Maritime Topics On Stamps :


Mutiny on the 'Bounty'!        

The mutiny on the Bounty in 1789 is embedded by a myth. And as it happens ever so often behind the myth we find a lot of true and false stories and legends.
Only until recently captain Bligh was known for his inhuman, tough leadership of the "Bounty" which envoked the mutiny. According to current information this is not true!

The English scholar Joseph Banks (left stamp) accompanied James Cook as a botanist on the first voyage aboard the "Endeavour" in the Pacific. Later he became president of the Royal Society.
During the American independence war cereal supplies of the North American colonies of England to the Caribbean were impossible. This resulted in several famines, where about 15,000 people died. The owners of large sugar cane plantations in Jamaica requested cheap staple food for their slaves.
bread fruit
Joseph Banks suggested to cultivate the vitamin-rich bread-fruit, which he discovered on his voyage with Cook to the Pacific Islands.
Once planted, the bread fruit trees require almost no care and they provide fruits throughout the whole year. The plantation owners went along with Banks proposal.
Once financing of the project was secured, the British Crown ordered the Admiralty to carry out a shipment of bread fruit plants from Tahiti to the Caribbean.

For this non military voyage the coal carrier "Bethia” was acquired. A cargo ship was chosen because capacity was of prime importance.
The ship was rebuilt to a "sailing greenhouse" and was renamed to "Bounty" (good deed, donation, gracious gift).
In the literature we find “HMS Bounty"(His Majesty Ship) and also HMAV "Bounty" (His Majesty Armed Vessel). As armament there were four six pounders and ten half-pounders aboard.

    Some specifications:
  • Length over all 39 m
  • Width 7.3 m
  • Draft 3.5 m
  • 215 tons
  • built in 1784 in Hull
  • Conversion 1787 in Chatham, the hull got a copper fittings against aggressive aquatic animals full rigger with three masts
  • 46 men crew (a large number for the size of the vessel)

William Bligh (1754 - 1817) seafaring career began at the age of seven as a captain servant on HMS "Monmouth." With 15 he worked as a sailor on HMS “Hunter”.
From 1776-79 he sailed as a navigator on Cook's third trip to the Pacific. In 1781 he was promoted to lieutenant and took part in the war against France, for two years.
The next four years he sailed on merchant vessels. There he met Fletcher Christian, with whom he became close friends. But later on the "Bounty" Christian was his 2nd officer and leader of the mutineers.
In 1787 Sir Joseph Banks won Bligh to take over the command of the bread-fruit voyage with HMS “Bounty”. This time Bligh was not promoted to the rank of a captain, he was only a lieutenant. This was because the Admiralty had classified the "Bounty" only as a "cutter".

At the stamp on the left hand we see the "Bounty" was equipped for the long trip (about 2 years) at Deptford. Then she hauled to the British fleet at Spithead Anchorage and waited for the sailing orders.
On 28th of November 1787 the "Bounty" left Spithead. She encountered strong storms in the English Channel for 24 days, such that she made no ground at all. This is shown on the stamp in the centre.
The second attempt began on 23rd of December 1787. Bligh’s order was to take the shortest route to Tahiti via Cape Hoorn into the Pacific. On the island of Tenerife fresh food and water were bunkered.

From 23rd of March the "Bounty" fought for a whole month against the severe storms at Cape Hoorn. This can be seen on the stamp right hand. On 22nd April 1788 Bligh gave up and changed course to Cape Town. On 24th of May they reached the False Bay. There the "Bounty" was overhauled and serviced.
At the end of June 1788 they left Cape Town.

On 20th of August we see the "Bounty" at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island / Tasmania (see stamp left hand). Two weeks later they moved on and discovered a group of islands southeast of New Zealand on 19th of September. Today they are named Bounty Islands.


Images from the movie of 1935 with Charles Laughton as William Bligh

On the vessel Bligh put great value on cleanliness. The ship has been disinfected with wine vinegar, the crew was reviewed on clean clothes (including a fingernails inspection).
The diet was supplemented with German “Sauerkraut” and malt extract against scurvy and, where possible, with fresh fruit.
On Sunday Bligh held a church service and in the evenings the sailors "had" to dance (good for their health).
The future leader of the mutiny, Fletcher Christian, was promoted by Bligh from a mate to 2nd Lieutenant.
On the outward voyage Bligh ordered only two penalties because of indiscipline and neglection of duty. The common penalty was beating with the infamous nine-tailed-cat. Over a period of 10 months, this is more a sign of good leadership than brutality.

