THE REMARKABLE VOYAGE OF THE BOUNTY
This is a story of a man who, when in command of his ships and
when everything went prosperously with him, was so overbearing and
cruel that some of his men, in desperation at the treatment they
received, mutinied against him. But the story shows another side
of his character in adversity, which it is impossible not to admire.
In 1787, Captain Bligh was sent from England to Otaheite in charge
of the Bounty, a ship which had been especially fitted out to
carry young plants of the breadfruit tree for transplantation in
the West Indies.
"The breadfruit grows on a spreading tree about the size of a
large apple tree; the fruit is round, and has a thick, tough rind.
It is gathered when it is full-grown, and while it is still green
and hard; it is then baked in an oven until the rind is black and
scorched. This is scraped off, and the inside is soft and white,
like the crumb of a penny loaf."
The Otaheitans use no other bread but the fruit kind. It is, therefore,
little wonder that the West Indian planters were anxious to grow
this valuable fruit in their own islands, as, if it flourished there,
food would be provided with little trouble for their servants and
In the passage to Otaheite, Captain Bligh had several disturbances
with his men. He had an extremely irritable temper, and would often
fly into a passion and make most terrible accusations, and use most
terrible language to his officers and sailors.
On one occasion he ordered the crew to eat some decayed pumpkins,
instead of their allowance of cheese, which he said they had stolen
from the ship's stores.
The pumpkin was to be given to the men at the rate of one pound of
pumpkin to two pounds of biscuits.
The men did not like accepting the substitute on these terms. When
the captain heard this, he was infuriated, and ordered the first
man of each mess to be called by name, at the same time saying
to them, "I'll see who will dare refuse the pumpkin or anything
else I may order to be served out." Then, after swearing at them
in a shocking way, he ended by saying, "I'll make you eat grass,
or anything else you can catch, before I have done with you," and
threatened to flog the first man who dared to complain again.
While they were at Otaheite, several of the sailors were flogged
for small offences, or without reason, and on the other hand, during
the seven months they stayed at the island, both officers and men
were allowed to spend a great deal of time on shore, and were given
the greatest possible liberty.
Therefore, when the breadfruit plants were collected, and they
weighed anchor on April 4, in 1787, it is not unlikely they were
loath to return to the strict discipline of the ship, and to leave
an island so lovely, and where it was possible to live in the
greatest luxury without any kind of labor.
From the time they sailed until April 27, Christian, the third
officer, had been in constant hot water with Captain Bligh. On the
afternoon of that day, when the captain came on deck, he missed
some cocoanuts that had been heaped up between the guns. He said at
once that they had been stolen, and that it could not have happened
without the officers knowing of it. When they told him they had
not seen any of the crew touch them, he cried, "Then you must have
taken them yourselves!" After this he questioned them separately;
when he came to Christian, the latter answered, "I do not know, sir,
but I hope you do not think me so mean as to be guilty of stealing
The captain swore terribly, and said, "You must have stolen them
from me, or you would be able to give a better account of them!" He
turned to the others with much more abuse, saying, "You scoundrels,
you are all thieves alike, and combine with the men to rob me!
I suppose you'll steal my yams next, but I'll sweat you for it,
you rascals! I'll make half of you jump overboard before you get
through Endeavor Straits!"
Then he turned to the clerk, giving the order to "give them but
half a pound of yams to-morrow: if they steal them, I'll reduce
them to a quarter."
That night, Christian, who was hardly less passionate and resentful
than the captain, told two of the midshipmen, Stewart and Hayward,
that he intended to leave the ship on a raft, as he could no longer
endure the captain's suspicion and insults. He was very angry
and excited, and made some preparations for carrying out his plan,
though these had to be done with the greatest secrecy and care.
It was his duty to take the morning watch, which is from four to
eight o'clock, and this time he thought would be a good opportunity
to make his escape. He had only just fallen into a restless slumber
when he was called to take his turn.
He got up with his brain still alert with the sense of injury and
wrong, and most curiously alive to seize any opportunity which
might lead to an escape from so galling a service.
