By Peter Allan
Since boyhood, reading the story of the famous Mutiny on HMS Bounty in April of 1789 has held me enthralled. The exoticism of course and the descriptions of paradisal Tahitian islands, the Tahitian people and the women in particular, the islanders’ customs, all have had an abiding interest for me. The shear power of the human story of the mutineers forsaking everything and risking death as punishment has also entranced Hollywood too with first Marlon Brando and then Mel Gibson in the leading role.
The real hero in the story for me is His Majesty’s Ship Bounty Lieut. William Bligh, Commander. He was removed from the Bounty into a 23 foot rowboat with 18 of his men and over the next 47 days navigated his loyal crew 6,700 km to land. The journal he kept was in name the ‘Captains log’ but it became so much more than that. In the pages illustrated here, he describes the events leading up to his capture aboard his own ship by his treacherous men and the subsequent sea journey to safety:
“Just before Sunrise Mr. Christian & the Master at Arms & others came into my cabin while I was fast asleep, and seizing me tyed my hands with a cord & threatned instant death if I made the least noise; I however called sufficiently loud to alarm the officers, who found themselves equally secured by Centinels at their Doors. There were now three men at my Cabbin Door & four inside. Mr. Christian had a cutlass & the others were armed with musquets & Bayonets. I was now carried on Deck in my Shirt, in torture with a severe bandage round my wrists behind my back, where I found no man to rescue to me.”
What follows is truly one of the most remarkable feats of survival at sea ever described. The lack of food and water and the harrowing conditions of weather and sea seem insurmountable.
I believe that Bligh’s journal kept him sane and kept him focused on his responsibility to rescue his men. The journal allowed him to organize his thoughts, while it also helped him keep track of the meagre rations of food and water, and the health and condition of his men both physical and mental. He also observed the vagaries of nature and its beauty. He used his journal to describe discoveries and the customs of the new cultures he met on his voyage.
I imagine Captain Bligh in his tattered uniform shielding his journal from the storms. He is dipping his pen into a precious ink bottle and while rising and falling in an open boat, he is writing in a beautiful hand, the most poignant words while his barely surviving men groan around him.
At the subsequent court-martial in 1790, Bligh’s journal was a crucial record in the legal proceedings and was subsequently published to popular acclaim. This journal, which still exists in archives in Australia, was kept by his family for over 200 years. It was a memoir of daily life that became the basis for one of the greatest true life adventure stories ever told.
It is a story that transfixed a boy with a flashlight tucked in his bed late at night.
Author Bio: Peter Allan is a member of the IAJW team and is a contributing writer to our weekly Journaling Museletter. He is also a husband, father, artist and entrepreneur. You can see his work at http://noblesculpturestudio.com