Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Frank Lloyd.

Starring:     Charles Laughton (Captain Bligh),  Clark Gable (Christian Fletcher),  Franchot Tone (Byam),  Herbert Mundin (Smith),  Eddie Quillan (Ellison),  Dudley Digges (Bacchus),  Donald Crisp (Burkitt),  Henry Stephenson (Sir Joseph Banks),  Francis Lister (Captain Nelson),  Spring Byington (Mrs. Byam),  Ian Wolfe,  Movita (Tehani),  Mamo Clark (Maimiti),  Byron Russell (Quintal), Percy Waram (Coleman), David Torrence (Lord Hood).

Oscars:        Best Picture

The best version of the events around the ship the "Bounty."  Mr. Christian (Clark Gable) leads a mutiny against Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton).

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Foreword.  "In December 1787, H.M.S. Bounty lay in Portsmouth harbor on the eve of departure for Tahiti in the uncharted waters of the Great South Sea.  The Bounty's mission was to procure breadfruit trees for transplanting to the West Indies as cheap food for slaves.  Neither ship nor bread-fruit reach the West Indies.  Mutiny prevented it  -- mutiny against the abuse of harsh eighteenth century sea law.  But this mutiny, famous in history and legend, helped bring about a new discipline, based upon mutual respect between officers and men, by which Britain's sea power is maintained as security for all who pass upon the seas."

Portsmouth, England, 1787.  [Portsmouth is the second largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. It is an island city, located mainly on Portsea Island. It is situated 64 miles (103 km) south west from London and 19 miles (31 km) south east of Southampton.]  Christian Fletcher and a group of sailors come looking for men they can force to become sailors.  Christian looks inside a pub.  A bar maid sees Christian and screams:  "Press gang!  Press gang!"  Christian comes in and says that it looks like they have here the six men the King needs for his ship the Bounty. One fellow asks who's the captain and is told it's Bligh.  The guy tries to bolt out of the pub, but it's no use.  A woman begs Christian not to take her husband Ellison.  The husband asks how long will they be gone?  The answer is two years.  The wife says she won't let them take her husband for two years is too long.  She gets nowhere with her protest. 

Sir Joseph Banks, a famous plant explorer, tells Mrs. Byam that this is a great opportunity for her son.  "This is England's new venture in science, in trade, in discovery."  Mother is despondent and says:  "But two years." Son Roger Byam comes down the stairs and it sounds like he's raring to go.  He is very enthused.  He thanks Sir Joseph for getting him his appointment.  Sir Joseph says he has told Captain Bligh that he wants Byam to make him a dictionary of the Tahitian language.  All three of them toast to the voyage of the Bounty.

Byam arrives on the docks.  He is surprised that the Bounty is such a small ship, but is still eager to get aboard her.  Christian Fletcher is aboard the ship.  He is told by Morrison that sailor Ellison tried to break ship.  Christian is mad at Ellison, but he soon calms down and is decent to the fellow.  He tells him that if he gets into trouble, to come and see him for he will see that Ellison gets justice.  Christian now tells him to go up on deck and see his wife and child.  Ellison is thrilled to know that he can see his family before he ships out. 

Christian introduces himself to Mr. Byam as acting lieutenant and master's mate.  Fletcher will be the midshipman's instructor. His duties will be to keep order on the ship, go aloft to mend canvas, reef and furl. 

The ship's drunken surgeon, nicknamed Mr. Bacchus, comes aboard. 

Now Byam is introduced to fellow officers Mr. Stewart and Mr. Hayward. 

The ship's clerk is Mr. Maggs.  Bligh's new messman asks Maggs if Bligh is a gentle fellow?  He says he hopes Bligh is gentle because he himself frightens easily. 

The captain is coming aboard.  His first order is for Mr. Fletcher to have the decks cleared of all the rabble.  He tells Sir Joseph that his boatswain will be delivering a punishment of 300 lashes for a sailor who struck his captain.  Bligh seems happy about the matter.  Roger thinks 300 lashes is too heavy of a punishment. Bligh tells his boatswain to deliver two dozen lashes, but a man in  a small boat says the prisoner is dead, sir.  Bligh demands that the boatswain still do his duty and lash the dead man.  The sailors on board the ship don't like it one bit.  That done, the sailors starts preparing for the ship to set sail. 

