Lonely Port

Chapter 2

 Mutiny On the Bounty

The "Great Enquiry" was destined to become the talk of all England. Indeed, it would become the naval hearing of the decade. Months of careful deliberation and many witnesses were to open up before the British Empire the story of the mutiny on the Bounty.

The Enquiry was to bring London the closest it had ever come to the South Pacific. But that was to come later. Just now we must return to the Bounty. Of the events that were to rapidly bring the mutiny to a head, John Fryer, the ship's master, was to later give the clearest picture. You can read it in the official "Re. port of Enquiry" that resulted from this naval hearing.

Fryer tells us that Bligh's "Passions were apt to ebb as swiftly as they flowed. An hour or so after he had abused Christian on the afternoon of the 27th, he sent him an invitation to sup with him that very evening. Christian, however, excused himself on the pretense of being unwell. The other officers agreed among themselves not to sup with the Commander should he ask them."

By the time the sun began to set on a shoreless horizon the next afternoon, a plan of action was forming in Christian's mind. The calm waters of the Pacific brought no peace to his I heart. For he intended to leave the ship that evening. Desertion was his objective. He now saw in Bligh an enemy, and he felt that all hope of future promotion had been destroyed by what had been taking place. What report Bligh might later bring against him back in England, he knew not, but he was sure it would not be good.

Quietly that evening he received from the boatswain, the carpenter, and two midshipmen—the men who were acquainted with his plans—some supplies to trade with natives for food, when he should later land on some shore. As soon as the opportunity afforded, he planned to be lowered in a boat and leave.

But there seemed to be more activity than the usual that night, and he would have to wait. He must not be seen departing. And so the night deepened, and he retired for sleep. But he had had little of it, when he was called to take over his watch. As the quiet waters lapped against the side of the ship, he leaned against the railing with Matthew Quintal, and he looked beyond the waters to the far distance. Matthew knew what he was planning, and suddenly turning to him, he urged him not to try to leave the ship—but rather to seize it, for there were others of the ship's crew who had been abused by "Old Breadfruit," as some of them privately called him.

Immediately Christian acted. He called Isaac Martin, Charles Churchill, and Matthew Thompson, all of whom had tasted "the cat" (the whiplash), and he suggested a plan to them. Alexander Smith also supported it, and he called William McCoy and John Williams who also favored the plot, for they had all received harsh treatment. The next hour brought a dramatic turn of events.

Christian, accompanied by three others, took the captain by surprise while he was sleeping in his cabin. Dragging him from his bed, they overpowered him and tied his hands. Out on the deck a small boat was lowered and Bligh and the eighteen men who chose to remain with him were forced into it. Provisions were given them and they were set adrift.

The little boat carrying these nineteen men drifted west, past the New Hebrides, New Guinea and Australia, the long distance to Timor, a Dutch settlement off the coast of Southern Asia. Their sufferings had been intense. Eventually they returned to England, there to give a full report on the mutiny. As Fletcher Christian turned his ship into the dark night and left the little boat behind him, he had to decide where to go. Most of the men remaining on the Bounty wanted to return to Tahiti, but Christian well-knew that this would be too dangerous. He told them that in time a British naval ship should come in search for them, and Tahiti was not the place to be living at that time. So he headed for the island of Tubuai, but there he found a lack of livestock as well as unfriendly natives. Finally, at the insistence of his men, he turned the ship toward Tahiti.

Tahiti is the largest of a little group of 14 islands that lie in the South Pacific. As the mutineers neared it, they could see massive volcanoes rising from its interior, and an outer coral reef completely encircling it. Landing on the reef, they went ashore in smaller boats. For many of them it was a return to "paradise"—coconuts, sugar cane, tropical fruits, and women. From the rugged interior, with its waterfalls and rapid streams cutting through steep mountains, to the belt of fertile soil near the shore, the Englishmen found much to enjoy.

As soon as they arrived on shore, sixteen of the mutineers voted to remain in Tahiti. But the other eight decided to cast their lot with Christian—for he was determined to sail away shortly.

In the wild orgies of madness that were to follow on this island after Christian and his eight had departed, two of the sixteen were killed by the natives because of their thievery and adulteries. The other fourteen were later caught by a searching party sent out from England. Placed in chains by Captain Edwards of the Pandora, the party set out for Britain. During the passage, four were drowned when the ship struck a coral reef. Only ten returned to England, there to stand trial. By its verdict, three were executed.

Peter Heywood, one of those pardoned, had written his mother from Tahiti, after the mutiny. In it, he told of Christian's final request: "Gentlemen, I will carry you and land you wherever you please. I desire none to stay with me, but I have one favour to request, that you grant me the ship, tie the foresail, and give me a few gallons of water, and leave me to run before the wind, and I shall land upon the first island the ship drives to. I have done such an act that I cannot stay at Otheiti [Tahiti]. I will never live where I may be carried home to be a disgrace to my family."

At this, Edward Young, one of the midshipmen, and seven others stepped up to him and said, "We shall never leave you, Mr. Christian, go where you will."

