--Text from Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty
Adventure by Sven Wahlroos. Used by permission. See Book
Recommendations for more information about this book.
ADAMS, John, alias SMITH, Alexander (Alec) Able-bodied
seaman on the Bounty; mutineer; went with Christian
to Pitcairn; died there in 1829.
Adams was from Hackney in London, an orphan who had been brought
up in a poorhouse. He was twenty years old when he mustered on the
Bounty. For some reason, probably desertion from another
ship or some trouble with the law, he used a fictitious name, Alexander
Smith, and did not change back to his real name until after the
visit to Pitcairn of the Topaz in 1808.
Blighs description of Adams, written after the mutiny, reads
ALEXANDER SMITH. 22 years, 5 feet 5 inches high. Brown complexion,
brown hair, strong made, pitted with smallpox. Very much tattooed,
scar on right foot.
Adams was flogged (one dozen lashes) only one week after the Bounty
arrived at Tahiti. His offense was that he had let a rudder gudgeon
be stolen from one of the ships boats. The punishment was
carried out in full view of the Tahitians who had tried in vain
to intercede for him and who cried as they witnessed the barbaric
Bligh based his disciplinary measure on the allegation that Adams
had been lax in his attention. This was unfair. Bligh and
for that matter all the popaas did not realize that
the Tahitians, because of their extraordinary swimming ability,
had the ship and the boats at their mercy. (The later sabotage of
the anchor cable gave evidence of this. Most of the British seamen
were either poor swimmers or could not swim at all and diving was
almost unknown to them. The fact that a Tahitian could swim long
distances under water and could hold his breath for two and a half
to three minutes seemed inconceivable. The explanation for the theft,
therefore, had to be found in Adams inattention, not in any
superiority on the part of a Tahitian; the Indians were
not supposed to be superior to the white men in any respect whatsoever.
Adams soon fell in with island life and was one of the first in
the crew to have himself tattooed. It is probable that he at this
time formed a relationship with Teehuteatuaonoa, whom he called
Adams took an active part in the mutiny from its very inception
(although he was later to tell sea captains visiting Pitcairn that
he had been asleep at the time). He was with Christian when the
latter went to Coleman to demand the keys to the arms chest. And
Bligh wrote later that when he was arrested by the mutineers
. . . Alexander smith . . . assisted under arms on the outside.
When the Bounty, under Christians command, sailed
to Tahiti to pick up women and livestock from the intended colony
on Tubuai, Teehuteatuaonoa came with Adams to that island. But,
as we know, things did not turn out well on Tubuai. When the vote
was taken on whether to stay or to leave, Adams was one of the mutineers
who voted with Christian and who later sailed with him to Pitcairn.
On arrival there, however, he had a new consort, Puarai.
When Edward Young died on Christmas Day 1800 Adams became the
last survivor of the mutineers and a sought-out object for interviews
by visiting sea captains. He could not feel secure, however, until
after the visit in 1814 of HMS Briton and HMS Tagus
whose captains, Staines and Pipon, assured him that he would not
be taken to England for trial.
Many of the visitors seemed to revere the old patriarch, but a
more realistic evaluation of him, I think, can be had from a modern
writer, David Silverman, who in his book Pitcairn Island
The standard picture of Adams in Pitcairn literature is a completely
regenerated rascal, benevolence and piety incarnate, while not
without basis, is much too simplistic and pat to encompass the
record, as it will appear. It should not be forgotten that, not
only was the leader of the community when the first ships visited
Pitcairn, he was the only man on the Island who had experience
of life off that tiny rock, that he monopolized the visitors,
that he was unlikely to be contradicted in any statement he made,
and that he had a shrewd sense of what the visitors might like
to hear in response to their questions and the ability to project
a sympathetic picture of the artless man of profound sincerity
and good will.
Adams had five Tahitian consorts during his life: (1) Teehuteatuaonoa,
who became Martins consort before the arrival at Pitcairn.
