Mutiny on the Bounty

Lieutenant William Bligh is set adrift by the mutineers aboard the HMS Bounty on April 28, 1789
Lieutenant William Bligh is set adrift by the mutineers aboard the HMS Bounty on April 28, 1789

Historical Context

One of the most famous and remarkable stories in maritime history began on April 28, 1789, when rebellious mutineer Fletcher Christian and his supporters seized control of the HMS Bounty from its Lieutenant, William Bligh. Tensions between the two men had increased over the period of the Bounty's mission, which was to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. Bligh was considered an exceptionally harsh taskmaster with a penchant for cruel punishments by many of his men.

When the men arrived in Tahiti, there was a five-month layover, after which they became less willing to accept Bligh's discipline onboard the ship. Christian was a particular target for Bligh, who became increasingly angry and mutinous as the journey continued. Three weeks after the Tahiti layover, Christian acted, and he forced Bligh and most of his loyalists off the ship on April 28, 1789.

Bligh an 18 other men landed on the island of Tofua. He then proceeded west on a 6,500 km (4,000 mi) journey to Kupang to await a ship to Europe. He would arrive back in England in April 1790. The mutineers themselves had split; some had decided to stay in Tahiti, while Christian and others settled on Pitcairn Island. The British Admiralty dispatched the HMS Pandora to bring the mutineers to justice; fourteen were captured in Tahiti, Christian and his group were not discovered until an American ship found them in 1808, by which time John Adams was the only surviving member of the mutineers.

Ten detainees made it back to England after the Pandora ran aground, with the loss of 31 crew members. Four were acquitted, three pardoned and three were hanged. Descendants of the mutineers live on Pitcairn Island to this day.

Painting Info


Artist: Robert Dodd
Location painted: Aboard the HMS Bounty, South Pacific

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1789-04-28 Fletcher Christian leads a mutiny on HMS Bounty against its captain William Bligh in the South Pacific
  • 1789-06-14 Captain William Bligh and his loyal men cast off from HMS Bounty reach Timor, after sailing 5,800 km in a 6-metre launch
  • 1792-09-12 Court martial begins for instigators of the mutiny on the Bounty on board HMS Duke in Portsmouth harbour, presided over by Vice-Admiral Samuel Hood

Historical Paintings