Christian is a very down-to-earth type of fellow, but Bligh is the very opposite of that.  Fletcher's philosophy is to go easy on the men.  This prevents the situation ever blowing up like a powder magazine.  Bligh tells him frankly that he doesn't want Fletcher's advice.  Fletcher gets angry and talks back to the captain.  Bligh says he doesn't care what Fletcher thinks.  He will merely carry out his captain's orders whenever he gives them.   Seeing what kind of man Bligh is, Fletcher gives up on him and just starts taking orders robotically. 

Hayward doesn't like Roger's cheerful disposition.  He even starts a fight with Roger by kicking him in the behind.  Roger slugs Hayward and Bligh sees this.  So he orders Roger to get to the masthead and stay there until Bligh calls him down.  Bligh sends Hayward below.  Fletcher suggests to the captain that sending Roger to the masthead is dangerous punishment in this storm.  Bligh says he will teach these men, if Fletcher will not. 

Hayward goes below and gets into a flight with Steward for getting Rogert sent up onto the masthead.  Fletcher breaks the fight up. 

Fletcher goes to drink with the surgeon and Mr. Morgan.  The surgeon has a wooden leg and he tells the men that he left his right leg with John Paul Jones back in 1778.  The British ship came alongside the American ship Ranger and the Americans let loose with a broadside. 

The storm is getting worse.  Fletcher checks on Roger, who looks to be unconscious.  He climbs up to Roger and lowers him down to the deck by rope.  Bligh sees this and calls for Mr. Christian.  He tells Christian to get Roger back up to the masthead.  Christian tells Bligh that Roger has had enough punishment, but Bligh orders Christian to get Roger up there. 

It's a struggle but Roger gets back up on the masthead. 

The ship is now off the coast of North Africa, not far from the island of Tenerife.  Bligh says the men are not performing like real sailors.  So he selects three men and puts them on ten days of half rations.  The three men are Thomas Burkitt, a former prisoner; Thomas Ellison, pressed into service; and William Muspratt, who has two wives.  One of the men makes a loud noise and Bligh has him whipped.  Christian says if the captain will give him some time, he will get some spirit into the men without flogging.  Bligh just believes in punishment, not the raising of spirits.  Now he has Ellison whipped because he would not tell Bligh who did it. 

The ship moves over to the Brazilian coast.  Bligh has an older sailor strapped to a cannon and lashed because he couldn't hear the watch call.  The ship moves farther down the coast of Brazil.  They reach Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America and then turn and head east.  A sailor asks for some water and Bligh has him keelhauled.  They tie the man's hands with rope, put rope around him, push him into the sea and let him be dragged along by the ship.  The man dies. 

The ship stops at South Africa by the Cape of Good Hope.  The ship continues its journey eastward through the Indian Ocean. 

The winds stop blowing and Bligh sends men out in boats to row the ship to where the wind is blowing.  The doctor says two of the crew are not fit for duty.  They are both very skinny.  Bligh puts the men on boat duty anyway. 

Bligh discovers that two 50 pound round cheeses have been stolen.  He orders no more cheese be served to the men until the deficit is made up.  One of the sailors tells Bligh that by his orders Mr. Maggs opened the cask and took out two wheels of cheese.  Another man says that he took the two cheeses to Captain Bligh's house.  Bligh has the "liar" tied to the riggings until sundown.   

The boatmen pull the ship into the wind. 

At dinner in the captain's quarters, none of the four men with Bligh will touch any cheese.  Bligh tells Christian that he is with the men on this matter.  Christian speaks up to say he thinks the Captain has been unjust in the matter of the cheese.  Bligh says that Christian is implying that his captain was the one who was the liar.  He demands an apology, even though Christian says the clerk could have given the order unbeknownst to the captain.  Christian won't say he's sorry to Bligh, so Bligh tells him to leave the table with no supper for him.  He gets no sympathy from Byam, so Bligh dismisses Byam.  He then balls out the two men left saying that before this voyage is over he will make these men eat grass instead of cheese. 

The crew is fed up with the very little and very bad food they are getting to eat.  They complain to Fletcher, but there's nothing he can do about it. 

