PITCAIRN DESCENDANTS OF THE 'BOUNTY' MUTINEERS
The revolutionary movement that led to the decapitation of the French King evolved by 1804 to crown a French emperor; and for England, the war with France that began in early 1793 was to continue, with little respite, for twenty-two years. On land, Napoleon's armies had consumed whole countries, but Britain still retained command of the sea and in October 1805 won a historic victory at the battle of Trafalgar. Under the command of Lord Nelson, the British defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets - but lost Nelson, who had died on his ship thanking God he had done his duty. The navy was now perpetually engaged in a strategy of blockade and skirmish with few further major battles. On the bright side of things, there were no more officers on half-pay. Amid this grave turmoil the affair of the Bounty, a small transport vessel in the Pacific, was no longer a matter of consequence. In any case, the navy had undergone important reforms and change, and events of the 1780s belonged to a bygone age.
The Pacific had been 'opened'. The penal colony at Port Jackson was succeeding, there was missionary activity in the islands, and a steady if still sparse traffic of mostly American whalers and sealers patrolled these seas. And it was an American sealer, the Topaz, that in February 1808, cruising at latitude 25 degree 04' south, longitude 130 degrees 06' west, spied land where no land was indicated on the charts. Over the next hours, as the Topaz, under the command of Captain Mayhew Folger, drew closer, the island was seen to be about two miles long and a mile wide, green and forested, with precipitous, dangerous cliffs that admitted no anchorage - 'iron bound', as it would later be described. From its latitude, Captain Folger guessed this must be Pitcairn's island, discovered forty years ago by the British sloop Swallow, Captain Philip Carteret, but wrongly laid down on all sea charts as lying nearly 180 miles further west. Folger had come to a place, then, that was literally off the map.
Sailing through the night, the ship was off Pitcairn by the early hours of the morning. At daylight, Folger joined a boat party to go ashore in search of seals, wood and water. Approaching the plunging cliffs, Folger and his men were startled to see smoke drifting lazily from the trees in the fresh dawn light. 'I was very much Surprised,' Folger wrote in his log. The island had been represented by Carteret as being 'destitute of inhabitants.' Folger had thought he was at least eight hundred miles from the nearest inhabited land. Suddenly, skimming towards them through heavy surf, came a double canoe, expertly paddled by three young men. And to their utter amazement, Folger's party heard themselves hailed in English by the three dark-skinned men, asking for the captain of the ship. Turning to his crew, Mayhew asked them who they thought the men could be. 'Curse them, they must be Spaniards,' his mate had replied, judging from the young men's tawny good looks. The canoe and the boat now hobbled beside each other and it was seen that the three friendly strangers had brought a hog, fruit and coconuts as presents for their visitors, Tahitian fashion.
'Where are you from?' one of the young men asked. Folger, believing the men would know little about America, answered, 'England.' 'Don't you know my father?' asked another islander, who appeared to be in his late teens. 'He is an Englishman.' Folger did not know his father, and the youth tried again. 'Did you ever know Captain Bligh?' he asked, adding that 'his father had sailed with him.' And thus it dawned on Folger that he had solved the mystery of what had become of Fletcher Christian and the Bounty.
Ferried by the adroit canoeists through the violent surf that guarded the island, Folger arrived onshore. He was met by the island's small colony of thirty-five inhabitants of mostly women, youths and children - the widows and offspring of the Bounty mutineers. Ranging from one week to some eighteen years of age, the Bounty children were a handsome people, the young men standing over six feet, men and women alike strong-limbed and athletic - they not infrequently swam around the island for pleasure and exercise, they said. Dark haired, with perfect white teeth and tawny skin, they stood neatly naked, the men dressed only in loincloths and straw hats, the young women with long skirts and shawls of bark cloth draped over their shoulders. They had plenty of old clothes from the Bounty, as it turned out, but preferred not to wear them. The oldest of the young men, a youth of eighteen, with a recognizably English face under his dark tan and long, plaited hair, was Fletcher Christian's son, Thursday October Christian. His father had named him for the day and month of the child's birth, much as another mutineer had tattooed himself, nearly twenty years before, with the date of his arrival and rebirth on Tahiti.
