What Really Happened After the Mutiny on the Bounty?

On November 28, 1787, His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty set sail from England with 46 men aboard, bound for the island of Tahiti in the South Pacific. Commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh, her mission was to collect and deliver breadfruit plants to the West Indies, where they would serve as cheap food for slaves on British plantations. After a long and grueling journey in which Bligh attempted unsuccessfully to round the storm-lashed Cape Horn at the tip of South America, Bounty finally arrived in Tahiti on 26 October, 1788. But the voyage – and the hedonistic temptations of this tropical paradise – soon began to take their toll, and over the five months Bounty spent in Tahiti morale and discipline among the crew steadily broke down. These tensions finally boiled over on April 28, 1789 when, three weeks after leaving Tahiti, the crew, led by acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, mutinied against Bligh, setting him and eighteen loyalists adrift in an open boat. The mutiny on the Bounty has since become the stuff of legend, told and retold in dozens of books, plays, and films. It is history’s most famous mutiny, a classic tale of a beleaguered crew rising up against their tyrannical and abusive captain. But as with many such stories, the narrative has become progressively distorted with each retelling, such that the most common versions of the story differ significantly from the actual events. Popular retellings also tend to leave out what happened after the mutiny, which is in many ways an even more fascinating story – and one which had consequences which continue to resonate to the present day.

Nearly all versions of the mutiny on the Bounty paint William Bligh as a cruel tyrant – vain, arrogant, and willing to mete out brutal punishments for even the most minor offences. The reality, however, is rather different. Though known to be short-tempered and sharp-tongued – traits which had cost him promotions on several occasions – Bligh was otherwise a consummate professional and a compassionate and conscientious leader. On the Bounty voyage, he did everything in his power to ensure the health and well-being of his men, from stringently enforcing cleanliness to prevent the spread of disease to switching from a two-watch to a three-watch system so his men could have eight hours of rest between four-hour periods on duty. He even organized daily dancing sessions complete with fiddler to keep the men fit and entertained. And when the Bounty spent two weeks fighting gale-force winds while attempting to round Cape Horn, Bligh opened his own cabin to let his men rest and gave them regular rations of straight rum to keep them warm. (Though note here, as we’ve covered previously, alcohol will actually lower your body temperature, not increase it as is commonly thought owing to the fact that it makes you *feel* warmer even while doing the opposite.)

In any event, this attempt, often attributed to Bligh’s vainglorious desire to circumnavigate the globe, was actually part of Bounty’s sailing orders from the Admiralty, and it was Bligh himself who decided to give up and reach Tahiti via the safer – but longer – route around the Cape of Good Hope. And when it came to discipline and punishment, Bligh was actually far less strict than the average Royal Navy Captain, only flogging one man – seaman Matthew Quintal – for insubordination on the entire outbound voyage. This relatively relaxed attitude continued once Bounty reached Tahiti, with Bligh tolerating his men’s rampant dalliances with the native women so long as they performed their duties efficiently.

So…what went wrong? Ironically, it was likely Bligh’s lack of authoritarianism which ultimately led to the mutiny. Over the five months Bounty remained in Tahiti waiting for the breadfruit plants to mature, the men succumbed to the varied temptations of the island and grew progressively less efficient and disciplined. Bligh blamed his junior officers as much as the men themselves and regularly lashed out at them, writing in his log:

“Such neglectful and worthless petty officers I believe never were in a ship as are in this.”

Bligh reserved the worst of his wrath for his second-in-command, Fletcher Christian, whom he constantly humiliated and denigrated as a “damned cowardly rascal.” This was in spite of Christian and Bligh being friends before the voyage and Bligh having promoted Christian as acting Lieutenant over his own sailing master, John Fryer. And in sharp contrast to his angry tirades against his officers, Bligh’s enforcement of discipline among his men was curiously lax. For example, when three sailors – Charles Churchill, William Muspratt, and John Millward – deserted the island and were subsequently recaptured, Bligh merely ordered they be given 48 lashes each when any other Captain would have seen them hanged. Such inconsistencies and contradictions only served to bewilder and agitate the rest of the crew. Further adding to the tension was the fact that Fletcher Christian, son of a well-to-do family from Cumberland, belonged to a higher social class than Bligh and chafed at having to serve and be humiliated by his social inferior. According to author Glyn Christian, a descendant of the mutineer, Christian may also have suffered from a mental illness known as brief psychotic disorder, which induces brief periods of irrational behaviour.