One group of men catch a shark.  One of their higher-ranked sailors wants a slice of it.  Burkitt gets so mad at the man that he slaps the man down with is own slice of shark. Bligh sees this and has Burkitt lashed. 

Christian acknowledges that Captain Bligh is a great seaman, but the man likes to punish the men  for his own enjoyment.  He tells Roger that he doesn't know if he can keep his own temper in check for these next two years.

The ship sails off the coast of Australia and stops at Tasmania.  It sails south of the South Island of New Zealand.  They are nearing Tahiti next. 

Christian refuses to sign the supply book that all the list of supplies have been appropriately delivered.  He says no such amounts have been issued.  He says he won't sign this time because the other captains he signed for didn't starve their men.  He really tells the captain off on behalf of the men.  So the captain, in front of the whole crew, tells Christian to sign the book or he will sentence Christian to death.  Christian tells the crew that they are witnesses that Christian Fletcher signed the supply book only at the direct order of Captain Bligh.  Christian then says that he will demand an inquiry back in England.  Bligh calls him a mutinous dog.  Christian tells Bligh to retract his statement or . . . Luckily a crew member stops Christian from throwing any punches.  At this moment, land is sighted. 

Bligh threatens Mr. Christian Fletcher. 

The Tahitians run to their boats and row out to the English ship.  They bring gifts of fruits to the sailors.  Hitihiti is the chief of the island and a priest of the temple.  Bligh orders a sailor to pipe the chief aboard ship.  Bligh knows the chief from a previous voyage.  He explains that he has come for 1,000 breadfruit plants.   The natives are taking trinkets from Roger and the chief tells him to stop.  Roger stops.  He says Roger is his "tayo", that is, "close friend".  Then the chief says to Bligh that Byam will come live with his family on Tahiti. 

Bligh tells the men that they think of Tahiti as an island paradise, but they are mistaken.  They will be working to gather the 1,000 breadfruit plants.  Bligh says he will give Mr. Christian no shore leave.  instead, he will stay on the boat and supervise things. 

The women flirt with the crew quite a bit.  Byam is busy working with the chief on the Tahitian dictionary.  And the chief has gotten shore leave for Christian.  One of the women pretends she is writing like Byam does and puts ink all over the page on which Byam is currently working.  There is another woman with her and Christian takes a liking to her.  This is Hitihiti's granddaughter.  The two men and the two women have a nice afternoon with each other.  Bligh sent orders for Christian to return to the ship, but the chief says he will have a message sent to the captain that Christian could not be found. 

Much later Christian gets ready to go back to the ship.  But then he sees the men and women dancing together and gets side-tracked.  He kisses and hugs the chief's daughter. 

Before Christian leaves, the chief's daughter gives him two large pearls.  She says they are a gift for Christian's mother. 

Much later Christian swims to the ship.  On board ship he gets balled out by the captain. 

Mr. Morgan has brought the potted bread-fruit plants onto the ship.  There is, however, a problem  The growing plants require more water than can be stored aboard the ship.  Bligh isn't worried.  He says he will cut down of the water supply going to the crew, so more water will be available for the plants.

The time has come for the ship to sail from Tahiti.  The crew is really reluctant to go.  They have been a bit spoiled in paradise and they are really going to resent Bligh's harsh methods.  And as soon as the men step on the boat Bligh starts slinging injustices at sailor after sailor.  He demands that Christian give him the pearls that the chief's daughter gave him.  He bases this on the idea that the trinkets they gave the natives were at the cost of the Crown, so any item received back by the crew also belongs to the crown.  Christian gives the pearls to the captain but reminds Bligh that the pearls are the property of the Crown. 

Bligh  wants to know where the surgeon is.  His staff tells him that the surgeon is very sick and can't report for duty.  Bligh says the surgeon is just drunk again.  He orders Roger to go down and make the surgeon come up on deck.  Roger goes down to the surgeon, but he sees that the surgeon is very sick.  He tells the surgeon to stay in bed and he will tell Bligh that the doctor is just too sick to come up on deck.  The midshipman goes back up.  The doctor tells himself that he better get up on deck to save Roger's backside.  Bligh starts ripping into Roger saying if he doesn't get the surgeon up here quickly, Roger will be lashed.  Christian speaks up to support Roger's contention that the man is too weak even to walk.  Bligh accuses Christian of trying to give his captain orders.