Reluctantly, tentatively, and much against the misgivings of his suspicious wife, the island patriarch came out to meet with Folger. Alexander Smith, former able seaman, had been about twenty-three when the Bounty sailed. short and stocky, at five foot five, and badly scarred by smallpox, he had been, as Bligh reported, 'very much tattooed on his Body, Legs, Arms, & feet' while at Tahiti. Smith was in his mid-forties but looked much older, his brown hair mixed with white and hanging in long strands from his bald pate. he was the sole surviving mutineer. Smith's principal concern at this first meeting with the outside world, and the source of his wife's anxiety, was that a King's ship might carry him away to serve justice in England. Folger had caught wind of this fear and revised his own introduction, disclosing to his three young guides that he was not after all from England but from America.
'Where is America?' the mutineer had exclaimed, on learning of the great naval victories won by Lords Howe and Nelson. For his part, Folger does not seem to have been particularly inquisitive about the events on the Bounty. Smith had kept 'a regular Journal, which had become very voluminous,' from which he invited Folger to copy any extracts he chose - an offer Folger declined in light of the fact that he was staying 'only five hours.' the information Folger did pick up was somewhat murky, in part because he left no account of how it was obtained: had Smith volunteered information, or had Folger asked leading questions, based upon what he knew of this by now famous story? the mutiny, said Smith, looking back to those few fraught hours almost two decades ago, 'originated with Lieutenant Christian, who at the time was Officer of the Watch,' and its cause was the 'overbearing and tyrannical conduct of the Captain.' Alexander Smith had been fast asleep in his hammock when it broke out and on learning of the events had come on deck bewildered and disoriented. 'Arms were put into his hands.'
('I saw Chas. Churchill, Isaac Martin, Alexr. Smith, Jn. Summer, Matthew Quintell, come armed with Musquets and bayonets, loading as they Came Aft,' Charles Norman had testified.) After leaving sixteen men and cutting the ship's cable in the night at Tahiti, Christian steered the Bounty for a group of islands said to have been discovered by the Spanish. When no such islands were found, the company had struck out for Pitcairn's, which they had at last hit upon despite its wrong position on the charts. running the Bounty aground on the island's rocky, treacherous shore, they had then broken up the ship that had carried them on so many adventures.
The little band of mutineers had forged a successful settlement, with each Englishman building his own thatched house and tending his own garden, together with his wife. Good, rich soil and an abundance of fruit, coconut, fish and wild birds made it possible to build new lives from scratch. The breadfruit tree was found in abundance. The colony had prospered, although two of the mutineers died in the first two years, one of 'sickness', one by jumping off the towering rocks in a fit of insanity. Four or five years later, six of the seven remaining mutineers, including Fletcher Christian, were killed in the night by their 'Otaheite servants', who had risen against them. Only Alexander smith had been left alive, although badly wounded. The widows of the mutineers then in turn killed their Tahitian kinsmen in revenge, and so Smith had been left with all the women, and their various offspring.
This much came from Smith alone. As Captain Folger noted, it was peculiar, but all the children spoke only English and all the Tahitian widows only Tahitian. It was, then, obviously not possible to interview the women who had been eyewitnesses, if not participants, in the events smith so dispassionately described. Before they parted, Smith gave Folger two generous and significant gifts: the Bounty's Kendall chronometer and her azimuth compass, along with provisions and a length of mulberry bark cloth. Folger for his part presented Smith with a silk handkerchief, with which the mutineer seemed much pleased. Folger then departed, making his way back to the Topaz through the high, dangerous surf that protected the island from landfall, and continued on his sealing voyage.
Before leaving Pitcairn's, Folger asked Alexander Smith if he objected to having an account of his discovery published 'in the papers,' and Smith said no - 'he did not care for all the navy of England could never find him.' but in fact the story of the Bounty mutineers, which had evoked so much attention back in the old days, now received surprisingly little comment. Folger and his first mate made a report to a British lieutenant Fitzmaurice, in Valparalso, who in turn reported the discovery to his Admiral, Sir William Sidney Smith, who passed the information on to the Admiralty. In this roundabout manner, the news reached England, eventually prompting mention in the London press. In early 1810, the Quarterly Review printed the whole of Fitzmaurice's report, although not as an item of interest in itself, but only as a brief aside within a longer, unrelated article. 'If this interesting relation rested solely on the faith that is due to Americans, with whom, we say it with regret, truth is not always considered as a moral obligation, we should hesitate in giving it this publicity,' the Review reported frostily to its Tory readers. The editors, however, had checked their facts, and independently ascertained that Alexander Smith did indeed appear on the Bounty muster, and it also appeared that 'the Bounty was actually supplied with a time-piece made by Kendall.'
