Sunday, 3 June 2012

Loose Ends

HMS Royal William
             With all the loyalists back in England, the court-martial of Lieutenant William Bligh began onboard the Royal William at Spithead, on October 22nd 1790, its aim to ascertain if Bligh and the ship’s officers had resisted sufficiently to prevent the Bounty being taken by the mutineers, not least because nineteen men had been overcome by twenty-five others. The officers corroborated each other’s stories, and, with the exception of William Purcell, the quarrelsome carpenter, Bligh avowed he had not either ‘objection or complaint’ against any man or officer. The court deliberated on the testimonies given, and concluded that the Bounty had, indeed, been ‘violently and forceably taken’ by ‘Fletcher Christian and certain other mutineers’ and Bligh, the officers and loyal men were ‘honourably acquitted’. Purcell, it was decided, was ‘adjudged to be reprimanded’. 

HMS Providence at Tahiti

In April 1791, the newly-promoted Captain Bligh was told of a second mission to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, and in August the three-decked Frigate Providence, with the brig Assistant, together with the requisite complement of lieutenants, officers and a company of twenty marines departed, under his command. They would sail via the Cape of Good Hope, not Cape Horn. They arrived at Tahiti in April 1792, loaded their plants, and left for the Indies, arriving at St Vincent in January 1793. Breadfruit plants were delivered to St Vincent and Jamaica, and some were brought back to London, for Sir Joseph Banks and the Gardens at Kew. On August 7th 1793, Bligh arrived back at Deptford, and home, to great acclaim.

Route of the Bounty and her launch

Two days before the start of the mutineers’ trail, Captain Edward Edwards stood before the same judges on board the Hector, charged with losing the Pandora. His officer’s swore to the veracity of their Captain’s account of events and all concerned were honourably acquitted.

The court-martial of the men brought back from Tahiti on HMS Pandora was convened on September 12th 1792, on the Duke. The ten men were rowed from their confinement on the Hector and brought before the Judge Advocate Greetham and his court. Evidence was given, witnesses were called, defences were presented and, on September 18th, twelve post-captains deliberated before declaring that the loyalists identified by Bligh in his log, Charles Norman, Thomas McIntosh, Joseph Coleman and Michael Byrn, were to be acquitted and released immediately. The charges against the remaining six men were found proved, and they were sentenced to death, although, in ‘consideration of various Circumstances’ Peter Heywood and James Morrison were recommended to His Majesty’s Mercy, and spared. William Muspratt appealed, on a technicality, and was ultimately pardoned in February 1793. The three remaining men, John Millward, Thomas Burkett and Thomas Ellison were transferred to the Brunswick and, at 11.26 on the morning of Monday October 29th 1792, they were hanged from the yardarms.

Hanging from the yardarm

The slaves, for whom the breadfruits were destined as a cheap and nutritious food, did not take to them and refused to eat them. After all that.


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