Adams had no children with her. (2) Puarai, with whom he landed
on Pitcairn but who died within a year after the arrival. There
were no children from this liaison. (3) Tinafanaea, the consort
of Titahiti and Oha, who was given to him by vote of
the mutineers when Puarai died. They had no children. (4) Vahineatua,
who had been John Mills consort and had borne him two children.
She bore Christian three daughters, Dina, Rachel, and Hannah. (5)
Teio, who had been the consort of Thomas McIntosh on Tubuai and
of William McCoy on Pitcairn. She bore Adams his only son, George,
who later married Polly Young, the daughter of Edward Young and
Mauatua, Fletcher Christians widow.
Teio and Adams were married by Captain Beechey during his visit
in 1825. On March 5, 1829, John Adams died and was followed just
nine days later by Teio. His grave can still be seen
on Pitcairn; the resting place of the other mutineers and their
consorts are unknown.
BROWN, William Gardner and botanists assistant on
the Bounty; mutineer; went with Christian; was killed on
Brown, born in Leicester, had an unusual background for a gardner.
Although technically a civilian, he had seen service as a midshipman
and had been acting lieutenant in HMS Resolution (Captain
Lord Robert Manners) in the early 1780s. Why he changed his career
is unknown, but it is likely that his naval background was one reason
why he was chosen for the expedition.
Browns physical description, written by Bligh after the
mutiny, reads as follows:
[WILLIAM BROWN]. Assistant botanist, aged 27 years, 5 feet 8
inches high, fair complexion, dark brown hair, strong made; a
remarkable scar on one of his cheeks, which contracts the eye-lid,
and runs down to his throat, occasioned by the kings evil;
The first significant mention of Brown on the voyage is on October
19, 1788 (only a week after the arrival at Tahiti), and when he
and John Mills refused to take part in the daily dancing that Bligh
had ordered for exercise. Both men had their grog stopped as a consequence,
the most severe punishment on board next to a flogging.
Brown was of course one of the men who were permanently stationed
on Point Venus in Tahiti to supervise the collection of breadfruit
shoots (the others being Nelson and Christian).
He stayed below deck during the mutiny and seems to have joined
the mutineers only afterwards. On Tubuai he voted with Christian
and then joined him on his quest for an island refuge.
Brown arrived at Pitcairn with his consort Teathuahitea whom he
called Sarah. He was an obvious choice for the exploratory
shore party and he liked what he saw on the island. The place where
he found a well is to this day called Browns Water.
On Massacre Day, September 20, 1793, Brown was the fifth and last
mutineer to be killed by the Polynesians. Island tradition has it
that Teimua, who liked Brown, shot at him with only a powder charge
and told him to pretend he was dead. Brown moved too soon, however,
and was beaten to death by Manarii.
Brown seems to have been the kindest and
mildest of the white men on the island. He left no children.
BURKETT (Burkitt), Thomas Able-bodied seaman on the Bounty;
mutineer; stayed on Tahiti; survived the wreck of the Pandora;
found guilty at the court-martial and was hanged.
Burkett was born in Bath and was twenty-five years old when he
joined the Bounty. There appears to be no significant reference
to his pre-mutiny activities in the literature other than that he
was one of the four able-bodied seamen permanently stationed ashore
during the Bountys stay at Tahiti.
Blighs description of Burkett, written after the mutiny,
reads as follows:
[THOMAS BURKETT] 26 years, 5 feet 9 inches high. Fair complexion.
Very much marked with smallpox. Brown hair, slender made and very
Burkett was in Christians watch and on the morning of the
mutiny he was a lookout on the forepeak. He was from the very beginning
an active participant in taking over the ship, in fact, he was one
of the men who went below with Christian to arrest the Captain.
He seemed, however, to have had more compassion than most of the
mutineers. It was he who adjusted Blighs shirt so it would
cover his exposed private parts and called down for clothes for
the captain, and it was he who, over Quintals objections,
insisted on letting boatswain Cole take a compass on the launch.
On Tubuai Burkett got wounded in the side by a speak in one of
the skirmishes with the natives and had a narrow escape. The wound,
however, was not dangerous and healed quickly.
