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Mutiny on the Bounty Leaves Remains of Perilous Voyage

by | Jun 1, 2012 | 44 comments

HMS Bounty

HMS Bounty

Countless books and films have featured Mutiny on the Bounty, the provocative 18th century saga of a harsh captain and his rebellious crew aboard an English ship. Based on a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Hall, the story follows the real-life mutiny led by Lt. Fletcher Christian against Capt. William Bligh on the HMS Bounty.

After setting Bligh and some of the men who remained loyal to him adrift in a 23-foot “longboat,” Christian and his followers returned to Tahiti where they had stopped to load breadfruit saplings. Their orders—signed by an admiral of the English Royal Navy—were to deliver the breadfruit to the British colony of Jamaica where it would be grown as a cheap source of food for the slaves.

After sailing for 10 months across 27,000 miles of open sea, Tahiti was indeed a pleasurable paradise. When it was time to shove off, the men reluctantly left their lush environs and free love with the Tahitian women. The Bounty departed Tahiti with a cargo of 1,000 saplings, but three weeks later near the island of Tonga, the mutiny transpired.

Conflict between the men stemmed from class differences between the aristocratic Christian and his ambitious ship’s master. Bligh wanted to impress his naval superiors and gain career advancement, while Christian was concerned about the well-being of the men who were subject to “inhumane treatment.” The crew had never dealt with such an ill-tempered, cynical leader with a cock-of-the-walk demeanor. These were hardy sailors, used to being at sea for months and sometimes a year or more. But the overbearing Bligh, in an effort to reach Tahiti sooner by trying to skirt the islands off Cape Horn, South America, lost time instead. In an effort to make it up, Bligh worked the crew harder and cut their rations.

Led by Christian, the mutiny succeeded with the departure of Bligh and his loyalists. After returning to Tahiti, Christian and eight of his men took some Tahitian women and set sail in search of a hideout from the British Navy. The fugitives scoured the Pacific, sailing through 8,000 miles of perilous seas before settling on Pitcairn Island. They set fire to the ship and sank it close to shore in what is now Bounty Bay.

It’s been more than 10 years since the United Kingdom gave permission for tourism development on Pitcairn Island. This includes arrangements made through local officials to dive the remains of the HMS Bounty. There’s not a lot to see, but divers who have visited the site describe it as “an epic adventure.” There are some coral-encrusted timbers, ballast stones, an anchor and a cannon scattered in shallow water. As one diver put it: “Diving the Bounty is like putting the final piece together in a puzzle that chronicles one of the most exciting seafaring tales of all time.”

Pitcairn Island, located in the South Pacific halfway between New Zealand and Peru, has been called “one of the most isolated places on earth.” It’s 3,000 miles from any continent and too small for an airport. Yachts and cruise ships stop there, but only for a short time due to the lack of a safe anchorage. Ocean Voyages, Inc., Sausalito, California, is one of several travel agencies that arrange charters from French Polynesia to Pitcairn Island.


  1. Prof. Boyd,

    With respect, clearly you are NOT a maritime historian. Your article is a classic case of something written by someone who somewhere along the road from a bookshop or library has read a few novels, and has rehashed this fiction and presented it as if it was a true story.
    I’m not blaming you for being a victim, for that’s what you are. Millions have been duped by those copy-cat novelists and what I call the Hollywood brainwashed brigade whose unashamed prejudices have completely distorted British maritime history into a legend of their own making. And you’re doing them a favor by slavishly perpetuating the myths and misconceptions they have manufactured for commercial reasons.

    May I take this opportunity to turn the coin over to the other face of a true story that’s taken me over forty years to research? And may I re-introduce my great-great-great-grandfather as one-and-the same man who, at the age of 32, once commanded (among fifteen ships in a long and distinguished career) the one-and-only His Majesty’s Armed Vessel (not ‘HMS’) Bounty.

    He was Vice-Admiral WILLIAM BLIGH, RN (Royal Navy) FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society). I’m sure you’ll agree that FRS means he was an acknowledged scientist and a celebrated, brilliant navigator/surveyor/cartographer or map-maker. And this was only one of his talents among many that earned him the respect and admiration of his friend Lord Horatio Nelson whose bacon Bligh saved in one of the bloodiest battles (Battle of Copenhagen) that Britain ever fought during the 18th and 19th centuries.

    So, what actually happened in the South Seas to or aboard HMAV Bounty? It’s all accounted for in manuscript material, logs, journals, letters, the vast majority held in national archives in Britain and Australia.

    In nutshell, on the 28th of April, 1789, at around 5-30 in the morning, most of the crew were sound asleep as usual. The on-duty crewmen as members of the Third Watch (from 4-8 am) had control of the ship, as usual, during the months of the outward-bound and homeward-bound voyage to and from Tahiti. Notably they also had the keys to the Arms chest. And when the ship had already passed the point of no return en route to the Straits of Torres, across virtually uncharted seas, this small gang of trusted men turned into armed pirates or ‘piratical villains’ (there’s a host of historic references to this) and they very simply and bloodlessly seized the Bounty.
    They were not heroic ‘mutineers’ or by dictionary definition the equivalent of civilian strikers, but opportunistic thieves intent on cutting themselves out a new life in the South Seas, with an armed ship worth several millions of dollars, stocked with the latest navigational equipment and basic supplies, plus booze, and drugs (laudanum or raw opium) to boot.

