hms bounty

HMS Bounty

HMS Bounty has achieved legendary status because of the infamous mutiny of 1789, but it is a vessel that has an interesting history apart from the mutiny.

The Bounty was built in Hull in 1784 and was first named Bethia. She was a smallish ship, at only some 215 tons, and in the summer of 1787 was bought by the Royal Navy for £2,600. After being refitted she was then given the name which would go down in history – HMS Bounty.

The Royal Navy had in mind using the Bounty for a botanical mission in the Pacific Ocean, and William Bligh was given command of the ship. Bligh was expected to oversee the transportation of breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies.

It was still a time of slavery in the British colonies, and breadfruit plants were seen as an inexpensive way of feeding slaves in the West Indies. Things, however, did not quite work out as planned after Bounty set off on her journey on December 23rd, 1787 from Spithead. The ship’s personnel consisted of 46 officers and crew.

On October 26th, 1788 Bounty reached Tahiti, and the crew got on well with the Tahitians to the extent that sailing master Fletcher Christian had married a local woman. On April 4th, 1789 Bounty left the island with over a thousand nurtured breadfruit plants and headed for the West Indies. Just weeks later, on April 28th, the infamous mutiny took place, though it was surprisingly free of violence, with only Bligh physically resisting. 18 men remained loyal to Bligh, two were non-committal and 22 sided with Christian. Bligh and most of his followers left the Bounty in the ship’s boat, and all but one survived a torturous journey of several thousand miles before they found safety.

The Royal Navy set out to capture the mutineers, who eventually returned to Tahiti. But only 14 were successfully captured. Fletcher Christian evaded capture, but decided to flee, taking with him eight crewmen and eighteen Tahitians – eleven women, six men and a baby. They eventually arrived on Pitcairn Island on January 15th, 1790 after four months at sea. Pitcairn Island had been misplaced on Royal Navy charts, so on rediscovering the island it seemed a safe haven for the mutineers.  Eight days later, fearing discovery, HMS Bounty was set alight. In 1825 Captain Frederick William Beechey supposedly found the remains, together with the Bounty’s last surviving crewman, Adams. A major discovery of HMS Bounty was made by Luis Marden in 1957.

Direct descendants of Fletcher Cristian, the other mutineers and their Tahitian companions, still inhabit the remote Pitcairn Island, a British Overseas Territory with a population of around 67 (2011).

Related Articles: Mutiny! and Robinson Crusoe

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