In his report Lieutenant Fitzmaurice duly recorded Folger's observation that the mutineers' offspring all spoke English and had been educated 'in a religious and moral way.' His report also made mention of a curious fact: the second mate of the Topaz asserted to him that 'Christian the ringleader became insane shortly after their arrival on the island, and threw himself off the rocks into the sea.' Alexander Smith had of course told Folger that Christian had been killed in the uprising of the Otaheite 'servants'. This discrepancy was reported without comment. More unexpected than the lukewarm reception of Folger's news in the popular press was the apparent total lack of interest on the part of the Admiralty. perhaps the war with France was too great a distraction, or the Pacific was simply too far away, or the fact that Americans had broken the story may have rendered it unappealing; perhaps the Bounty was a story that nobody in the Admiralty particularly wished to see revived.
Whatever the reasons, the silence from the Admiralty was so profound that when six years later, in 1814, two British naval ships also chanced upon Pitcairn, they were completely ignorant of the events relating tot he Topaz. Captain Sir Thomas Staines of the Briton accompanied by the Tagus under Captain Philip Pipon, coming from the Marquesas islands, 'fell in with an island where none is laid down in the Admiralty, or other charts'; evidently, the Admiralty had not even fit to revise its sea maps. As the two ships approached the picturesque island, with its forested heights and severe crags, they, like Folger, were surprised to see evidence of habitation in the form of striking huts and houses 'more neatly constructed than those on the Marquesas islands' and tidy plantations. when the ships were about two miles from shore, according to Pipon, 'some natives were observed bringing down their canoes on their shoulders, dashing through the heavy turf' towards the ships. Like Folger and his crew, Captains Staines and Pipon were astonished when one of the natives hailed them in English with the cry 'Won't you heave us a rope, now?'
The tall young man of some twenty-four years who first climbed on board was Thursday October Christian; his companion, also a fine young man of about eighteen, was George Young, son of Edward Young who had been, with Christian, one of the only two officers among the nine Pitcairn mutineers. Evidently, at this second visit from their fathers' world, the young men were bolder and willingly accepted an invitation to join the astonished company for a meal. The company's astonishment was increased when one of the loincloth-clad visitors suddenly rose from the table 'and placing his hands together in a posture of devotion, distinctly repeated, and in a pleasing tone and manner, "For what we are going to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful."'
With these words - or rather the report of these words that would eventually be read with avid and approving interest in England - the Pitcairn Islanders at last strode onto the stage of history. With the assistance of their young guides, Captains Staines and Pipon made their way towards the ironbound shore, where a murderous wetting, 'they were led from the rocky beach up a steep, zigzagging rail that passed beneath trees of coconut and breadfruit to the island's settlement here, on a small plateau stood a square of net houses laid out around a lawn on which chickens ran, and which bore the appearance, in the eyes of the wistful Englishmen, of a village green. 'Surveying these relics of the mutineers' domestic history, the two captains were much impressed by the neat arrangement of the 'village' and its surpassing cleanliness, all betraying the 'labour & ingenuity of European hands.' Alexander Smith's house stood at one end of the square, facing that of Thursday October Christian, the two symbolizing h poles of authority around which the community revolved. This trim village also enjoyed a grand lookout over the Pacific, a point from which any chance ship might be observed.
At the settlement the captains were met by the daughter of Alexander Smith, 'arrayed in nature's simple garb, and wholly unadorned,' but, as Pipon later told his shipmates, 'she was Beauty's self and, needed not the aid of ornament.' This cautious beauty had been sent out as a spy to find out what might have brought the English ships. On being reassured that the men came alone and did not intend to apprehend her father, she led them t the patriarch himself. Thus Smith at last appeared, leading his wife, a very old, blind Tahitian woman, and introduced himself to the English captains as 'John Adams'. This reversion to what was in fact his true, christened name was one of the many layers of truth that would be peeled away from smith/Adams' story over the coming years, as ship after ship came, went and made report to the outside world. Adams took the alias of Smith on joining the Bounty, enticed, one suspects, by the fact that her destination was as far from England as it was possible to travel; he may have been a deserter from another ship, or perhaps his reasons for wishing to escape detection were more personal.
