Bligh's mutiny

Across the road from the SalvaDore’s headquarters, beside the former church of St-Mary-at-Lambeth (now the Garden Museum), lies the tomb of Captain William Bligh, portrayed in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ as a cruel tyrant who mercilessly bullied and flogged his crew until they rebelled and cast him adrift in a small boat.

Not so. A reading of the Bounty’s log suggests that Bligh was a humane commander. He merely scolded miscreants when others would have whipped them and he only flogged them when others would have hanged them.

An educated man, Bligh was convinced that exercise, a healthy diet and good sanitation were necessary for his crew’s welfare. He was careful about the quality of their food and insisted on his vessel being kept clean.

After a difficult 10-month voyage, the Bounty reached Tahiti in October 1788 with orders to collect breadfruit trees to take to the Caribbean as a food source for slaves. Bligh and his crew spent five months on the island, preparing more than 1,000 breadfruit plants. He let his men live on shore, where they enjoyed local life and the company of native women. Bligh’s acting lieutenant, Fletcher Christian, even married a Tahitian.

Shortly after the Bounty left Tahiti in April 1789, Fletcher Christian led half the crew in a mutiny. This seems to have occurred not because of any tyranny on Bligh’s part but because the sailors were reluctant to revert to normal naval routine after their soft life ashore.

After putting Bligh and most of his loyal crewmen into the ship’s small launch, the mutineers took the Bounty back to Tahiti and eventually to Pitcairn Island.

With scant supplies, no charts  and no compass, Bligh navigated the open launch to Timor, a voyage of 3,600 nautical miles (6,700km). This remarkable act of seamanship took 47 days. The sole casualty was a crewman killed by natives on the first island the castaways tried to land on.

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