On reaching the deck, he found the mate of the watch had fallen
asleep, and that the other midshipman was not to be seen.
Then he made a sudden determination to seize the ship, and rushing
down the gangway ladder, whispered his intention to Matthew Quintal
and Isaac Martin, seamen, both of whom had been flogged. They readily
agreed to join him, and several others of the watch were found to
be quite as willing.
Some one went to the armorer for the keys of the arm chest, telling
him they wanted to fire at a shark alongside.
Christian then armed those men whom he thought he could trust, and
putting a guard at the officers' cabins, went himself with three
other men to the captain's cabin.
It was just before sunrise when they dragged him from his bed, and
tying his hands behind his back, threatened him with instant death
if he should call for help or offer any kind of resistance. He
was taken up to the quarter-deck in his nightclothes, and made to
stand against the mizzen-mast with four men to guard him.
Christian then gave orders to lower the boat in which he intended
to cast them adrift, and one by one the men were allowed to come
up the hatchways, and made to go over the side of the ship into it.
Meanwhile, no heed was given to the remonstrances, reasoning, and
prayers of the captain, saving threats of death unless he was quiet.
Some twine, canvas, sails, a small cask of water, and a quadrant
and compass were put into the boat, also some bread and a small
quantity of rum and wines. When this was done the officers were
brought up one by one and forced over the side. There was a great
deal of rough joking at the captain's expense, who was still made
to stand by the mizzen-mast, and much bad language was used by
When all the officers were out of the ship, Christian said, "Come,
Captain Bligh, your officers and men are now in the boat, and you
must go with them; if you make the least resistance you will be
instantly put to death."
He was lowered over the side with his hands still fastened behind
his back, and directly after the boat was veered astern with a
Some one with a little pity for them threw in some pieces of pork
and some clothes, as well as two or three cutlasses; these were
the only arms given.
There were altogether nineteen men in this pitiful strait. Although
much of the conduct of the mutineers is easily understood with regard
to the captain, the wholesale crime of thrusting so many innocent
persons out to the mercy of the winds and waves, or to the death
from hunger and thirst which they must have believed would inevitably
overtake them, is incomprehensible.
As the Bounty sailed away, leaving them to their fate, those in
the boat cast anxious looks to the captain, wondering what should
be done. At a time when his mind must have been full of the injury
he had received, and the loss of his ship at a moment when his
plans were so flourishing and he had every reason to congratulate
himself as to the ultimate success of the undertaking, it is much
in his favor that he seems to have realized their unfortunate
position and to have been determined to make the best of it.
His first care was to see how much food they had. On examining
it, they found there was a hundred and fifty pounds of bread,
thirty-two pounds of pork, six quarts of rum, six bottles of wine,
and twenty-eight gallons of water.
As they were so near Tofoa they determined to put in there for a
supply of breadfruit and water, so that they might keep their other
provisions. But after rowing along the coast for some time, they
only discovered some cocoanut trees on the top of a stony cliff,
against which the sea beat furiously. After several attempts they
succeeded in getting about twenty nuts. The second day they failed
to get anything at all.
However, some natives came down to the boat and made inquiries
about the ship; but the captain unfortunately told the men to say
she had been lost, and that only they were saved.
This proved most disastrous; for the treacherous natives, finding
they were defenceless, at first brought them presents of breadfruit,
plantains and cocoanuts, rendering them all more hopeful and cheerful
by their kindness. But toward night their numbers increased in a
most alarming manner, and soon the whole beach was lined with them.
Presently they began knocking stones together, by which the men knew
they intended to make an attack upon them. They made haste to get
all the things into the boat, and all but one, named John Norton,
succeeded in reaching it. The natives rushed upon this poor man
and stoned him to death.
Those in the boat put to sea with all haste, but were again terribly
alarmed to find themselves followed by natives in canoes from which
they renewed the attack.
Many of the sailors were a good deal hurt by stones, and they had
no means at all with which to protect themselves. At last they
threw some clothes overboard; these tempted the enemy to stop to
pick them up, and as soon as night came on they gave up the chase
and returned to the shore.
