Anniversary Post: Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the BountyOn this day in 1789, the mutiny on the Bounty occurred. It is one of those sad stories where it is hard not to sympathize and also hate everyone involved. There is also the problem that it seems every historian who has tackled the subject has (understandably) come to different conclusions. So what you think about the event largely depends upon who you have read. Much better to watch the 1962 classic, Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard — ahistorical as it may be.

What I nonetheless love about the whole thing is how very civilized it was. The mutineers did not kill the captain and his supporters. They just set them in a row boat. In fact, four of the supporters couldn’t go in the boat, so they were dropped off in Tahiti. But the boat wasn’t just set adrift. It was sent with (according to Wikipedia) “150 pounds of bread, some pork, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine and 28 gallons of drinking water.” And that explains how Bligh and his crew managed to make it to safety.

Unlike in the movie, Bligh returned to England a hero. It would seem that his reputation fell because towards the end of his life, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales. And he was so bad at getting along with people that he sparked the Rum Rebellion. I think that probably made a lot of people think that Fletcher Christian might have had more than just a little reason for his mutiny.

Happy anniversary mutiny on the Bounty!

12 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Mutiny on the Bounty

  1. I have seen a few minutes of the 1962 film and think its about the best takeaway one is likely to get from this subject…..or general scenario.

    I don’t think you can really mention this tale without acknowledging the long term, generational suffering at Pitcairn Island, which I have studied extensively. Maybe in a follow-up article?

    Now a bad Led Zeppelin lyric comes to mind……er, a Led Zeppelin lyric.

    • Maybe you should write an article about Pitcairn Island. I don’t know much about it. I do know that the mutineers basically enslaved the people there. Or was it a different island? I don’t know. Humans are awful.

      • Apparently among the other dysfunctions within the Pitcairn community a subset of the islanders developed a sort of rape-culture where the older men raped young women and girls. And when I say “culture”, I mean just that; great-grandpa raped great-aunt, grandpa raped auntie, dad raped cousin and so on…

        At least one idea I’ve read is that this pretty much goes all the way back to the original mutineers, who considered the Tahitians more-or-less as property and used the women as conveniences. The whole mess ended up in multiple episodes of murder, and the Pitcairn group never really got things straightened out after that…

  2. I first read the Nordhoff and Hall books when I was 9 or 10; most of the social niceties, of course, eluded me at the time. However, the books stuck in my head enough to prompt this parody a few years later, set to the tune of Night Ranger’s Sister Christian:

    Fletcher Christian he was all aghast
    Bobby Tinkler sent before the mast
    And that’s not
    Matthew Quintal got his backside flogged
    Mister Fryer treats me like a dog
    Boo hoo
    Too true
    So we mutinied!
    We kicked off Captain Bligh
    To navigate he’ll try
    And if he fails he’ll die…

    • Oh my! As I said, it was a muddle. I’m still unclear why there was a mutiny. I guess sometimes they just happened. A sad event all around. I thought Brando was very good in the movie though.

      • From the best reconstructions I’ve read (which, sadly, eliminates Nordhoff and Hall), Bligh was just pathologically unsuited to be in charge. He vacillated between wanting to be liked and wanting to be respected, and failed at both; the problem with his disciplinary style wasn’t so much that it was cruel as that it was unpredictable. (To be fair, it was pretty cruel by today’s standards, but nothing special by those of the time.)

        The Rum Rebellion – again, from the best I’ve been able to glean – was much less his fault, and more a case of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The administration of the colony was in the process of stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down, and turning the penal colony into a living hell. Bligh actually seems to have been trying to curb corruption and abuse; naturally, he had to go. (It didn’t help that he was a Naval officer in charge of a colony being run by the Army.)
        He still wasn’t a natural leader of men; perhaps a more skillful leader could have averted the situation. Still, I have more sympathy for him in his second mutiny than his first.

        • That’s interesting. It’s true that people can put up cruelty better than vacillation. For one thing, it makes a man seem weak. I don’t get the impression that he was a bad man by the more of his day. He did, however, seem to have a habit of getting in over his head.

  3. Which film version is your favorite? I know you like The Caine Mutiny. There is also the version with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson from 1984, and the 1962 and 1935 versions.

    • Although I like The Caine Mutiny a lot, it is hard to watch. Bogart losing it at the end is heartbreaking. It’s also heartbreaking when he asks for help from the crew and is rejected. It’s amazing how much more sympathetic the character gets with each viewing — and thus harder to watch.

      I’ve only seen the 35 and 62 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty. It’s hard to compare them. They are both great.

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