    As one piratical able seaman John Adams said many years later on Pitcairn Island, ‘We had no real grievance against Captain Bligh. We just wanted to return to our loved ones on Otaheite.’ Oh well, that’s alright then, is it? In other words: ‘Look, judge, the only reason we robbed the bank was because we wanted to live the lives of millionaire playboys and go cruising around the South Seas for plenty of women and sex in ‘paradise’. The price paid for these luxuries, however, was by the majority of the ship crew members, some of whom who were held as prisoners aboard the Bounty; and not forgetting almost half of the ship’s crew and 19 men who were dumped overboard and cast adrift in an open boat just 23 foot-long. This was left near sinking at a spot over 4000 miles away from the nearest known outpost of civilization. Consequently, some shipmates paid with their lives.

    Then, Professor, there’s something you never mentioned about the pirates who firstly visited the island of Tubaii. There they tried to set up a base, and slaughtered over 60 Polynesian men, women and children. Then they returned to Tahiti to kidnap, rape, before setting sail and leaving more bloodshed in their wake, and more bloodshed after arriving on Pitcairn Island. Of course, you’re not alone in you omission because Hollywood and their novelist support group forgot to mention this little detail too. Your readers might ask why, one of these days?

    By the way, there’s no need go scuba-diving in the shallows of ‘Bounty Bay’ off Pitcairn Island. Many have already discovered that there’s nothing there to see — despite the romantic legend that ‘the wreck of HMS Bounty can seen beneath the waves’. For in the opinion of marine archaeologist I’ve encountered en route to Pitcairn; whatever remains of an unaccounted and estimated 80% of HMAV Bounty is most likely down the depths of a mile and more of water, possibly two miles away from that rocky outcrop.

    It’s ironic that Pitcairn Island floats on a legend the descendants of the Bounty pirates had never heard of before the outside world arrived to rewrite their own ‘history’ into the fable they’ve become.

    Marks out of ten, Prof? You must try harder!

    Maurice Bligh
    Kent, UK

  2. Maurice: This is absolutely astounding, hearng from an actual Bligh descendant. Thank you for writing. You must have the real scoop then, all the things that the history books left out and as you say, dstorted. You must have visited the archives in Britian and Australia. Tell us more please. What else is in these archives? Are there actual logs similar to the ones Capt. Fizmer and I found while searching for pirate ships in Washingtn’s National Archives? (See my NUMA article about Searching for Pirate Ships in the National Acrchives. Are these archives in Britian and Australia, (including records of the Bounty) open for everyone to see? Or do you need a special pass or permit? Please tell us more about the details you have discovered in your research. I find this quite fascinating. I’m always interested, and so are many NUMA viewers, in the inside story of historical epics such as this. Tell us more. Thanks again. Best regards, Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster

  3. Professor Boyd,

    I really wanted to educate you to the real Vice-Admiral William Bligh (Captain of the HMAV Bounty) but I see Mr. Bligh has mentioned what needed to be stated.

    I will not say anything more along those lines other than to say that ‘then’ Captain Bligh’s main concern was the health of his crew. Fletcher Christian certainly was far from that. My great great great uncle, Dr. Thomas Denman Ledward estoled his Captain in a letter home (June 6, 1788) from the Cape of Good Hope regarding how much the Captain’s concerns would be credited regarding the health of his crew by his resolution and perseverance. With a ship of only 46 men, and a two year voyage at stake, he could not afford to loose any men if he was to succeed in completing his mission. The crews health would be paramount to successfully bring the Bounty back to Jamaica and England.

    As a former NAUI asst.diving instructor, there is nothing to see at Pitcairn Island in ways of the remnants of the HMAV Bounty in Bounty Bay except ‘ballast stones.” and no, I’ve not dived on the Bounty. Rather, I’ve viewed many photographs that have been taken of what there is to see.

    I’ve done my share of wreck diving here in Southern California and to view ballast stones is nothing to get excited about. Most of what there had been to see of the Bounty was back in the 1950’s when Luis Marsden (see National Geographic Magazine ‘I found the bones of the Bounty’ 1956) recovered the Bounty’s anchor. Since a short time after that, a few of her cannons had been found. Her rudder was found by Parkin Christian back in the 1930’s, which what is left of it is in the Fiji Museum. And as Mr. Bligh mentioned, most of the ship had slid off into deeper waters at Pitcairn which explains “why” neither of the Bounty’s two stoves have ever been found or recovered as they were on the HMS Pandora in Australia.
    Anchors from the Bounty are all over the world. One of which is on Pitcairn Island, the one discovered by Luis Marsden.

    A few of the Bounty’s cannon are in the Pitcairn Island Museum. Other artifacts from the Bounty are still under preservation treatments at the Queensland Museum in Townsville, Australia along with those of the HMS Pandora today.

    There is the National Archives in Kew, England which have the Bounty’s Log book (formerly known as the Public Records Office)

    And, yes, anyone can ‘walk in’ and research all of the Admiralty records there which include the Log of the Bounty as well as theState Library (Mitchell Library) in Australia. Both of these places hold the ‘official documents’ pertaining the the HMAV Bounty and Admiral Bligh.

