TAHITI HISTORICAL ASPECTS
Beneath the island's volcanic pinnacles, the Bounty passed around the surf-pounded reef beyond Point Venus. Already she was hailed by throngs of canoes; and when Bligh called out that he had come from Britain,opr 'Pretanee', the delighted islanders swarmed onto the ship, 'and in ten Minutes,' wrote Bligh, 'I could scarce find my own people.'
The old-timers - Nelson, the gardener, William Peckover, the gunner, Armourer Joseph Coleman and Bligh himself - greeted and were greeted with warm recognition. The remainder of the crew now learned that the stories that had filled their ears throughout the long hard outward voyage - about the island's beauty, its sexually uninhibited women, its welcoming people - were not tall tales, or sailors' fantasy. Beyond the ship, its undulating slopes and valleys, gullies and dramatic peaks casting shifting green-blue shadows in the morning sun, rose the vision of Tahiti. Below, the blue sea round them was clogged with cheerful canoes that had come laden with gifts of plantains. coconuts and hogs. And filling the deck, milling and laughing around them, wee the tall, clean-limbed, smooth-skinned Tahitians. The Bounty men - bowlegged, pockmarked, scarred and misshapen, toothless and, despite Bligh's best efforts, very dirty - regarded the improbably handsome, dark-haired islanders with both appetite and awe. Their brown skin gleaming with perfumed oil, garlanded with flowers, and flashing smiles with strong white teeth such as few Englishmen had ever seem, these superior men and women were also friendly and accessible. significantly, all cases of scurvy were quickly cured; even Morrison allowed 'that in a few days of arrival there was no appearance of sickness or disorder in the ship.'
The following day, 27 October, manoeuvring around canoes and people, Bligh successfully worked the Bounty into Matavai Bay, and dropped anchor. Under the escort of a chief named Poerno, Bligh was taken to Point Venus, the peninsula that formed the northeast point of Matavai Bay, from where in 1769 Cook had observed the transit of Venus. Standing under the graceful and now familiar coconut palms, the surf breaking against the lava-black beach, Bligh seems to have drawn a deep breath of happiness. It had been Bligh's original plan to conceal Captain Cook's death from the Tahitians; Cook was held in such high esteem that a portrait of him, left as a gift eleven years earlier, was still in good repair. but some three months before the Bounty's arrival, another foreign ship - apparently the first since Cook's departure - had brought news of his terrible death at the hands of the Sandwich Islanders. nonetheless, David Nelson - with or without Bligh's prompting is unclear - introduced Bligh as 'Cook's son' to the local dignitaries; they are reported to have received this news with much satisfaction, although subsequent interactions suggest this was not perhaps taken b them as a literal truth.
On 1 November, Bligh set out on a scouting trip to Oparre, a district to the west of Matavai. In order to uproot and carry off the large number of breadfruit he sought, he needed the permission of all the various chiefs with jurisdiction over the areas in which he would be working. A visit to pay his respects to the Ari'i Rahi, the six-year-old king of Oparre, took him inland towards the hills, through the delightful breadfruit flats of Oparre,' which wee cut by a serpentine river. In the course of the day the two parties entertained each other, The Tahitians offering an impromptu heiva, or dancing festival. Bligh a demonstration of his pocket pistol. Before returning to his ship, Bligh contemplated the scenes of the day - the sparkling streams and green glades of the interior, and the dramatic sweep of the palm-rimmed lava beach of Matavai Bay. 'These two places,' he reflected, 'are certainly the Paradise of the World, and if happiness could result from situation and convenience, here it is to be found in the highest perfection. I have seen many parts of the World,' he continued in this remarkably personal entry, 'but Otaheite is capable of being preferable to them all.'
The Bounty replica
Tynah, the paramount chief of Matavai and the adjoining region, soon became the local dignitary with whom Bligh and his men had the most communion. He and his outgoing wife, Iddeeah, were both large, impressive persons, Tynah standing over six foot three and weighing some twenty-one stones. Now around thirty-seven years old, Tynah had been known to Cook and Bligh previously as 'Otoo'. Adroitly, Bligh conveyed to Tynah and the other lesser chiefs that the gift his sovereign, King George of Pretanee, would mot welcome in exchange for the gifts his ship carried was the breadfruit tree. Delighted that King George could be so easily satisfied, the chiefs readily gave their assent, and Bligh, much relieved, began to organize his land base.