By the time Bounty finally left Tahiti on April 6, 1789, she was a powder keg waiting to blow, needing only a spark to set her off. That spark came on April 27 in the form of a dispute over coconuts. Discovering that his personal supply had unaccountably dwindled, Bligh angrily accused Fletcher Christian of theft. A heated argument ensued, at the end of which Bligh cut the crew’s rum ration and angrily stormed down to his cabin. For Christian, this indignity was the final straw, and he set about trying to desert the ship and head back to Tahiti. However, midshipman Edward Young convinced him to take over the ship instead, and early the next morning Christian and a small gang of armed men burst into Bligh’s cabin, tied his hands behind his back, and dragged him up on deck. The mutineers’ plan was to load Bligh, his clerk, and two midshipmen into the ship’s launch and set them adrift. However, they had misjudged the extent of the crew’s disloyalty, and over 30 men volunteered to join Bligh in the launch. This was eventually whittled down to 18, but the launch, built for 15 men, remained dangerously overloaded. The men forced to remain aboard Bounty pleaded not to be counted among the mutineers, to which Bligh responded:

“Never fear, lads, I’ll do you justice if ever I reach England.” 

What followed was one of the most extraordinary sea voyages in history. The mutineers left the loyalists with 5 days’ food and water as well as the Captain’s log, a compass, a chronometer, a sextant, and navigational tables – but no charts, which Christian kept for himself. Thankfully, the loyalists could not have asked for a better man to lead them. Bligh, something of a navigational and mathematical prodigy, had been chosen in 1775 at the age of only 21 to serve as Sailing Master on Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage of exploration. During the five-year voyage Bligh had mapped much of the South Pacific himself, allowing him to navigate the Bounty’s tiny open launch largely from memory.

Bligh first made for the nearby island of Tofua, readily visible by the plume of smoke rising from its active volcano. There he hoped to secure additional provisions for the long voyage ahead. However, the loyalists were soon attacked by hostile natives, resulting in the death of quartermaster John Norton as he attempted to cast off the boat mooring line. The rest of the loyalists barely managed to escape by throwing pieces of clothing overboard to distract the pursuing natives. Wishing to avoid a repeat of this encounter, Bligh made the bold decision not to stop at any other islands and instead head straight for the island of Timor in the Dutch East Indies – a journey of more than 3,600 nautical miles across the uncharted Coral sea, through the Endeavour Straits between Australia and New Guinea, and through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The journey was a long and harrowing one, the tiny launch, sitting dangerously low in the water, constantly threatening to sink as she was hammered by frequent and violent tropical storms. Provisions were meagre, with each man receiving a ration of only an ounce of bread and a half pint of water every day. A fishing line was trailed out, but no fish were ever caught, though several birds were caught in the launch’s sail. During the voyage the loyalists became the first Europeans to sail through the Fiji islands, though they dared not land for fear of cannibalism. Bligh, ever the inveterate navigator, managed to fix the islands’ position so accurately that his figures were later used in official Admiralty Charts.

After a month of hardship and privation, the launch finally made landfall on a speck of land in the Great Barrier Reef which Bligh dubbed Restoration Island. Over the next four days the loyalists sailed from island to island in the lagoon gathering mussels, berries, and other provisions before reaching Cape York at the northern tip of Australia and turning south-west. The following eight days were some of hardest of the entire voyage, pushing the men to the brink of collapse. But at last, on June 12, 1789 – 48 days after being cast adrift – the Bounty’s launch and her exhausted crew of 18 sailed into Kupang harbour on Timor. As Bligh later wrote:

“It is not possible for me to describe the pleasure which the blessing of the sight of this land diffused among us.”

The mood aboard the launch during her harrowing voyage is a matter of some debate. While Bligh later claimed there was no dissent among the crew and that he kept up their spirits with stories of his adventures sailing with Captain Cook, according to sailing master John Fryer:

“[Bligh] was as Tryannical in his temper in the Boat as in the Ship, and . . . his chief thought was his own comfort .”

Supporting is account is the fact that several standoffs occurred between Bligh and the other men during their crossing of the Great Barrier Reef, the two sides threatening each other with cutlasses. And despite the hardships he and his men had endured, upon reaching Kupang Bligh maintained his stubborn adherence to Navy protocol, insisting that a makeshift Union Jack be made up and hoisted and that John Fryer remain aboard the launch to guard her. Of course, none of this takes away from Bligh’s achievement – still one of the greatest feats of navigation in naval history.