    No permits are required. But you must ‘register’ at Kew to research and view these documents. Photographs are permitted “by permit” of any of the ‘original documents’ at Kew.

    You can also check out:

    if one is not so inclined to go and visit the National Archives in Kew or the State Library in Australia where the related documents are to be found.

    David Townsend
    Mission Viejo, California, USA

  4. Ellsworth,

    Thanks for your response. You can’t imagine what flak I’ve had to endure over the decades from some folks who cannot conceive that things they’ve been told about what happened on the ‘Bounty’ was as wrong as the Flat Earth legend of previous centuries. Indeed, I’ve often thought that I was born too soon in the 20th century (1943) to benefit from the technologies that have been developed to date, for example our PC’s that the young ‘un’s imagine must have been around forever. And now, at a click, we can tap into a mass of digital scan archived manuscript material on the Bligh/Bounty subject from where the original documents are held, primarily in the New South Wales State Library, Sydney, Australia, and in the UK National Archives, Kew, Surry, England. These doorways to the truths of history are open for anyone to see, and it’s all ‘for free’ if you go there, or if you visit via the internet sometimes for a small fee.

    However, in my youth, I had to travel to Australia and study first-hand the contents of the NSW library during a year-and-half voyage of discovery made ‘In the wake of the Bounty’. My journey to and from the South Seas turned out to be a seafaring adventure of some 36,000 nautical miles and a west-to-east circumnavigation voyage from London to London; the port where HMAV Bounty began her fateful journey. She was originally a two-year old merchant ship named ‘Berthia’ that once sat in St. Katherine’s Dock, London, on the River Thames and close to Tower Bridge that is sometimes erroneously called ‘London Bridge’.

    Returning to the ‘Bounty’ expedition, for that’s what it was in reality, I would just like to add that as far as the Royal Navy and the some politicians were concerned, the humanitarian aspects of transplanting the Breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies colonies came second to the objectives behind the surveying and charting of the terrible Straits of Torres. The British Admiralty wanted a commercial sea passage opened up between the East Indies islands and the NSW colony. Whereas others –like the Wilberforce anti-slavery movement— were fundamentally opposed the West Indies having the Breadfruit trees (and various valuable plants from the South Pacific islands) because they thought that this would perpetuate slavery. That’s why I’ve always suspected there was some undercover skulduggery afoot to sabotage the ‘Bounty’ expedition for political reasons, and never mind the intended poor people recipitants who went hungry in the West Indies meanwhile.

    Notwithstanding, it was my ancestor who completed successfully both the surveying and charting of the Torres Straits, and the transplanting of the Breadfruit and other ‘produce’, in his two-ship expedition (1791-1794) as the ‘Commodore’ of HMS ‘Providence’* with the ‘Assistant’ in company, and for which he received a coveted gold medal. But that re-run of the ‘Bounty’ expedition was ignored by the supporters of the ‘Bounty’ pirates* because it proved everything they didn’t want to know; namely that William Bligh was a praised commander who did everything in his power to make the lives of his crews as safe, healthy and happy as was possible in those times of unimaginable hardships for sailors at sea. But novelists and the movie-makers had to turn him into a ‘brutal flogging tyrant’, which the archives prove he never was, and blame him for all ills of his era because how else could they ‘justify’ the brutality of what their ‘heroes’ portrayed as ‘mutineers’/strikers did to their own shipmates and the Polynesians?

    [Footnote:* HMS ‘Providence’ on her next voyage under a different captain was lost in the Far East. It’s a sunken wreck that to my knowledge has never been explored. It lies intact (if it’s still in the same spot where it went down) in only 120 foot of water. It’s wasn’t a pirate ship full golden doubloons, but it did have aboard the same chronometers and instruments that admiral WB himself had used. But that’s another story to be dug out of the archives. Could make a good TV documentary though?]
    [Footnote: ** the real Fletcher Christian, whose family was bankrupt, had sailed under Bligh’s command among others on previous voyages before the ‘Bounty’, and like the entire ship’s crew had volunteered to sail aboard her.]

    Maurice Bligh.

  5. Ellsworth,

    An afterthought: – there’s something that might come in handy if or when you’re researching documents pertaining to British Royal Navy ships.

    Perhaps some readers here may have already wondered WHY the ‘Bounty’ (contrary to hundred of books that all refer to ‘HMS Bounty’) was prefixed HMAV, as I mentioned previously. Can all those books be wrong?
    In essence, yes, dead wrong because in the 18th century not all RN ships were entitled to carry the prefix of His Majesty’s Ship/HMS. This was only given to vessels that were commanded by ranked Captains, as opposed to the job of captain. There are those who refer to ‘Lieutenant William Bligh’ aboard the ‘Bounty’, and that was his naval rank. But when he was aboard ship as ‘Master and Lieutenant’, he held the authority of a modern-day Lt. Commander and was always addressed as ‘Captain Bligh’. The same applies today to all ship’s commanders who can be of any rank from Warrant Officer to Admiral.

    Proof of this can be found, for example, in the voyages of Captain James Cook when he took his first vessel ‘Endeavour’ to the South Seas. Like Bligh he was a ranked Lieutenant, so the ship he commanded was ‘His Majesty’s Bark’ not HMS Endeavour’. But when he returned to the South Seas on his second expedition, he had been promoted to the rank of Captain and therefore his next ship ‘Resolution’ was prefixed HMS.