Captain Sir Thomas Staines, in his forties and with one arm lost in battle, and his colleague Captain Philip Pipon found much to admire as they strolled around the settlement. There was the island's own rich bounty, the coconuts, wild birds and fruit, as well as the produce garnered by the residents' industry in their carefully tended fields. The captains admired the unconcealed joy the 'poor people manifested, on seeing those whom they were pleased to consider their countrymen.' In Fletcher Christian's son they had been happy 'to trace in his benevolent countenance, all the features of an honest English face. . . . He is of course of brown cast, not however, with that mixture of red, so disgusting in the wild Indians,' Pipon recorded. Other Englishmen, as Pipon hardly needed reminding, had not found the Tahitian tincture so off-putting. Thursday October was now married 'to a woman much older than himself'; in fact, he had married Edward young's widow, a woman of his own mother's generation.
Above all else, the Englishmen admired Pitcairn's young women - their 'bashfulness that would do honour to the most virtuous nation,' their tall, robust forms, their regular, ivory teeth and most of all 'the upper part' of their bodies, so frequently displayed whenever they laid aside the shawls that formed their only upper dress. 'it is not possible to behold finer forms,' Pipon observed delightedly. Venerable John Adams, the island patriarch, had complemented the young women's native modesty by instilling in them 'a proper sense of religion and morality.' According to Adams, since Christian's death, 'there had not been a single instance of any young woman proving unchaste; nor any attempt at seduction on the part of the men.' To the English captains wandering beneath the luxuriant trees among the bare-breasted virgins, it seemed they had entered a kind of paradise - a rich Eden with its own Adam, innocent of civilized wiles. Pitcairn had many of the attractions of Tahiti, enhanced by a recognizably English decency, the Book of Common Prayer and blushing modesty. here, in short, a decent man might feel no shame in gawking at the island's naked girls.
The Englishmen's admiration increased when on entering he houses they found feather beds on proper bedsteads, tables, chests all with neat cloth coverings. There were shutters at night, but no locks upon the doors, as the notion of theft did not exist among the pious colonists. In lieu of candles, a certain oily nut was burned for light. John Adams was not bashful about letting his visitors view his library, which 'consisted of the books that belonged to Admiral Bligh.' Bligh had written his name on the little page of every volume, beneath which Fletcher Christian had inscribed his own signature.
Adams was assured by the captains that the authorities in England were 'perfectly ignorant of his existence,' and indeed it was he who informed them of the visit of the Topaz. Relaxing in his library, the old mutineer dropped his guard somewhat and chatted about th colony's early history. His voluminous journal turned out to be a kind of landsman's log more than a personal diary, containing only brief notations of each day's principal events. From this, Sraines and Pipon learned that one other ship had approached Pitcairn before the Topaz, in 1795. Adams elaborated on this event and in doing so contradicted his journal: three ships had arrived, he said, one in December 1795, one shortly after, and later still a third, which had come close enough to the island to se them and their houses. In later reports, he would say that one of these ships had actually sent a boat ashore, for the islanders had afterwards seen evidence of its landing.
The Bounty had arrived at Pitcairn on 15 January 1790, with the nine mutineers, eleven Otaheite women, one child, and six 'black men', by which was meant Otaheite men; the insistence on the men only being 'black' while the women were 'Otaheitian' is in itself striking. Despite the error of the island's position on all the Bounty's charts, Christian himself was certain they had found Pitcairn's. The mutineers drove the ship into a creek against the spray-beaten cliffs, unloaded all they could carry, and then set her on fire. Adam's account of this point of no return, the climactic and symbolic firing of the Bounty, would change over the years with different tellings. For now, to the English captains, he claimed that it was Fletcher Christian who had been responsible.
Christian himself was never the same after the mutiny. He became, Adams said, sullen and morose and 'having, by many acts of cruelty and inhumanity, brought on himself the hatred and detestation of his companions, he was shot by a black man whilst digging in his field, and almost instantly expired.' this had taken place less than a year after they were on the island. The black man was himself later assassinated, so justice had been served. Christian's behaviour had so alienated his people from him that divisive parties had formed, with feelings running very high and each seeking occasion to put the other to death. One act in particular had incurred the hatred of the black men: when Fletcher Christian's wife died, he had then seized upon one of their wives, which had 'exasperated them to a degree of madness.' As for old John Adams, the English captains were in agreement that on him the 'welfare of the colony entirely depends.' It was he who had taught the Pitcairn Islanders the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. Other, somewhat contradictory information was given by the young men who had first romped through the treacherous surf to greet the ships. Their religion had been learned by Fletcher Christian's order, they had reported, and 'he likewise caused a prayer to be said every day at noon.'