Burkett elected to stay on Tahiti when Christian sailed away on
the Bounty. On the invitation of chief Temarii, he
stayed in the district of Papara (together with his fellow mutineer
John Sumner) and took part in the military campaigns against the
enemies of Pomare I (then called Mate). It was he who buried Churchill
after Thompson had murdered him. Before the Pandora arrived,
his Tahitian consort we do not know her name bore
him a son.
Burkett survived the Pandora but not the court-martial.
Of course, being clearly an active mutineer he never had a real
chance. And he had no clever attorney who could find a loophole
for him, as Muspratts lawyer did. To everyones satisfaction,
however, he did manage to bring out the fact that Hayward and Hallett
had cried and begged to be allowed to stay on board the Bounty
at the time of the mutiny. Ellison confirmed his testimony.
Burkett, together with Millwad and Ellison,
was hanged on HMS Brunswick at Spithead on Octoer
BYAM, Roger In their magnificent work Mutiny on the Bounty,
Nordhoff and Hall used the actual names of the crew members on board
with one exception: the narrator of the story is midshipman
Roger Byam. There was no person with that name on the Bounty,
but the fictional Roger Byam is identical with the real-life midshipman
Peter Heywood who was a good friend of Fletcher Christians
but took no part in the mutiny.
There are two reasons why Nordhoff and Hall chose a fictional
name for the narrator. One was that they wanted to avoid giving
the impression that the story was an actual historical account,
and the second was that the name Heywood can be easily confused
with Hayward (midshipman Thomas Hayward was
also on the Bounty).
BYRNE (Byrn), Michael Able-bodied seaman on the Bounty;
loyalist; kept on board against his will; survived the wreck of
the Pandora; acquitted at court-martial.
Michael Bryne was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, and was twenty-six
years old when Bligh signed him on the Bounty for the express
purpose of playing his fiddle while the sailors danced. Bligh explained
his view in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks:
Some time for relaxation and mirth is absolutely necessary and
I have considered it so much so that after 4 oclock the
evening is laid aside for their amusement and dancing. I had great
difficulty before I left England to get a man to play the violin
and I preferred at last to take one two-thirds blind than come
Bligh was a man without humor and he viewed his crew as an engineer
views his machinery; therefore even the mirth had to
be regulated. The mirth was in fact forced on the men: when Mills
and Brown refused to dance, they were punished.
In the accounts of Blighs second breadfruit expedition there
is no mention of a fiddler or of dancing. Did Bligh consider the
experiment a failue? No one knows.
After the mutiny, Bligh gave the following description of Byrne:
[MICHAEL BYRNE] 28 years, 5 feet 6 inches high. Fair complexion
and is almost blind. Plays the fiddle. Has the mark of an issue
in the back of his neck.
There is not much mention of Byrne in the Bounty story;
because of his handicap he simply had to tag along.
During the mutiny he was left in one of the ships boats that
had been launched and then rejected as a means of conveyance for
the loyalists. He spent his time trying to keep the boat from banging
into the ships side and crying because he did not really know
what was going on or what was going to become of him. He was probably
kept on board for two reasons: he was popular because he provided
music, and the launch was already overfilled when he was considered
in terms of remaining or leaving.
Byrne gave himself up voluntarily when the Pandora arrived.
It is amazing that he survived the shipwreck; probably someone helped
him. At the court-martial he had little difficulty in clearing himself.
Rolf Du Rietz (1965) has described Blighs efforts to get
Byrne to give him a favorable affidavit. Byrne declined to cooperate
and Bligh wrote to his step-nephew, Francis Bond (August 14, 1794):
As to the blind scoundrel, I can only beg of you to make the
best of him, & get him flogged nobly whenever he deserves
it, as he is certainly a very great Villain. . . . Dont
let him get on shore for I am sure he deserves no leave. When
Byrne finally consented to cooperate, he (in Du Rietzs words)
with Irish stubbornness adhered strictly to the truth (as
far as he had knowledge of it).
Dr. Wahlroos writes that he has seen no
reference to Byrnes later fate.
