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Cast out from their ship by Fletcher Christian and his rebel band, William Bligh and eighteen seamen were forced to journey thousands of miles to the nearest port in a small open boat, with inadequate supplies and without a compass or charts. This time-honored classic, written in 1790, is Bligh's personal account of an extraordinary feat of seamanship, in which he used a sextant, a pocket watch, and his own iron will to direct an ill-equipped vessel and crew to safety across nearly 4,000 miles of rolling sea.
Bligh's memoir also recounts the events of a routine voyage of scientific exploration to Tahiti that achieved legendary status when it erupted into the world's most famous mutiny. The captain's narrative offers a marked contrast to the familiar tale of film and fiction. Anyone who thrilled to the Bounty movies, along with all lovers of maritime adventure, will be captivated by this story of daring and perseverance.
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About the Author
Bligh was an English admiral and master of the H.M.S. Bounty.
Read an Excerpt
Mutiny on the Bounty
By William Bligh
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Plan of the Expedition—Outfit, and Occurrences to the Time of leaving England—Description of the Bread-Fruit
THE King having been graciously pleased to comply with a request from the merchants and planters interested in his Majesty's West India possessions, that the bread-fruit tree might be introduced into those islands, a vessel, proper for the undertaking, was bought, and taken into dock at Deptford, to be provided with the necessary fixtures and preparations for executing the object of the voyage. These were completed according to a plan of my much honoured friend, Sir Joseph Banks, which, in the event, proved the most advantageous that could have been adopted for the intended purpose.
The ship was named the Bounty: I was appointed to command her on the 16th of August 1787. Her burthen was nearly 215 tons; her extreme length on deck, 90 feet 10 inches; extreme breadth, 24 feet 3 inches; and height in the hold under the beams, at the main hatchway, 10 feet 3 inches. In the cockpit were the cabins of the surgeon, gunner, botanist, and clerk, with a steward-room and store-rooms. The between decks was divided in the following manner:—the great cabin was appropriated for the preservation of the plants, and extended as far forward as the after hatchway. It had two large skylights, and on each side three scuttles for air, and was fitted with a false floor cut full of holes to contain the garden-pots, in which the plants were to be brought home. The deck was covered with lead, and at the foremost corners of the cabin were fixed pipes to carry off the water that drained from the plants, into tubs placed below to save it for future use. I had a small cabin on one side to sleep in, adjoining to the great cabin, and a place near the middle of the ship to eat in. The bulk-head of this apartment was at the after-part of the main hatchway, and on each side of it were the berths of the mates and midshipmen; between these berths the arms-chest was placed. The cabin of the master, in which was always kept the key of the arms, was opposite to mine. This particular description of the interior parts of the ship is rendered necessary by the event of the expedition.
The ship was masted according to the proportion of the navy; but, on my application, the masts were shortened, as I thought them too much for her, considering the nature of the voyage.
On the 3d of September, the ship came out of dock; but the carpenters and joiners remained on board much longer, as they had a great deal of work to finish.
The next material alteration made in the fitting out, was, lessening the quantity of iron and other ballast.—I gave directions that only 19 tons of iron should be taken on board instead of the customary proportion, which was 45 tons. The stores and provisions I judged would be fully sufficient to answer the purpose of the remainder; for I am of opinion, that many of the misfortunes which attend ships in heavy storms of wind, are occasioned by too much dead weight in their bottoms.
The establishment of men and officers for the ship were as follows:
1 Lieutenant to command
2 Master's Mates
2 Quarter Masters
1 Quarter Master's Mate
1 Boatswain's Mate
1 Gunner's Mate
1 Carpenter's Mate
1 Carpenter's Crew
1 Clerk and Steward
23 Able Seamen
Two skilful and careful men were appointed, at Sir Joseph Banks's recommendation, to have the management of the plants intended to be brought home: the one, David Nelson, who had been on similar employment in Captain Cook's last voyage; the other, William Brown, as an assistant to him.—With these two our whole number amounted to forty-six.
It was proposed, that our route to the Society Islands should be round Cape Horn; and the greatest dispatch became necessary, as the season was already far advanced: but the shipwrights not being able to complete their work by the time the ship was ready in other respects, our sailing was unavoidably retarded. However, by the 4th of October the pilot came on board to take us down the river; on the 9th we fell down to Long Reach, where we received our gunner's stores, and guns, four four-pounders and ten swivels.
The ship was stored and victualled for eighteen months. In addition to the customary allowance of provisions, we were supplied with sour krout, portable soup, essence of malt, dried malt, and a proportion of barley and wheat in lieu of oatmeal. I was likewise furnished with a quantity of iron-work and trinkets, to serve in our intercourse with the natives in the South Seas: and from the board of Longitude I received a time-keeper, made by Mr. Kendal.
