Bennett, James J., Sea Classics
In a magnificent feat of seamanship and navigational skill, the impeached captain of HMS Bounty defied the elements and sailed his crowded open boat and handful of loyal Jack Tars nearly 3000 miles across the empty Pacific
This is the story of Capt. Bligh and 17 mariners, and their courageous voyage of 4000 miles in an open boat. In 1787, ten years following the murder of Capt. Cook by the natives of Hawaii, the government was persuaded to explore the south Pacific islands, particularly to transport the breadfruit tree to Jamaica and plant it there to feed the large black slave population working in the sugar plantations.
When fitted out, the good ship Bounty sailed in command of Lt. William Bligh who had been one of Cook's officers. The trip to Tahiti was long and arduous. But after five months in Tahiti, the Bounty's holds were filled with tropical trees and shrubs and the ship hove anchor and sheeted topsails to roll out homeward bound. By this time, the crew were reluctant to leave languorous Tahiti and the unspoiled, brown-skinned women who were as kind as they were beautiful, to endure the bitter toil and tyranny that were the mariner's lot. The ship wasn't long at sea before Bligh's autocratic nature caused contention in the forecastle and among groups of seamen who loafed and whispered on deck during the dog-watches. One incident is reminiscent of the fictitious Capt. Queeg and the steel balls. Boatswain's mate James Morrison kept a diary in which he noted that Bligh missed some of his own personal coconuts, which had been stowed between the guns. The irate commander questioned Fletcher Christian, the master's mate, who indignantly protested: "I do not know who took your coconuts, sir, but I hope you do not think me so mean as to be guilty of pilfering them."
Bligh, now furious, snapped at Christian: "Yes, you hound, I do; you must have stolen them from me, or you would be able to give a better account of them. You are all thieves, you scoundrels, and the officers combine with the men to rob me. I suppose you will steal my yams next, but I'll make you sweat for it, you rascals, if I have to make half of you jump overboard before we get through Endeavor Straits."
It was only a day after the coconut episode that Fletcher Christian led the now famous rebellion of the Bounty. He was a leader of extraordinary intelligence and character who had always lived a godly life. But Lt. Bligh had provoked him beyond endurance, and he was persuaded to lead the mutineers to a South Seas paradise.
Apparently, no inkling of the conspiracy was conveyed to the quarter-deck, and Bligh wrote after the event: "The women of Tahiti are handsome, mild, and cheerful in manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The chiefs were so much attached to our people that they rather encouraged them to stay among them than otherwise, and even made them promises of large possessions. Under these circumstances it ought hardly to be the subject of surprise that a set of sailors, most of them without home ties, should be led away where they had the power of fixing themselves in the midst of plenty and where there was no necessity to labor and where the allurements to dissipation are beyond any conception that can be formed of it. The utmost, however, that a commander could have expected was desertions, such as have always happened more or less in the South Seas, and not this act of open mutiny, the secrecy of which was beyond belief."
At sunrise of 28 April 1789, Bligh and 17 loyal mariners were bundled overside into a small, undecked ship's yawl only 23-ft long. The coat was outfitted with twine, canvas, cordage, an 28-gal cask of water, 150-lb of bread or ship's biscuit, little rum and wine, some salt pork and beef, a quadrant, a compass, and four cutlasses for arms. In the boat, beside Lt. Bligh, were the master, the acting surgeon, botanist, gunners, boatswain, carpenter, mates, two quartermasters, the sail-maker, two cooks, and a boy. …