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 under 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
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.
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