Mutiny on the

Dis­af­fected crew seize con­trol from their ship’s cap­tain

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

A28 April 1789 t the be­gin­ning of April 1789, HMS Bounty left the South Pa­cific is­land of Tahiti, car­ry­ing plants to the West Indies. The ship had been in Tahiti since the pre­vi­ous au­tumn, and the crew had amused them­selves in the sun­shine with the lo­cal women. But as they ploughed through the Pa­cific, they chafed at the restora­tion of dis­ci­pline un­der the cap­tain, Wil­liam Bligh. By the night of 27 April, his old friend Fletcher Chris­tian had de­cided to act.

In the early hours of the fol­low­ing morn­ing, Chris­tian and a few al­lies se­cured the up­per deck and armed them­selves with mus­kets. Some time af­ter five o’clock, Chris­tian led them into Bligh’s cabin. By his own ac­count, the cap­tain “called as loudly as I could in hopes of as­sis­tance”, but the mu­ti­neers man­aged to drag him away. By now, the Bounty was in chaos. On the quar­ter­deck, sur­rounded by mu­ti­neers, Bligh shouted for help, urg­ing his ship­mates to “knock Chris­tian down”. Amid the gen­eral yelling, Chris­tian ex­horted the men to back him in­stead; to one, he re­marked: “I have been in hell for weeks past. Cap­tain Bligh has brought this on him­self.”

Con­trary to Chris­tian’s ex­pec­ta­tion, many of the men were de­ter­mined to sup­port the cap­tain, not the mu­ti­neers, which sug­gests Bligh’s rep­u­ta­tion for harsh­ness is ill de­served. In all, 18 men joined Bligh in the ship’s launch. The carpenter’s mates and ar­mourer wanted to go too, but Chris­tian for­bade it. “Never fear, lads,” Bligh said. “I’ll do you jus­tice if ever I reach Eng­land.”

Bligh did reach Eng­land, months later. But the mu­ti­neers’ fate was wretched. Flee­ing across the Pa­cific, many were cap­tured, others killed. Chris­tian was killed on Pit­cairn (where some mu­ti­neers even­tu­ally set­tled) in 1793.

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