Wednesday, 30 May 2012

From very bad to so much worse

Loading Breadfruit.

              After two and a half weeks at sea, during periods of squalls and heavy rain and even, at one time, a waterspout, the Bounty approached Anamooka, an island known to Bligh from his visit with Cook in 1777. The Bounty landed on April 23rd 1789, and Bligh was pleased to be reacquainted with old friends. He was, however, dismayed at the condition of the natives, many of whom had sores, together with self-inflicted wounds from ritualistic mourning, including amputated fingers, even on small boys. Supplies were bought, including hogs, fowls and yams, and wood and water taken aboard. Whilst filling the water casks, the sailors were surrounded by natives, and during the distraction, tools were stolen and stones thrown. The work party, fearing worse violence, retreated to the Bounty.  A grapnail (a small anchor) went missing, and Bligh threatened to ‘detain’ some of the chiefs onboard Bounty until it was returned. He had precedent for this; Cook had done the same (and worse) when he had been there. But Bligh was not Cook, and at sundown, with the chiefs weeping bitterly and beating their eyes with their fists, he relented, gave them gifts and let them go. 

On April 27th, the Bounty left Anamooka, setting a northerly course for Tofua. There followed an argument about coconuts, Bligh maintaining that some had been stolen, the men denying this. Bligh probably thought nothing of it – it is not mentioned in his logs (Bligh kept two logbooks; an ‘official’ Admiralty log and a ‘private’, more candid, one) nor does he mention it in his A Voyage to the South Seas, and, as was his custom every third evening, invited Fletcher Christian to dine with him, although Christian declined, claiming indisposition. At 11 pm, Bligh went on deck to give Fryer, the master, who was on first watch, his orders for the night, then, about midnight, retired to his bunk. 

Bligh's log for April 28th 1789

At dawn on April 28th 1789, a party of armed men, led by Fletcher Christian, dragged Lieutenant William Bligh from his bed. He was tightly bound, and, clad only in his nightshirt, dragged onboard deck. Crying “Murder”, he was told repeatedly to remain silent – “Hold your tongue, Sir, or you are dead this instant”. The company was divided into those loyal to Bligh and those following Christian. Strong words and threats ensued. Cutlasses, muskets and bayonets were brandished. The armed mutineers made to put the smaller launch in the sea, but it was found to be rotten, so the larger 23-foot launch was put in the water. 

Plan of the launch - from Bligh's A Voyage to the South Seas

Twine, canvas, lines, sails, and cordage were put into the boat, together with the carpenter’s tool box, a compass and a quadrant (but no maps or charts), 150 lbs. of bread, 32 lbs. of Pork, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine, with 28 gallons of water and four empty casks (in all, enough for about five days). At great personal risk, the clerk, John Samuel, had managed to bring Bligh’s logs and journals, his commission and some of the ship’s papers. Bligh and eighteen men were forced into the launch (four more men who wanted to go were denied, for lack of room), four cutlasses were thrown to them, and they were set adrift.

Cast Adrift

Bligh’s assessment of the mutineers is astonishingly calm and insightful, given his treatment by them. In his log, he wrote; 
I can only conjecture that they have Idealy assured themselves of a more happy life among the Otaheitans than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some Female connection, has most likely been the leading cause of the Whole business.
The Women are handsome, mild in their Manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The Cheifs have acquired such a likeing to our People that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desireable it is therefore not to be Wondered at tho not possible to be foreseen, that a Set of Sailors led by Officers, and void of connections, or if they have any, not possessed of Natural feelings sufficient to Wish themselves never to be separated from them, should be governed by such powerfull inducements but equal to this, what a temptation it is to such Wretches when they find it in their power, however illegally it can be got at, to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest Island in the World where they need not labour, and where the alurements of disipation are more than equal to any thing that can be conceived.”  
(Bligh's Log, April 28th 1789)

Casting off the launch.

Tofua lay ten leagues to the north; Bligh raised the launch’s sail and a light breeze carried them there, although, due to steep cliffs they were unable to land until the next day. It was hard to find food and water, and they made camp in a cave until some natives approached. They traded what little they had for food, and soon other natives appeared. As the realisation came that these men were alone and virtually unarmed, the situation started to get increasingly hostile. More canoes arrived and their occupants started banging stones together – a sign they meant to attack. Calmly, Bligh led his men back to the launch, when suddenly about 200 islanders struck, hurling stones. With all but one man aboard, the launch started to row away. The quartermaster, John Norton, was attempting to cast off the stern line when he was surrounded, knocked down and stoned to death. Islanders grabbed a rope, which Bligh cut, but about twelve men in a canoe continued to throw rocks at the launch, and, unable to return fire, all seemed lost, when Bligh started to throw clothing overboard. The canoeists stopped to collect the clothes, giving the launch time to escape out of range, and into the open sea. The Friendly Islands were not exactly living up to their name.

Raising a sail for Tofua

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