The surgeon comes up on deck.  Mr. Morison is told by the captain to go ahead and lash the two "deserters" four dozen times each.  Morison starts and the surgeon falls to the deck.  He tells Christian that it's no loss if he dies.  The surgeon dies.  Christian is so angry that he asks the crew to bear witness that Bligh killed the doctor.  Some of the men start to grab a weapon with which to hurt the captain.  The surgeon's body is taken below. 

Some of the men tell Christian they are ready to mutiny.  Christian doesn't want to hear that.  But Bligh keeps committing so many sins against humanity that Christian finally decides he has had enough. He shakes his clinched fist at an imaginary Bligh and says:  "Bligh, you've given you last command!  We'll be men again, if we hang for it!"  It's mutiny and the men are glad of it.  Sailor fights sailor to gain control of the ship.  Christian walks into the captain's quarters and tells his two men to grab the captain. 

Bligh and those who want to go with him climb into a large boat equipped with a sail, food, water and a compass.  Some who wanted to go with Bligh could not go because of a lack of space for them. 

The men ask where are they going?  Christian says to Tahiti.  A big cheer goes up from the crew.  The men throw the plants into the ocean. 

Bligh says the closest port for them is 3,500 miles away at Timor in the Dutch East Indies.  The men run into a wicked storm and have to keep bailing the water out of the boat. 

The men have been out for 45 days.  There is no food or water left.  They have gone 3,600 miles. 

Captain Bligh sights land ahead.  He shouts out Timor!  Timor ahead!  The captain says:  "We've beaten the sea itself."

It's Christmas time.  Roger's mother is still missing her boy.  Roger and Christian are still with their women.  Christian has a child now.  The men open the liquor to celebrate Christmas.  A ship is spotted coming toward Tahiti.  It's a British ship.  Christian tells his men to get on board the Bounty.  They will search for some uncharted island.  Some of the women go with the men. Roger and Ellison stay on Tahiti.

"No one on the island thought of sleep that night.  Watch fires were lighted to await the coming of the strange English ship.  In the morning Roger and Stewart decide to take a boat out to guide the ship into Tahiti.  Roger tells his woman Tehani that he will be back in two hours.  Some of the natives also go out with them in boats.  The two Englishmen reach the ship.  They find that Captain Bligh is the captain.  Bligh is still the same old bastard that he always was.  He has the men thrown into irons and taken below.  Bligh says the two men will lie in the hold until they do know where Christian has gone. 

"Securing all the seamen left on the island, Captain Bligh sailed in pursuit of Fletcher Christian.  He drove his frigate, the Pandora, on and on through the uncharted and treacherous reefs of the Great South Sea." 

Bligh's ship hits a reef and the ship starts to flood.  Bligh has the prisoners released from their shackle so they can be saved.  Bligh tells his assistant to get in the boat with the men and sail for Australia.  Bligh and the prisoners will come in another boat. 

Back in England, the trial for mutiny still goes on after a week.  On the 15th day of September, 1792 there was mutiny on His Majesty's ship, Bounty.  Captain Nelson has a question for Captain Bligh:  Why did his men mutiny?  Captain Bligh says he has no idea why.  Bligh says he believes that Christian and Byam plotted the mutiny together.  Byam protests his innocence, but Bligh doesn't intend to give any of the accused a break. 

The court reaches a verdict.  Roger has been found guilty.  Roger speaks out against Bligh, knowing that he has been condemned to hang.  He says Bligh was a man "who robbed his seamen, cursed them, flogged them.  Not to punish, but to break their spirit.  A story of greed and tyranny and of anger against it, of what it cost.  One man, milord, would not endure such tyranny.  That's why you (Bligh) hounded him.  That's why you hate him, hate his friends."  Roger says he doesn't excuse the mutiny, but he condemns the tyranny that drove Christian to it. 

Christian tells his men that they have reached their new home:  Pitcairn's Island.  His plan is to run the ship into the shore and then burn the ship to there is no trace left of it.  He explains that this means there is no going back for them.  Their lives will be spent on Pitcairn's Island. 

