An illustration of the crew of the HMS Bounty casting off Captain William Bligh and his loyal supporters.
On this day 225 years ago, the men of the crew of the HMS Bounty launched a mutiny against Captain William Bligh three weeks after sailing from Tahiti. The sailors thought they found paradise in Tahiti, a stark contrast to the harsh discipline enforced on the Bounty under Bligh's leadership.
Led by Fletcher Christian, the crew seized the ship on April 28, 1789. They cast Bligh and 18 of his officers adrift in small boat, left to meet their fate on the open oceans.
The mutiny on the HMS Bounty and the actions of the crew are well known, retold in books and several films. Less familiar to those who know the story of the mutiny is what happened next, to the crew, to the captain and to their respective descendants.
The fruit of the breadfruit tree.
The HMS Bounty initially set sail to Tahiti with one goal: collect breadfruit trees. These plants were thought to be a potentially cheap and easy-to-cultivate food source for slaves in British colonies.
In the course of the mission, Bligh may have had occasion to discipline the crew, but relations between the captain and his sailors didn't really sour until after arrival in Tahiti. While Bligh shared his crew's appreciation for the pleasures afforded by the Tahitians, his mission was always the delivery of the breadfruit trees. His crew, however, were not so eager to leave Tahiti. This disagreement was the catalyst for the mutiny.
Captain William Bligh is greeted by the Governor of Timor after surviving nearly 47 days on the open ocean following the mutiny.
Even after the crew mutinied and Bligh was cast off, Bligh seemed determined to both complete his mission and seek punishment for the crew that betrayed him.
As historically significant as the mutiny is, what's far more extraordinary is the more than 3,600-mile journey Bligh took over nearly 47 days in a small boat without the aid of a compass or map. In fact, despite the hardships of the journey, Bligh created maps of the areas he traveled himself. On June 17, Bligh reached a Dutch colony in Timor and nearly one year later, in March 1790, was back in England with a hero's welcome.
Initially facing a court martial himself due to the loss of the Bounty, Bligh delivered a report of the mutiny, which led to his acquittal. After his exoneration, Bligh returned to Tahiti, this time successful in his mission to carry breadfruit seeds to British colonies in the West Indies.
A portrait of Captain William Bligh.
Following Bligh's report, the Roval Navy was intent on capturing the mutineers and bringing them to justice. The frigate HMS Pandora was dispatched under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, whose redundant name in no way impeded his seamanship. The Pandora arrived in Tahiti on March 23, 1791, and was met by three Bounty crew members.
As a result of Edwards voyage, we know what happened to many of the mutineers after they left Bligh and his supporters to the seas.
An illustration of ships anchored in Malkavian Bay in Tahiti, the same place where Edwards found the mutineers.
Seduced by the lifestyle and sexual freedom of Tahiti, Christian sought to create a new life on a tropical island. Christian and the crew first returned to Tahiti. Conflict erupted almost immediately amongst the crew, leading to a split among them. Sixteen men chose to stay in Tahiti, while Christian and the remaining crew, along with eight Tahitian men and 12 Tahitian women, sought a safe haven from the British navy in the South Pacific.
Of the 16 men on Tahiti, two were murdered. The rest were captured by Edwards, who intended to return them all to England for a court martial. Four, however, died along the way after the Pandora ran aground in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.
Upon their return to England, the mutineers testified to the ill treatment they received under the command of Bligh, whose reputation took a hit in the wake of the revelations. Four of the men were acquitted of the crime of mutiny; three were convicted, but either received a royal pardon or were otherwise excused; and the remaining three were found guilty and executed for their crimes.
Edwards, however, would fail to find the whereabouts of Christian and the remaining members of the crew.
An illustration of the Bounty mutineers discovering Pitcairn island.
In 1808, the American seal-hunting ship Topaz encountered Pitcairn Island. On the island, the crew of the Topaz found a man named Alexander Smith (also known as John Adams), who claimed to be the last surviving member of the original crew of mutineers on the Bounty.
Christian and the crew had stumbled upon Pitcairn, then an uncharted island, and elected to settle there, destroying the Bounty to reduce the chances that they would be identified with the mutiny.
The crew found no paradise on Pitcairn, however. Conflict between the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitian men crew violent, claiming the lives of all of the crew, including Christian, who died of a gunshot wound, except four. One of the men became intoxicated and fell off a cliff to his death. Another was killed by the two remaining mutineers, after he attacked them. The sole remaining crew member aside from Smith succumbed to natural causes.
The mutineers did leave a legacy on Pitcairn, however: an island of their descendants, who were a mix of British sailors and Tahitian natives.
A modern view of Pitcairn island.
After the discovery of the settlement, Pitcairn became a part of the British empire in the early 19th century, and remains so to this day. The island's population never grew to more than a couple hundred people, peaking in the early 20th century. Nearly all of the residents of the island to this day, now numbering in the 40s, are descendants of the mutineers.
A dilapidated cabin sits on Pitcairn Island.
Nearly 200 years after the discovery of the Bounty crew on the island, Pitcairn yielded yet another shocking discovery when a sex scandal involving the mayor and six other men emerged. Their crimes, which involved having relations with underage girls, would give the island the distinction of having the most sex offenders per capita of any place on Earth.
A recreation of the HMS Bounty
Last week, a 225-year-long feud between Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian came to an end after their descendants have agreed to meet in order to bury the hatchet. In January next year, Maurice Bligh, 70, the great-great-great-grandson of the famous captain, and Jacqui Christian, 44, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of the lead mutineer, will greet each other in Tahiti.
Christian intends to bring the Bible that her mutineer relative stole from the Bounty's captain in a gesture of goodwill. Bligh, in an act of friendship, will then return the Bible to the resident of Pitcairn, according to the Telegraph.