Unfortunately, for many of the loyalists this epic feat was to prove all for nothing. Shortly after arriving in Kupang, botanist David Nelson succumbed to fever. He was soon followed by seaman Thomas Hall, quartermaster Peter Linkletter, master’s mate William Elphinstone, seaman Robert Lamb, and acting ship’s surgeon Thomas Ledward. In all, only twelve of the nineteen men set adrift by the mutineers – Bligh among them – made it back to England.

When Bligh landed in England on March 14, 1790, he was initially feted by the public and the press as a hero. He was formally court-martialled in October of that year, but the Admiralty court found him blameless in the mutiny and honourably acquitted him of all charges. Based on Bligh’s testimony, Fletcher Christian was stripped of his rank and discharged from the Royal Navy in absentia, and in November the frigate HMS Pandora under Captain Edward Edwards was dispatched to Tahiti to capture the mutineers and return them to England to stand trial. Pandora arrived in Tahiti on March 23, 1791, and within a few days Edwards managed to capture 14 surviving mutineers, imprisoning them in a specially-built 18x11x6 foot wooden cell on the ship’s quarterdeck dubbed – inevitably – “Pandora’s Box.” After five weeks in Tahiti trying to determine Bounty’s whereabouts, on May 8 Edwards set off to scour the thousands of South Pacific islands for signs of the renegade ship and her crew. The search turned up nothing, and on August 29, 1791, shortly after abandoning the search and setting course for the Dutch East Indies, Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. As the ship began to founder, Captain Edwards ordered three mutineers released from Pandora’s Box to help man the pumps. When it became clear Pandora was doomed and Edwards gave the order to abandon ship, Armourer’s mate Joseph Hodges and bosun’s mate William Moulter rushed to Pandora’s Box to unlock the remaining prisoners’ shackles. Before they could finish the task, however, the ship sank. Four mutineers and 31 of Pandora’s crew drowned in the disaster. Ironically, it is Captain Edwards who most closely fits the profile of the incompetent, despotic leader so often attributed to Bligh. Not only did Edwards show little regard for the welfare of his captives, imprisoning loyalist and mutineer alike and callously leaving them to drown when Pandora sank, but in his single-minded pursuit of the Bounty he ignored smoke signals coming from the island of Vanikoro. These were later determined to be from the survivors of a French Lapérouse scientific expedition which had disappeared three years prior. It was not until 1825 that the remains of the shipwrecked expedition members were discovered on the island.

The Pandora survivors piled into four open boats and, in one of history’s strange parallels, essentially retraced William Bligh’s gruelling voyage to Timor, arriving in Kupang on September 17. The ten surviving mutineers were imprisoned and transported home on a variety of ships, finally arriving in England on April 5, 1792 aboard the British warship HMS Gorgon. The court martial of the Bounty mutineers began on September 12, 1792 aboard HMS Duke in Portsmouth harbour, presided over by Vice-Admiral Lord Hood. Testimony was provided by the survivors of Bligh’s open-boat voyage, and after six days of proceedings the Admiralty court found six men – Thomas Burkett, John Millward, Thomas Ellison, William Muspratt, Peter Heywood, and James Morrison – guilty and sentenced them to death.

Heywood, Morrison, and Muspratt, however, managed to use family connections to obtain Royal aprons, leaving the less well-connected Burkett, Ellison, and Millward to be hanged from the yardarm of HMS Brunswick on October 28, 1792. And there the matter rested, the Admiralty considering the mutiny an extraordinary one-off occurrence not worthy of further concern or action.

The rest of Bounty’s crew went on to live more or less normal lives, with Peter Heywood even acquiring the patronage of Lord Hood and rising to the rank of Captain by 1803. But the fate of the Bounty herself and the mutineers who had sailed off with Fletcher Christian remained a complete mystery – one that would not be solved for nearly 35 years.

As to this, the sun, it was once said, never set on the British Empire. At the height of its power, the British Empire

covered nearly a quarter of the earth’s land area and ruled over 23 percent of its population, making it the largest empire in human history. While today the Empire per se is long gone, the United Kingdom retains enough overseas territories that the old adage still technically holds true. One key link in this globe-spanning chain of British possessions are the Pitcairn Islands, four tiny, wave-lashed specks of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. First spotted by European sailors in 1606, for nearly two centuries the four islands – Henderson, Ducie, Oeno, and Pitcairn, attracted little attention.