    It can be very confusing to see ships with same given name and prefixed HMS on one voyage, and the next voyage –if listed under a different commander– prefixed ‘His Majesty’s Sloop’, ‘His Majesty’s Frigate’ etc. etc. It throws doubt on whether or not it’s a different ship entirely and because the same given name can apply to half-a-dozen ships over the centuries. Only the ship’s Muster Books and Logs will tell you who was in command and their ranks at any given time.

    Maurice Bligh

  6. Added footnote:

    I believe there may still exist in Bounty Bay, 8 of the Bounty’s 10 swivel guns. One of the swivel guns is in the Pitcairn Island Museum and the other is still undergoing preservation treatment at the Queensland Museum in Australia. Here’s why.

    All four of her 4lb’er’s have been recovered and accounted for along with 2 of her swivel guns.
    No underwater archeological survey had ever been conducted on what remnants of the Bounty had been found. Luis Marsden was a diver and not an underwater archeologist unfortunately. And like many divers of his day and ours, this is the fartherest thing from ones mind when ‘discovering’ underwater artifacts. This holds true with the Pitcairn Islanders, for they were able to recover a ‘sizeable portion’ of the Bounty’s copper sheathing of which they used to ‘pay’ for their transportation in relocating to Tahiti when they first left Pitcairn Island in the 1840’s (not sure of the date, but before they resettled on Norfolk Island in 1858).

    My theory is this:

    When the Bounty was driven up on the rocks near the shore at Pitcairn Island by Fletcher Christian and his band of pirates, they threw overboard all of the Bounty’s cannon to ‘lighten’ the ship so as to get her as close to shore as possible to unload all that remained of value to use in establishing their new settlement. Her cannon would have been ‘left astern’ of where she actually was floundered on the rocks near the shore ( I have watched video, both underwater and above of the Bounty’s resting spot as well as studying various underwater photos, both recent and from the 1950’s).

    20th Century:

    Her rudder was found with a portion of the sternpost back in the 1930’s by Parkin Christian (a local Pitcairn Islander at the time). This suggest that the Bounty with the remants of her burnt hull was pounded in a back and forth motion and over a short period of time, her rudder and sternpost had broken off the hull from the pounding of the surf and the strong currents that are experienced near the shore of the Island.

    I feel the Bounty broke up in three sections due to the pounding surf and currents.

    The stern section was the first section of the ship to break up and slip back out into the depths of the outer area as the depths increase dramatically off shore. With the stern section went one of the stoves the Bounty had in the Great Cabin which was to help keep the Breadfruit plants warm or in a sub tropical condition when sailing into northern waters and over to the Atlantic from Cape Hope.

    The ‘mid-section’ of the hull (20% of the total ship) which remained grounded pretty much stayed stationary throughout what remains today, with that portion of her ‘ballast stones’ scatter about.
    The bow of the ship which contained the main Brodie Stove used for cooking, broke off from the mid-section of the hull, driven back over the mid-section and it too then slid off into the depths, most likely not far off from the stern of the ship there in deep waters. If ‘anything’ of the 80% of the remains of the HMAV Bounty possibly exist, they will have to be discovered by professional organizations such as those who discovered and dived the Titanic in the Northern Atlantic.

    A shame we can only speculate on such things without actual proof.

    The seas all around Pitcairn Island are pretty rough most of the time. The ‘underwater surge’ where rest the ballast stones of what remains of the HMAV Bounty is very strong. Tough, but ‘divable’ conditions. Eight swivel guns still lay out there somewhere in Bounty Bay and have yet to be discovered and recovered.

    David Townsend

  7. Dear Prof. Boyd,
    Mr. Bligh,
    Mr. Townsend,

    I do think that someone should start getting this information out into the public eye so that we may all understand what truly happened on the Bounty all those years ago.

    I have never really known what to believe as far as the exact events go, and the two conflicting accounts do make it hard to lend credence to either story.

    I have to tell you Mr. Bligh that not everybody is going to even think twice about believing your story, even I was not ready to put any thought into what you have ritten at first glance but now it does make sense that the mutineers would tell such a story to discredit the persons they stole from.

    Sincerly, Ethan Allen

  8. Mr. Allen,

    Your thoughts are much appreciated from my perspective (and I also believe from that of Mr. Bligh’s) !
    I work very closely with Mr. Bligh in trying to educate the public in these matters such as when I ran across Prof. Boyd’s article here when he first published it. It can be and is a very difficult thing to do at times in educating the public. The ‘windows of opportunity’ only come from such initial postings as this one as they ‘appear’ on the Internet using a program provided by Google called “Google Alerts.” By this method we are able to respond to Internet Postings regarding the Bounty Saga when they first appear. Until such times or ‘ways’ that make it both feasible and accessible to the general public or the ‘world-at-large’, it’s virtually impossible to get to the “truth” of the Bounty Saga, when as Mr. Bligh correctly pointed out, Hollywood, Calif. distorts and twist the “truth” to sell films/movies. “Truth” does not attract movie goers nor do the “actual documents” that have been written, thus the Novelist like Nordoff and Hall write up their fictionalized versions of what occurred to make such books and films “salable” and profit making.

