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Bounty's Crew Encyclopedia

[HMS Bounty]
[Crew List]

Adams - Christian

Churchill - Hayward

Heywood -
Mills

Millward - Quintal

Samuel -
Young

--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.

Bligh’s description of Adams, written after the mutiny, reads as follows:

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 ship’s 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 act.

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 popa’as – 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 Jenny.

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 Christian’s 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 (1967) writes:

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 Martin’s 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 Christian’s 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 botanist’s assistant on the Bounty; mutineer; went with Christian; was killed on Pitcairn.

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.

Brown’s 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 king’s evil; is tatowed.

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 Brown’s 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 Bounty’s stay at Tahiti.

Bligh’s 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 much tattooed.

Burkett was in Christian’s 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 Bligh’s shirt so it would cover his exposed private parts and called down for clothes for the captain, and it was he who, over Quintal’s 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 Muspratt’s lawyer did. To everyone’s 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 29, 1792.

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 Christian’s 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 o’clock 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 without one.

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 Bligh’s 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 ship’s 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 ship’s 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 Bligh’s 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. . . . Don’t let him get on shore for I am sure he deserves no leave. When Byrne finally consented to cooperate, he (in Du Rietz’s 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 Byrne’s 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 ship’s 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 Fletcher’s 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 year’s service. This fac is important, since so much has been made of Bligh’s supposed benevolence in promoting him to acting lieutenant early in the voyage of the Bounty. It was Christian’s competence, rather than his commander’s kindness, tha was the reason for the promotion. And Bligh needed a lieutenant.

Christian’s idea of what it takes to be a good commander was rather different from Bligh’s. His brother Edward quotes him as having said: “It was very easy to make one’s self beloved and respected aboard a ship; one had only to be always ready to obey one’s 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 Elizabeth’s 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 master’s 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] Master’s 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 liked).

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 Christian’s 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 world’s 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 Fletcher’s descendants today than in those of the other mutineers.

Christian’s 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 Christian’s 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.

Christian’s 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.

--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.
next page

Adams - Christian

Churchill - Hayward

Heywood -
Mills

Millward - Quintal

Samuel -
Young

[HMS (HMAV) Bounty] [Crew List]


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