Captain Bligh and Others Arrive Safely After 4,000 Mile Trek (14 June 1789)

Bligh and other officers and crew put adrift by HMS Bounty mutineers on 29 April 1789.
Painting: Robert Dodd (1748-1815)
Public Domain (National Maritime Museum, London, UK)

On 14 June 1789 Lieutenant William Bligh of British Royal Navy who formerly commanded HMS Bounty and eighteen others arrived at Timor in the East Indies after nearly a 4,000-mile trek in a small boat. Bligh and the others were put on the boat back on 28 April after Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian and others led a mutiny on the Bounty. The ship was tasked with transporting Tahitian breadfruit saplings to the British Caribbean colonies. The Bounty arrived for a five-month layover in 1789. During that time many of the crew lived ashore and formed relationships with the locals. This caused a serious issue for discipline and Bligh began handing out harsh discipline and criticism of the crew.

When Bligh and his other supporters were put into the boat, they had 25 gallons of water, 150 pounds of bread, 30 pounds of pork, six quarts of rum, and six bottles of wine. They were not expected to survive but through Bligh’s exceptional navigation skills and careful rationing of the supplies, they made and survived the ordeal. For the mutineers, life was not as it was hoped. Some of the crew decided to stay in Tahiti despite the possibility of British capture. Christian and six others including some Tahitian men and women ultimately settled on Pitcairn Island about 1,000 miles east of Tahiti.


After returning to England, the HMS Pandora was dispatched to Tahiti in April 1790. 14 of the mutineers were captured but failed to find Christian or his party, On the return voyage Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef resulting in 31 crew dead and 3 of the mutineers as well. After a court martial in 1792, four were acquitted, three pardoned, and two were hung. The fate of Fletcher Christian was not determined until 1808. An American ship drawn by a fire visited Pitcairn. Only one mutineer, John Adams, was still alive. The Bounty had been scuttled and all of the other mutineers (including Christian) had been killed either by each other or by the Tahitians. He was not arrested and today many of the descendants still live on Pitcairn, which is a British Overseas Territory

Rear Admiral William Bligh by Alexander Huey, 1814
National Library of Australia
Public Domain (US via Wikimedia Commons)

HMS Bounty was not a ship of the line, but a small commercial vessel purchased by the Royal Navy for the botanical mission. As such command of a vessel of this kind would fall to a senior lieutenant. Bligh was selected because he had served under James Cook in his third and final voyage (1776–1780). After that voyage, like many officers of that time, he was put on half-pay as the American war was over. He commanded a commercial vessel before being given command of HMS Bounty. After the court martial in 1792, the general opinion of Bligh was negative both in the Royal Navy and by the public. And the fact that those who survived confirmed some of the cruel and possibly paranoid actions also fed into a negative opinion of him. He would be put on half-pay and wait a long time for his next appointment in 1797 where he commanded HMS Director at the Battle of Camperdown (October 1797). He would next command the HMS Glatton in Battle of Copenhagen (March 1801) and be praised by Lord Nelson for his actions. While in command of the HMS Warrior he was court-martialed for use of bad language to his officers and officially reprimanded in 1805. In 1806 he was sent as Governor to New South Wales in Australia

His style of leadership was a firm disciplinarian which made him ill-suited to the position where you had to deal with wealthy and important landowners on one hand, and powerful officials on the other. He managed to anger both with his confrontational style. He did face a serious problem in that some of these wealthy landowners and crown officials were engaged in private trading. His attempt to shut them down was met with the Rum Rebellion in 1808. On 26 Jan 1808, Major George Johnson of the Royal Marines led 400 soldiers of the New South Wales Corp to Government House in Sydney and arrested Bligh. Bligh was placed on HMS Porpoise where he would remain until January 1810. Bligh tried and failed to get the British authorities in Hobart to support him in retaking New South Wales. Bligh would be allowed to leave in 1810 and eventually returned to England for Major Johnson’s court martial. The trial court sentenced him to be dismissed from the Royal Marines, a very mild sentence considering what he had done. He would return to Australia without his officer’s commission but his wealth from the private trade deals were more than sufficient for him to live a comfortable life.

As the Royal Navy promoted on seniority and patronage rather than by merit, Bligh would be promoted to rear admiral in 1810 and in 1814 admiral of the blue. He would never hold command again even during the height of the Napoleonic War when commands were available. He would design the North Bull Wall on the River Liffey in Dublin. He also mapped Dublin Bay. Bligh died on 7 Dec 1817 at the age of 63. He was buried at the family plot in St. Mary’s, Lambeth though now the church is now the Garden Museum. His tomb is topped with a breadfruit.

Sources and Further Reading

“Mutiny on the HMS Bounty.” HISTORY, 26 Apr. 2024,

Tomes, Luke. “Bligh, Breadfruit and Betrayal: The True Story Behind the Mutiny on the Bounty.” History Hit,

“Mutiny on the Bounty.” Royal Museums Greenwich,


Alexander, Caroline. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Penguin, 2004.

Nordhoff, Charles, and James Norman Hall. Mutiny on the Bounty. Back Bay Books, 1989.

FitzSimons, Peter. Mutiny on the Bounty: A Saga of Sex, Sedition, Mayhem and Mutiny, and Survival Against Extraordinary Odds. 2020.

The Mutiny on the Bounty: Texts From Captain Bligh, Sir John Barrow, and Amelia Rosalind Young. Bybliotech, 2017.


Mutiny on the Bounty. Directed by Frank Lloyd, MGM, 1935. This excellent movie stars Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. The movie comes from a time when epic swashbuckling action movies filled the screen. The acting is top rate, and the action will not leave you disappointed. Perhaps not historical as some would like, but a great movie to watch.

Mutiny on the Bounty. Directed by Lewis Milestone, Arcola Pictures, 1962. This 1962 movie in stunning color features Marlon Brando as Christian and Trevor Howard as Bligh. They filmed some scenes in French Polynesia giving the mostly fictional account a good telling. The film gets mostly positive reviews though some think Brando’s performance was not as good as it could have been. There were a lot of problems in filming, the change of directors, Marlon Brando causing some issues and so forth. Still worth taking a look at considering the lush scenes the movie has, along with some good acting as well. It certainly shows the changed times from 1935 when some things were not mentioned or referenced.

The Bounty.  Directed by Roger Donaldson, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 1984. This updated telling of the famous mutiny is told via flashbacks as Bligh is giving testimony in his court martial. Anthony Hopkins plays Bligh while Mel Gibson is Christian. Previous movies have shown Bligh as an outright tyrant, which was not entirely the case. However he did seem to get more strict as time went on during the voyage and in Tahiti. So this movie tries to show both sides and seems to do it well for the most part. While it gets positive reviews, some think Gibson was too bland. However it is more realistic in showing what it was like to be on a ship back then. And how Tahiti would seem like a paradise when the women walked around topless, which was something no European was used to at all.

Titanic News Channel  is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to