On the island shore, Christian, accompanied by his wife and child, and others, watch the Bounty burn. 

Portsmouth.  Some of the men on the Bounty plead for the life of Roger Byam, thinking him innocent of mutiny.  The spokesperson, Sir Joseph Banks, says because of the mutiny a new understanding has been developed between officers and men of the fleet.  By saving Byam, this new understanding will be affirmed by the navy.  Roger Byam is saved.  Next we see him, he reports for duty on board another ship.  The ship is off to the Mediterranean to sweep the seas for England. 
 

 

The classic story of the tyranny of a British sea captain and his injustices toward his crew.  Some of the sailors die under Captain Bligh's distorted view of just punishment.  The terrible injustices eventually lead to a mutiny of the sailors and officers on board the ship.  Those men not joining the mutiny are placed in two boats to sail to the nearest port, more than 3,600 miles away.  This is the classic tale of men standing up to fight against tyranny.  The only problem is that this is not what happened.  Bligh was a good captain and it wasn't that he was too hard on his crew, but too lax on them when they were on the island of Tahiti.  Too many of the men grew too content living on what they referred to as an "island paradise".  The living was easy and the men had access to a lot of gorgeous women on the island.  They wanted to stay in Tahiti.  Of course, in many ways that detracts from the Clark Gable-Charles Laughton film of fighting for basic human rights and against tyranny.  So, enjoy the traditional version of Mutiny on the Bounty because life at one time on British ships was very hard on the sailors.  The Mel Gibson film on the Bounty is closer to the truth, if not as exciting. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

Mutiny of the Bounty from a program on the History Channel.

1754 -- Bligh is born; he spends his childhood in a Cornish cottage. Seeing the navy as his chance to rise socially he goes to sea at the age of 15.

Bligh joined the navy as a junior officer, but makes a fateful decision. At age 22 he takes the offer to become the master or senior navigator; by accepting this post he was stepping outside of the gentleman officer class. This would have negative repercussions later as he would not be seen as a gentlemen and this cost him critical support from the admiralty.

But Bligh wanted to follow in the footsteps of the great explorer Captain Cook, a national hero. He had circumnavigated the globe in both directions and boasted that he had sailed as far as a man might go.

1777 January -- Bligh becomes master of Cook's old ship, the Resolution. Bligh was right beside Cook when the ship arrived at Adventure Bay, Tasmania. Bligh was in charge of surveying and charting the bay. But Bligh also learned from Cook that to be a true explorer he would need an understanding of the native peoples. Cook introduced him to the indigenous people of Adventure Bay. Bligh and Cook sail north into the Pacific

1778 January -- the Resolution becomes the first European vessel to reach Hawaii. It was an enormous opportunity for Bligh, but the triumph turned to disaster when the Hawaiians turned hostile. Cook confronted them without adequate support and was stoned to death and his body dismembered.

Bligh promised the men that he would get them back to Timor. He sailed the ship directly to Timor without touching land, a two month journey across 4,000 miles of open ocean without a single map. Midday readings of the sun allowed Bligh to chart his progress. He was never more than a few miles off course. He was conscious at the time that he was doing something remarkable.

1779 -- the ship reaches home. Bligh had hoped the admiralty would see him as a second Cook, but to them Bligh was a nobody. The official journal of the Resolution was a best seller, but despite being based on Bligh's charts, the journals never even mentioned Bligh. The lieutenants received all the credit because they were gentlemen, unlike Bligh.

Bligh knew he needed a promotion into a commissioned rank, but he was still hampered by the admiralty which had a limited view of his future. To them he was just a very valuable officer in the rank of master of a man of war.

early 1780s -- Bligh finds himself stranded ashore in east London. His bold career move had left him high and dry. So he took another bold step.

1781 -- he marries 27 year old Elizabeth Bethen. One of her influential contacts was naval captain Keith Stuart. Bligh becomes master of Stuart's ship Belle Pool. In the summer it smashed up a passing Dutch convoy and Stuart used the opportunity to get Bligh a promotion to lieutenant. But Bligh was put on half-pay in a kind of semi-retirement for surplus naval officers. To make ends meet, Bligh has to moonlight in the merchant marine on the trade route to and from the West Indies. But it was this second job that turned the tide for Bligh. The brutal economics of the slave plantation system would offer a unique opportunity for Bligh.

