A Journey On The HMS Bounty
The English navigator Henry Hudson, set out to discover a northwest passage through the Arctic Circle to Asia. His crew became disillusioned with the New York based voyage and cast Hudson away as they commandeered the ship as their own. In 1611, the English captain was left abandoned to fend for his survival and was never seen again after his crew orchestrated a mutiny upon learning that Hudson intended to continue the Arctic mission. The Hudson River bears his name as a lasting reminder of the fateful encounter between man and nature.
In what would eventually be termed realistic fiction, Daniel Dafoe published Robinson Crusoe on April 25, 1719 about a man who is marooned on a remote island near Venezuela. The novel was believed to be just another version of a similar mishap involving a Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk who is unwittingly planted on a remote island on the coast of Chile in South America. The island, renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966, contributed to the development of the genre in particular and marked the origin of the English novel in general.
The HMS Bounty set sail from the coast of England with the intent to harvest breadfruit from the Pacific islands for cultivation in the West Indies in order to feed the slave labor during colonial times. The HMS Bounty was a Royal Naval vessel commissioned to Lieutenant William Bligh which experienced a mutiny of command headed by Fletcher Christian and a group of sailors. Bligh was associated with the Royal Navy since the age of 7 and was eventually trained by Captain James Cook before embarking on the maritime melee yet to unfold. Christian settled his men among the islands of Tahiti and Pitcairn before running the 90 foot, 215 ton Bounty aground and burning the ship to avoid detection from British authorities. Among many of the island spoils beheld by the mariners, skin ornamentation in the form of body tattoos was unique to Tahitian culture where it was worn equally by men and women. Since the British settlement of the island, tattooing became a ritual among servicemen and a widespread form of self-expression.
The Bounty left England en route to the South Pacific in 1789. After the mutiny, Bligh was left with no alternative than to navigate the ship’s launch together with a small group of loyalists and meager provisions toward the Dutch island of Timor near the northern Australian mainland. The distance covered well over 3,000 miles of open and treacherous sea, to which, Bligh proved himself worthy of captaincy. A matter of importance, considering the 23 foot launch was steered solely by quadrant, compass, sextant, and no navigation chart. Bligh returned to England in 1790 to account for the reversal of fortune. An attempt to bring the majority of the mutineers to justice was met with tragic consequences when the HMS Pandora collided near the Great Barrier Reef and sank in the aftermath, prematurely curtailing the investigation effort. A sailor by the name of John Adams was the sole surviving member of the original Bounty entourage. The descendants of the mutineers remain on Pitcairn Island, to the present day.
The novel Mutiny on the Bounty was published in 1932 by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. This story inspired a second novel titled, Men Against the Sea, that was debuted in series by the 1933 Saturday Evening Post. It was followed by the final installment of the trilogy titled Pitcairn’s Island in 1934, also premiering in the Saturday Evening Post. A portion of the third novel is retold in the third person by Bounty crewman, John Adams. William Bligh died in 1817 with the title of Vice-Admiral. However slight his passing may be construed, Bligh also served as Governor of New South Wales, a fledgling British colony at the time. That term of office in Australia, or New Holland under the Dutch crown, was subsequently derailed by the 1808 Rum Rebellion.
The insidiousness that transpired on the Bounty in the South Pacific was not the last in maritime history. It was followed by another occurrence on the Atlantic Ocean with a ship known as the Mary Celeste. The Mary Celeste was an American brigantine vessel crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the time it was discovered adrift, and unmanned. The Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia sighted the Mary Celeste on December 5, 1872 near the coastal waters of the Azores Islands, fully stocked with cargo and in seaworthy condition including many personal effects left undisturbed. The Mary Celeste was built and registered by the British in 1861, transferred to American ownership in 1868; wherein, it operated uneventfully until 1872. A shipwreck in the harbors of Haiti hastened its untimely demise in 1885. It is believed that the ship encountered a mutiny or Dei Gratia-led piracy on her New York to Genoa voyage of November 7, 1872. The remaining theories for her inexplicable abandonment have been revived in documentaries, novels, films, musicals, and plays. The ship’s name has grown to unabashedly symbolize crew desertion without compelling justification, regardless of the circumstances.
A 1962 Robert Hayden poem titled Middle Passage and a 2011 poem collection by Kevin Young titled Ardency have commemorated another equally perplexing uprising. Nearly 30 years before the abandonment of the Mary Celeste, a Spanish vessel carrying African slaves was the target of a rebellion at sea. The Mende slaves aboard La Amistad killed members of the crew and ordered the survivors to divert from the original destination back to the African coast. The Amistad intended to disembark the human cargo on plantations but was reoriented back in the direction of Long Island from its departure point of Cuba, in spite of the mutineer demands. The mutineers were subsequently remanded to Connecticut, then, set free against fervent claims of ownership by Spanish authorities. Only 35 of the original 53 captives were eventually resettled in Sierra Leone. A British governor greeted the Mende tribesmen aboard the SS Gentleman after completing the transatlantic voyage. The Amistad was strictly a supply vessel and never operated for the sole purpose of slave transport though it did carry passengers, some of which were headed for the slave market. It steered clear of the infamous Middle Passage between the African continent and the Americas and, like the Mary Celeste, eventually became a symbol for an enduring social blight.
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