However, on February 6, 1808, the American sealing ship Topaz, commanded by Captain Mayhew Folger, dropped anchor off the supposedly uninhabited Pitcairn, only to discover a curious community of people living on the island. The inhabitants, mostly Polynesians and mixed-race children, spoke English but had apparently never seen a ship before. And among their number was one John Adams – the last surviving Bounty mutineer. From Adams’s testimony, Folger and the British Admiralty were at last able to piece together what had happened to them after the mutiny.

After setting Bligh and the loyalists adrift, Fletcher Christian and the mutineers set out in search of an island on which to settle. While many wished to return to Tahiti, the island had by now become a regular stopover for British ships and was, Christian knew, the first place the Royal Navy would come looking for them. Instead, the Bounty sailed to the island of Tubai, 300 nautical miles south of Tahiti. Unfortunately, the mutineers were immediately met with hostility from the native population, leading Christian to establish a fort on the north end of the island, armed with weapons from the Bounty. After two months of bloody skirmishes with the natives, the mutineers finally gave up and sailed back to Tahiti, where 16 men decided to remain ashore. 14 of these men would later, as noted, be captured by HMS Pandora. 

By this time, relations between the mutineers and the Tahitians were beginning to sour, and Fletcher Christian did not intend to linger much longer on the island. Knowing, however, that he and his crew would need women for any future settlement, on the night of September 23, 1789, Christian invited a group of Tahitian women aboard the Bounty for a social event, then ordered the crew to cast off and set sail, trapping his guests aboard. After dropping off six elderly women on the nearby island of Moorea, Christian, along with eight mutineers, six Tahitian men, 12 women, and a baby, set off once more search of a remote, uninhabited island where they could escape the long arm of the Royal Navy.

Christian found an ideal candidate in the log of one Captain Philip Carteret, commander of the Royal Navy Sloop HMS Swallow. On July 3, 1767, Carteret sighted a small, uninhabited volcanic island some 1,600 nautical miles southeast of Tahiti, which he named Pitcairn’s Island after the first member of his crew to spot it. Pitcairn was perfect for Christian’s purposes: not only did the violent surf make the island dangerous to approach and land on, but Carteret had miscalculated its position by 188 nautical miles, making the island difficult for pursuing Royal Navy ships to locate. On January 15, 1790, the Bounty dropped anchor at Pitcairn, and after waiting three days for the weather to settle, Christian and six other men rowed ashore. The island proved warm and the soil fertile, exceeding Christian’s wildest hopes. The Bounty was anchored in a sheltered cove, and over the next few days all the livestock and provisions aboard were brought ashore using wooden rafts. Then, fearing that the Bounty would be spotted by passing Royal Navy vessels, on January 23 the mutineers set fire to the ship, sinking her in what is now known as Bounty Bay.

Now completely isolated, the colonists set about organizing their new lives on Pitcairn Island. They built leaf shelters and later wooden houses on a site now known as Adamstown, and planted breadfruit and sweet potatoes from seeds brought over from Tahiti. By 1793, several children had been born on the island, including Fletcher Christian’s son, Thursday October Christian. For a while the mutineers and Tahitians lived in relative harmony, but this idyllic existence was not to last. While the mutineers had divided up the land among themselves, they had left none for the Tahitians, sowing deep resentments between the two groups. Furthermore, the Tahitian women, outnumbered by the men, were treated as little more than sexual slaves, being passed around freely from husband to husband. When in the first year of the settlement the wives of mutineers John Williams and John Adams died, two women, Toofaiti and Tinafanaea, were taken from the Tahitian men to replace them. The women’s original husbands, Titahiti, Tararo, and Oha, conspired to kill the mutineers in retaliation, but the mutineers were tipped off by the women, resulting in Tararo and Oha being executed in December 1790. Eventually Fletcher Christian attempted to enslave the Tahitians, who retaliated in September 1793 by murdering five of the mutineers – including Christian. The remaining mutineers struck back, and by 1794 all the Tahitian men were dead, leaving only four mutineers – John Adams, Edward Young, William McCoy, and Matthew Quintal – ten Tahitian women, and their children on the island.

