HMS Bounty was made famous for the mutiny that occurred on board in 1789. It was notable especially for the fact that the mutineers set the Captain, William Bligh and 18 crew members off the ship in a small, open boat, and that against the odds, they were eventually able to return home, after navigating the boat to the island of Timor, traveling a distance of 3,618 nautical miles, and surviving 47 days with little food and water.
The mission of this 19th century British Navy ship was to acquire breadfruit trees from Tahiti. Although this was done, the Bounty's extended stay in Tahiti (where several crew members had formed relationships) and the claims of tyranny by the Captain, led to a desire on the part of First Mate Fletcher Christian and many of the crewmen to remain in Tahiti, which led to the mutiny. Knowing that they could not escape the whole of the British navy, the mutineers eventually settled on Pitcairn Island. Their descendants live on the island to this day. Some descendants moved on to nearby Norfolk Island, a former British penal colony.
The Bounty began her life as the Bethia, a collier which was built in Hull, England in 1784. She was engaged in the Baltic trade, and had at least three captains before she was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1787 for the purpose of transplanting the breadfruit plant from the island of Tahiti to Jamaica.
Renamed Bounty by the Royal Navy, the ship was refitted to the standards of an armed naval transport, including the armament of four 4-pounder cannons and ten 1/2-pounder swivel guns. The man assigned to command her was Lieutenant William Bligh, who took charge of the conversion and shortened her masts and lightened her ballast amongst other things. Her entire aft cabin was converted into a Greenhouse in order to effectively transport the breadfruit.
The Bounty carried 46 men altogether, which also included naval Master John Fryer and also Fletcher Christian, a personal friend of Bligh’s. There was also a botanist from Kew Gardens, David Nelson, who was given the special task of taking care of the breadfruit when they arrived at Tahiti.
After numerous delays, the Bounty departed England on December 23rd, 1787. After battling severe storms she stopped at the island of Tenerife in the Azores from January 6th, 1788 until January 11th, 1788 before continuing on. The Bounty tried to enter the Pacific via Cape Horn, on the southern tip of South America between March 28th and April 22nd, 1788 but terrible weather drove her back, and the ship turned and headed for the Cape of Good Hope where it arrived on May 24th, 1788 and damages were repaired. The Bounty departed there on July 1st, 1788 and crossed the Indian Ocean, stopping briefly in Adventure Bay in Tasmania between August 21st, 1788 and September 4th, 1788 in order to resupply. Taking a southerly route from there, the Bounty passed well south of New Zealand, and discovered the remote Bounty Islands on September 19th. The Bounty finally arrived in Tahiti on October 26th, 1788. On the outward voyage, only one man died as a result of an illness.
During the time at Tahiti, the crew of the Bounty were subjected to the hospitality of the people of the island. Unfortunately, there were some unfortunate incidents during the long visit. The ships surgeon, who in many accounts was a drunkard, died on December 9th, 1788. On January 5th, 1789, three men deserted, and were not caught again until over two weeks later. Despite the death penalty for deserters, Bligh merely had them flogged then returned them to duty.
After filling the ship with supplies and breadfruit, Bligh turned the Bounty towards home and departed Tahiti on April 4th, 1789 heading towards Indonesia. The ship stopped at several islands on the way, but on the island of Nomuka (which is part of present-day Tonga) there were thefts and misunderstandings, resulting in a major falling-out with the locals. In the early morning of April 28th, 1789, several of the crew, headed by Fletcher Christian (who was now more or less Bligh’s second-in-command) and Charles Churchill (the ships Master-at-Arms) seized the ship and set Bligh and 18 loyal crew (including the Master, John Fryer, and David Nelson the expeditions botanist) adrift in the 23-foot ships launch (Bligh managed to navigate the launch and the crew safely to the island of Timor, with the loss of only one man to hostile Tongans). The mutineers along with the several crew members who remained loyal to Captain Bligh, but had not been able to leave on the boat with the others, remained on the Bounty, which then headed back towards Tahiti.
Captain Bligh's log entry for the day of the mutiny: "April 28 1789. Seized this day the HMS Bounty, by mutineers led by first mate Fletcher Christian. Just before Sunrise Mr Christian and the Master at Arms came into my cabin while I was fast asleep, and seizing me, tyed my hands with a Cord & threatened instant death if I made the least noise. I however called sufficiently loud to alarm the Officers, who found themselves equally secured by centinels at their doors … Mr Christian had a Cutlass & the others were armed with Musquets & bayonets. I was now carried on deck in my Shirt, in torture with a severe bandage round my wrists behind my back, where I found no man to rescue me …"
The Tubuai Settlement
After setting Bligh and his crew adrift, the mutineers took the Bounty to the island of Tubuai, where, despite a hostile welcome, it was decided to settle there. They sailed the Bounty to Tahiti for women, men and supplies, then headed back to Tubuai where they attempted to settle. Between June 23rd and September 17th, 1789, the crew of the Bounty tried to settle on the generally hostile island and even managed to build a fort before the project was abandoned. On returning to Tahiti, the crew were divided. 16 men (Churchill among them) stayed on Tahiti, while the remaining 9 (which included Christian) set sail with 6 Polynesian men and 12 Polynesian women (and one baby girl) in order to find a permanent home. To add to the crimes of the mutineers, some of the Polynesians were abducted.
Searching for a home
Between October 22nd, 1789 and January 15th, 1790, the Bounty went on a months-long Odyssey around the Pacific, and was possibly the first European ship to stop at the island of Rarotonga. Finding no uninhabited island that had fresh water, the Bounty eventually went in search of the previously elusive Pitcairn Island.
The End of the Bounty
The Bounty reached Pitcairn Island on January 15th, 1790, and finding the island abundant in water and natural resources, as well as uninhabited, they decided to dismantle the ship and settle there. The unloading was mostly complete when seaman Matthew Quintal, on discovering that some of the men were talking about possibly sailing back to England, set fire to the ship, destroying all chances of departing the island on the Bounty. The Bounty burned in shallow water and was soon destroyed by the waves.
The remains of the Bounty has been the subject of salvage since she was destroyed. Despite the erroneous claims of National Geographic writer Luis Marden, the Bounty wreck had been the focus of salvage for a long time before he arrived on Pitcairn in 1957. He was, however, the first person to dive on the wreck with an aqua-lung.
Many artifacts have been recovered from the Bounty. These includes an anchor (now on Pitcairn Island, mounted in the Main Square), all four 4-pounders cannons (2 on Pitcairn Island, one on Norfolk Island and one missing), and the ships rudder (now in a museum in Suva, Fiji).
Two replicas of HMS Bounty exist. One was built for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty and the second for the 1984 film The Bounty. For the 1935 MGM movie “Mutiny on the Bounty,” a schooner called the Lily was converted into the appearance the original Bounty.