On This Day – 28 April – Mutiny on the Bounty

The mutiny on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty occurred in the south Pacific on 28 April 1789. Disaffected crewmen, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain Lieutenant William Bligh and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship’s open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island. Bligh meanwhile completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) in the launch to reach safety, and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.

Bounty had left England in 1787 on a mission to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. A five-month layover in Tahiti, during which many of the men lived ashore and formed relationships with native Polynesians, proved harmful to discipline. Relations between Bligh and his crew deteriorated after he began handing out increasingly harsh punishments, criticism and abuse, Christian being a particular target. After three weeks back at sea, Christian and others forced Bligh from the ship. Twenty-five men remained on board afterwards, including loyalists held against their will and others for whom there was no room in the launch.

After Bligh reached England in April 1790, the Admiralty despatched HMS Pandora to apprehend the mutineers. Fourteen were captured in Tahiti and imprisoned on board Pandora, which then searched without success for Christian’s party that had hidden on Pitcairn Island. After turning back toward England Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, with the loss of 31 crew and 4 prisoners from Bounty. The 10 surviving detainees reached England in June 1792 and were court martialled; 4 were acquitted, 3 were pardoned, and 3 were hanged.

Christian’s group remained undiscovered on Pitcairn until 1808, by which time only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive. Almost all his fellow mutineers, including Christian, had been killed, either by each other or by their Polynesian companions. No action was taken against Adams; descendants of the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts live on Pitcairn into the 21st century. The generally accepted view of Bligh as an overbearing monster and Christian as a tragic victim of circumstances, as depicted in well-known film accounts, has been challenged by late 20th- and 21st-century historians from whom a more sympathetic picture of Bligh has emerged.

RNA Norwich

The Norwich Branch is one of 300+ branches of the Royal Naval Association world wide. It was commissioned in 1979 and today has a membership of just over 90. It is a registered charity in its own right - the Registered Charity Number is: 1068699

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