On the 15th I received orders to proceed to Spithead; but the winds and weather were so unfavourable that we did not arrive there till the 4th of November. On the 24th I received from Lord Hood, who commanded at Spithead, my final orders. The wind, which for several days before had been favourable, was now turned directly against us. On the 28th the ship's company received two months pay in advance, and on the following morning we worked out to St. Helen's, where we were obliged to anchor.
We made different unsuccessful attempts to get down Channel, but contrary winds and bad weather constantly forced us back to St. Helen's, or Spithead, until Sunday the 23rd of December, when we sailed with a fair wind.
During our stay at Spithead, the rate of the time-piece was several times examined by Mr. Bailey's observations at the Portsmouth observatory. On the 19th of December, the last time of its being examined on shore, it was 1' 52", 5 too fast for mean time, and then losing at the rate of 1", 1 per day; and at this rate I estimate its going when we sailed.
The object of all the former voyages to the South Seas, undertaken by the command of his present majesty, has been the advancement of science, and the increase of knowledge. This voyage may be reckoned the first, the intention of which has been to derive benefit from those distant discoveries. For the more fully comprehending the nature and plan of the expedition, and that the reader may be possessed of every information necessary for entering on the following sheets, I shall here lay before him a copy of the instructions I received from the admiralty, and likewise a short description of the bread-fruit.
By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, &c.
WHEREAS the king, upon a representation from the merchants and planters interested in his majesty's West India possessions, that the introduction of the bread-fruit trees into the islands of those seas, to constitute an article of food, would be of very essential benefit to the inhabitants, hath, in order to promote the interests of so respectable a body of his subjects (especially in an instance which promises general advantage) thought fit that measures should be taken for the procuring some of those trees, and conveying them to the said West India islands: And whereas the vessel under your command hath, in consequence thereof, been stored and victualled for that service, and fitted with proper conveniences and necessaries for the preservation of as many of the said trees as, from her size, can be taken on board her; and you have been directed to receive on board her the two gardeners [David Nelson and William Brown], who from their knowledge of trees and plants, have been hired for the purpose of selecting such as shall appear to be of a proper species and size:
You are, therefore, in pursuance of his majesty's pleasure, signified to us by Lord Sydney, one of his principal secretaries of state, hereby required and directed to put to sea in the vessel you command, the first favourable opportunity of wind and weather, and proceed with her, as expeditiously as possible, round Cape Horn, to the Society Islands, situate in the Southern ocean, in the latitude of about 18°S, and longitude of about 210° E, from Greenwich, where, according to the accounts given by the late Captain Cook, and persons who accompanied him during his voyages, the bread-fruit tree is to be found in the most luxuriant state.
Having arrived at the above-mentioned islands, and taken on board as many trees and plants as may be thought necessary (the better to enable you to do which, you have already been furnished with such articles of merchandise and trinkets as it is supposed will be wanted to satisfy the natives) you are to proceed from thence through Endeavour Straits (which separate New Holland from New Guinea) to Prince's Island, in the Straits of Sunda, or, if it should happen to be more convenient, to pass on the eastern side of Java to some port on the north side of that island, where any bread-fruit trees which may have been injured, or have died, may be replaced by mangosteens, duriens, jacks, nancas, lansas, and other fine fruit trees of that quarter, as well as the rice plant which grows upon dry land; all of which species (or such of them as shall be judged most eligible) you are to purchase on the best terms you can from the inhabitants of that island, with the ducats with which you have also been furnished for that purpose; taking care, however, if the rice plants abovementioned cannot be procured at Java, to touch at Prince's Island for them, where they are regularly cultivated.
From Prince's Island, or the Island of Java, you are to proceed round the Cape of Good Hope to the West Indies (calling on your way thither at any places which may be thought necessary) and deposit one half of such of the above-mentioned trees and plants as may be then alive at his majesty's botanical garden at St. Vincent, for the benefit of the Windward Islands, and then go on to Jamaica: and, having delivered the remainder to Mr. East, or such person or persons as may be authorized by the governor and council of that island to receive them; refreshed your people, and received on board such provisions and stores as may be necessary for the voyage, make the best of your way back to England; repairing to Spithead, and sending to our secretary an account of your arrival and proceedings.