On deck of the "Bounty"

On 25th of October 1788 the “Bounty” reached Tahiti, sailed into the Matavai Bay and dropped anchor at inner road (left stamp).
The ship had to wait there until December, for the bread fruit trees had no new usable shoots.
The crew enjoyed life with the friendly people. There were numerous contacts with the Tahiti women, who were very beautiful and sexually they were fairly liberally (stamp right hand).
However one problem was, that the natives stole everything which was not solid attached to the vessel when they felt unobserved.

During the 5 months the ship and the dingy were overhauled. The sails were dried ashore. 1015 bread fruit plants were put in pots and placed on board the ship (stamps above). There they were stowed in safe racks (stamp left hand).

On Tahiti a series of denials of discipline and command happened. Recording to the log-book we find following misbehaviors:
Three men deserted; the corporal Purcell denied Blighs commands twice (which meant court martial); the kitchen boy did not show up to duty; the ship's doctor even died because of his alcoholism; a cadet on guard was sleeping; the anchor rope was cut (from a native) and some sails were found rotten.

During the last few weeks, the lack of discipline of the crew increased. The number of thefts grew heavily, even a compass and the chronometer were stolen.
Bligh himself went after the deserters and found their hideout and surprised and arrested them. In order to stay in control Bligh had to be tough, i.e. they were whipped.

On 4th of April 1789, the "Bounty" left Tahiti with course to the Endeavor Strait, the strait between Australia and New Guinea.
After a week, they reached an island that the natives referred "Whytootackee" (Aitutaki) (stamp right hand).
On 24th of April, Bligh made a stopover in Anamuka (Tonga Islands), to replenish food and fresh water. This is where the real dispute between Bligh and Christian began. When Christian tried to get fresh water it came to violent clashes with the natives, they swang clubs and spears.
The other day the natives came aboard and stole. Bligh took some chiefs as hostages, in order to get back the stolen property.
But he had no success and finally he released the hostages. That undermined his authority.

leaving Tahiti
On 28th of April 1789, southwest of Tofua (Tonga Islands), the famous mutiny of the “Bounty” happened.
Today's investigations did not show the clear date when Christian could no longer bear the pressure imposed by Bligh. Bligh’s outbursts of fury were only verbally, not of physical nature.
Another source reports that Bligh had accused Christian of stealing some coconuts from in the ship's supply. Christian, who again felt be treated unfairly, and while he was drunk, talked to some sailors, to go back to Tahiti with a raft. Some people believe that these crew members changed his mind to abandon Bligh instead of him.
On the stamps above, we see left hand the "Bounty" departing from Tahiti. In the centre Bligh is captured from sleeping and dragged on deck. It happened around 5:20 in the morning.
Right and left hand on the film stamp Fletcher Christian and William Bligh, whose hands had been tethered, are displayed. There were a wild shouting and argumenting what really should happen.

First they wanted abandon Bligh in the small dinghy, but the Dinghy was in such poor condition that Bligh was allowed to take the launch. To Christian’s big surprise 20 men did not want take part in the mutiny, and also entered the barge(as seen on the left hand and centre stamp).
This happened around eight o’clock. Bligh tried to change Christian's mind. The palaver went on until ten o’clock. Then the overcrowded boat, lying deep in the water, was pushed off.
All provision in the barge were two small barrels of water (not more than 125 liters), some wine, rum, bread and rusks (a total of around 75 kg), a few coconuts and about 10 kg salted meat.
As the boat drove away, the mutineers threw the bread fruit plants over board (right hand stamp).

boat drift
Bounty boat
Including Bligh there were a total of 19 men in the boat. Some more sailors, who want to go with Bligh, had no chance to get into the overcrowded boat. She lay deep in the water and had only about 20 cm freeboard. All Bligh had for navigation, a compass, a log, an octant and his pocket clock. His plan was to reach the Dutch factory Kupang on Timor, which was an European base.
The food lasted for only 5 days and so they had to ration it drastically.