'And what is the prayer?' the young men were asked.
'It is "I will arise and go to my Father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy of being called thy son."' Before Staines and Pipon left the island they asked Adams if he would wish to se his native land again, and to their surprise he said he would. Alone with the captains in his house when this bold ploy was discussed, Adams turned to summon his family for a consultation. Suddenly, it seemed the entire community was gathered outside his door. 'Oh, do not, Sir, take from me my father: do not take away my best - my dearest friend,' Adam's daughter had implored the captains, before braking down entirely. The whole company was soon in tears. Adams's daughter in particular was lovely in her tears, 'for each seemed to add an additional charm.' With much feeling, Staines and Pipon assured their hosts that they had no intention to take the old man from his flock. And should he ever return to England, perhaps 'his unremitting attention to the government and morals of this little colony' might win him his sovereign's pardon.
With regret and brimming hearts, the captains bade farewell to the picturesque colony, and to the former able seaman of his majesty's service. both Staines and Pipon wrote accounts of their remarkable discovery, as did their lieutenant of marines, John Shillibeer, who had remained on the ship. following their return to England, a lengthy story appeared in the Naval Chronicle, consisting of Captain Staine's report filed from Valparaiso and largely paraphrasing Pipon's more personal account, the editors of the Chronicle made discreet editorial cuts in the interest of good taste. Pipon's observation that Christian's death '[thus terminated the miserable existence of this deluded young man, whose connexions in Westmoreland were extremely respectable' was subtly revised to read simply that Christian was a man who 'was neither deficient in talent, energy, nor connexions, and who might have risen in the service, and become an ornament to his profession.'
A similar toning down was effected b the exclusion of a striking and key paragraph in which Pipon had described Christian's actions on the death of his wife: "Christian's wife had paid the debt of nature, & as we have very reason to suppose sensuality & passion for the females of Otaheite chiefly instigated him to the rash step he had taken, so it is readily to be believed he would not live long on the island without a female companion.' The attachments of the mutineers to the women of Otaheite was of course the cause Bligh had ascribed to the mutiny. The editors of the Chronicle also took the opportunity to impress an important point upon their readers: Adams, that venerable and sage old patriarch, would one day also pay the debt of nature, and it was 'exceedingly desirable, that the British nation should provide for such an event, by sending out, not an ignorant and idle missionary, but some zealous and intelligent instructor.' For on Pitcairn's island 'there are better materials to work upon than missionaries have yet been so fortunate as to meet with' - namely, men and women of English blood.
this time, the discovery - or rediscovery - of Pitcairn and the fate of the Bounty mutineers incited wide interest. As with the story of the mutiny itself, back in 1790, this new chapter in the Bounty saga was quickly exploited in the theatre. Pitcairn's Island, 'A new Melo Dramatic Ballet of Action', opened in Drury Lane in April 1816; this distinguished theatre had been managed for several seasons by the multi-talented Aaron Graham.
Snuggled expectantly in the grand auditorium, the London audience watched as the curtain rose to reveal the picturesque colony of maids and youths against the painted Pacific scenery. Entering from offstage and sporting a remarkable, long beard, Fletcher Christian suddenly appeared behind the footlights. The script describes his entrance: 'he extends his arms in giving them a general Benediction.' Two ships appear. 'With what Terror do I recognize the Ensigns of my Country,' Christian exclaims. As the English crew approach, dressed a captains and jolly tars, Christian departs into hiding, admonishing his people to show the visitors 'the graves of the departed and let them think that my family lie buried there with m companions.' there is playful interaction between the sailors and the handsome children of the mutineers, and a midshipman chats up a native daughter. later Christian reappears disguised and pretending to be John Adams, to preside over various sporting games between his people and the sailors. finally, the visitors return to their boats as tearful women cling to them, waving flowers and with hearty cries of 'when we meet again!'
The single most interesting detail of this 'spectacle' is of course that its writer understood that the hero of this story, whether in fact dead or alive, must be Fletcher Christian. John Adams, venerable patriarch and survivor thought he may have been, did not possess the drawing power of the arch-mutineer. This very public fantasy that Fletcher Christian as alive and ruling an island kingdom did not appear to raise eyebrows in any circles. Following this new account, British ships became not infrequent visitors to the remote island colony. Sir William Sidney Smith, who had been in command of the south American station at the time Captain Folger made his report, now learning of plans to 'send some succour to the semi British colony' and feeling it his duty as an Englishman to contribute to the moral and intellectual improvement of his countrymen, begged the Admiralty to forward the islanders a gift. his gift was the academic edition,' as he emphasized, of Robinson Crusoe, with its elaborate and instructive notes, which would doubtless be of value to these ingenious islanders - one can imagine the face of Alexander Smith, now John Adams, as he cautiously handled the unexpected volume.