The Admiralty's delay in getting Bligh his orders had ensured that the Bounty arrived in Tahiti near the outset of the western monsoon season, which ran from November to April, a period of rain and gales avoided by sailors. Additionally, as he had been directed to return by the Endeavour Straits, Bligh knew he had to await the eastern monsoon, which would begin at the end of April or early May; in short, the bounty would not e departing Tahiti until April, five months away, and several months longer than had originally been planned. On 2 November, Bligh sent a party to Point Venus that included William Peckover, Peter Haywood, four of the able seamen, as well as nelson the gardener and his assistant William Brown, all under the command of Fletcher Christian. It was their job to establish and maintain the camp for the gardeners' word. Eventually two tents and a shed, built of bamboo poles and thatched with palm branches, were erected on Cook's old site and a boundary line drawn, 'within which none of the Natives were to enter without permission and all were cautioned against it.' The compound was to serve as a nursery where the transplanted breadfruit could be closely supervised befoe being transported to the Bounty. here, in the shade of the coconuts and breadfruit that rolled down to the dark shore, as palm fronds clattered and rustled in the sea breezes far above their heads, Christian and the rest of his small land party were to live and work for the next few months. Their less fortunate companions were expected to spend the night on board their ship.
Bligh himself divided his time between an anxious monitoring of his plants, and careful, if enjoyable, diplomacy. the success of his breadfruit operation depended upon the continued goodwill of such powerful friends as Poeno and Tynah (the father of the boy king), both of whom he knew from his former visit. Based upon his earlier experience, there was little reason to imagine this goodwill would in fact waver, but there was reason to fear the curiosity and acquisitiveness of the common man. So far, as Bligh had noted, the thefts of the Bounty had suffered had been insignificant, but he was keenly aware that this situation could quickly change. He had already had to administer the third flogging of the voyage, in this case twelve lashes to Alexander Smith, able seaman, 'for suffering the Gudgeon of the large Cutter to be drawn out without knowing it.' The flogging had horrified the watching Tahitians - especially the women, who, according to Bligh, 'showed every degree of Sympathy which marked them to be the most humane and affectionate creatures in the World.'
These orders were nailed to the mizzenmast immediately upon anchoring - so Morrison reports, citing a garbled version of only item number six on Bligh's list. Bligh's orders, Morrison recalled, prohibited 'the Purchase of Curiosities or any thing except Provisions,' adding that 'there were few or no instances of the order being disobeyed, as no curiosity struck the seamen so forcibly as a roasted pig....' Nevertheless, it was this last order that appears to have been responsible for the only complaints worth recording during the twenty-three weeks spent on Tahiti. Bligh's directive aimed to avoid the disputes that would inevitably arise if trade were conducted by forty-five individuals following no particular rules, and to ensure that, as commanding officer and purser, the could reliably provision his ship.
Captain William Bligh, 1791
Captain Cook himself, who in the course of his ling career had been many a promising market ruined, had been very clear on this point: 'Thus, was the fine prospect we had of getting a plentifull supply of refreshments of these people frustrated,' Cook had lamented, after one of his men had volunteered a quantity of rare red feathers for a pig, inadvertently establishing red feathers as the currency for all future pigs. 'And which will ever be the case so long as every one is allowed to make exchanges for what he pleaseth and in what manner he please's.' Morrison undoubtedly understood Bligh's motivation for the directive, and John Fryer, as master, most certainly did. Yet Morrison complain ed that when the trade in hogs began to slacken, 'Mr. Bligh seized on all that came to the ship big & small. Deal or alive, taking them as his property, and serving them as the ship's allowance at one pound per Man per Day.' According to Morrison, Fryer also complained to Bligh, apparently publicly, that his property was being taken. The site designated for trade was one of the tents at the nursery compound, where the boundary market kept crowds at bay. William Peckover had been placed in charge, a sensible choice given his knowledge of Tahitian language and customs picked up in the course of several visits he had made to the island with Cook. Nonetheless, the sailors continued to encourage their Tahitian friends to come to the ship surreptitiously.
