The Mutiny on board the H.M.S. Bounty

On the 23rd of December, 1787 the H.M.S. Bounty with her captain, William Bligh, and her crew set sail from Spithead on a voyage to Tahiti. Capt. Bligh was an experienced sailor having sailed many voyages with Captain James Cook, however not even he could have foreseen the events that would unfold during such a simple voyage...

The Bounty (which was originally known as the H.M.S. Bethia) was bought by the British Navy and taken to Deptford for refitting and supplying on the 26th of May, of 1787. Not a large ship, the Bounty carried only four 4-pounders and ten swivels. The Bounty was far too small for such a mission. It weighed only 215 tons, and on deck was only 90 feet 10 inches by 24 feet 3 inches. To give a method of comparison, Capt. Cook's ships weighed significantly more; the H.M.S. Endeavour weighed 368 tons, and the H.M.S. Resolution weighed 462 tons. However the British saw that they must make the best of it and so they commenced refitting of the Bounty in mid June 1787. The refitting included converting the Great Cabin into a house to hold pots for breadfruit plants, and gratings were fitted to the upper deck.

The Admiralty appointed Bligh commander on the 16th of August, and on the 23rd of December, 1787, the H.M.S. Bounty sailed from Spithead on a voyage that would last nearly a year, spanning until the 25th of October, 1788. The trip was a staggering 27,086 statute miles, or 23537.09 nautical miles, with an average of 180/156.4 statute/nautical miles per day. Bligh was an intelligent captain, and made sure that his crew knew not to tell the natives that Capt. Cook had become...well..Capt. Cooked when he had been killed and eaten by the Polynesians of the Sandwich Isles in 1779. This was especially smart since the Tahitians worshipped Cook as a "God."

The Mutiny

On April 28th, 1789, en route to the Carribeans, Fletcher Christian led a mutiny aboard the Bounty. The reasoning behind the mutiny was unclear, as many different people had many different opinions, but the most common one is that Bligh was a far too harsh captain, if one of the best. The mutineers set Bligh and 18 of his crew adrift in the captain's personal launch, and then Christian proceeded to safely sail the undermanned, and pirated Bounty on a daunting 8,000 mile Pacific voyage in search of a safe place. Finally, after going to Tahiti, and then taking six Tahitian men and 12 women aboard, the Bounty eventually came upon Pitcairn Island which they settled sometime in 1790. Some of the mutineers, however, elected to stay at Tahiti. Those that did were captured and sailed back to England abord the H.M.S. Pandora where they were to face Court Martial.

After finally returning to England, following the most amazing cross-world under-supplied sea expedition, Bligh reported the loss of his ship to the Admiralty, who proceeded to commission the H.M.S. Pandora, which was a three-masted frigate with 24 guns and a complement of 160 men to search for the mutineers. Captain Edward Edwards orders were to capture and return the mutineers alive to England, so that they could face Court Martial. The punishment for mutiny was a horrible one, in which the victim died a slow and agonizing death by strangulation. The victim was run up to the yard-arm by his shipmates, and twisted and turned slowly as he is choked to death.

On board the Pandora were two recently promoted lieutenants, Thomas Hayward and John Hallett. Both had served as midshipmen aboard the Bounty and had been commended by Capt. Bligh. Both also knew the mutineers, the place of the mutiny, and the islanders. Meanwhile, in Tahiti, the mutineers had built a schooner which they christened the "Resolution," and they kept so that, in the event of a British ship arriving, they would be able to sail and hide on one of the nearby islands.

On the 7th of November, in 1790, aprox. eight months after Capt. Bligh had returned to England, the Pandora sailed from Portsmouth and set course for Tahiti. When the Pandora arrived, Capt. Edwards received news that the Bounty was not at Tahiti, but had actually sailed away with nine of the mutineers. The Pandora was not designed to be a prison ship, so Capt. Edwards ordered that a cage, dubbed "Pandora's Box" be built on deck to "accommodate" the prisoners. The Pandora captured 16 men, and took fourteen with them.

Captured Were:

  • Josiah Coleman
  • Peter Heywood
  • George Stewart
  • Richard Skinner
  • Michael Byrne
  • James Morrison
  • Charles Norman
  • Thomas Ellison
  • William Muspratt
  • Thomas Burkit
  • John Milward
  • Henry Hillbrant
  • John Sumner
  • Thomas McIntosh
  • Only Matthew Thompson and Charles Churchill who had been stoned to death were left behind. On May 8th, 1791, the Pandora, with the schooner Resolution in escort left Matavai Bay in a mission to find Fletcher Christian, and the remaining mutineers, however during a tropical rain squall on June 22nd, the Pandora lost sight of the Resolution, and so sailed to Anamooka to rendezvous. The Resolution did not arrive. On August 2nd Capt. Edwards set sail on his return boyage to England. Admiralty ordered him to return via the Endeavour Straight which seperates Australia from New Guinea, and then to go via the Cape, but on the morning of August 29th, the H.M.S Pandora sank due to colliding with a Barrier Reef off of the Australian Coast. During the struggle to survive George Stewart, Richard Skinner, Henry Hillbrant, and John Sumner drowned at sea.