One more ship, the American whaler Sultan, under Captain C. Reynolds, in 1817, was to discover the island for herself, without prior knowledge of its history. The sultan was also the first ship that Adams himself was induced to board. Apparently 'elated' to feel the unsteady motion of a deck again beneath his feet, the old mutineer had pulled at the rigging and sung songs, to the appreciation of the Yankee crew. The Sultan carried away much of importance. Adams presented Captain Reynolds with 'a old spy glass, and two blank books which belonged to the Bounty,' doubtless the spoils of Captain Bligh's possessions. As it turned out, one of the notebooks was not entirely blank, for it contained Adams's touching efforts at writing his own biography: 'I was Born at Stanford Hill in the Parrish of St. John Hackney, Middellsex oef poor but honast parrents My farther Was Drouned in the Thames therefore he left Me and 3 More poore Orfing.'
One of these other poor orphans was Adams's brother Jonathan who, while his brother had been, reinventing himself as a Pacific Island patriarch, was himself more prosaically employed as a fireman of the London Assurance Company. In time, through the medium of visiting ships and the friendly assistance of the occasional fully literate visitor, the two brothers were able to enjoy an intermittent correspondence:
Pitcairn's Island, March 3, 1819
... it gives me much pleasure to hear that you are in health . . . hope with the blessings of Providence you will continue so, and likewise that your worldly circumstances will be improved: but we must leave all to the all-wise disposer of events. As to my coming to England, that is not much to be expected. . . .
As the years passed, a visit to the Pitcairn Island community became a kind of obligatory port of call for Pacific-going ships anywhere in the vicinity which dropped off clothes, farm implements, fishing hooks, bedding and improving texts donated by missionary groups or other well-wishers. For as long as Adams was alive, a meeting with the 'patriarch' - as he was invariably called, despite being only in his fifties - became an equally obligatory component of the pilgrimage. Always the early history of the community, if not the events of the mutiny, was discussed, and as the years passed each ship departed bearing with it some new often contradictory fact or detail; the massacre of the white men had not happened in a simple night, but over several years, with McCoy and Quintal escaping to the woods, while Adams and Edward young lived in the village with the women. Christian's wife had not died, but was in fact still alive, although there is no evidence that a single visitor solicited her reminiscences. it was Edward young who had taught Adams to read and write; Young who was half West Indian and half English, appears to have been the only mutineer to have maintained good relations with the Tahitian 'blacks': Young had died of asthma in 1800, and had not been killed. As for Christian, he variously committed suicide, went insane, was killed by the blacks who shot him in the back while he was tilling his yam field. In this last account, his final words, on falling in his field, had been 'Oh dear.' On the other than, Captain Folger himself was reported to have stated in some private correspondence that Adams had reassured him that Christian 'became sick and died a natural death.'
The visit of one ship in particular produced especially important narratives. In 1825, the Blossom under Captain Frederick Beechey enjoyed a lengthy sojourn off the island - sixteen days, as opposed to the usual half-day tour. The Blossom was by most accounts the sixteenth ship to visit Pitcairn (counting the Tagus and the Briton as a single visit). by this time Adams was confident that he would never be carried away, that indeed it increasingly seemed hat in the eyes of the English authorities justice had been served, and the books closed on the Bounty. Adams was now one of only six remaining of the original party that had walked off the Bounty - although again it does not appear that Beechey interviewed any of the five surviving women. This visit had been looked forward to with much anticipation and fanciful speculation by the Blossom's crew; as the first lieutenant allowed, there were some who looked forward to finding in Adams 'Fletcher Christian the master's Mate.' Evidently, the 'Melo Dramatic Ballet' had picked up on a wishful, popular theory.
According to Beechey, Adams had achieved 'considerable corpulency'. Beechey's sure ye caught a number of telling details. The patriarch had retained his sailor's rolling gait and wore a low-crowned hat, which he instinctively doffed and held in his hand, 'smoothing down his bald forehead whenever he was addressed by the officers.' he old mutineer had never surrendered his British loyalties - it was he and he alone who had instilled in the young colonists the belief that they were servants of King George - and this in turn gave Captain Beechey of His Majesty's Navy an advantage over his American counterparts when it came to an interview. Beechey was also wise enough to avail himself of a previously under-examined source of information - the diary of Edward Young now dead these twenty-five years.