Bounty boat
The barge was 7.5 m long and about 2 m wide (stamp left hand ). On the bow and amidships, two masts with lugger sails could be set.
In the centre stamp we see a coconut husk, with which the daily quantity of water was measured. In addition there is a cup and a logbook.
The right hand stamp shows, the boat and the courses through a group of islands, which got the name Bligh’s Islands.
Bounty boat

Bounty boat
The first island reached after the mutiny was Tofua, where they asked to get food and fresh water. The natives denied because Bligh and his people had nothing useful to barter nor firearms to force them.
It came to a fight, during which the quartermaster Norton was killed by the natives.
Along his way Bligh discovered about 40 islands, but because of this bad experience he only went ashore once. On the above stamps the launch and her course through the Fiji Islands is depicted. On the right hand stamp, the launch is chased by local crafts. In the reality this did not happened at the Fiji Islands but at Tofua.

boat course
boat course
On the left hand stamp the course of the barge is marked by a dashed line. As this is not hardly to be seen, there is a blow-up on the right hand with the blue route.
Bligh navigated the overcrowded "nutshell" about 5,800 kilometers to Kupang / Timor in 48 days, where he arrived on 14th of June 1789. Storms, cold nights, rain, hunger, thirst were constant companions on the barge. In Kupang the 18 men staggered ashore, "nothing but skin and bones, the limbs covered with ulcers, nothing but the clothes rags" (from Bligh’s logbook).
That Bligh’s long boat voyage was successful at all, was a maritime masterpiece! On 20th August 1789 Bligh left Kupang and via Batavia to Portsmouth. There he arrived on 14th March 1790. Only 13 men reached England, five died in Kupang or on the voyage home.
In a trial before the Admiralty Captain Bligh was acquitted of any blame, both for the mutiny and the loss of the "Bounty".

William Bligh wrote two logbooks, a private and an official one. The logs are now in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
The researcher Antony Zammit made a sensational discovery in one of the logs. Two pages had been removed and replaced by fakes. These two pages were exactly the pages describing the day of the mutiny. This could be clearly proven by coffee stains.

Bounty course

The courses after the “Bounty” mutiny and Fletcher Christian.

First the mutineers sailed the “Bounty” to Tubuai. There it took them a whole week to make up their mind. Finally they sailed to Tahiti, where they picked up their wives and sailed back to Tubuai in order to establish a colony.
However the natives did not accept them attacking several times and remained hostile.
So they sailed back to Tahiti. But here, they could not hide and a punitive expedition would surely look for them on Tahiti. But when the “Bounty” took off, 16 mutineers stayed on Tahiti.

In search of a hiding place Christian sailed to the Cook Islands, the Tonga and Fiji, before he turned to the east.
On 15th of January 1790 Fletcher Christian arrived on an island, which was in the middle of the Pacific and no Europeans had entered it before. If it was habitable, it was the ideal hiding place.
Later on people found out, that this island was in fact Pitcairn Island and was only drawn incorrectly on the sea-charts.
On the three stamps above Pitcairn Island came in sight, landing with a boat and on right hand exploring of the island.

It was decided to ground the “Bounty” to make it easier to bring the belongings, yams, sweet potatoes, some pigs, goats and chickens to shore(stamp left hand).
On 23rd January 1790 one of the mutineers deliberately set fire to the wreck to destroy any visible sign that could be seen from sea (stamp in the centre). So it was also impossible that one of them could return back home and give away their hiding. The right stamp shows the first huts on the island.

crew + women
Fletcher Christian
All in all the group included only nine mutineers, six native men and twelve women from the islands. On the left hand stamp mutineers with their wives on Pitcairn are displayed, right Fletcher Christian with the "Bounty".

The story of the “Mutiny if the Bounty” will be continued with the following contents:
The expedition of the "Pandora" with the arrest of some mutineers, Blighs 2nd successful bread fruit voyage, dive to the wreck of the "Bounty" and the replica of the "Bounty".

The Bounty by Caroline Alexander, Berlin Verlag
Internet Wikipedia Encyclopedia

© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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