All the men now begged Captain Bligh to take them toward England;
but he told them there could be no hope of relief until they reached
Timor, a distance of full twelve hundred leagues; and that, if they
wished to reach it, they would have to content themselves with one
ounce of bread and a quarter of a pint of water a day. They all
readily agreed to this allowance of food, and made a most solemn
oath not to depart from their promise to be satisfied with the
small quantity. This was about May 2.
After the compact was made, the boat was put in order, the men
divided into watches, and they bore away under a reefed lug-foresail.
A fiery sun rose on the 3d, which is commonly a sign of rough
weather, and filled the almost hopeless derelicts with a new terror.
In an hour or two it blew very hard, and the sea ran so high that
their sail was becalmed between the waves; they did not dare to
set it when on the top of the sea, for the water rushed in over
the stern of the boat, and they were obliged to bale with all their
The bread was in bags, and in the greatest danger of being spoiled
by the wet. They were obliged to throw some rope and the spare
sails overboard, as well as all the clothes but what they wore, to
lighten the boat; then the carpenter's tool-chest was cleared and
the bread put into it.
They were all very wet and cold, and a teaspoonful of rum was served
to each man, with a quarter of a breadfruit which was so bad that
it could hardly be eaten; but the captain was determined at all
risks to keep to the compact they had entered into, and to make
their provisions last eight weeks.
In the afternoon the sea ran even higher, and at night it became
very cold; but still they did not dare to leave off baling for an
instant, though their legs and arms were numb with fatigue and wet.
In the morning a teaspoonful of rum was served to all, and five
small cocoanuts divided for their dinner, and every one was satisfied.
When the gale had subsided they examined the bread, and found a
great deal of it had become mouldy and rotten; but even this was
carefully kept and used. The boat was now near some islands, but
they were afraid to go on shore, as the natives might attack them;
while being in sight of land, where they might replenish their poor
stock of provisions and rest themselves, added to their misery.
One morning they hooked a fish, and were overjoyed at their good
fortune; but in trying to get it into the boat it was lost, and
again they had to content themselves with the damaged bread and
small allowance of water for their supper.
They were dreadfully cramped for room, and were obliged to manage
so that half their number should lie down in the bottom of the
boat or upon a chest, while the others sat up and kept watch; their
limbs became so stiff from being constantly wet, and from want of
space to stretch them in, that after a few hours' sleep they were
hardly able to move.
About May 7, they passed what the captain supposed must be the Fiji
Islands, and two large canoes put off and followed them for some
time, but in the afternoon they gave up the chase. It rained heavily
that day, and every one in the boat did his best to catch some
water, and they succeeded in increasing their stock to thirty-four
gallons, besides having had enough to drink for the first time
since they had been cast adrift; but the rain made them very cold
and miserable, as they had no dry clothes.
The next morning they had an ounce and a half of pork, a teaspoonful
of rum, half a pint of cocoanut milk and an ounce of bread for
breakfast, which was quite a large meal for them.
Through fifteen weary days and nights of ceaseless rain they
toiled, sometimes through fierce storms of thunder and lightning,
and before terrific seas lashed into foam and fury by swift and
sudden squalls, with only their miserable pittance of bread and
water to keep body and soul together.
In this rain and storm the little sleep they got only added to their
discomfort, save for the brief forgetfulness it brought; for they
had to lie down in water in the bottom of the boat, and with no
covering but the streaming clouds above them.
The captain then advised them to wring their clothes through
sea-water, which they found made them feel much warmer for a time.
On May 17 every one was ill and complaining of great pain, and
begging for more food; but the captain refused to increase their
allowance, though he gave them all a small quantity of rum.
Until the 24th they flew before the wild seas that swept over stem
and stern of their boat and kept them constantly baling.
Some of them now looked more than half dead from starvation, but
no one suffered from thirst, as they had absorbed so much water
through the skin.
A fine morning dawned on the 25th, when they saw the sun for the
first time for fifteen days, and were able to eat their scanty
allowance in more comfort and warmth. In the afternoon there were
numbers of birds called boobies and noddies near, which are never
seen far from land.
