The mutiny of 28 April 1789 has become the stuff of legend, with Christian seen as the dashing rebel – played in Hollywood hits by the likes of Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson – who bravely ousts the tyrannical captain, William Bligh.
But is this an accurate view of the two men? Here are five facts about the mutiny on the Bounty, and what happened afterwards…
1) WAS BLIGH A BAD LEADER?
The traditional view of the Bounty’s captain is of a bad-tempered and cruel leader who undermined and berated Christian, but the truth is more complex. The gifted sailor served under Captain Cook and Admiral Nelson and had a strong belief that the crew’s welfare was paramount to the success of a voyage. He even hired a musician to entertain the men of the Bounty. The 18 mutineers – over half of the 44-man crew sided with Bligh – were motivated by their memories of the five months they spent in Tahiti. Many resented being at sea and wanted to return to the Sun, sand and their native wives.
2) SMALL BOAT IN BIG ADVENTURE
Bligh, and his supporters, were put on a small boat with few supplies and set adrift by the mutineers. Displaying his skills for seamanship, Bligh navigated the overloaded boat across stormy seas for 47 days, traversing 3,500 nautical miles to safety. He eventually returned to England and reported the mutiny, two years later.
3) FLETCHER’S FATE
The mutineers sailed to Tahiti and Tubuai and attempted to build a settlement, but were constantly met by hostility from the native people. Christian and a few others sailed to Pitcairn Island, where they set the Bounty on fire, stranding them. Christian married a Tahitian woman and had several children before allegedly dying in 1793 during a fight with a band of Tahitian men.
4) A RICH BOUNTY
American photographer and explorer Luis Marden found the wreck of the Bounty in 1957. Despite warnings of dangerous seas, Marden dived for days in the violent swells near Pitcairn Island before finding the remains of the ship.
5) THE FEUD ENDS
For the last 225 years, the feud between Bligh and Christian’s descendants has continued – although not as fiercely as the original. But the feud, such as it is, may have come to its end this year when Maurice Bligh – the great-great-great-grandson of Captain Bligh – met with Christian’s great-great-great-great granddaughter Jacqui on Tahiti for a symbolic ceremony. The Bible Christian took from Bligh’s cabin was returned before, as an act of friendship and goodwill, Maurice handed it back.
Find out more about the aftermath of the mutiny on the Bounty, and Bligh’s extraordinary journey aboard the small boat, in the July issue of History Revealed. Available now in print and for digital devices.