    The ‘Bounty Saga’ is not wildly known world-wide but there are many interest groups of this ‘important subject.’ Groups such as ship model builders who love building wooden models of the HMAV Bounty. There are Internet chat groups ( I run two of them) such as (closed group, but photos can be viewed by ‘anyone’ on the Internet and anyone is invited to join, no monies involved, just free knowledge) and

    There are several other Yahoo Groups that also cover this subject of interest to the International Community and many Blog’s as well.

    Once the ‘waters have been ‘muddied’ it’s not an easy thing to ‘clear them up’ so that mankind can actually see through to the depths of the truth to appreciate the beauty of history as it “was originally written.” Mr. Bligh and myself do our part in trying to help ‘clear up’ the muddied waters.

    Controversy exist on this famous subject and individual perspectives are tainted in their understandings of this subject. Most people “do not study” either the original documentation or the same documentation that has been ‘transcribed’ on as they mainly “just take the time” to read one book and base their opinions/judgements on that one account. There are hundreds of books that deal with the “Mutiny on The Bounty” and many of them are out of print. “If only” people would “research” and take the time to study the full spectrum that surrounds the Bounty Saga, their minds would be clear on the subject and confusion and distorted facts would be put to rest. Caroline Alexander has written a fairly new book titled ” The Bounty” which is pretty accurate and up-to-date in the presentation of the Bounty saga. Hollywood, Calif. could greatly contribute to this “if only” they wanted people to understand the “truth”. But they would not make any money in the process because the “truth” would be boring to people. I have been trying to get a few small television film companies interested here in Southern California for some time, but it’s been an ‘up-hill’ battle.

    My ancestor, Thomas Denman Ledward, surgeon of the HMAV Bounty was one of the few of Captain Bligh’s crew that remained both faithful to his Captain and his country throughout this ordeal. He too was forced into the Bounty’s 23′ launch to take his chances with Captain Bligh and the 17 other loyalist on that 4300 mile survival voyage to Timor, Indonesia. But, like most of the officers of the HMAV Bounty, he too had let his Captain down at that crucial moment when Fletcher Christian and his band of pirates seized the Bounty from His Majesty’s Navy and turned it into a pirate ship, raping, pillaging and murdering men women and children both at Tubuai and Tahiti and finally each other on Pitcairn Island.

    Due to politics at the then period of time that this occurred, it is difficult to interest other ‘Loyalist descendants’ that we know, such as those of the surname of Fryer (John Fryer, master of the Bounty), Purcell (William Purcell, carpenter of the Bounty), Peckover ( William Peckover, gunner of the Bounty) and many others as their ancestors had falling outs with Captain Bligh during the voyage of the Bounty’s 23′ launch to Timor and Batavia. And though I’m in contact with these descendants, they too hold their ancestors in high esteem but do little to help correct the myths and distortions of the “actual facts” in educating the World Community as to the “truths” of this important historical saga. Such is life and the way of the world at present.

    And because Hollywood has distorted the “truth” of the Bounty saga by making Fletcher Christian a hero and Captain Bligh a villain, people want to believe that Fletcher Christian was always the “good-guy”. Everyone loves a hero! No one loves a villain! When in “reality” Captain Bligh was the true hero and Fletcher Christian was the true villain!!

    As Mr. Bligh pointed out above, many here are the “victims” of knowing the “truth” as it really happened.

    In quoting the televised series of the X Files, “The Truth Is Out There.” May you discover it for yourself sir with all others here and world-wide. I humbly remain at your service.

    Sincerest Regards,

    David Townsend

  9. correction: As Mr. Bligh pointed out above, many here are the “victims” of ‘not’ knowing the “truth” as it really happened.

  10. Dear Mr Allen,

    Appreciate your comments, but it’s not just a case of needing to get information out into the public eye… it’s already in the public domain. Remember though the old saying – there are none as blind as those who don’t want to see?
    Generations have been weaned on images that bear no resemblance to what many history books, articles, scans of historic documents can prove are the irrefutable facts and some of which I’ve illustrated previously. These can easily blow all that fictionalized Hollywood stuff, and more, out of the water. Yet long vested biased political and commercial interests would rather the truths be buried beneath a mountain of myths and misconceptions turning victims into criminals and criminals into victims.

    Even Marlon Brando who played Fletcher Christian in the 1962 movie ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ knew that the rehashed story from the 1930’s novels by Nordhoff & Hall was rubbish. For in his auto-biography ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’ (page 270) he wrote about the movie’s first director, Carol Reed, “A talented Englishman whom I admired…”

    “When MGM replaced him with Lewis Milestone, we were told that Carol had had an argument with the studio and quit. Later, I learned that he’d been sacked because he wanted to make Captain Bligh a hero. In reality, Bligh was a hero, but Charles Laughton hadn’t played him that way. Since Laughton was the definitive Bligh, the studio didn’t want to revise history in the new version, which wasn’t a remake of the original but a kind of sequel that picked up where the other one left off.

    I had seen the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty and was impressed with the performance of Charles Laughton, but not with that of Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. He hadn’t even bothered to speak with an English accent; nor had Franchot Tone, the co-star. They made no concessions whatsoever to the fact that they were portraying British seamen and it seemed absurd. As always, Clark Gable played Clark Gable.

