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Bounty


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A ship's name made famous for the mutiny which occurred on board. Originally a merchant ship called Bethia, the Bounty was built at Hull in 1784. She was bought, renamed, and fitted out as an armed transport for a voyage in 1788 to carry breadfruit seedlings from Tahiti to the West Indies, a scheme designed to acclimatize these plants there as a cheap source of food for those being transported in the slave trade who were working on the sugar plantations. On 28 April 1789, under the leadership of Fletcher Christian, part of the crew of 45 men mutinied. Opinions differ regarding the cause of the mutiny, the most common being that the commanding officer, William Bligh, was an unduly stern disciplinarian who brutalized the Bounty's crew by the severity of his punishments; but a more likely cause was the attractions to Christian and others like him of the women and way of life in the South Sea Islands.

At the time of the mutiny the ship was near Tofua, in the Tonga group of islands. Bligh and eighteen men who remained loyal to him were cast adrift in the ship's launch and eventually reached safety at Timor after an epic open-boat voyage of 5,760 kilometres (3,600 mls.). The mutineers returned in the ship to Tahiti, then Christian and eight followers, accompanied by some islanders and several women, sailed to Pitcairn Island, where the Bounty was run ashore and burnt. The British Admiralty, when they received news of the mutiny after the return of Bligh, sent HMS Pandora to Tahiti to bring back the mutineers for trial. Fourteen were secured at Tahiti, but Christian was not among them. Four of them were drowned when the Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. The surviving ten were brought back to Portsmouth and court-martialled, three of them being hanged, some of them being identified by their tattoos.

A copy of Captain James Cook's three volumes describing his third voyage of 1776–9, which were completed by Captain King, belonged to Bligh; he took it with him in the Bounty, making many notes in the margins. It was taken after the mutiny by Christian to Pitcairn Island and was recovered about forty years later when a British frigate visited the island. The last survivor of the mutineers, Seaman Adams, was still living there and exchanged the three volumes for a supply of pencils and paper. It says much for the new spirit of humanitarianism growing in the British Navy in the early 19th century that Adams was not brought home for trial on a charge of mutiny but allowed to remain to live out his life in peace.

See also replica ship; shipwrecks.

See also replica ship; shipwrecks.

Subjects: Maritime History.


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