Monday, 28 May 2012

The Best Laid Plans ...

                    Lieutenant William Bligh was the only commissioned officer onboard HMAV Bounty – her size meant she had only warrant officers; the master, the boatswain, the carpenter, the gunner and the surgeon, and that there were no marines aboard to enforce order. (This is why she was HMAV Bounty, never HMS Bounty). 

Bligh had written to Sir Joseph Banks before departure that the surgeon, Thomas Huggan, was an unsuitable choice, as he was an indolent, corpulent alcoholic. Nevertheless, Huggan was appointed, although an assistant, Thomas Ledward, gained a position too. John Fryer, the ship’s master, also caused Bligh some concern. He had only been in the Navy for seven years, and his position was similar to Bligh’s own when he served under Cook, the main difference being that Bligh had been a keen nineteen-year-old lieutenant-in-training, whereas Fryer was thirty-five years old and unlikely to advance any further up the ranks. Bligh had no confidence in him, considering him to be superfluous to need. 


The first sign of trouble was on August 23rd 1788, when Bligh entered in his log that the carpenter, William Purcell, had refused to obey an order and that he wanted to confine him, prior to court martial, but could not afford to lose an able man. Bligh began to feel the lack of brother officers and law-enforcing marines. By his own account, Bligh had sought to avoid any punishments on the voyage and was dismayed when the ship’s Master, Fryer, made the complaint against Able Seaman Matthew Quintal of insolent behaviour and contempt, in effect forcing Bligh's hand to order two dozen lashes to be administered. Soon after, Bligh and Fryer clashed when Fryer refused to sign off the bi-monthly inspection of the account books, which required a master’s signature. Bligh responded by calling all hands on deck, where he read the Articles of War, in particular the ‘Instructions relative to the matter’; the ‘troublesome’ Fryer backed down and signed the books. The next day, October 10th 1788, Bligh logged the death of Seaman James Valentine, who had been injured and treated by surgeon Huggan, who had bled the man. The site of the bleeding became infected, the man died, and the drunken doctor seemed to be the cause, although Bligh also suspected his other warrant officers of being at fault for not reporting Valentine’s declining condition to him.

The delay caused by being unable to sail via Cape Horn, and the subsequent longer eastern route, meant that the Bounty arrived at Otaheite later than envisaged by Lieut. Bligh. In the conditions, Bligh was aware that trading between the islanders and his men was inevitable, and he drew up a set of injunctions that were nailed to the mizzenmast; trade was only to be carried out through designated representatives – Cook himself had had problems with barter when one of his men had bought a pig with rare red feathers, thereby establishing the market currency for any future pigs! Playing his cards close to his chest, Bligh did not tell the Tahitians the Bounty’s real mission.

I had fent Nelfon [i.e. David Nelson, the ship’s botanist] and his affiftant to look for plants, and it was no fmall pleafure to me to find, by their report, that, according to appearances, the object of my miffion would probably be accompliffied with eafe. I had given directions to every one on board not to make known to the iflanders the purpofe of our coming, left it might enhance the value of the bread-fruit plants, or occafion other difficulties. 
Wm. Bligh, A Voyage to the South Seas, 1792, p. 67. (The original long ‘ess’ retained). 

The same passage from William Bligh A Voyage to the South Seas 1792

Bligh met with Tinah, the chief, and gave him and his people many presents, 
… on account of their good-will, and from a defire to ferve him and his country, King George had fent out thofe valuable prefents to him; " and will not you, Tinah, fend fomething to King George in return?"— " Yes," he faid, " I will fend him any thing I have;" and then began to enumerate the different articles in his power, among which he mentioned the bread-fruit. This was the exact point to which I wifhed to bring the converfation; and, feizing an opportunity, which had every appearance of being un-defigned and accidental, I told him the bread-fruit-trees were what King George would like; upon which he promifed me a great many fhould be put on board, and feemed much delighted to find it fo eafily in his power to fend any thing that would be well received by King George.” Ibid, p. 73. 

The same passage from William Bligh A Voyage to the South Seas 1792

Bligh knew he would have to wait out the approaching monsoon season, avoiding its fierce storms and gales, and that he would have to stay on for a further five months before the weather would be favourable again for sailing. Tinah would supply Bligh with over a thousand breadfruit plants, but due to the delay mentioned earlier, the seedlings were not large enough to be transported safely immediately, so Bligh arranged for some of his crew to tend the plants in a specially built nursery on the island. The party included Nelson the botanist, his assistant William Brown, and four able seamen. They were placed under the command of Mr Fletcher Christian.

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