The men who remained with Christian were John Williams, William Brown, Isaac Martin, John Mills, William McCoy, Matthew Quintal, Edward Young, and Alexander Smith who later changed his name to John Adams.

On the final night in Tahiti, Christian spent the evening on shore with the crewmates he was leaving behind. Heywood wrote of this: "we had spent some two hours together, when Christian arose and it was with difficulty that we spoke to each other. It was a sad farewell. He stepped into a canoe and we saw him no more, for in the morning the ship was gone." The night of the 21st of September 1789, was the last that civilization ever saw of Fletcher Christian.

With the eight that elected to remain with him, Christian sailed north to another part of the island, and there the crew stayed long enough to marry Tahitian wives and take on provisions for a lengthy voyage. Mi'Mitti, the noble daughter of an important chief, married Christian. Brown, the ship's gardener, loaded the hold with plants from fruit trees. The other men brought chickens and goats on board. Also, six young Tahitian men were taken on as additional crewmen.

And then the Bounty sailed away into oblivion. Christian had had access back in England to the latest naval records, and very likely copies of the most recent annotated maps were in the chart room of the Bounty, which was a ship of the British navy. Christian had no doubt read of the discovery of the uninhabited island with water and good soil that lay a thousand miles east of him. For it appears that he sailed directly to it. On the morning of January 23, 1790, Pitcairn Island was sighted by the men on the Bounty.

Dropping anchor in a small cove, later to be known as Bounty Bay, they slowly unloaded the ship, carrying everything up the 200-foot high cliff to the Edge—from which one can see the landing place and Bounty Bay. They found that the island did, indeed, contain water, wood, good soil as well as some fruit trees. Every movable thing was taken to shore and up the cliff. The Bounty was completely stripped, even to the planks from her sides, and then the hull was set on fire. The ship that had been their home for two years was no more.

Christian divided the settlement into sections and soon all were busily engaged in building homes, clearing land for gardens and setting out trees. Salt was obtained from the sea, and an abundance of fish was available. Life in their new little world took on the routine of daily living. The continents around them were the scene of continual discontent, greed, strife and misery. Could the brave new settlement escape the heritage of their forebears?

One day while rummaging through his sea chest, Christian discovered, deep beneath the spare clothing, the Bible that his mother had placed there years before. As he held it in his hands, he recalled how she would read to him from it when he was a child at her knees. He well knew that she felt that this was the best gift she could give him. One day, he took it to a cave on the mountainside and there began reading in it. Many were the hours that he spent there. And then another began coming to the cave with him. It was Alexander Smith, who had by now changed his name to John Adams. As the days passed into weeks, Christian's book brought a wonderful peace into Adams' life. For he was finding what Christian had found not long before—that his sins could be forgiven through the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.

But in spite of this, the next five years became a nightmare for the small colony. Williams, McCoy and Quintal had always been heavy drinkers, and now finding it not available they began experimenting with native plants. McCoy had been brought up in a distillery, and fevered with a desire for his old way of life, discovered that he could make an alcoholic drink from the roots of the native tee plant. One day, Williams' wife fell from the cliffs and died while trying to gather eggs from the nests of sea birds. Shortly thereafter, Williams while half drunk went down to the home of one of the Tahitian men, Talalu, and took his wife. In a rage, Talalu, uniting the other Tahitian men with him, began a warfare that took the lives of Williams, Martin, Brown and Mills. Fletcher Christian was taken unawares while working in his garden and killed. John Adams, though shot in the shoulder, managed to escape, while Edward Young was successfully hidden by his wife. The four remaining Englishmen, and the widows of the men who had been murdered, realized that they had but a short time unless something was done immediately. In a sudden attack they slew all the Tahitian men.

But McCoy and Quintal were still alive and well, and now every imaginable vice was practiced by them. Treachery and aggression raged and no one felt his life secure. Some of the women in desperation tried to get away from the island on a raft, but this they were not permitted to do. The future of the little colony seemed dark.

One day, in a drunken depression, the distiller McCoy made his way down to the rocks by the water's edge, and there fastening a large stone to his body, picked it up and jumped into the ocean. Thus a sad but miserable life ended.

Then Quintal's wife died in an accident and he demanded another, but no one on the island wanted to become the wife of a drunk who earlier in an angry stupor had bitten off his wife's ear upon learning that she had brought in a smaller than usual catch of fish. Finally Quintal demanded that either Adams or Young give him one of their wives, or he would kill them. Having no doubt that he intended to do this, they made him drunk with his own liquor, overpowered him, and dispatched him with an ax.

And now the community settled down to the peace it had been seeking for years. Never again was the use of alcoholic beverages allowed on the island. It was outlawed. The year was 1798. Eight years had passed since the mutineers had first landed on Pitcairn. Adams and Young were now the sole survivors of fifteen men who had come to the island, and thirty-six-year-old Adams was to see Young succumb to an attack of asthma two years later. For the first time an islander had died by a natural death.

An island paradise, far off in the Pacific. And yet when people came to live there, they brought the vices and immorality of the rest of the world with them. Passion, strife, drunkenness and bloodshed were the result.

Is there no answer? Is there nothing that can keep man from destroying himself?

But then came the discoveries at Pitcairn.