The Bounty replica
'The Natives observing that the Hog were seized as soon as they Came on board ... became very shy of bringing a hog in sight of Lieut. Bligh,' Morrison reports and islanders conspired to trick their commanding officer. the Tahitian 'watched all opportunity when he was on shore to bring provisions to their friends.' Not for the first time - and certainly for the last - Bligh must have wished for the support of even a small party of marines, armed sentinels who would have stood apart from the fraternity of seamen, and whose loyalty to his commands he could have counted on when his back was turned. Despite Morrison's lengthy complaint, time passed pleasantly enough for the seamen who were entrusted with minimal duties and allowed on-shore regularly [for refreshment'. Joseph Coleman set up a forge to make and repair goods for the ship and islanders alike. The usual wooding parties were sent off to cut timber, while others prepared puncheons of salted pork for the return journey. the great cabin was refitted for the pots waiting in the land nursery, only, as Bligh logged, 'the Carpenter running a Nail through his Knee very little was done.' Charles Norman, a carpenter's mate, had been ill for several days with a complaint diagnosed by Huggan variously as rheumatism and 'Peripneumonianotha', and the quatermaster's mate, George Simpson, also according to Huggan, had 'Cholera Morbus', Bligh bought a mulch goat for Norman, believing its milk would help the patient's chronic diarrhoea. the men recovered and Bligh was able to report a clean sick list, save that the 'Venereal list is increased to four'; sadly, the European disease was now endemic.
Bligh met almost every day with Tynah and his family and retinue, and each day he logged some new discovery abut his hosts' culture. along with the ship's officers, he was entertained by lascivious heivas, in which the women, 'according to the horrid custom,' distorted their faces into obscene expressions. He discussed the tradition of infanticide among the flamboyant arioi, and he recorded the recipe for delicious pudding made from a turnip-like root. One day. Bligh engaged in long theological enquiry, in which he was questioned closely about his own beliefs: who was the son and who was the wife of his God? Who ws his father and mother? Who was before your God and where is he? Is he in the winds or in the sun? When asked about childbirth in his country, Bligh answered as well as he was able, and enquired in turn how this was done in Tahiti. Queen Iddeeah replied by mimicking a woman in labour, squatting comfortably to her heels between the protective arms of a male attendant who stroked her belly. Iddeeah was vastly amused on learning of the difficulties of Pretanee's women.
'Let them to this & not fear,' she told Bligh, who appears to have been persuaded by this tender pantomime. In the evenings, Bligh entertained his hosts on board the Bounty, which none seemed to tire of visiting. As Tynah's royal status forbade him to put food or drink into his own mouth, Bligh himself sometimes served as cupbearer if attendants were unavailable; Iddeeah, according to custom, ate apart from the men. After the meals, the company lounged lazily around the small deck area, enjoying the offshore breezes, and the muffled pounding of the surf on shore and reef, and the lap of the waves below. Not infrequently, Bligh's guests stayed the night on board the Bounty, loth to depart.
How Bligh passed his time at Tahiti, can be followed, day by day, event by event, as recorded in his fulsome log. What is not known with any clarity is how time was passed onshore. All midshipmen were required to keep up their own logs, to be produced at such time as they applied to pass for lieutenant, and one would give much to have Fletcher Christian's. As it is, life at Point Venus can be sketched only in broad outline. Every evening, when the work of the shore party was winging down, the Tahitians gathered at 'the Post' before sunset. almost all of the Bounty men had found taios, or protective friends, who took them into their homes and families. At least to of the men, George Stewart from the Orkneyhs and, perhaps less predictably, the critical James Morrison, had women friends to whom they were particularly attached, while all the men seemed to have enjoyed regular sexual partners; whether or not Fletcher Christian had formed an attachment to any one woman was to become a hotly contested question - at the very least, he, like young Peter Heywood, had to be treated for 'venereals'. The women of Tahiti, as Bligh would later famously write, were 'handsome, mild and cheerful in their manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved.' They were also by European standards not only very beautiful, but sexually uninhibited and experienced in ways that amazed and delighted their English visitors.
