American Elephants

The HMS Bounty Is Back in the News! by The Elephant's Child

The tall ship HMS Bounty, is a replica of the famous ship sent by the Royal Navy on a botanical mission. It was sent to the South Pacific to acquire breadfruit plants and transport them to the British West Indies. The mission was never completed. Anger and bad relationships between the ship’s commander, Lieutenant William Bligh and his acting Sailing Master, Fletcher Christian, led to one of the world’s most famous mutinies. Fletcher Christian and about half the crew seized the vessel on October 28, 1789.

On December 23, 1787, the Bounty sailed from Spithead for Tahiti. The crew spent an entire month trying to round Cape Horn, but the weather prevented it. Bligh proceeded East, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and crossed the Indian Ocean. Bounty reached Tahiti on October 26, 1788 after ten months at sea. Bligh and the crew spent five months in  Tahiti. Many of the crew formed relations with young women, had themselves tattooed in native fashion. They set sail with their cargo of breadfruit on 4 April 1789.

Some 1300 miles west of Tahiti, near Tonga, mutiny broke out. The ship was taken bloodlessly, and apparently without any struggle except by Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on the ship, 22 joined Christian in mutiny, 18 remained loyal to Bligh and two were passive.

The mutineers ordered Bligh, two midshipmen, the surgeon’s mate, and the ship’s clerk into the ship’s boat, along with a few of the seamen. They sailed 30 nautical miles to Tofua in search of supplies, but were forced to flee when they found the natives hostile and one man was killed.  Bligh then set out for the Dutch port of Coupang, 3,500 nautical miles from Tofua, one of the great feats of navigation and seamanship.  He safely arrived there 47 days later, having lost no men during the voyage.

The Mutineers returned to Tahiti, where they set the loyalists and sixteen of the mutineers ashore. Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men and eleven women, one with a baby set sail in the Bounty. They passed through the Fiji Islands, and the Cook Islands trying to find a safe place. On 15 January 1790 they rediscovered Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on admiralty maps. To prevent discovery and anyone’s escape, the ship was burned in what is now called Bounty Bay.

The stories were admirably told by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in a trilogy : Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn’s Island. They were originally published in the 1930s, and in many other versions ever since. Amazon has a selection of all different printings.I loved the books when I was a kid.

Movies have been made of Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, (1935),  with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard (1962), and a 1984 movie called The Bounty with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins —who goes somewhat mad. There was an earlier one with Errol Flynn, and one even earlier than that from Australia which is long lost. It’s a great sea story, based on real history, and always popular. Captain Bligh is portrayed as cruel, totally mad, a master navigator and a firm but harsh captain. Books have been written about Bligh’s accomplishments, the aftermath for Pitcairn Islanders, the rediscovery of Pitcairn. That one voyage has proved to be fodder for a multitude of stories.

Which brings us back to today. The HMS Bounty, which I believe is the replica built for the 1962 movie, was caught up in Hurricane Sandy off Cape Hatteras today. They lost steerage, and were taking on water. The Coast Guard performed a heroic rescue, and picked up 14 of the 16 crew members, all in survival suits. Two were missing, but the Coast Guard continued to search.

The sea is relatively warm, around 70° and one was known to be wearing a survival suit, though they didn’t know if the other missing man had one. It’s not known if the Bounty is still afloat.  It is 223 years and one day since the original Mutiny took place.

ADDENDUM: The Coast Guard has suspended their search for the Captain of the Bounty. The missing crew member was found, unresponsive, and died at the hospital. The ship has gone down.

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