And whereas you will receive herewith a copy of the instructions which have been given to the above-mentioned gardeners for their guidance, as well in procuring the said trees and plants, and the management of them after they shall be put on board, as for bringing to England a small sample of each species, and such others as may be prepared by the superintendent of the botanical garden at St. Vincent's, and by the said Mr. East, or others, for his majesty's garden at Kew; you are hereby required and directed to afford, and to give directions to your officers and company to afford, the said gardeners every possible aid and assistance, not only in the collecting of the said trees and plants at the places before-mentioned, but for their preservation during their conveyance to the places of their destination.
Given under our hands the 20th November 1787.
HOWE CHAS. BRETT RD. HOPKINS J. LEVESON GOWER
To Lieut. Wm. Bligh, commandinghis majesty's armed vessel the Bounty, at Spithead
By commander of their Lordships,
In the foregoing orders it is to be observed, that I was particularly directed to proceed round Cape Horn; but, as the season was so far advanced, and we were so long detained by contrary winds, I made application to the Admiralty for discretional orders on that point; to which I received the following answer:
By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, &c. &c.
THE season of the year being now so far advanced as to render it probable, that your arrival, with the vessel you command, on the southern coast of America, will be too late for your passing round Cape Horn without much difficulty and hazard; you are, in that case, at liberty (notwithstanding former orders) to proceed in her to Otaheite, round the Cape of Good Hope.
Given under our hands the 18th December 1787.
HOWE CHAS. BRETT BAYHAM
To Lieut. Wm. Bligh, commanding his majesty's armed vessel Bounty, Spithead
By command of their Lordships,
THE BREAD-FRUIT is so well known and described, that to attempt a new account of it would be unnecessary and useless. However, as it may contribute to the convenience of the reader, I have given the following extracts respecting it:
Extract from the account of Dampier's Voyage round the world, performed in 1688
"THE bread-fruit (as we call it) grows on a large tree, as big and high as our largest apple-trees: It hath a spreading head, full of branches and dark leaves. The fruit grows on the boughs like apples; it is as big as a penny-loaf when wheat is at 5s. the bushel; it is of a round shape, and hath a thick tough rind. When the fruit is ripe, it is yellow and soft, and the taste is sweet and pleasant. The natives of Guam use it for bread. They gather it, when full-grown, while it is green and hard; then they bake it in an oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black; but they scrape off the outside black crust, and there remains a tender thin crust; and the inside is soft, tender, and white like the crumb of a penny-loaf. There is neither seed nor stone in the inside, but all is of a pure substance, like bread. It must be eaten new; for, if it is kept above twenty-four hours, it grows harsh and choaky; but it is very pleasant before it is too stale. This fruit lasts in season eight months in the year, during which the natives eat no other sort of food of bread kind. I did never see of this fruit any where but here. The natives told us, that there is plenty of this fruit growing on the rest of the Ladrone islands: and I did never hear of it any where else." Vol. I. p. 296.
Extract from the account of Lord Anson's Voyage, published by Mr. Walter
"THERE was, at Tinian, a kind of fruit, peculiar to these (Ladrone) islands, called by the Indians rhymay, but by us the bread-fruit; for it was constantly eaten by us, during our stay upon the island, instead of bread; and so universally preferred, that no ship's bread was expended in that whole interval. It grew upon a tree which is somewhat lofty, and which towards the top divides into large and spreading branches. The leaves of this tree are of a remarkable deep green, are notched about the edges, and are generally from a foot to eighteen inches in length. The fruit itself is found indifferently on all parts of the branches; it is, in shape, rather elliptical than round; it is covered with a tough rind, and is usually seven or eight inches long; each of them grows singly, and not in clusters. This fruit is fittest to be used when it is full-grown, but still green; in which state, after it is properly prepared by being roasted in the embers, its taste has some distant resemblance to that of an artichoke's bottom, and its texture is not very different, for it is soft and spungy."
Extracts from the account of the first Voyage of Captain Cook. Hawkesworth, Vol. II
"THE bread-fruit grows on a tree that is about the size of a middling oak; its leaves are frequently a foot and a half long, of an oblong shape, deeply sinuated like those of the fig-tree, which they resemble in consistence and colour, and in the exuding of a white milky juice upon being broken. The fruit is about the size and shape of a child's head, and the surface is reticulated not much unlike a truffle: it is covered with a thin skin, and has a core about as big as the handle of a small knife. The eatable part lies between the skin and the core; it is as white as snow, and somewhat of the consistence of new bread: it must be roasted before it is eaten, being first divided into three or four parts. Its taste is insipid, with a slight sweetness somewhat resembling that of the crumb of wheaten bread mixed with a Jerusalem artichoke."
P. 80, 81. See also the plate there and at p. 232.
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