What Really Is The Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty?

In Bird in the Deep, I devoted a chapter to the mutiny aboard the Bounty. Partially this was because most people brought it up whenever I mentioned the Caine Mutiny, thinking that was the story I was referencing.  But it also figured heavily in the idea of how we view authority and rule of law in a modern age as opposed to a time of cutlasses and sails. But from the Clark Gable/Charles Laughton version to the Mel Gibson / Anthony Hopkins film there’s a fair bit of the story that’s pretty much unexplored. Here are five:

1.) Everyone Was A lot Younger


Fletcher Christian was born in 1764 and William Bligh was born in 1754. Christian took command of the Bounty in 1789 making them 25 and 35 years old respectively. Granted, people grew up a lot faster back then but Christian and Bligh are portrayed as older and their separation in age greater in the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty as well as  1984’s The Bounty .  Mel Gibson had it partially right when he said:  “I liked the idea they were going to show Bligh and Christian as the young men they were.” But, while Gibson was 28 when he made Bounty, Hopkins was 47. In reality, Bligh and Christian were much closer in age were closer colleagues than is often portrayed.


 2.) Bligh Was Fairly Lenient on the Crew

 There are a number of examples, where Bligh was actually fairly lenient on his crew. All of the film’s show Bligh as a ruthless taskmaster that pushes his crew over the limit, but there’s not much evidence of that. In fact, Bligh knew the dangers of losing crew members to overly harsh punishment when traveling to such remote areas. He simply couldn’t afford to lose crew members.


 3.) No One Really Knows Why There Was A Mutiny

 Much has been written about the Mutiny aboard the Bounty, but there is very little agreement on what actually happened. Some blame Bligh over bearing personality while other cite Christian’s unstable personality. Some blame the pleasant climate of the South Pacific. And to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, some people claim that there’s a woman to blame. But we’ll probably never know whose fault the whole thing was.


4.) It Wasn’t Bligh’s Last Mutiny

 After the Bligh returned to England, he continued his career in the Royal Navy. In 1797, while he commanded the HMS Director, his crew mutinied as part of a wide-spread action known as the Nore mutiny. While the mutiny wasn’t directly related to Bligh’s command, it seemed to add to his reputation as a hard-nosed captain whose crew disliked him. In 1808, while Bligh served as the governor of New South Whales, the Rum Rebellion broke out sending Bligh in exile aboard the HMS Porpoise.


 5. ) There Was A PR Smear Campaign

Fletcher Christian’s brother, Edward Christian, published a work simply call Appendix which counter Bligh’s narrative A Narrative of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Appendix cast Bligh as the villain of the story. When Bligh replied back in a publication An Answer to Certain Assertions Contained in The Appendix to a Pamphlet, Christian replied back with A Short Reply to Capt. William Bligh’s Answer. Bligh may have survived mutiny and one of the longest open boat sea voyages of all time, but he all but lost the war of public opinion.

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