Mutiny on the
Disaffected crew seize control from their ship’s captain
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.