28 April 1789, 225 years ago, the Bounty mutineers, led by the vessel’s master’s mate Fletcher Christian, set their captain, Lt William Bligh, and 18 loyal members of the crew adrift in a 23’ launch in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
“Awake, bold Bligh! the foe is at the gate! / Awake! awake!- Alas! it is too late! / Fiercely beside thy cot the mutineer / Stands, and proclaims the reign of rage and fear. / Thy limbs are bound, the bayonet at thy breast; / The hands, which trembled at thy voice, arrest; / Dragged o'er the deck, no more at thy command / The obedient helm shall veer, the sail expand; / That savage Spirit, which would lull by wrath / Its desperate escape from Duty's path, / Glares round thee, in the scarce believing eyes / Of those who fear the Chief they sacrifice: / For ne'er can Man his conscience all assuage, / Unless he drain the wine of Passion- Rage.” (Lord Byron “The Island”)
|Robert Dodd’s (1748–1816) engraving “The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and part of the officers and crew adrift from HMAV Bounty, 29 April 1789“, 1790.|
If you do it, do it properly. Mutinies were exceedingly rare, despite often very harsh conditions, especially on board of warships. In 1797 though, two complete squadrons of the Royal Navy went on strike, even proclaimed a “floating republic” and one of the ships involved in the mutinies, first at Spithead, then in the Nore was HM ship-of-the-line “Dictator”, commanded by “that Bounty Bastard”, Captain William “Breadfruit” Bligh. And despite his obviously immense skills at sailing and fighting a warship – half a year after the Nore Mutiny, Bligh engaged three enemy ships-of-the-line during the Battle of Camperdown and his “Director” captured the Dutch flagship “Vrijheid” while Nelson praised him for his ability and courage as commander of HMS “Glatton” during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 – mutiny seems to have been an integral part of Bligh’s life. He faced the next one during his time as Governor during the Rum Rebellion in New South Wales.
“The arrest of Governor Bligh” during the Rum Rebellion, contemporary Australian watercolour
Bligh had a bit of an acidic tongue and his former friend, master’s mate and later acting XO of His Majesty’s Armed Vessel “Bounty” was the first to suffer, but “Breadfruit Bligh’s” image of being a Tartar of a captain is often confused with the rather psychopathic commanders of HMS “Pandora”, the frigate that was sent to Tahiti to round up the mutineers and HMS “Hermione”, the only other single ship that mutinied in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail. Bligh was actually a far more lenient disciplinarian than many other captains, but keeping up a resemblance of military discipline against the temptations of a South Sea paradise was simply beyond his doing. He was no James Cook after all is said and done. His open boat voyage from Tahiti to Timor after the revolt on “Bounty” over 3,618 nautical miles with the loss of only one of his 18 loyal crewmen during the 47-day voyage stands out as a singular feat throughout the seafaring world though.
Robert Cleveley (1747-1809): "The attempt by Capt. Bligh of the Bounty who with 18 sailors had been set adrift in an open boat on April 28th, 1789, to land on Tofoa".
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