Notable Historical Trials III – The Bounty Mutineers

“The Mutiny on the Bounty” is a famed incident, although I’m not sure why the collection of breadfruit seedlings should catch hold of the imaginaton.  Perhaps it is because it was such a ‘clean’ mutiny – nobody was cut to ribbons or tossed overboard to drown.  Captain Bligh and many of his followers were allowed to leave in an open boat, after which he sailed on to the East Indes, some 2500 miles.

The mutineers and that remained didn’t fare quite as well – many remained on Tahiti to await another ship and the remaining nine sailed to Pitcairn with a bevy of kidnapped ‘wives’ and guides.  A few years later, most of them were killed when the natives they had been abusing revolted.  Only one European was still alive when they were finally rediscovered.

The trials were interesting, as most of the results hinged on the moment when the choice came to try and get in the boat with Bligh.  Those that tried and were stopped were acquitted.  Those that did not, especially officers, were convicted.  The midshipmen that were convicted were recommended for a commutation due to their youth – in these days a midshipman could be in his early teens.  The sentence was set aside by the King and the midshipmen went on to decent careers.

There was an interesting tale about Heywood, one of the midshipmen and now a Captain, spotting a man appearing to be Fletcher Christian in Plymouth and chasing him down a street until the man escaped.  While it makes a nice story, you’d think that the Royal Navy’s main base would be the last place an escaped mutineer would go, assuming he somehow got back to England.  He probably was one of those killed in the revolt on Pitcairn in 1793.

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2 thoughts on “Notable Historical Trials III – The Bounty Mutineers

    • The chapter in the Trials book mentions a summary from 1831 – “Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of the Bounty” by Sir John Barrow – part of which is excerpted. This quotes Bligh but also uses other testimony to balance it out. The author was a member of the Admiralty, so isn’t likely to be too romantically inclined to side with the mutineers.

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