The president of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, was closely associated with the businessmen who managed the British empire. Banks had sailed with Cook on the first mission into the Pacific. In Tahiti, he encountered the remarkable breadfruit tree. Banks noticed the Tahitians could eat the breadfruit directly from the tree. Banks described the fruit as the most complete substitute for bread. The West Indies had a similar climate to that of Tahiti and the slave owners in the West Indies thought they could plant it and use the food to feed their slaves. Banks persuaded the king to bully the admiralty into equipping an expedition to transplant the breadfruit to the West Indies. Banks suggested Bligh. Bligh might have benefited by an end run around the admiralty, but the admiralty chose to be petty and hamper Bligh.

1787 August -- only 32 years of age, Bligh finally got a naval command and this led to an expedition. Bligh selects seven naval officers from influential families. One of them was Peter Haywood who was only 15 at the time and had never been to sea before. His family, however, was of a higher social status than that of Bligh and Bligh thought this could be seen as a stamp of approval for himself.

The most experienced of the new officers was Fletcher Christian. He was a 24 year old aristocrat from the north of England. When he was 18 or so his mother went bankrupt and lost her house. Christian thought the navy was his way up and out.  His friendship with Elizabeth Bligh's family had gotten him an introduction to Bligh the year before. They had sailed to the West Indies together. Bligh thought he could trust Christian.

Bligh doesn't see the world as others see it or himself as others see him. He did not think seriously about this mission from a naval perspective. He is a renegade master who has gotten a post.

Bligh was now a captain but the admiralty would have the last laugh. The admiralty refused to provide a vessel. Banks came down to buy a second hand coastal collier. It was a beautiful ship but she was ill-suited for the mission. She was flush on top. There was no raised quarter deck traditionally the captain's safe place. Even worse she was so small the plants would have to be stored in the captain's cabin. Bligh was only left with a 7 by 8 foot box amid ship.

The admiralty also denied Bligh contingent of marines, who usually kept order. And the last indignity was that the admiralty refused to promote Bligh to captain. The captain of the Bounty was actually a mere lieutenant. His authority had been undermined with catastrophic consequences.

From the very outset of the voyage he took a by-the-book approach to the job requirements. He was a perfectionist and sought perfection neurotically.

Dedicated to the welfare of his men, Bligh dropped the navy's two watch system, where sailors never slept more than 4 hours at a time. Instead, Bligh organized a three watch system. It gave the sailors 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

This meant promoting Fletcher to command the third watch. He was made an acting lieutenant and second in command. Christians had told his brothers that Bligh was a very difficult person but that he knew how to play him.

Cook boasted he had never lost a man to scurvy. So Bligh wanted not even a case of scurvy. Whenever Bligh touched land, he replaced the sailors' bread rations with fresh vegetables. This prevented scurvy.

1788 August -- the Bounty entered Adventure Bay, Tasmania. Bligh substituted biscuits with fresh produce. But his motives were now being questioned. The mutiny begins. The sailors think they are being cheated because Bligh is saving naval stores by substituting cheap local produce in order to make a profit.

Added to Bligh's problem of being a perfectionist, his being a small man did not help either. And his authority was tarnished by living too close to his sailors. Furthermore, he used no subtlety in his orders to his sailors, telling them, like children, that they had to eat their greens. The sailors begin to scorn Bligh. Out of spite, the ship's surgeon blames scurvy for causing the death of a sailor who actually died of blood poisoning. The sailors start mimicking having the symptoms of scurvy.

1787 Oct -- reach Tahiti. The men thought they had reached paradise. Within two weeks the crew had begun to pot the bread fruit saplings.

Then Bligh starts to consider the second purpose of his trip. He is to proceed to the Endeavor Straits between New Guinea and Australia and map the area. The Pacific and Indian Oceans surge into each other at the straits making them one of the roughest navigational challenges around.

But Bligh needed winds to the west and these winds would not reach the area for several months. So he wondered, should he set sail immediately for the West Indies? Or wait for the winds? He decided to wait. He consigned his men to five months in Tahiti. During the wait, Bligh wants to write an ethnography of the Tahitian people. His journals still remain a prime source on Tahitian culture.