The captain took this opportunity to look at the state of their
bread, and found if they did not exceed their allowance there was
enough to last for twenty-nine days, when they hoped to reach Timor.
That afternoon some noddies came so near the boat that one was
caught. These birds are about the size of a small pigeon; it was
divided into eighteen parts and given by lot. The men were much
amused when they saw the beak and claws fall to the lot of the
captain. The bird was eaten, bones and all, with bread and water,
Now they were in calmer seas, they were overtaken by a new trouble.
The heat of the sun became so great that many of them were overcome
by faintness, and lay in the bottom of the boat in an apathetic
state all day, only rousing themselves toward evening, when the
catching of birds was attempted.
On the morning of the 28th the sound of breakers could be heard
plainly; they had reached the Great Barrier Reef, which runs up
much of the east coast of Australia.
After some little time a passage nearly a quartar of a mile in
width was discovered through the reef, and they were carried by a
strong current into the peaceful waters which lie within the Barrier.
For a little time they were so overjoyed that their past troubles
were forgotten. The dull blue-gray lines of the mainland, with its
white patches of glaring sandhills, could be seen in the distance,
and that afternoon they landed on an island.
They found the rocks around it were covered with oysters and huge
clams, which could easily be got at low tide. Some of their party
sent out to reconnoitre returned greatly pleased at having found
plenty of fresh water.
A fire was made by help of a small magnifying-glass. Among the
things thrown into the boat from the ship was a small copper pot;
and thus with a mixture of oysters, bread, and pork a stew was
made, and every one had plenty to eat.
The day after they landed was the 29th of May, the anniversary
of the restoration of King Charles II, and as the captain thought
it applied to their own renewed health and strength, he named it
After a few days' rest, which did much to revive the men, and when
they had filled all their vessels with water and had gathered a
large supply of oysters, they were ready to go on again.
As they were about to start, everybody was ordered to attend prayers,
and as they were embarking about twenty naked savages came running
and shouting toward them, each carrying a long barbed spear, but
the English made all haste to put to sea.
For several days they sailed over the lakelike stillness of the
Barrier reef-bound waters, and past the bold desolations of the
Queensland coast, every headland and bay there bearing the names
Cook gave them only a few years before, and which still tell us by
that nomenclature each its own story of disappointment and hope.
Still making way to the north, they passed many more islands and
keys, the onward passage growing hot and hotter, until on June 3,
when they doubled Cape York, the peninsula which is all but unique
in its northward bend, they were again in the open sea.
By this time many of them were ill with malaria; then for the first
time some of the wine which they had with them was used.
But the little boat still bravely made its way with its crew, whose
faces were so hollow and ghastly that they looked like a crew of
spectres, sailing beneath the scorching sun that beat down from
the pale blue of the cloudless sky upon a sea hardly less blue in
its greater depths. Only the hope that they would soon reach Timor
seemed to rouse them from a state of babbling delirium or fitful
On the 11th the captain told them they had passed the meridian of
the east of Timor; and at three o'clock on the next morning they
sighted the land.
It was on Sunday, June 14, when they arrived at Company Bay, and
were received with every kindness by the people.
Thus ended one of the most remarkable voyages that have ever been
made. They had been sent out with provisions only sufficient for
their number for five days, and Captain Bligh had, by his careful
calculation and determination to give each man only that equal
portion they had agreed to accept, made it last for fifty days,
during which time they had come three thousand six hundred and
eighteen nautical miles.
There had been days when the men were so hunger-driven that they
had besought him with pitiful prayers for more to eat, and when it
was his painful duty to refuse it; and times, as they passed those
islands where plentiful food could be got, when he had to turn a
deaf ear to their longings to land. He had to endure the need of
food, the cramped position, the uneasy slumber, as did his men;
as well as the more perfect knowledge of their dangers. There had
been days and nights while he worked out their bearings when he
had to be propped up as he took the stars or sun.
It was, therefore, Captain Bligh's good seamanship, his strict
discipline and fairness in the method of giving food and wine to
those who were sick, that enabled them to land at Timor with the
whole of their number alive, with the exception of the one man who
was stoned to death by the savages at Tofoa.