assassination started by Fletcher’s brother.

But what happened to Fletcher Christian? It is known that the Bounty sailed to Pitcairn Island (Fiji) in the South Pacific in 1790. There, Fletcher is said to have been killed by the natives. However, there are some who claim otherwise and his schoolmate Wordsworth testified that he returned to the Lake District of Cumberland, where he is said to have lived unmolested under the protection of his cousin John Christian Curven, a wealthy landowner and politician.

Strikingly, the Pitcairn locals, who had kept many artefacts, did not have some things. These included a boat, the Bounty gold and a sextant. Perhaps he had managed to escape somehow.

 

Identify the Officer

Who is this famous statesman, shown as Cornet in the 4th Queen’s Hussar’s Cavalry, 1895? He was 21 at the time. He fought at the Somme in World War One.

 

Su-37

Was it a Russian act of desperation in an effort to find parity with the West?

 

Socialism/Oligarchy masquerading as socialism?

Or is it a form of Bill Gates champagne socialism where he proclaims, “let them eat my vat-grown meat?”

Whatever it is, it’s here.

22 COMMENTS

  1. William Bligh was one great sailor. The UK needs more like him.

    Winston Spencer Churchill, who saw the Elephant at Ondurman, in Sourh Africa and in Western Front trenches. And the greatest orator the English language has ever seen. We need a man like him today.

      • Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, RA, Was the First Sea Lord until 1915, when he resigned from government and joined the Royal Army, taking command of the Royal Scots Fusileers at the front. When the Army rolled his regiment (an independent command) into the 15th Division, he left the Army and went back to Parliament.

  2. Looks like a young Winston Churchill.
    I seem to recall Bligh was involved in a second mutiny in Australia some years later. In a side note, Errol Flynn’s first starring role was as Fletcher Christian in an Australian film about the mutiny, In the Wake of the Bounty.

    • The movies were well done as was the book. Bligh went by the book, and some of his men liked rum and the local girls better than being in the navy…sailors, go figure?

  3. It’s a great book. I remember reading it as a kid and being pulled into the story so much that I read it again when I finished it. I enjoy both movie portrayals as well. And of course that’s Winston Churchill.

  4. OK, so the S-37 (which is the Su-47) led me to the Su-57. Interesting aircraft. Notice the range. Could one role be an anti-Tanker Sniper?

    • The Su-57 is sort of a tech demonstrator, and they built a few of them. Some crashed, some were donor aircraft to keep one or two flying. The Russians don’t have the ability to build a hundred only to be outmatched by a sixth generation US Fighter.

  5. Regarding the Russkie plane, aren’t they all desperate measures to maintain parity with the West? Been that way since Day 1.

    As to Fletcher, many make him out to be a hero and Bligh the villain. It’s certainly the other way around.

    Rather serve under a stern, by-the-books commander who has a track record of success than some looser-style commander who’s unproven.

    People today just don’t understand how difficult being on a sailing ship was back then. Tight quarters, crazy working conditions, etc. Still holds true on modern large sailing ships, in many ways. And people still try to bring back large-sized blow-boats as commercial vessels. Yeah, no.

    • The US philosophy during the Cold War was to let Russia spend a ton of money building aircraft to keep up and then with one fell swoop, everything they have is obsolete. The B-70 was one such monster. The Russians were terrified of it and went heavy to defend against it, we built two. Then went heavy with cruise missiles.

      • Life in the Georgian Navy (rum, sodomy and the lash) was difficult, but the pay for a seaman was substantially better than that of a worker in England, and if there was a war and he sailed on a lucky ship, there was prize money, which could set him up nicely if he didn’t drink it all and whore with it. Some did, some didn’t. There was discipline, but the Royal Navy more than their international rivals, tried to make life at sea and food at sea bearable. We roll our eyes at weevils in hard tack and apples that went bad, but sailors didn’t starve in an era where many an Englishman and Irishman did. And there was rum.

        The only thing that kept the sea service (especially on the far side of the world) going was discipline. Most sailors understood that (most followed Bligh) and they understood that if they mutinied, the Royal Navy would hunt them relentlessly and keel haul them, flog them around the fleet, draw and quarter them, or if the convening authority was feeling kind, just hang them. Anything less and the Royal Navy couldn’t keep it together.

        And the Royal Navy had mariners like Lieutenant Bligh. Remarkable men in any age.

      • Not that I recall….

        I missed meeting him by **this much** when he visited to L.A. Maritime Museum, and spent several hours at the URAC K6AA ham station there.

  6. Men Against the Sea, was a book about Bligh and the men in the open boat. I read it in high school and was blown away. Bligh was the reason most of the men survived a gruesome ordeal. The days of wooden ships and iron men.
    The Bounty, was I think the movie with Mel Gibson as Christian and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Bligh. Seems it was fairly nuanced about the mutiny. I distinctly remember Mel as Christian saying “ I am in Hell” but he mutinied any how. Was Pitcairn the most remote place on earth ?

    • It is true that Pitcairn was inaccurately charted. And being that far to the east in the S. Pacific, no one but the occasional American whaler stopped at that tiny blob of an island which had no natural or safe landing.

      By the time the mutineers were discovered by a whaler, only an Adams, of the original crew, was still alive. Nordhoff and others argued that it was jealousy of the men – English and Tahitian – fighting over the few women which caused many deaths among the crew.

      As isolated as Pitcairn is, it is not the most isolated island with a population. That dubious honor belongs to a scrub of an island in the S. Atlantic. St. George, I think, is the name.

      Present day sailors looked forward to visiting Pitcairn. There is the ubiquitous log of ship and crew who visit. The islanders mostly wanted to trade for new movies and reading material. Few ever visited, fewer still these days. Apparently the word is out that there is some kind of sexual deviancy among the islanders. Too weird to go that far out of the way just to ‘claim’ Pitcairn as a port of call.

  7. The 1935 movie of the mutiny with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable is the best. Nordoff’s trilogy on the mutiny is a good read. I do not know if it is still in print.

    Bligh was not that harsh as it went in those days. He was strict and a disciplinarian but mostly agreeable. Too, many of the crew were pressed into service which, while lawful, was to be avoided at any cost. The crew, professional or pressed, had little to none rights. Hence the cry of grog and sailor’s rights. The idea of 2 or four years at sea did not sit well with a family man. The loss of a husband because he had been pressed into service for a long passage meant the family was completely reliant upon community charity. Security of food and housing was only a hope and dream.

    Subject, not citizen. Perhaps we are now set to rediscover the ‘benefits’ of that olde way.

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