It was 225 years ago today that what is perhaps the most famous naval mutiny of all time occurred. Yes, it was on this day in 1789 that crew members of the HMS Bounty, led by first mate Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian launched a mutiny against the ship’s captain, William Bligh.
What caused the mutiny? Well, it started when the crew spent five months in Tahiti collecting breadfruit plants and allowing them to ripen before transporting the thousand-odd plants onto the ship. Captain Bligh permitted the crew to live on the island and during this time the crew became accustomed to life in Tahiti, getting tattooed and becoming involved with the women of the island.
However, while the scenery might have been that of a tropical paradise, Captain Bligh kept the crew from enjoying the Edenic atmosphere. Bligh regularly berated and flogged crew members for perceived slights, often imagined. As first mate, Christian was a frequent target of Bligh’s abuse. Conditions got worse as time on the island went by, and a few members of the Bounty‘s crew even attempted to desert the ship. When the ship set sail on April 5, the crew learned that Bligh intended to sail through the dangerous and as yet uncharted Endeavour Strait. Christian and some loyal members of the crew began to quietly discuss mutiny.
So, in the early morning hours of April 28, Christian considered making a raft and abandoning the ship. Instead, under cover of darkness, Christian and a group of followers entered Bligh’s cabin, which he foolishly always kept unlocked, and told him to surrender. The mutineers quickly and bloodlessly took hold of the ship, parading Bligh out onto the deck at bayonette point, wearing only his nightshirt.
Bligh and 18 loyal crew members were then sent adrift in a boat, eventually landing on the island of Tofu before making a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies without a compass or map. Amazingly, only one of Bligh’s crewmen died on the journey (He was stoned to death by Tofuan natives.), although five crew members would die after arriving on Timor. Bligh would eventually return to England and would remain in the Navy. Fascinatingly, in 1808, while Bligh was Governor of New South Wales, Australia he would suffer another insurrection, when the troops he commanded had him overthrown and arrested in an act that became known as the Rum Rebellion.
The mutineers first headed to the island of Tubuai, where they were frequently attacked by the native population. They then headed back to Tahiti where 12 of the mutineers decided to remain, until they were eventually captured by the HMS Pandora and brought back to England to face a court-martial. Christian left Tahiti with eight other mutineers, six Tahitian men, and 18 women; most of whom had been kidnapped by the mutineers. In an effort to escape the Royal Navy, the Bounty headed to the deserted Pitcairn Island. Although the early days at Pitcairn were fine with plenty of supplies and room for everyone; but when the the American trading ship Topaz arrived on Pitcairn in 1808, only one of the original mutineers was still living on the island, the de facto leader of the few remaining Pitcairn residents. The lone mutineer, John Adams, explained that infighting and disease had decimated the colony, but did not provide further elaboration. Reports on Fletcher Christian’s final fate are mixed. Some say he was killed by his companions, while others say he committed suicide.
Today, to mark the 225th anniversary of the mutiny, Maurice Bligh, Captain Bligh’s great-great-great-grandson is scheduled to meet with Jacqui Christian, Fletcher Christian’s great-great-great-great granddaughter on Tahiti. Christian, who still resides on Pitcairn Island, will present Bligh with the Bible taken from the captain’s cabin during the mutiny. He will accept the book and then present it back to Christian in a show of forgiveness and friendship.
Fletcher Christian has been honored with a cocktail simply called Mr. Christian. It’s a tropical cocktail that utilizes brandy, rum and citrus juices.
- 1 1/2 ounces Dark Rum
- 1/2 ounce Brandy
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1/4 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1 teaspoon grenadine
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: “We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”