CHRISTIAN, Fletcher Fletcher Christian came from old gentry,
a landed family with estates both on the Isle of Man and in Cumberland
on the west coast of England. He was born to Charles and Ann (nee
Dixon) Christian on September 25, 1764, at Moorland Close near Cockermouth
in Cumberland on the north-west coast of England. (The house of
his birth still stands and was occupied as late as 1974.) He was
the seventh of ten children, four of whom died before reaching adulthood.
When Fletcher was only three and a half years old his father died.
Ann Christian was a dedicated mother and, despite financial difficulties,
saw to it that all her children got an excellent education. In 1780,
having lost the family home in Cumbria, Ann took her daughter and
her two youngest sons, Fletcher and Humphrey, and moved to Douglas
on the Isle of Man. Fletcher may well have been proud of his Manx
background, because in that year a popular ballad was published
extolling the bravery of his great-great-grandfather, Illiam Dhone,
who had led a mutiny against English rule over the island and had
been executed in 1663.
Christian went to sea at the age of eighteen. By an interesting
coincidence, his first ship was HMS Cambridge on which
Bligh was sixth lieutenant at the time. Since Christian was
enrolled as just a ships boy, it is unlikely that the
two had much contact.
The Cambridge took part in the successful relief expedition
to Gibraltar in the end of 1782, commanded by Lord Howe. On the
return of the ship, Christian was discharged.
It is probable that Christian at this time had a romantic interest
in Isabella Curwen, a rich heiress who was also very beautiful,
and that this is the reason why he later called Mauatua, his Tahitian
consort, Isabella. The heiress, however, married one of Fletchers
distant cousins, John Christian, in October 1782.
On April 25, 1783, Fletcher signed on as midshipman on board HMS
Eurydice, commanded by Captain George Courtney. For almost
six months the ship lay at anchor in Spithead. Finally, on October
11, it sailed for India. In Madras, on May 24, 1784, Christian was
made acting lieutenant after only one years service. This
fac is important, since so much has been made of Blighs supposed
benevolence in promoting him to acting lieutenant early in the voyage
of the Bounty. It was Christians competence, rather
than his commanders kindness, tha was the reason for the promotion.
And Bligh needed a lieutenant.
Christians idea of what it takes to be a good commander
was rather different from Blighs. His brother Edward quotes
him as having said: It was very easy to make ones self
beloved and respected aboard a ship; one had only to be always ready
to obey ones superior officers, and to be kind to the common
men, unless there was occasion for severity, and if you are, when
there is a just occasion, they will not like you the worse for it.
By June 1785, the Eurydice was back home and Christian
was paid off. He now had to start looking for peace-time employment.
His family was on friendly terms with the Bethams, the family of
Elizabeth Bligh, and this is probably why Christian applied for
a berth on the merchant ship Britannia, owned by Elizabeths
uncle Duncan Campbell and commanded by William Bligh. For the same
reason, Bligh might felt an obligation to accept Christian on board.
They were to sail together on two voyages to the West Indies. On
the first, Christian entered as an ordinary seaman, although he
messed with the officers; on the second, Bligh made him second mate.
However, the contention found in many publications on the
Bounty story that Bligh taught Christian the elements
of navigation on these voyages, simply does not make sense. If Christian
had not known the elements of navigation, he would not
have been promoted to acting lieutenant on the Eurydice.
This does not preclude the likelihood that Bligh, one of the master
navigators of all time, helped Christian hone and perfect his skills.
Their relationship must have been friendly, otherwise Bligh would
not have accepted Christian as masters mate on the Bounty,
nor would he, being of a vindictive nature, have promoted him to
acting lieutenant early in the voyage, competence or no.
There is no preserved portrait of Fletcher Christian, nor of his
brothers and sisters, and it is doubtful that we can get a balanced
impression of his appearance from the description Bligh wrote down
for various port authorities after the mutiny:
[FLETCHER CHRISTIAN] Masters mate, age 24 years, 5 feet
9 inches high, blackish or very dark complexion, dark brown hair,
strong made; a star tatowed on his left breast, tatowed on his
backside; his knees stand a little out, and he may be called rather
bow legged. He is subject to violent perspirations, and particularly
in his hands, so that he soils any thing he handles.