Joseph Banks, 1771, by Benjamin West
'Even the mouths of Women are not exempt from the pollution, and many other as uncommon ways have they of gratifying their beastly inclinations,' as Bligh had observed, aghast. Famously, favours of the Tahitian women could be purchased for mere nails. both on ship and at the camp, Bligh allowed female guests to stay the night, at the same time trying, through Ledward, his assistant surgeon, to keep track of the venereal diseases. When dusk came, the shore party were left more or less to their own devices. The sundown gatherings brought entertainments - wrestling matches, dances and games, feasts, martial competitions - but also a sexual privacy, even a domesticity, not allowed to the men still on board ship. From the curving arm of Point Venus, Christian and his companions could look back towards Matavai Bay, past the bounty riding gently at anchor, to the darkening abundance of trees that seemed to cascade from the grave, unassailable heights of the island.
As the weeks passed, the potted plants began to fill the nursery tent, and by the end of November, some six hundred wee 'in a very fine way'. meanwhile, other ship duties wee intermittently carried on. Bligh ordered the sails brought onshore, where they were aired and dried under Christian's supervision. the large cutter was found to have a wormy bottom and had to be cleaned and repainted, under the shade of a large awning that Bligh had made to protect the workmen from the sun. these duties were accompanied by the usual problems. Mathew Thompson was flogged with a dozen lashes 'for insolence and disobedience of Orders'. Also, Bligh logged, 'by the remissness of my Officers & People at the Tent,' a rudder was stolen, the only theft, as Bligh observed, so far, of any consequence; the officer in charge of the tent was of course Fletcher Christian. there is no record of punishment.
Most seriously, Purcell once again had begun to balk at his orders. When asked to make a whetstone for one of the Tahitian men, he refused point-blank, claiming that to do so would spoil his tools. On this occasion, at last, Bligh punished the carpenter with confinement to his cabin - although, as he recorded, he did not intend to lose the use of him, but to remit him to his duty to Morrow.' towards the end of November, strong winds began to accompany what had become daily showers of rain, and by early December the dark weather brought an unfamiliar, heavy well. The Bounty rolled uncomfortably at her anchorage, while the surf breaking on Dolphin Bank, the outlying reef, had become violent. On 6 December, Bligh described a scene 'of Wind and Weather which I never supposed could have been met with in this place.' From midnight until well into the morning, amid torrents of rain, a foaming was agitated the ship 'in a most tremendous manner'. Onshore, Christian's party was cut off by the swelling of the nearby river and an alarming influx of the sea. In the morning. Tynah and Iddeeah fought their way to the Bounty in canoes through a sea so high that, as Bligh wrote, 'I could not have supposed any Boat could have existed a moment.' On board, the couple offered their tearful greetings, saying they had believed the ship lost in the night. The rainy season, which Europeans had never experienced before, had commenced, and it was at once clear that Matavai Bay was no longer a feasible anchorage. The plants had been threatened by salt spray as the winds and high sea raged, and Bligh was determined to move them to safer ground as soon as he was able. On Nelson's advice, he delayed an immediate departure until plants in an apparently dormant state showed signs of being alive and healthy.
some days after the storm, Huggan, the quondam surgeon, at last succumbed to his 'drunkenness and indolence'. 'Exercise was a thing he could not bear an Idea of,' Bligh wrote by way of an epitaph. since his death had been projected even before the Bounty departed Depford Dockyard, Huggan had a good run for his money. He was buried the following day to the east of Point Venus, across the river that cut the point and not far from the sea. 'There the Sun rises,' Tynah said as the grave was being dug, 'and there it sets, and here you may bury Terronnoo, for so he was called.' Joining Huggan's shipmates for the funeral were all the chiefs of the region and a great many other people, respectful and solemn for the surgeon and a great many other people, respectful and solemn for the surgeon's perhaps undeservedly dignified rites. Huggan was only the second European to be buried on the island.