An uneasy peace held for a time, occasionally interrupted by protests from the women at their mistreatment by the men. On one occasion the women attempted to leave the island on a makeshift boat, but were unable to properly launch it. Then, William McCoy, who had previously worked in a distillery, discovered how to brew a potent and hallucinogenic spirit from the roots of the ti plant, leading to an outbreak of paranoia and violence among the mutineers. McCoy, driven mad by the drink, bound his own hands and feet and leaped off a cliff into the sea, while in 1799, a drunken and Matthew Quintal threatened Young and Adams and was killed in self defence. Finally, on December 25, 1800, Edward Young died of asthma, leaving John Adams as the last surviving Bounty mutineer on Pitcairn Island. For a time, Adams spent his days drunk on ti spirits, until, following one particularly violent hallucination, he underwent a sudden religious conversion. Assuming leadership of the colony, Adams used the Bounty’s Bible to try and build a more moral, harmonious society. He was greatly aided in this task by the Polynesian women, who used their traditional knowledge to grow crops, fish, raise livestock, cook meals, and craft boats, clothes and other essential items for the colonists.

When in September 1814 Pitcairn was rediscovered a second time by the Royal Navy ships HMS Briton and HMS Tagus, the ships’ captains took pity on Adams and convinced the Admiralty to pardon him for his role in the mutiny. News of the mutineers’ fate and the settlement on Pitcairn attracted considerable attention across the Empire, and British missionary societies began sending bibles, prayer books, and more practical items like clothes, cookware, and guns to the island. Whaling ships also began frequenting the island to trade and reprovision, greatly improving the islanders’ quality of life. In December 1823, the islander’s gene pool finally received new blood when John Buffet and John Evans, shipwrights from Bristol, arrived aboard the British Whaler Cyrus. The two quickly integrated into Pitcairn society and taught the inhabitants woodworking skills which would soon form the basis of the island’s economy.

John Adams died on March 5, 1829, followed by his wife Teio nine days later. By this time the population of Pitcairn had grown to 66 and was fast outstripping the island’s ability to sustain them. Before his death, Adams had petitioned the British government to allow his people to emigrate elsewhere, and on February 28, 1831 his request was granted and two ships arrived to transport the Pitcairners to Tahiti. While the islanders were warmly welcomed by the Tahitians and given land on which to settle, they soon began succumbing to disease and homesickness. The insular and highly-religious society on Pitcairn had made the islanders too puritanical and repressed for the sexually-liberal climate of Tahiti, and on September 3 they all chose to return home. The islanders would be evacuated again in 1856 – this time to the recently-abandoned penal colony of Norfolk Island – but once again a large contingent chose to return to Pitcairn shortly thereafter.

Following their return in 1831, the Pitcairners settled into a quiet life of subsistence, growing food and making handicrafts to trade with passing ships. Effectively leaderless following the death of John Adams, in October 1832 the community was taken over by an American adventurer named Joshua Hill, who claimed to have been sent by the British government. Hill imposed a tyrannical and puritanical regime, brutally punishing the islanders for the most minor moral infractions. This reign of terror lasted six years until, in 1838, Hill was exposed as a fraud and expelled from the island. Recognizing the need for protection from such despots, that same year the Pitcairn Islanders drew up a formal constitution establishing a democratic government consisting of a magistrate and council of two members to be elected annually. Remarkably, this constitution also enshrined universal women’s suffrage and compulsory education for children – the first in the British Empire to do so. While Pitcairn would not be formally declared a British Settlement until 1887, the Islanders celebrate November 30, 1838 as the day they were officially incorporated into the Empire.

The next century and a half were marked by alternating periods of quiet isolation, desperate privation, and occasional strife as the Pitcairners struggled to preserve their unique society and adapt to an ever- changing world. While the end of whaling in the Pacific led to a sharp decrease in ship traffic to the island, the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought a steady stream of ocean liners sailing to New Zealand – and with it an increased demand among passengers for the Pitcairn Islanders’ famous wood carvings and other handicrafts. But Pitcairn’s unique history and extreme isolation have taken a severe toll on its residents, and starting in the 1950s reports began emerging of a rampant culture of sexual abuse on the island. In the later 1990s, Gail Cox, a police officer on temporary assignment on the island, began uncovering dozens of allegations of rape and sexual abuse from girls as young as 12. When confronted with these allegations, many of the islanders were dismissive, arguing that the age of consent had always been 12 and that this had never caused any problems. But according to Australian Seventh-Day Adventist Neville Tosen, who spent two years on Pitcairn:

“I think the girls were conditioned to accept that it was a man’s world and once they turned 12, they were eligible…They can’t settle or form solid relationships. They did suffer, no doubt about it.”