    If I had been Trevor Howard, I would never have accepted the responsibility of playing Bligh in the remake because there was only one Bligh right or wrong, historically correct or not. Laughton’s characterization renders anybody elses useless.

    Carol Reed wanted to be historically accurate and to depict the mutineers as pathetic as they were in life. But the studio didn’t want it that way, and I’ve never met a studio that had the integrity to stick to the truth if it was able to make more money by distorting it, and so Reed was dumped.”

  11. Thank you Mr. Townsend, Mr. Bligh,
    I will have to look at those forums you both talked about and do some more research regarding the story. I also read about someone finding the remains of a planting pot in the area of Hiva Oa that dates to the time of the mutiny. Is it possible that one of the Breadfruit plants drifted that far Northeast? Only time will tell.

    Sincerly, Ethan Allen

  12. Mr Allen,

    You may have gathered from previous comments that the subject of alleged ‘relics from the Bounty’ is one that occurs with monotonous regularity.

    I hadn’t heard of the ‘breadfruit pot’ being allegedly washed up on Hiva Oa, one of the Marquesas Islands. But if you think about it, the breadfruit saplings or small trees were growing in soil, soaked continuously with water, and in heavy earthenware pots (also some wooden tubs). They were dumped overboard by Christian’s pirates, and most likely they went straight down to the bottom of the sea, wouldn’t you say?

    Perhaps more significantly the ‘Bounty’s position at that time was off the Friendly Islands or Kingdom of Tonga, a long, long way eastwards from the Marquesas. Also the seasonal prevailing winds and sea-currents were headings in the opposite direction and along the route that the ‘Bounty’ was taking towards to the uncharted Straits of Torres.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t trust any 18th century looking pot or tub that someone said somebody else said came from the ‘Bounty’!

  13. Mr. Bligh,

    I do indeed agree about the pot and I have read about the ”suposed relics of the Bounty”. On a different note however, I am doing some research on the many ships that have gone down off the coast of Washington state ( I live in Tacoma) and one of them was the ”HMS Condor” which sank without a trace on December 3, 1901 while on passage from Esquimalt BC to Hawaii. The ship was top-heavy and leaky even though she had just had a refit and barley three years after she was launched. A few pieces were draged up in the 1940’s but nothing else. Do you happen to have any information on the ship?

    Sincerly, Ethan Allen

  14. Mr Allen.

    Alas, no info on that ill-fated ship. You’ll need to explore the National Archives at Kew and dig out whatever relevant stuff is there, I imagine, such as Board of inquest findings as to the ship’s loss, etc. Good hunting.

  15. Mr. Bligh,

    Thank you for the information. This is a website that I am not familiar with and I look forward to exploring it. I am doing a report on the shipwrecks of the DuPont WA area and I am also gathering information on the sinking of the SS Pacific off Cape Flattery for a potential expedition by NUMA. But the wreck of the Condor would make an even more interesting find.

    Sincerly, Ethan Allen

  16. For years I I”ve had this false impression that Captain Bligh was a ruthless man. I read a book though, which tried to prove that mutineers cannot be successful, it will only lead to destruction. The book was “The Adventurers” written by Harold Robins. I also read a book about Lord Horatio Nelson but I cant remember if Captain William Bligh was mentioned there. Sirs. your comments has greatly enlightened me. Thank you.

  17. Dear Mr M.Bligh,

    I became in touch with the Bounty story because of the film the Mutiny of the Bounty.
    the Marlon Brando version. I saw the Bounty exhibition at Greenwich. Then, I bought some facsimile-logs but The log of H.M.S. Bounty was -a pity for me- sold out.
    Because of internet I received last friday finely after so many years this facsimile
    ( Genesis ) edition. Again in the middle of this story I found this website.
    What is fascinating me is this:
    After so many years the story is still living en many questions left open.
    Mr. Bligh, sooner or later the truth shall /will come out.
    The world has become very narrow through internet.
    And if someone is really interested in the real story, they will find your story like I did.
    I am looking forward to receive further information about this.
    Hopefully this project shall/ will (sorry my English is not so good) wipe out the false
    blame which came upon your family shoulders.
    I am looking forward to the loyalist descendants for their contribution.
    A movie film is nice to see but to get knowledge from involved people is fantastic!
    Thank You Mr. Bligh.
    And of course, Thank You Mr. Townsend.

  18. To: Ethan, David, Kuye, Victor: Many thanks for your interest in The Bounty story. And a special thanks to to Mr. Bligh who has sent in so much more info, answerng more questions, and telling the story from a different point of view than Hollywood.
    May the story continue and more facts revealed. Best regards, Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster

  19. I would like to thank Prof. Boyd for his article which, after much searching on the Internet, gave me a clear and concise summary (in layman’s language) of the tale of the “Bounty”. I was not interested in hair-splitting details of whether the Bounty was “HMS” or “HMAV”, but of different viewpoints of what actually happened before during and after the Mutiny. I was pleased to read the opinion of Captian Bligh’s descendant who vigorously defended his ancestor and of Mr. Townsend who shed some light on his ancestor who was the Doctor on the ship. I know how facts are always shaded when history is transcribed to movies, and I am glad to hear more of the “history” of the Mutiny. However, I am reminded that we are hearing one side of the story in this case, although documents etc, are offered. I have found during my long life that “truth” usually lies somewhere in the middle and sometimes, as may be in this case, a little to the right or to the left. We may never know exactly what happened on that fateful voyage. But it is interesting in any case, to hear from all sides and to spur history buffs to continue in their search. In my case, I would not have been exposed to Mr. Bligh and Mr. Townsend’s interesting information had not Prof. Boyd written his article.