All others who knew Christian agreed that he was handsome and
of an athletic build. He seems to have been an honest and forthright
man, normally with a happy and friendly disposition, and very charming.
He seems to have been liked by everyone on board the Bounty
with the possible exception of Hayward and Hallett (whom nobody
It is remarkable that none of the men, loyalists or mutineers,
who went through so much suffering as a result of the mutiny, ever
had one negative word to say about Christian. All of them saw their
misfortunes as having been brought about by Bligh. Following are
some of the statements that former Bounty crew members, all
but one of them (Muspratt) loyalists, later made to Edward Christian
after the court-martial of the mutineers:
He was a gentleman; a brave man; and every officer and
seaman on board the ship would have gone through fire and water
to serve him. I would still wade up to the
arm-pits in blood to serve him. As much as
I have lost and suffered by him, if he could be restored to his
country, I should be the first to go without wages in search of
him. Every body under his command did their
duty at a look from Mr. Christian. Mr. Christian
was always good-natured, I never heard him say Damn you,
to any man on board the ship.
In other words, Christian was a gentleman in the best sense of
the word. How could any man wish for a better epitaph!
In Part I of this book I have commented on Christians personality
and his mental state during the mutiny (see especially the commentaries
for June 1788 and April 1789). The only existing biography of Fletcher
Christian is written by his descendant Glynn Christian: Fragile
Paradise: Fletcher Christian of H.M.S. Bounty (1982). I have
drawn upon it many times in writing this book and I recommend it
highly to my readers.
The adventures of the worlds most famous mutineer, from
the time he sailed from England on the Bounty to his death
on Pitcairn, are told in Part 1 of this book. He had three children
with Mauatua: Thursday October, Charles, and Mary Anne (born after
his death). His descendants live today on Pitcairn and on Norfolk
Island and in many other places in the Pacific and the rest of the
world. Since both of his sons were married to full-blooded Tahitian
women (Thursday October to Teraura and Charles to Sully), the Tahitian
genetic heritage is more noticeable in Fletchers descendants
today than in those of the other mutineers.
Christians close friend Peter Heywood once told Sir John
Barrow that he had seen sometime in 1808 or 1809 a
person who looked exactly like Fletcher Christian on Fore Street
in Plymouth Dock, but that the man had run away when he saw Heywood
approaching. This claim, mentioned by Sir John in his book on the
mutiny (1831) has led to wild speculations which will probably never
cease. In my opinion it is quite unlikely that Christian left Pitcairn.
There are three reasons for this: (1) If Christians
identity had been known on board a ship, it could not have been
kept secret. (2) If Christian had managed to board a ship
incognito, everyone on Pitcairn would still have known about it.
Knowing the Tahitian fondness for gossiping and telling secrets,
it is inconceivable that none of the Tahitian women on the island
would have mentioned it eventually, especially since telling the
absolute truth became a fetish on the island in the early 1800s.
Adams never even hinted at such a possibility, and Teehuteatuaonoa,
who had no reason to lie, stated definitely that Christian had been
killed by a Polynesian. (3) It is improbable that Christian
could have lived out his life incognito in England without giving
rise to a family tradition about it.
Sightings of dead and missing persons are extremely
common. Hitler, for example, was simultaneously seen
in hundreds of locations after World War II. I once clearly saw
a close friend who had just died. If I had not had the opportunity
to go up and examine him closely and convince myself
that it was merely someone who looked very much like him, it would
forever have left me with an eerie feeling.
Christians fate was tragic. Had it not been for that one
moment of mental aberration, he would undoubtedly have gone on to
a distinguished career in the Navy. But then again, he would hardly
have achieved the immortality of which he is now assured. His name
has become a symbol of adventure, of revolt against pettiness, and
of the romance of the sea. For that we will always be grateful.
[HMS (HMAV) Bounty] [Crew List]