Although a number of the Blossom's officers were to go ashore to explore the island, Beechey's principal interview with Adams took place in the privacy of his own cabin, with only his clerk in attendance to take notes. Beechey ensured that on this occasion at least Adams's story would be professionally recorded and unfolded at leisure, without the distraction of the twelve eager young men who had accompanied hi excitedly to the ship and were now entertaining eh officers below. yet, despite these precautions, it was the opinion of one officer, Lieutenant Edward Belcher, that Beechey 'did not get as accurate an account' as he and other of the officers were to come by later, when Adams returned to the ship as a 'Guest in the Gun room.' Additionally, Beechey's published report of this historic interview, as will be seen, displayed some tactful editing. it also incorporated some 'additional facts' derived, as he claimed, from other inhabitants, but in some cases betraying his own prior understanding of the story.
According to Adams, the falling-out between Bligh and Christian had begun at the Cape, where Christian came 'under some obligations to him of a pecuniary nature, of which Bligh frequently reminded him when any difference arose.' Bligh's relations with his officers had suffered throughout the voyage - this much had been clear from Bligh's own log, although master John Fryer and acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian were the only two men singled out by name, in Adam's recollection, as objects of Bligh's criticism. but, Adams told Beechey, 'whatever might have been the feelings of the officers, there was no real discontent among the crew; much les was there any idea of offering violence to their commander.'
Sometimes before the by now infamous coconut incident. Christian, smarting under Bligh's nagging, had 'in a moment of excitation told his commander that sooner or later a day of reckoning would arrive.' So at least john Adams in hindsight recalled those events of thirty-six years ago. following the blow-up over the coconuts, Christian declined Bligh's invitation to dinner. it was now the night of 28 April 1789, 'one of those beautiful nights which characterize the tropical regions, when the mildness of the air and the stillness of nature dispose the mind to reflection': Were these the words of seaman Adams, or of the reflective Captain Beechey? In any event, it was on this till, limpid night that Christian planned his escape from Bligh's constant tongue-lashings. 'New connexions' had been formed at Otaheite (Beechey had earlier apologized to his readers for spelling Tahiti in the 'old' way), making him receptive to 'ideas which the situation of the ship and the serenity of the moment particularly favoured'; again, one catches the echo of Beechey's editorializing.
This had been the moment when Christian had conceived his mad plan to float away on a raft - a plan 'strange as it must appear,' Beechey could not help adding, 'for a young officer to adopt, who was fairly advanced in an honorable profession.' In this case, Beechey's bluff aside reveals that the instinctive reaction of a career officer to the events described was in comprehension. Nothing Adams had related - of Bligh's conduct or anything else - apparently explained Christian's conduct to Beechey. Why, the master's mate was well advanced in his career! What business had he with rafts and such?! this voyage would soon blow over - so it would seem, if one may editorialize on Beechey, that he had reasoned. Now came the fateful intervention of Christian's logo, the voice in his ear at this moment of mortal weakness in the predawn hours.
'Take the ship.' By all accounts - from Adams, from the men Edward Christian interviewed, on every occasion this event was described - this speaker was George Stewart. Stewart, as was by this time well-known, was passionately attached to his 'Peggy', the woman he had left behind on Otaheite; his objective, at least, for wishing to return required little speculation. In Beechey's published narrative, Stewart is identified as a young officer, who aft4rwards perished in the Pandora.' In his working manuscript, however, Beechey named him as 'Stewart'. The reason for this slight revision - as much else about the Blossom's visit - would shortly be revealed. Stirred by Stewart's words, Christian now relieved the officer on duty. Peckover, and assumed charge of the morning watch. Turning to quintal, 'the only one of the seamen, who Adams said, had formed any serious (female) attachment at Otaheite,' Christian sounded him out about asking the ship. Unexpectedly, quintal, demurred, saying 'he thought it a dangerous attempt, and declined taking a part.' Annoyed with the rebuff, Christian dramatically opened his jacket to reveal 'a hand lead slung to his neck, adding that would soon carry him out of reach'; this detail was reported by Beechey's officers. It was, then, do or die. 'What, are you afraid?' Christian taunted Quintal, surging him to consider that 'success would restore them all to the happy island, and the connexions they had left behind. But still quintal refused, telling Christian that he had better sound out someone else. That someone else was Isaac martin, who slapping his thigh, declared, 'By God, he was for it' it was the very thing.'