  20. Lois: Thank you so much for your comments. They are very insightful! “….somewhere in the middle or a little to the right or left” is a very good way to put it. You are right–it does encourage history buffs to continue to research the story. Thanks again! Best regards, Ellsworth

  21. Fascinating! Thank you for all this information on the history. If only we all had the time to explore all the facts that are now available. We hope that the saga will continue to be explored.

    Thankfully, we have Dr. Cussler to thank for helping us sort it out in his books. We love his history lessons and always come away knowing more.

    And thank you, Mr. Bligh and Mr. Boyd, and all those who commented.

    Bob Smiley

  22. Thanks for your comments Bob. Yes, it is indeed an on-going saga. It really makes one think and ceates a desire to look into the story for more facts and authenticity I hope a lot of the readers have done so. Best regards, Ellsworth (P.S.–Are you going to the Clive Cussler Collectors Society gathering in Scottsdale in October? If so, I will see you there!)

  23. My 2 cents worth!
    I think we have to remember that Hollywood has A LOT to answer for. Hollywood screen writers can be blamed for a lot of these cases. The movie U 571 for instance! People will always rememeber the “FACTS” of the stories if put to them in a film that they remember. After that they arent interested in looking into the storey because they already “know” what happened! Even thou its a screen writers storey of what really happened! Hell, look what happened with both of Clive Cusslers books that have made it to film, screen writers again!

  24. I agree. And Clive has some stories to tell that will confirm what you said. It seems to me that the writers always have to “Hollywood” it up when they draft their stories. Exaggerations often abound! And they don’t seem to have much of a conscience about it. So I think there is a warning here: Don’t believe everything you see and hear on the screen. If you’re truly interested in the storyline, do some of your own research on the subject. Thanks for your “two cents.” Good point made!

  25. In the ’62 movie, a keel-hauling was depicted, and a laying on of the cat-o-nine tail ten strokes to a sailor who had taken some cheese without authorization from the ship’s stores. How accurate was that depiction, and how often was keel-hauling utilized in the Royal Navy during that time period are my two questions.

  26. Thanks for writing. It is believed that the Greeks carried out keelhauling, but some of the first written accounts are about the Dutch Navy using in the 1500s. There is one reference of it beng used in the British Royal Navy in the early 1700s. The practice was not officially condoned in the British Royal Navy. That’s not to say it wasn’t used after that, but lashes with a whip (cat ‘0 nine tails) was the preferred means of punishment ordered by the ship’s captain and/or his officers. The French Navy abolished keelhauling in the mid-1800s. English writers (& writers from other countries) used keelhauling in their fictional plots, thus giving it further publicity. So did film productions throughout the years.

  27. Thank you Prof. Boyd (Emeritus),

    the cause for my question is to ascertain how callous Captain Bligh truly was if there is any truth in the depiction of the movie. That is my question now. I’ve begun studying the websites related to this blog, and reading the Bounty trilogy, but would like an answer now, a reference to logs etc., as it may take me weeks or months before I come to a resolution if I do the research. Do you know the answer?

  28. I seem to have answered adequately for myself my question: How callous was Captain Bligh?

    Don’t people have two sides? Doesn’t a German father both love and harshly discipline his children? Doesn’t a person have a mean streak in him at times, a cruel impulse we could call it?

    If a captain of a sailing vessel in the days of sheeted frigates wanted to get rid of a “bad” sailor all he had to do is put him ashore on a island where there were cannibals.

  29. I fully understand the urge of descendents of controversial historic figures to correct a simplified, cartoonish version of their relation. After much reading and research, my theory is that Lt. Bligh was one of history’s finest sailors, but may at times have had personality flaws … and combined with the other personalities of the Bounty, its unique circumstances and the civilian-military nature of the mission, things turned out poorly for all involved. My feeling is there are not pure heroes in this story, certainly not the black/white hat Hollywood variety. Human beings are complex characters. Bligh may have been, on occasion, a petty tyrant under strain. We will never know the truth. Historic records are useful, but they are one side of a story with endless sides. In the end, it’s one of humankind’s most fascinating tales.

  30. I agree with you. I think there was a lot more to this story than what was portrayed in all of the Hollywood movies. Also, a captain should be able to spot the ring leader and get rid of him. Hollywood always loves the theme of the “bad guys” versus the “good guys” and thus made the mutineers the heroes. When personalities clash, resolutions are made on both sides, some okay, others not so good. When the mutineers made their decision, it totally changed their lives and environment: Civilization versus a small island in the middle of the ocean! I wonder how many of them regretted it as the years passed? Thanks for writing. E.B.

