Who Caused the Mutiny on the Bounty

Who Caused the Mutiny on the Bounty by Madge Darby (125 pages)

1965 by Angus and Robertson

Printed in Australia by Halstead Press


An easy read. Lots of good solid facts and reasoning. Excellent message. This is another one where I actually did a report on the book rather than pick excerpts from it.

Most everyone knows the story of The Mutiny on the Bounty. It has been the subject of both literature and film. In 1787 the HMS Bounty left England for Tahiti on a mission to obtain breadfruit plants to transplant in the West Indies. On board were 46 crew members including the captain, Captain William Bligh and his second in command Fletcher Christian. After successfully loading over 1,000 breadfruit plants the Bounty set sail to deliver them but soon after getting underway a mutiny occurred. Hollywood and authors have depicted Captain Bligh as being a cruel captain and the master’s mate Fletcher Christian has been depicted as the good guy rebelling against a tyrant. Madge Darby has examined the details and circumstances of the incident and has come up with a different conclusion.


Bligh and Christian had been together on earlier voyages and were on friendly terms on the voyage to Tahiti. While in Tahiti for several months most of the crew, including Christian, became involved with some of the native women. When the time to set sail arrived many of the men, including Christian, did not want to leave. Not long after leaving Tahiti dissension began. There are several things that have been put forth as excuses or reasons. They had been put on 2/3 rations of bread which was not uncommon and the seamen would be compensated when they returned to England. Seamen of the time understood this. It was said Christian was accused by Bligh of stealing some coconuts that had been brought on board in Tahiti. Christian also claimed Bligh was abusive to him but there really was no proof. It is also said he was cruel to the crew, which is the Hollywood version, but he was actually far less cruel than other captains of the day. He usually would give far fewer lashings than other captains would when he had a crew member flogged even if they deserved more. During that that period flogging was an acceptable form of punishment and the seamen understood and accepted this although they did not like it.


When the Bounty left England it had 46 crewmen on board but it lost 2 crew members before leaving Tahiti. One was a seaman who became ill and died of scurvy during the voyage to Tahiti. A second crewman, the ship’s surgeon, a heavy drinker, died while at Tahiti due to his excessive drinking. Of the 44 on board at the time of the mutiny 23 lost their lives directly or indirectly due to the mutiny.

The majority of mutineers were of the lower class in the hierarchy of seamen. They had very few, if any, ties to England. The loyalists were in the upper classes and were the ones with ties to England such as family and property and they were the most educated. The mutineers had formed attachments to some of the Tahitian women and the unstructured, carefree life in Tahiti. They did not have the attachments in England and they were the least educated.


The mutineers numbered less than half the crew. When they mutinied they put Captain Bligh and 18 other loyalists into a 23 foot open boat. There were other loyalists that had to remain on the Bounty as the open boat could not hold them all. The men in the open boat then sailed over 3600 miles to the island of Timor, a Dutch settlement in the East Indies. They had only a 5 day supply of food and Bligh decided to put ashore at an island in an effort to forage for food. They were attacked by natives of the island and one of the crew was killed. Bligh was then leery about putting ashore again so decided the scanty amount of food aboard would have to do.

The voyage lasted 47 days and the men in the small boat endured being cold, wet, sun burned, hot, and hungry. The food supply on board only allowed each to have an ounce of bread and a quarter of a pint of water per day. During the voyage they were hit with continued bad weather, wind and storms. They got very little sleep due to the hard conditions. They also had to bail constantly in order to prevent the boat from sinking.


They arrived in Timor after 47 days. The only loss of life was the crewman that was killed by the natives. All recovered but five were in such a weakened state by the voyage they caught fevers and died either on Timor on the way back to England. Although some died it is said to Bligh’s credit and skill that they made it to safety before they died. The ship’s acting surgeon drowned when the ship he was on returning to England sank. That is 7 lives that were lost as a result of the mutiny. The mutineers fared far worse.

After the mutiny the Bounty returned to Tahiti at the insistence of the men. There 16 chose to stay on Tahiti, some because they were loyalists and some because of the women. When the HMS Pandora, a British vessel, arrived looking for the Bounty, as was custom when a ship failed to return, found the men and placed 14 of them into custody including the ones exonerated by Bligh in his report. Two of the original 16 died violently on Tahiti. The Pandora hit a reef and sank losing a number of men including 4 of the prisoners still in irons in the brig. Ten were rescued from the brig and returned to England. Ultimately 7 were either exonerated by Bligh’s report or were acquitted or pardoned at their trial and 3 were hanged. That makes 9 more that died due to the mutiny.


The mutineers that left with the Bounty when it left Tahiti numbered 9, including Christian. They also had 6 native men and 12 women aboard. They eventually ended up on Pitcairn Island where they burned the Bounty in an effort to avoid detection. They ended up quarreling with the natives and among themselves and over time killed each other off or were killed, including Christian, by the native men. When, after 20 years, the colony was finally discovered there was only one left. One school holds that he and the immediate previous mutineer to die were natural but another school holds the account by the last man with skepticism believing if he had participated in the bloody rampage of the island his sole survivorship, a man with the remaining 9 women, is in question. It can only be proven that out of all the mutineers he alone died a natural death. That makes 7 (or 8 depending on which view you side with) more deaths caused directly or indirectly by the mutiny.


Madge Darby said, “Perhaps the most convincing vindication of Bligh’s character lies in the fact that, for all the difficulties with which he had to contend, the party who went with him in the Bounty’s launch had a higher rate of survival than those who remained with the ship. For while Bligh was leading his group to safety, Christian was leading the mutineers to their destruction.”

The main message from the book was that the ones with the most discipline and structured unit survived and the ones with the least did not. The ones with the most discipline were also the majority of professionals and the more educated. A very interesting read with a good moral to it that can be applied to the world and the problems we face in today’s world.