The sailors found the Tahitian women were handsome. The movements of their dances were lascivious and acts of sexual gratification common. Syphilis, introduced by the Europeans 20 years earlier, was rampant in Tahiti. Among those that reporting it were Fletcher Christian.

Shipboard discipline was eroding. When Bligh ordered the ship transferred to a more protective mooring, the ship was run aground.

There was rising tension between the captain and his men. Bligh was disturbed by the disorder around him and started to lose his patience and fly into rages. The rest of the crew were relaxed while Bligh was at his most tense.

April 1789 -- the Bounty cast off from Tahiti with its cargo, the great challenge of mapping the passage through the Endeavor Straits. Bligh was nervous about what was going to happen next. Would e have to make painful choices between the safety of the breadfruit plants and the mapping of the straits. Bligh is, in a phrase, keyed up. This soon shows up more and more.

Three weeks out of Tahiti they stop for provisions on a remote island. Christian sets out to get fresh water. He is given guns to protect his men from the natives. But contradicting the purpose of having firearms in the first place, Bligh orders Christian not to open fire. When the party was attacked the men dump their casks and fled back to the Bounty. Back aboard the ship, Bligh damned Christians for being afraid of a bunch of naked savages. In another incident, Bligh said that coconuts were missing and accuses Christians of stealing them.

Christian decides that the only way out for him is to desert. But then he wonders why he should be the one to leave. Bligh should go. Christian recruits four of the most rebellious sailors and they confronts Bligh in his cabin. Bligh is hauled on deck and tied to the mast. None of the officers made an attempt to stop the mutineers.

April 28, 1789 -- Bligh marched off his ship and into his launch. Along with him were 18 men that Christian did not trust. Junior officer Peter Haywood stayed with the mutineers for fear he would starve to death or drown. Christian soon becomes involved in a local war with the Tubai people, 82 of which were killed. Soon after, half the mutineers jumped ship. Christian was now an outcast. He eventually settled with a Tahitian woman on the uncharted island of Pitcairn. Four years later he was hacked to death by a jealous rival.

Off the north coast of Australia by day 36 after the mutiny, Bligh notes that "We are reduced to beings terrible to behold. . . . But we drive on."

500 miles away from safety they approach their greatest challenge. Getting thorough Endeavor Straight. But Bligh is certain he will pull the crew through and certain that he will accomplish the voyage.

Bligh mapped a passage through the straits just as he was ordered. His map was so accurate that it was still in use in 1940.

Within six months of reaching Timor, Bligh was back in Britain. His journals were rushed into publication, proving was a great sensation. Bligh had full control of the story and is a great hero. He found himself the toast of the establishment. He even had an audience with the king. Distinguished admirals volunteered to sit on his court martial where they exonerated him for the mutiny. The navy promoted him to captain.

His greatest reward was the command of the Providence with the mission of completing the task the mutiny on the Bounty had ruined. He transported over a thousand bread fruit plants to the West Indies where they still thrive to this day.

Bligh now hoped to be acknowledged as a proven successor to Captain Cook. But in his absence of two years, seven mutineers had been picked up and brought back for trial. One was Peter Haywood. Only three of the mutineers had been hanged, one of them Haywood. The navy had said that though the three were guilty, circumstances allow a second chance. Haywood was back in the navy. Bligh was greatly taken aback. Haywood, with the support of his wealthy family, wrote an open letter to the Edward Christian saying that Fletcher was a most worthy character who was abused and disgraced by the evil Bligh. Haywood had a long career ahead of him and he needed to clear his name and the only way to do so was to damn Bligh. Haywood started a whispering campaign to undermine Bligh's reputation. Subsequently, Haywood was promoted to captain.

Bligh fought with distinction against Napoleonic France. He was even mentioned by Admiral Nelson in dispatches.

1811 --Bligh becomes an admiral.

181 7 -- Bligh dies and the whispering campaign yields fruit. In a naval history Haywood writes a public character assassination of Captain Bligh.

Later writers took up the tale and embellished the complaints against Bligh to make the classic tale of rebellion against a brutal dictator.

 

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