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The Mutiny on the Bounty

The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the “idyllic” life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh’s allegedly harsh treatment of them.

Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him. To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned the Bounty off Pitcairn.

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd

In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,710 km). He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from the Bounty came on board soon after its arrival, and ten more were arrested within a few weeks. These fourteen were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England, tried in a naval court with three hanged, four acquitted and three pardoned. Continue reading The Mutiny on the Bounty

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William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers

blighVice Admiral William Bligh,  (9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. His naval career was contemporary with that of Jane Austen’s brothers and the Austen family no doubt followed the details of his unusual history through the London papers.

A historic mutiny occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty’s launch by the mutineers. Fifteen years after the Bounty mutiny, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia, with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the New South Wales Corps, resulting in the so-called Rum Rebellion.

Bligh was born in Tinten Manor in St Tudy near Bodmin, Cornwall, to Francis Bligh and his wife Jane. He was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, it being common to sign on a “young gentleman” simply to gain experience at sea required for promotion. In 1770, at age 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term used because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year. In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to the Crescent and remained in the ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook for the position of sailing master of the Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook’s third and fatal voyage to the Pacific. Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to give details of Cook’s last voyage.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of a Customs Collector (stationed in Douglas, Isle of Man), on 4 February 1781. The wedding took place at nearby Onchan. A few days later, he was appointed to serve in HMS Belle Poule as Master (senior warrant officer responsible for navigation). Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker. For the next 18 months, he was a lieutenant in various ships. He also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782. Continue reading William Bligh: Captain of Bountiful Mutineers