It was Christmas by the time the dormant plants had put forth the desired shoots, and the men began the cumbersome task of moving camp. A reef harbour at Oparre, to the west of Matavai, had been chosen as the Bounty's new anchorage. With a watchful eye on the weather which had continued to be troubled, Bligh ordered the bounty readied for her short journey, and had his 774 potted breadfruit plants carefully carried on board. At half past ten in the morning, the ship weighted anchor and cautiously set out to follow the launch, which was carrying the tents and which Bligh had sent ahead as a pilot. The second camp, according to Bligh was 'a delightful situation in every respect.' The ship lay in sheltered, smooth water, where the tide lapped at the beach and no surf broke. Dense stands of trees, shaded the new nursery, which was established along he same lines as the Matavai camp with the addition of a hut supplied by Tynah. Tynah, who had lobbied hard not to lose the Bounty and all the amusements and lucrative trade she brought, was delighted with the relocation, as he also had jurisdiction of Oparre. Taios left behind were still close enough to visit, and the easy social routine that had been enjoyed at Matavai was soon resumed, with people promenading along the beach opposite the ship 'every fair Evening'. Bligh diretg4d the ship 'to be laid up and everything put below' in part so as to avoid more thefts, but this was also a sign that the men on board could look forward to only perfunctory duties.
Nonetheless, the very day the plants and ship were safely re-established, Bligh had William Muspratt, the cook's assistant, flogged with a dozen lashes for 'neglect of duty'. Two days later Robert Lamb, the butcher, was also flogged with a dozen 'for suffering his Cleaver to be Stolen'. This now brought the total number of men punished up to six. Although the temperature remained warm, this new season brought torrential rain and squalls, and skies so dense with sodden clouds that for an entire moth Bligh was unable to take a single celestial observation. it was on one of these dark, impenetrable nights that three of the Bounty's men deserted. When the watch was relieved at four in the morning of 5 January 1789. Charles Churchill, the master-at-arms, John Millward, able seaman, and William Muspratt, who had only recently been flogged, were found missing. gone with them were the small cutter along with eight stands of arms and cartouches of ammunition.
Bligh responded to the news with an icy resolve that he had hitherto not displayed. to his Tahitian friends, he stated in very clear, straightforward and polite language that he expected the men returned. Laughing nervously, they asked Bligh if he would hold them hostage on board his ship, as cook had done. this was an unexpected and revealing question. In 1769, during his first to Tahiti, Cook had lost two marines to desertion and had retaliated by holding the chiefs hostage, his rationale being that his men could not survive on the island without the complicity of the islanders. that Bligh's friends raised this concern twenty years after the vent suggests that Cook's action had left a deep impression. Bligh reassured his friends that he would not resort to such a stratagem, adding, in his log, that he had 'never shown any violence or Anger' at any of the petty thefts that had occurred and had enjoyed such mutual goodwill that he knew his friends had confidence in him, and that he had 'therefore no doubt but they will bring the Deserters back' - but, if they should not, eh would 'make the whole Country Suffer for it.' Having issued his warnings, there was little Bligh could do but wait, relying on local intelligence to flush out the fugitives.
That some of his men would try to desert probably did not take Bligh completely by surprise; again, he had his experience with cook to draw upon. Cook had suffered desertions on Tahiti during all three of his expeditions. Recognizing that the inducements to leave ship were many, Cook had summoned his crew and lectured them at length on the 'spirit of Desertion', informing them that 'they Might run off if they pleased,' as one of the company later recorded, 'but they might Depend upon it he would Recover them again.' Stern as it was, the speech did not deter other, also futile attempts. Some years later, on learning of the Bounty's fate, James Matra, a midshipman on cook's first journey, would report to Banks the astonishing news that a mass desertion had been planned by 'most of the People' and some of the gentlemen of the Endeavour Mr. Midshipman Matra had been instrumental in dissuading them, so he would claim, his principal line of argument being that the men could be certain of 'dying rotten' of the pox if they were to live out their lives on the island.
