Pitcairn, Pitcairn Islands

The History of the HMS Bounty

Zegrahm Contributor|May 27, 2015|Blog Post

Rest assured, any voyage to the South Pacific will be less dramatic than that of the HMS Bounty in the 1700s, the story of the mutinous journey of this small vessel which originally set out for a botanical mission in the Pacific Ocean.

As the story goes, the HMS Bounty—also known as the HM Armed Vessel Bounty—was bought by the Royal Navy and sent out under the command of William Bligh to search for breadfruit plants on the islands of the Pacific, and return them to the British-ruled West Indies. Of course, the goal of the mission was never seen through.

After a full month of attempting to navigate the Bounty around Cape Horn, and thwarted by treacherous weather, then captain William Bligh decided to head east, where he piloted the ship around Africa’s Cape Agulhas and across the Indian Ocean. Sometime during the passage, Bligh made the decision to replace his Sailing Master, John Fryer, with Fletcher Christian, resulting in a less than cheery relationship.

En route to Tahiti, mutiny on the Bounty broke out. On April 28, 1789, a bloodless battle for control of the ship took place, with 22 men joining Christian in the mutiny and 18 men remaining loyal to Bligh. Christian, now in charge, eventually landed the ship in Tahiti and settled 16 men there, then took off in the Bounty with eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women (plus one baby). Popular lore would say that the Tahitian men were taken without realizing what Christian had in store, so that he could acquire the women. Setting off to sea, Christian’s plan was to evade the Royal Navy—they stopped first in Fiji and the Cook Islands, yet for fear of being found, continued on to little-known Pitcairn Island. Once settled with livestock and provisions, the crewmembers burned the Bounty on January 23, 1790—today, this location is known as Bounty Bay.

In January 1957, Luis Marden discovered the remains of the Bounty—a rudder pin, an oarlock, fittings, and nails. Few of the remains, including ballast stones, are still partly visible in Bounty Bay waters today.

Modern visitors to Pitcairn Island—the remote, six-mile-around, volcano-crowned island on which the mutinous crew found refuge—will meet the 50 hospitable residents of Adamstown, all of whom are direct descendants of the nine mutineers, and 18 Polynesians. Be sure to take a peek at the Bounty’s anchor, ironically set beside the island’s courthouse, and the ship’s Bible in the church. 

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