In 1999, police officers from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom launched Operation Unique, charging thirteen men – a third of the island’s male population – with 21 counts of rape, 41 counts of indecent assault, and 2 counts of gross indecency with a child under 14. The trials began in 2004, and on October 25 six men were convicted – including Steve Christian, the island’s mayor and a descendant of head mutineer Fletcher Christian. The British Government set up a prison on the island, where the six men served their sentences from 2006 to 2010. Yet in spite of the demons haunting their island, the 50 or so Pitcairners still carry on much as they have for the past 200 years – their tiny society in the middle of the vast Pacific a unique and unexpected legacy of the most infamous crime in naval history.

At this point you may be wondering: what happened to the other central figure in the Bounty saga, the often-vilified Lieutenant William Bligh? Despite being fêted as a hero on his return to England and cleared of all responsibility for the mutiny by the Admiralty court, by the time of the mutineers’ trial in 1792 public opinion had turned against Bligh, and the rest of his career – respectable as it was – would be marked by further trouble and mutiny. Bligh was not present for the mutineers’ trial, having been given command of HMS Providence on a mission identical to the Bounty’s.This time Bligh succeeded in delivering breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies, though in an ironic twist, the slaves on the British plantations turned out to hate the taste of breadfruit and refused to eat it – rendering the whole enterprise moot. In 1797, Bligh was given command of HMS Director, in which he surveyed and mapped large sections of the British coast. That same year Bligh once again found himself facing a mutiny, though this time it was part of a larger uprising across the Royal Navy and not specifically triggered by any of Bligh’s actions. As the Napoleonic Wars swept across Europe, Bligh was called into action and served with distinction at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 and the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

Through the Bounty saga and his wartime service, Bligh acquired a reputation – deserved or not – as a strict disciplinarian, resulting in his appointment in 1805 as Governor of the Australian penal colony of New South Wales. Almost immediately, Bligh’s abrasive personality and confrontational leadership style brought him into conflict with the colonists, especially the New South Wales Corps. The Corps, a regiment of soldiers tasked with maintaining law and order, effectively ran the colony like a mafia, engaging in an illegal rum trade and other criminal activities. In response to Bligh’s fervent attempts to curb their power, on January 26, 1808, the Corps rose up in what became known as the Rum Rebellion – Australia’s first, and thus far only, coup d’état. Troops marched on Government house in Sydney to arrest Bligh, who, as popular accounts of the time claimed, they found hiding under his bed like a coward. Whether this actually happened is disputed, but a watercolour painting widely circulated at the time helped to cement the legend in the popular consciousness.

The deposed Bligh returned to England and doing what he did best: navigating and surveying, helping to chart a large portion of Dublin Bay in Ireland. In 1814 he was promoted to the senior rank of Vice Admiral of the Blue, though thereafter he was never again given an important naval command. Bligh died of cancer on December 7, 1817 at the age of 63. Despite his long years of loyal service, such was Bligh’s infamy by this point that his passing warranted only a brief mention in the local newspapers. And so William Bligh passed into memory as one of history’s great villains, a reputation greatly popularized by Charles Nordhoff and Hames Norman Hall’s 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty and its many stage and screen adaptations. But as we have seen, the real William Bligh was a far more complex figure than history gives him credit for, more a victim of bad luck and his own quick temper than the cruel and cartoonish villain he is often depicted as. It just goes to show that, as always, fact is more nuanced – and fascinating – than fiction.

And in case you are wondering which of the many film adaptations of the Bounty saga is the most historically accurate, well that would be 1984’s The Bounty starring Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson.

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Expand for References

Herman, Arthur, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, Harper Perennial, 2004 


Erskine, Nigel, Reclaiming the Bounty, Archaeology, May/June 1999, https://archive.archaeology.org/9905/etc/bounty.html


History of Pitcairn Island, Pitcairn Islands Study Center, Pacific Union College, https://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/pitcairn/history.shtml


The Voyage of Bounty’s Launch, Pitcairn Islands Study Center, Pacific Union College, https://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/bounty/launch.shtml


Bounty Hero Had Mental Disorder, New Zealand Herald, June 29, 2000, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/bounty-hero-had-mental-disorder/XLAEVETBUK2QLIAU5XB4ACEXHI/

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