Reappraising the mutiny on board HMS Bounty

In late December 1787, HMS Bounty set sail for Tahiti under the command of Lieutenant William Bligh, a 33-year-old career sailor who had voyaged to the far reaches of the Pacific with Captain Cook and served with distinction during several sea battles against the Dutch in the American War of Independence. Today he is known only for what happened aboard the Bounty – in April 1789 roughly half of the crew mutinied against Bligh, cast him adrift and sailed away with the ship.

Most of what we know about the mutiny comes from Bligh’s own account, in which he gives notably less space to the possible grievances that may have led to the mutiny than he does the adventure he had afterwards. After all, he and his loyal crew were cast adrift in a 23ft (7m) open launch, thousands of miles from the nearest colonial outpost, with insufficient supplies to last. Due to Bligh’s seamanship, however, he and his loyal crew sailed over 3,500 nautical miles to Timor, and almost all of them lived long enough to see England again.

The mutiny on board HMS Bounty

Meanwhile the mutineers returned to Tahiti, and then some of them continued on to Pitcairn, where they scuttled the ship. Many of their descendants continue to live on the island to this day.

Even at the time, however, William Bligh’s account raised questions and doubts. The leader of the mutiny, Fletcher Christian, was no press-ganged pauper turned pirate. Indeed, his brother Edward was a lawyer, and following the court martial of half the mutineers (and the executions of three of them), plus the complete legal exoneration of Bligh, Edward Christian began his own investigation.

He talked to acquitted mutineers and even some of the crewmen who had remained loyal to Bligh. He published a diplomatically-worded but still highly critical alternative to Bligh’s account, which began a tit for tat back and forth reappraisal of the mutiny played out in public, full of implicit insinuation and apparent contradiction from both sides.

Today Bligh’s account still remains most well known, but read together with Edward Christian’s reports, the fascinating story really comes to life. For this reason in our brand new edition of Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty, we have decided to publish them together, allowing readers to make up their own minds.

An inaugural title in our new Adlard Coles Maritime Classics series, Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty features new maps and a special Foreword by world-class yachtsman and racing sailor Pete Goss, in which he describes his own experience of a collapse in captain-crew relations as he explores the grey areas surrounding the mutiny on the Bounty.

Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty (William Bligh)

Other titles in the series currently include South (Ernest Shackleton), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne) and The Sea Wolf (Jack London). Next year we will add Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe) and Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad).

What maritime favourites would you like us to publish next?

2 thoughts on “Reappraising the mutiny on board HMS Bounty

  1. I haven’t read this book, but from what has thus far been disclosed, I fail to find further interest in it. It would appear however that this is just another individual who is trying to make money and further smear the good name of Vice Admiral of the Blue, William Bligh. R.N. F.R.S.

    This want-to-be-author however incorrectly states that Fletcher Christian “was no press-ganged pauper turned pirate.” WRONG ! That’s exactly what he was along with those who remained behind with him on board the HMAV Bounty, with the exception of 4 loyalist crew members of which there was no room in the Bounty’s 23′ launch to hold them. It was a “piratical seizure” of the King’s ship. Fletcher Christian and his band of pirates were correctly titled that by the Admiralty, “Pirates.”

    Next, this want-to-be-expert on the Piratical Seizure of the HMAV Bounty (NOT Mutiny on the Bounty, there was “never a mutiny” that took place on this ship !) fails to mention what the pirate Fletcher Christian and his band of pirates murdering spree. Massacring over 60 men, women and children at Tubuai Island. Remember “Bloody Bay” named by Christian ? What kind of person/s goes about murdering for pleasure ? Drunks and drug addicts. Yes, Fletcher Christian was a drug addict. Hooked on opium derivatives brought on board by both Surgeons of the Bounty, Thomas Huggans and Thomas Denman Ledward. Remember, Fletcher Christian was being treated for Venereal Disease. Ever since he had sailed with Bligh from Jamaica just before boarding the HMAV Bounty. Christian and his band of pirates were just that. They “stole” from not only the King of England, George III but their fellow crew mates. Every earthly possession they had. Shared out amongst themselves as ‘spoils’ in the true pirate fashion. Remember the ‘monies’ that Captain William Bligh had brought along to purchase not only additional ships stores, but also to purchase additional breadfruit plants and fruit trees at Java once the Bounty reached there to replace the dead breadfruit plants that up-to-that-point of time would have died before reaching Java? Yep, Christian and his band of pirates got that too.

    All the Medera Wine that Captain William Bligh had purchased for Joseph Banks while the Bounty was at Tenerrif in the Canary Islands during the outset of the Bounty’s voyage to Tahiti . Remember that ? Yep, more booze to add to their existing stores of grog. The list goes on and on and on !

    Edward Christian was doing nothing but a ‘public smearing campaign’ against the good name of William Bligh to protect the “Christian surname and reputation”. For all the good that did, his brother changed his last name to Curwen. Remember that ?

    So before everyone runs off and buys another ‘fairy-tale’ about the famous ‘Mutiny that never was.’ they would be most obliged to go and study up for-themselves and not take the word of some individual who romanticizes the legacy of an Englishman-turned-pirate !

    Enough said, and I’ve barely touched the surface of this.

    David Townsend
    g…nephew Thomas Denman Ledward
    Surgeon and Loyalist
    HMAV Bounty

    • Thank you for taking the time to post this!

      Our edition includes William Bligh’s account, Edward Christian’s appendix, Bligh’s answer to the appendix and Christian’s subsequent short reply. We have reproduced them verbatim and without commentary so that readers can consider both sides and draw their own conclusions. I suspect plenty of readers will come to the same conclusions as yourself, however.

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