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Mutiny on the Bounty - "The Truth"

Talk by Stephen Walters


24th. September 2008

 

Mr. Walters opened his talk by giving some background on the Museum, 'The World of Boats’, which is situated in the old fish market at Eyemouth and which comprises a collection of nearly 400 boats and 300 plus models with supporting archive from across the world and spanning many centuries. The project came into being following the collapse of the International Sailing Craft Association at Exeter in 1996 when there was a real danger that the whole collection of boats, many the last surviving of their type, would be split up and disposed of. Thanks very largely to the efforts of Andrew Thornhill Q.C. and Mr. Walters himself the collection has been saved and the new museum should undoubtedly become one of the major tourist attractions in Berwickshire.

The museum aims to run a rolling season of exhibitions, the first of which runs until the end of the year being based on the events surrounding the mutiny on H.M.S. ‘Bounty’ and it was on this that Mr. Walters delivered the main thrust of his talk.

By any yardstick Captain William Bligh must be one of the greatest seamen and navigators which this country has produced entering on to the Admiralty List at aged 7 and having sailed and gained so much navigational experience under the great Captain James Cook.

In 1789 Bligh was commissioned by the Admiralty to navigate and record the Endeavour Strait and to bring back from Tahiti samples of breadfruit a plant which at that time was regarded as a potential rich food source for the slave colonies in the West Indies. After much delay which made the voyage so much more difficult Bligh eventually set sail in December of that year. images/stories/bligh.jpg

The vessel allocated however was only of 220 tons and just over 85 feet in length, smaller as Mr. Walters pointed than many fishing vessels currently sailing out of Eyemouth. The consequence was that Bligh could not hold a rank higher than that of Lieutenant and that he had no other officers or marines to enforce discipline. Had this been otherwise events would very probably not have unfolded as they did.

Mr. Walters narrated the history of the voyage, the unsuccessful attempt to round the Horn (although he probably in fact did manage to do so), tacking back to Cape Town where he arrived the following May and after several weeks refitting, onward to Tahiti.

Unfortunately breadfruit could not be transplanted at this time of year meaning an enforced stay in Tahiti of about six months. The well known mutiny occurred about three weeks out on the homeward journey when the boat was seized by Fletcher Christian, a man well know to Bligh and whom he had previously much favoured.

The whole stirring account of the mutiny and Bligh’s quite heroic return in the ship’s launch with eighteen men and very limited provisions, navigating over 4000 miles through largely unchartered waters was meticulously and enthrallingly recounted by Mr. Walters with absolute fluency and without resort to notes or any aid memoire whatsoever.

Bligh certainly had a temper but he was not by any means the tyrannical monster portrayed in the film; nor could it be claimed that Fletcher had justification in pursuing the actions he did. Both men had flaws but the tragedy was not the character of either but the fact they came together in the circumstances they did.

At the end of the evening one member was heard to say - “that was the best talk delivered to the Society in many a year”, a summation with which it was hard to disagree.