  31. Dear Prof Boyd
    Some very interesting responses to what did not appear to be such an inflammatory article! Whilst I sympathize with Mr Bligh and Mr Townsends direct descendants I think it is is clear from the documents I have researched, yes both in Australia and Kew, having lived in Oz for 14 years and being a WW1 buff (researching at Kew) that Bligh was indeed a Master Navigator with some advanced ideas on crew well-being, three watches and exercise programmes. It must also be acknowledged that a great deal of evidence also exists from the testimony, journals and logs of both mutineers and loyalists that Mr Bligh had severe temper problems. One instance of this was when he accused all his officers and Christian directly of theft of coconuts from the on-deck store. To a Gentleman this was tantamount to a challenge to dual and I have no doubt had they been on land and not in the Navy one could easily have resulted . It must also be remembered that accusations of his temper dogged his whole career both prior to and post the mutiny and he has the unwanted accolade of being probably the most mutinied officer in the Navy having been involved in 3, if you include the Rum Mutiny, when he was the Governor General of NSW Australia .
    Reading Mr Blighs account of the mutiny is fascinating,as is his log,but as much for what according to the others, he chooses to leave out. Selective reading and quoting will distort the story, calling the mutineers pirates when even Bligh refers to them as mutineers is emotive and unhelpful. We can never really know the truth and we choose to believe what we choose to believe. I feel very content that through my own unbiased research I believe that Mr Bligh was a magnificent navigator, cartographer and learned fellow with a very bad and sometimes diabolical temper that got him into trouble on more than one occasion.
    Thank you for prompting this fascinating debate
    Yours sincerely
    Chris Cowley. Oxfordshire

  32. You made some excellent points. Yes, there’s always two sides to every story. Your point about Capt. Bligh being involved in three mutinies is provocative. He seems to have had a bad temper, but was a great navigator. It was a tough decision the mutineers made–they knew they were giving up everything back home. Continue your research. It is quite interesting. E.

  33. I have read many stories /yarns about the Bounty mutiny but my interest now is getting the line drawings and rig of the 23ft open boat that Bligh an his crew were cast a drift on …any info will help me I am sure Thank you God Bless the Queen/king 954 463 2474 Florida USA

  34. I have read many books and articles about the mutiny and the trip to Timor in the 23ft boat. Friends and I have talked about this subject for years .. does anyone consider that Christian and Bligh were in a homosexual relationship and fell out with each other ..when Christian had a affair with a female island lady?? you know what they say ..a women scorned……………….

  35. I have just read the article and all the replies with a great deal of interest and I agree that it is high time that the true character of my great-great-great-great-uncle William Bligh became more public knowlege. If he had indeed been the cause of the infamous mutiny the Admiralty would {probably} never have seen fit to promote him to Captain, and eventually to Rear-Admiral.

    Nick ten Kleij

  36. I have an old picture in an old frame of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY painted by
    It’s been in our family close to one hundred years. I was wondering if it has any

  37. I am a distant relation of one of the mutineers Matthew Thompson.I believe he was a nasty piece of work.I cannot find where he fits in on my family tree and wondered if anyone had any information on him.Regards Ann

  38. I am a descendant of Fletcher Christian. I have grown up hearing stories passed down over many years. My Great Grandmother is an immigrant from New Zealand. She arrived in the US as a very young girl with her parents. Her parents had items that Fletcher kept from his Bounty journey. These items have been passed down and are still in our family today.

  39. I have followed this ‘debate’ with interest. I honestly think that Capt Bligh was a hero, to be able to navigate to safety is in my honest opinion an absolutely wonderful achievement. I think Hollywood has a lot to answer to, stupidly distorting history for entertainment. Sadly they are still doing it today. My mind was completely changed whilst reading the history of Australia, Capt Bligh was at one time the governor of New South Wales and all mention of him shows him as an honourable and fair man. He is buried in London in Lambeth churchyard, which is now The Museum of Garden History

    Mr Bligh I would be very honoured to have had him as an ancestor.

  40. Regardless of who the hero or vilan I have always fou d this true true story very facinating. Vice Admiral William Bligh was quite the seaman as was my ancestor Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake of the 16th century.

  41. Yes, this has been and always will be a fascinating story. There is much more to it than the Hollywood version. Thanks for writing.

  42. I first read the story…Men against the Sea, and Pitcairn’s Island as a teenager living in England. That was a few years back now. I have recently read again the story of Pitcairn, how the Mutineers arrived and made a home, or at least tried to…..Towards the end of the narrative it is stated.. Adams refused to show visitors where Fletcher Christian was buried, “guilt probably, there is evidence that Adams and Young plotted against him”. “Also it is hard to dismiss Maimiti’s testimony as to how F C died”. Does anyone know how or where to look for Maimiti’s testimony? The evidence concerning Adams and Youngs skullduggery!!I have trawled the web but found nothing. On finishing I can only say… ALL LIFE IS SACRED… even the life of a mutineer.

  43. I would love to answer your question. The only one I can suggest who MIGHT be able to respond to it would be Maurice Bligh. He is from Kent,UK. When he wrote in response to my article, he did not give an email address. Perhaps you can get someone who is an expert on the computer to help you try and find Mr. Bligh. Good luck! Let us know if you get any info.

  44. I have a portrait of Mutney on the Bounty Painted by Rob Dodd, Engraved by R. Dodd. It has beem in our family for 60+ years. It has printing on the bottom to the WEST INDIA PLANTERS AND MERCHANTS.

    Pub Oct 2 1790 by B B Evans Poultry, London

    Theres more printing,

    Do you know if this print has any value, or if anyone would want to puchase it for their collection.

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