Mutiny on Bounty HMS refers to the mutiny by the staff against their commanding authority on-board the Bounty HMS. Whenever the story of mutiny on Bounty comes to mind two characters immediately come to mind – William Bligh and Fletcher Christian. One is the oppressor and the other oppressed. In adaptations of this historic tale, Christian is depicted as a righteous man while Bligh is a tyrant. But facts are a bit different from the tale. Some feel that Christian was a power hungry person habituated to idyllic life and Bligh simply became his victim.
The story begins when a small ship named Bounty was bought by the Royal Navy. In those times, African slaves were transported to West Indies and they were put to work in the islands. Providing for their food was taxing the royal British coffers, so Sir Joseph banks came up with an idea. He wanted to transport lots of breadfruit trees, found in abundance in Tahiti, to West Indies. Breadfruit would provide low cost food supplies for the slaves. HMS Bounty was tasked with setting sail from England to Tahiti and picking up breadfruit plants. They were transport these plants to West Indies and make it back home. With this intention in mind, the ship sailed from Spithead under captaincy of Lieutenant William Bligh. During the outward journey, Bligh demoted the ship’s sailing master John Fryer and replaced him with Fletcher Christian. This caused raised tensions between the captain and John Fryer. However, after a tumultuous journey Bounty reached Tahiti on October 26, 1788 after being ten months at sea.
The crew quickly collected as many breadfruit plants as they could. Bligh decided to have a five months layover period, which was needed for the breadfruit plants to reach a point where they could be easily transported across the sea. This decision proved a blunder for Bligh. Soon the crew formed friendships with the local tribes and they were very welcoming. The crew had everything – good food, ideal lodges and attractive women to build relationships. Christian went as far as marrying a Tahitian woman named Maimati. This did not please the Captain and he started punishing crew members for small, insignificant mistakes. They were flogged on a regular basis and Christian took Bligh’s rant each time. The relation between Christian and Bligh was strained.
Tensions rose between the Bligh faithful and the discontent sailors when the ship’s plans for departure was revealed. Most of the crew members were happy with the idyllic life of this small Pacific Island and a long journey back, where their life would be at stake was not welcomed. Despite all oppositions, Bounty set sail on April 5, 1789. At night, Christian was already contemplating returning back to the islands after discussing with the Captain. But he knew that Bligh will not allow him. At morning, he found support among the other crew members. So, they took up weapons and stormed into Bligh’s cabin (which remained open at all times). They forced Bligh out of the cabin, though there were many faithful to the Captain but there was no resistance to the mutiny.
Mutineers forced Bligh and four loyal crew members on to a small boat and set in afloat. But Bligh was a master navigator who sailed for 47 days in the small boat to reach Timor in Dutch East Indies and from there he went back to England. He was later tried and court martialed for losing the ship. Though Bligh was reinstated in the Royal Navy at a later date.
For Christian and his followers they traveled to Pitcairn (close to Tahiti) on board the HMS Bounty. Once they reached the islands, which had favorable living conditions. They burnt the ship, in what is now famous as the Bounty Bay. Christian and his mates settled down on this island. Initial days passed in merriment but the tensions started brewing after a few months. Alexander Smith (aka John Adams) last of the surviving crew members who was interviewed by captain of another British ship Topaz stated the facts from the latter life of Fletcher Christian.
As per Smith’s accounts, after a few months Christian became remorseful, he started missing the luxuries of sophisticated life. He was grief stricken and often visited a cave to cry in solitude. His behavior towards other survivors became harsh. Many of the crew members were killed in the ensuing power struggles. In one such fight, Christian killed a Tahitian crew member. Smith further reveals that the Tahitians with an intention to seek revenge then killed Christian. With Christian dead there was a crisis of leadership and many British members vied for the spot. Again many killed each other. Only Alexander Smith, who was able to blend in with the Tahitians, lived on with the families of other crew members on Pitcairn Island.