June 2016 | Matthew Nobbs, Communications and Marketing Volunteer

The story of the Bounty mutiny is one of betrayal and survival on the high seas. Featuring one of the most notorious mutineers of all time and a seemingly impossible journey for survival across the Pacific, this grim tale had humble beginnings here in Greenwich.

Within walking distance of the Old Royal Naval College at the Deptford Dockyard, in its day one of the most important dockyards of the British Empire. It was here that the Bounty, a small merchant vessel, was refitted after its purchase by the Royal Navy for £1,950 on 23 May 1787. William Bligh was appointed Commander of the ship on a botanical expedition to Tahiti in order to acquire breadfruit plants for transport to the West Indies.

The journey to Tahiti would take the Bounty 10 months to complete and required a long period of hard sailing across the Indian Ocean. Morale appears to have been volatile, and Bligh demoted his master's mate, John Fryer, replacing him with Fletcher Christian.

Arriving in Tahiti, the crew spent 5 months on the island preparing the breadfruit plants for transit. During this time, many of the crew became attached to the Tahitian women; Bligh described the women as ‘handsome’ and attributed the men’s obsession with the island to them.

The Bounty eventually set sail from Tahiti with its cargo full of breadfruit on the 4th of April 1789. Only 24 days and 1300 miles later a mutiny broke out among the crew of the Bounty - led by Fletcher Christian. Bligh was forced to give up control of the ship and abandoned with his few remaining supporters in the ship’s boat.

Bligh's description of Christian's actions resonate with varying accounts that he was actually a kindhearted figure. Christian seemed genuinely ashamed to be leading the mutiny and Bligh described him as appearing 'disturbed'. But many historians - led by the account of Edward Christian - presume that Bligh's tyranical approach to leadership was what fueled the mutineers. 

1790 painting by Robert Dodd, depicting Fletcher Christian setting William Bligh and the 18 Crewmen adrift.

Bligh’s voyage to safety was a remarkable one. Facing insurmountable odds, he managed to navigate his way to a European outpost on Timor - 3,618-nautical-miles and 47 days voyage away! Bligh was accompanied by 18 of his loyal crewman and only one of these died on the voyage - John Norton was killed by locals on Tofua.

Meanwhile Christian and the mutineers then decided to sail to Tubuai an island south of Tahiti; however the reaction from the natives proved too dangerous for the group to settle here and after only 2 months of struggling on the island the mutineers left for good.

Continuing on his quest to evade the Royal Navy, Christian, as well as eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, 11 women and a baby decided to board the Bounty once more and sail it through the South Pacific. Eventually on the 15th January 1790 they rediscovered Pitcairn Island (which had been poorly charted on the Naval records, meaning it would provide an adequate haven from Britain's naval forces).

A 1776 painting of the Island of Tahiti, as painted by William Hodges.

The Bounty was burned on 23 January 1790 in what is now called Bounty Bay. This halted any of the Tahitians from escaping from the island, and also covered the mutineers' tracks should the Royal Navy come looking for them.

As for Fletcher Christian, he and the other Mutineers survived for a short time on the island before an insurrection from the Tahitian men lead to Christian reportedly being shot. His legacy lived on through his three children and his many descendants still living today.

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