With this small momentum, Christian went to every man of his watch, working them over to him; then the 'news soon spread like wild-fire through the crew.' to judge by his earlier tactics with Quintal, Christian's argument to the crew would seem to have been that they could all return to 'the happy island.' As a footnote to his narrative, almost an afterthought, Adams allowed to Beechey that in his opinion the reason 'the majority of the Crew yielded so easily tot he persuasions of Christian was, that the Captain stinted them in their allowance, and that during the greater part of the time the ship was lying at Otaheite no Ships Provisions of any kind was served out and the men were obliged to their own resources to get a meal, except that when Hogs were received on board, after the Meat was cut from the bones, they were served out to the Crew. If a Man was detected bringing a yam or any thing else in the Ship for his own use it was taken from him and he was punished.'
Adams's complaint echoed that of James Morrison, who had also been unmoved by Bligh's directive that all food that came on board was to be considered common stock, and that trade was to be strictly regulated by a designated officer (Peckover) to ensure an orderly market. The hog meat that had been cut from the bones was for the salt pork that, as Bligh had noted with enormous satisfaction, filled his puncheons in readiness for the long voyage home. Bligh was very proud of the fact that, like Cook, he and his men had lived off the land during this sojourn, both eating incalculably better food than at any time in the voyage - if not in their lives - and safeguarding the precious ship stock for the months ahead.
To the men excitedly gathered on deck on the fine, calm night of 28 April, however, pumped with the adrenaline of new and outrageous opportunity, the subtleties of Lieutenant Bligh's ship 'economy' were undoubtedly not discussed. Ahead lay travail and hardship and the certain of being nagged and harangued through the Endeavour Strait - as the Providence voyage would show, navigation of the strait was hard work. Behind lay female 'connexions' and the happy island of plenty. Adams, lying peacefully asleep in his hammock, was at this point awakened. At first he declined to participate, as he said, but seeing 'Christian handing the arms out of the Arm Chest and many of my friends employed thought I might as well make one of them.' Adams had been flogged with twelve lashes in Tahiti for allowing the rudder Gudgeon to be stolen, a fact that may or may not have been of significance. Many men who had taken up arms innocently in the belief that they were to resist an attack by natives 'now laid them down again.' Lieutenant Belcher, drawing on his gun-room interview, made an important observation: the actions of these briefly armed loyalists showed 'the influence Christian possessed as they would not resist him.' Christian's watch had included the gunner's mate John Mills, Thomas Hayward and John Hallet.
Armed and full of fury, Christian went down with his party to Bligh's cabin, 'the door of which was always open.' Bligh was seized and rudely treated. 'I heard the Master at Arms strike him with the flat of the Cutglass.' Adams reported; but as the canny Lieutenant Belcher observed, it was more likely that this strike had been seen by Adams, not heard. 'And you too Smith against me,' Bligh said, standing bound by the binnacle and addressing Adams by his Bounty alias. 'I went with the rest,' Adams replied to his captain. Some ten leagues from Tofua, the overcrowded launch is now behind the ship had been cast off, 'and immediately "Huzza for Otaheite!" echoed throughout the Bounty.'
The officers of the Blossom later made strenuous explorations of Pitcairn, travelling farther off the beaten track than ship companies before them. The strength and agility of the island's youths as they ran and leaped along the undulating mountain trails were much admired: of George Young and Edward Quintal, the grown sons of the mutineers, it was claimed that each had on his own 'carried, at one time, without inconvenience, a kedge anchor, two sledge hammers, and an armourer's anvil, amounting to upwards of six hundred weight.' Lieutenant Belcher, who was admitted to be the most active among the officers on board,' above all in his own estimation, was soon engaged in a kind of undeclared and ill-advised competition of strength with these youths. En route to Pitcairn, Belcher had entertained himself by testing his 'swimming jacket' in high surf off various other islands and landfalls. Now, against the advice of his officer friends, Belcher plunged after one of the islanders down a 'perilous descent', and as Captain Beechey seemed pleased to report, 'Mr. Belcher was obliged to profess his inability to proceed,' and to take the hand his native companion innocently offered in assistance.
* * * * *
Tahiti Home Page
Pacific Islands Radio Stations