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THE MUTINEERS OF THE BOUNTY,
AND THEIR DESCENDANTS
IN PITCAIRN AND NORFOLK ISLANDS
Geographical Researches in the South Seas.—Discovery of Otaheite.
Object of the Commission of the Bounty.--Introductory Notices of her Officers : Lieutenant Bligh.-Fletcher Christian.-George Stewart.Peter Heywood.
The termination of a long French war by the Treaty of Paris in 1763 was hailed with universal satisfaction. Weary of the toils and burdens of warlike enterprise, men were anxious to turn their minds to the arts of peace, and England was foremost among the nations in a desire to promote the interests of science and commerce. ecution of maritime discovery was especially adapted to the genius of her people, and the King, George III., who had just succeeded to the throne, encouraged the equipment of expeditions which had for their object the advancement of geography. He had himself acquired considerable proficiency in this his favorite study, and possessed a large and valuable collection of maps and charts -the best that existed one hundred years ago. They would, however, have formed a singular contrast to those of the present day; not only were the Polar regions left
in blank space, but also the vast and as yet unexplored Southern Ocean.
Some progress had nevertheless been made by Ferdinand Magelhaens (the Portuguese navigator, commonly known as Magellan), who had in 1520 shown the road into the great Southern Ocean by the strait which bears his name. He had also bestowed upon it its present appellation of the Pacific, not so much from its general character, as from his own favorable impressions while sailing calmly over it with the wind abaft the beam. But no further advance was made in this direction until, in the early part of the 17th century, Quiros, the Spanish navigator, promulgated the opinion (which seems to have been generally adopted) that there must be more land in that ocean than appeared marked upon the charts. A desire of proving the truth of such surmises, and the hope of making some valuable commercial discovery, led to a series of expeditions being sent out from Europe, in which England, under the auspices of the then young monarch, took a prominent part.
The first of these was commanded by Commodore Byron, who circumnavigated the globe. Then Wallis, seconded by Carteret, left England in the summer of 1762, and touching at various points on the South American coast, cleared the Strait of Magellan in April of the following year, but was then separated from his companion, Carteret. Pursuing his course in a north-westerly direction, he discovered several small islands; assigned names to them; and unexpectedly arrived at Otaheite, unknown until that period, but which was destined to form an important scene in the history about to be narrated. Some little delay, arising mostly from foggy weather, prevented Wallis from finding an anchorage at this island until the day after his arrival, when our navigator was surprised at the number and large size of the canoes by which his ship,
the Dolphin, was surrounded. Her arrival at Otaheite occasioned much astonishment among the islanders, from the simple circumstance that she was the realization of the prophecy of one of their sages. This person had foretold that in some future age a canoe without out-riggers would come to their shores.” These appendages, it is well known, are essential to keeping the canoes upright when pressed over by the sail. Here, then, was a fulfillment of this prophecy before them; still it was not until after the hostility of these natives had been checked by the ship's artillery that overtures of peace were exchanged, and traffic was happily established between them and the Dolphin. Matters being arranged, Captain Wallis then landed, and with great state and ceremony took possession of the island for his sovereign, changing its name to “King George's Island,” while for “ Maatavaye Bay,” in which the ship was lying, he substituted “Port Royal.” These names, however, were soon to be replaced by those originally given by the natives. After discovering some few other small islands, the Dolphin with Captain Wallis returned to the Downs in May, 1768.
Meanwhile, Captain Carteret, in the Swallow, which had been separated from the Dolphin by stress of weather at the western entrance of Magellan Strait, had pursued his course to the northward. The Swallow thus discovered the little island of Mas-a-fuera, where she obtained water. From thence Captain Carteret looked unsuccessfully for Easter Island, far away in the west, but soon afterwards unexpectedly observed what appeared to him as a great rock rising out of the sea. To this rock he gave the name of Pitcairn, little dreaming how interesting it was to become in subsequent maritime history. We need not follow Carteret farther, observing only that he arrived at Spithead in March, 1769.
Captain Cook, on his three voyages of discovery, visited Otaheite* on four different occasions, and he confirmed, on his return to England, all that Wallis had stated concerning the beauty and fertility of the island, as also the gentle and amiable character of its inhabitants. The bread-fruit tree had also especially attracted his attention as a staple article of food, inasmuch as it was very productive and continued in bearing for eight months in the year.
Little notice was then taken of his observations on the subject of the bread-fruit, but seventeen years afterwards, the idea occurred to some of our West Indian merchants that it might prove a valuable addition to the food of the negroes on their plantations. The desirability of attempting to introduce these trees into the West Indies was suggested to the Government, and the enterprise received from the king the patronage and encouragement it deserved.
Instructions were accordingly issued to Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Banks, 1—who, having sailed with Captain Cook
* It may here be observed that the name he gave it originated in a misconception, for the letter “O” in the native dialect is equivalent to the English word “of.” Thus, when any of the islanders was asked to what place he belonged, he would reply, “O'Tahiti,” i. e., “of Tahiti.” This was explained in the vocabulary of the Tahitian language written by Peter Heywood, and presented by him to the Missionary Society in 1792.
+ The bread-fruit tree is a native of the tropics, and although we have a few specimens of it, it is with difficulty kept alive by artificial heat in England. The tree grows to the height of thirty or forty feet, and its leaves are so large that the natives of the Molucca Islands use them as tablecloths. The fruit is of the size of a small melon, and constantly in season. Its flavor is said to be like that of the potato, but Captain Cook said it was “insipid, with a slight sweetness, something resembling crumb of bread mixed with Jerusalem artichoke.” The tree is valuable for many other purposes, and good cloth is manufactured from the inner bark. For further information, see Sir W. Hooker's account, “Botanical Magazine,” with three plates, vol. lv., pp. 2869–71.
| The well-known President of the Royal Society, and a munificent patron of men of learning and science.
on his first voyage, knew Tahiti-to purchase a small vessel adapted for the purpose. He selected one of 215 tons burden, and appropriately named her the Bounty. Her complement of officers and men consisted of forty-five persons.
Lieutenant William Bligh, R.N., who was appointed to the command of this expedition, belonged to a Cornish family resident at Tinten (a duchy estate in the parish of St. Tudy, near Bodmin), and was born in 1753. He married the daughter of William Betham, Esq., first collector of customs in the Isle of Man, after the Duke of Athole had sold his manorial rights to the British Government. Possessing considerable nautical ability, Lieutenant Bligh served for four years with Captain Cook, as sailing-master of the Resolution, and in that capacity visited Tahiti and the adjacent islands. The knowledge he had thus acquired led to his being recommended by Sir Joseph Banks to the command of the Bounty, and his wife's connection with the Isle of Man probably influenced him in the selection of Fletcher Christian as mate, and Peter Heywood as midshipman of that vessel; Christian he had previously known as a good navigator and active officer. There were four other midshipmen appointed-Edward Young, nephew of Sir George Young, Bart., George Stewart, Thomas Heyward, and John Hallet.
Fletcher Christian, mate of the Bounty, was born in 1763, and was fourth son of Charles Christian, Esq., of Mairlandclere, in Cumberland.* His family were the descendants of a William M‘Christian, who in 1422 was enrolled as a member of the Manx Parliament (or House of Keys), and several relatives of that name bave since held the same honorable appointment, as well as that of Deemster, or Chief-justice. On his appointment to the Bounty,
* Some part of the family subsequently removed to Douglas, Isle of Man.