Within his own company, Bligh must have seen evidence that his officers and people were settling down into Tahitian life and adopting local customs, most visibly in their passion for being tattooed. the first tattoos had arrived in England with sailors returning from the American or the Pacific, and especially from the Endeavour (with Joseph Banks) at the end of cook's first voyage, when they had become tokens of great prestige. The Bounty's company tastes were varied, some sticking conservatively to English iconography. James Morrison, of all people, for reasons only to be guessed at, had had himself tattooed with the order of the Garter around his leg and the Knights of the Garter's motto: 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' - 'Shame on him who evil thinks.' Thomas Ellison wore simply his name and 'October 25th 1788' on his right arm - the date he had first sighted Otaheite.
John Adams, 1829, from Voyages aux Iles du Grand Ocean by J.A. Moerenhout
But several of the men had undergone traditional Tahitian tattooing over large parts of their body, particularly on their buttocks. In Tahiitan tradition, a man was not eligible to marry unless ha had undergone the lengthy and painful operation of having his entire backside b lacked over. Bligh left descriptions only of the mutineers, and with one exception (John mills, the Scottish gunner's mate) every one of them was tattooed, and usually 'very much tatowed' or 'tatowed in several places'. Peter Heywood was in this company, being 'very much tattowed', among other things with the three-legged emblem of the Isle of Man. those who had received the elaborate tattoos of Tahitian manhood included George Steward, Matthew Quintal and Fletcher Christian.
Still Bligh himself had encouraged friendly relations with the Tahitians, and his men's enthusiasm for the more eye-catching aspects of their culture was not something to be readily, or fruitfully, legislated. but now, as he conducted his own grim investigation of the events, he made other discoveries. On examination of the men's personal effects for clues, a piece of paper was found inside Charles Churchill's chest on which he had written his own name and the names of three of the shore party. the deserters would later say darkly that 'many others intended to remain among the islands,' and making a list of men committed to an illegal act such as desertion or mutiny - was an old trick. When Captain Edward Edwards, back in his happier days before he captained the Pandora, had thwarted the mutinous plot on board his ship Narcissus, a list of names of the men involved in the plot had been discovered on one of the would-be mutineers; perhaps the rash act of committing a name to paper was perceived as a kind of security that bound the man in question t tone's cause.
Descendants of the mutineers Matthew Quintal and John Adams, 1862
Some years later, in personal correspondence, Bligh reported that 'this List had Christian, Heywood and several other Names in it,' and that he had approached his protege 'not conceiving Christian could be guilty of such a thing, and who, when I showed it to him, laughed as well as myself.' To a man, the shore party professed their innocence to Bligh, and 'denyd it so firmly, that He was inclined from Circumstances to believe them and said no more to them about it,' according to Morrison. In the official log no mention is made of this mysterious list; Bligh's personal log, in which he would have been most expected to have made some remarks about the event, ends on 23 October, and does not resume until 5 April 1789; a comprehensive index, in Bligh's own handwriting, is all that can be found of the missing potion. the official log, submitted to the Admiralty, makes no mention of his suspicious whatsoever and shows Bligh's professionalism at its best. If the men had convinced him of their innocence, then he was bound to 'say no more about it.' Or was the incident omitted for more self-serving reasons - because later evens proved he had been duped? At least 'three of the Party on shore' would remain among the mutineers: Peter Heywood, William Brown and Fletcher Christian.
One curious and generally unremarked incident occurred four days after Churchill and his companions deserted. As Bligh reported, 'one of the officers on shore' cut a branch of an oil-nut tree growing at a marae, or sacred site, and, 'accidently bringing it into the dwelling where my people are at, all the Natives both Men and Women suddenly left.' The branch had tabooed the shore hut, no Tahitian would set foot here until the appropriate ceremony lifted the taboo. Curiously, however, as Bligh noted, 'when I came on shore I found a branch of this Tree tyed to one the Posts, altho they saw the effect it had of keeping the Natives from the House.' Is it significant that in the immediate aftermath of the desertion one of the officers - Christian or Heywood - tabooed the house in which three men implicated on Churchill's list happened to live? Was this a sign to Tahitian taios and allies to stay away, perhaps in the wake of an aborted plot? A whimsical amulet to ward off further trouble? Or, as Bligh clearly believed, more happenstance?
Tahiti - The 'Bounty' - Part 2.
Tahiti - The Pitcairn Descendants of the 'Bounty' Mutineers
Tahiti - The Original Tahitian - Ancestral Traits B.C.
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