    Much like Capt. Bligh and his loyal men before them, the crew and prisoners of the Pandora found themselves facing the open sea in four of the ships launches. However, unlike Bligh they had very limited rations and drinking water. Another major difference was that Captain Edwards was in his 50th year whereas Bligh was only in his 35th during his ordeal, and Capt. Edwards had not one, but four overfilled launches with 98 men including the mutineers that did not die. Comprehending the realization that the four boats were overcrowded the men laid the oars upon the thwarts in a successfull attempt to create a platform, thus enabling them to stow two tiers of men. These men were doomed to face the same route as Bligh had done before them, but theirs was a more treacherous voyage, with many more men, little food or water, and blistering heat from a merciless sun.

    On September 13th they sighted Timor, and later landed at Coupang where they received great hospitality. On Oct. 6th they sailed onboard the Rembang from Coupang to Samarang and arrived on October 30th, where they anchored in Samarang Harbour, and much to their unbelievable surprise and astonishment they met the schooner Resolution. After much rest and recuperation the men finally left, on April 6th, and aboard the H.M.S. Gorgan they sailed for England, where the mutineers were to face Court Martial.


  • The Mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Laughton Hall
  • The Mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty by William Bligh
  • Bligh: The Whole Story of the Mutiny Aboard H.M.S. Bounty by Sam McKinney
    • Publisher: Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd; (October 2000)

    The Mutiny on the Bounty

    Produced by MGM International
    Runtime: 132 minutes
    Rating: 4.17 out of 5

    "The Mutiny on board the H.M.S. Bounty" is a book that has inspired hundreds of variations, and has been the basis for uncountable amounts of pirate stories. Along with various versions written by different people, and members of the crew, the book has also inspired two movies- one by MGM International, and the other released in 1962, though I was unable to find much more information about the 2nd than that it starred Marlon Brando in it.

    The 1935 version of the movie has a cast who grinded on eachothers nerves as much as Fletcher Christian and William Bligh must have. This movie, directed by Frank Loyd was a well written, almost direct copy of the novels by Charles Nordhaff and James Norman Hall. It was filmed in the United States and was the most expensive movie of it's time, totaling somewhat over 2 million dollars. It also made heads turn, and sails whip when it grossed 4,460,000 dollars.

    The "Mutiny on the Bounty" had a stellar cast who pulled off a marvelous performance, despited their differences. The cast was as follows:

    "Mutiny on the Bounty" was the Oscar winner of 1935 for "Best Picture". Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone were all nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role- unfortunately they lost to Victor McLaglen who starred in the 1935 movie, "The Informer." It still holds the record, however, for the most "Best Actor" nominees. Frank Lloyd, who won the award two years before, was nominated again as "Best Director". "Mutiny on the Bounty" was also nominated for "Best Screenplay", "Best Film Editing" and "Best Score". Charles Laughton won a New York Film Critic Circle Award for Best Actor.

    Clark Gable was originally against accepting the role of Fletcher Christian, because he felt that his audience would find him very woman-like wearing breeches and a pigtail, but he was eventually won over by Producer Irving Thalberg to accept the role, on one condition- he refused to play it with an English accent.

    Clark Gable later referred to Mutiny on the Bounty as one of his favorite films, however, saying: " was history, a story about the struggle of real men, without the usual load of cinema romance." Before the release of the film, to boost sales and encourage viewings, Gable went on a cross-country personal tour. Women rioted in every everywhere he went, and Clark lost handkerchiefs, ties, cuff links, and even his watch, when fans mobbed him. Clark Gable had to shave off his trademark moustache for this film for historical accuracy- moustaches were not allowed in the British Navy during the time the movie takes place.

    In choosing the actor to play Captain Bligh, Laughton was not the first choice. Shockingly, the role almost went to Wallace Beery, before he was deemed too American!

    Charles Laughton was in reality terrified of the ocean and was violently seasick throughout most of the filming. At his own expense, he had a Saville Row tailor make the uniform for him that he wore as Bligh. The tailor had the original measurements taken for Bligh’s uniform almost 150 years before, as well as the bills and receipts the company issued for Bligh’s account. Laughton also located the original hatmaker who had made Bligh’s naval tricorn hat, so he was assured that the hat he wore for the film was authentic.

    Laughton and Gable disliked each other intensely and life imitated art as the tension between them mirrored the tension between Bligh and Christian. They were in agreement only on one thing: their antagonism towards the film's director Frank Lloyd.

    Laughton was put off by Gable's handsome appearance due to his own feelings that he was himself ugly. Laughton played many scenes without looking at Gable. Gable hated Laughton for his well kept, secret- homosexuality. Frank Lloyd and Irving Thalberg had to calm and shrink the egos of both men just to keep filming going. The director and producer were not unhappy for the anger, though- it allowed Laughton and Gable to play the scenes of dislike to a magnificent amount of intensity.

    Overall, "The Mutiny on the Bounty" is an excellent and well written/played/produced movie. It was surpassed, in some mannerisms, by the 1962 version, but both had their up's and downs. A close follower of the Novel, "The Mutiny on the Bounty" is possibly one of the best novel-based sea movies made.


  • Colour: Black & White
  • Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Director: Frank Lloyd
  • Producer: Albert Lewin, Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
  • Screenplay: Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson, based upon the novel by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall
  • Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
  • Editor: Margaret Booth
  • Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie
  • Music: Walter Jermann, Gus Kahn, & Bronislau Kaper (song "Love Song of Tahiti'" all uncredited), Herbert Stothart

  • Sources:

  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio Archives
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