The Mutineers of the Bounty
|The Mutineers of the "Bounty" (1879)
by , translated by Agnes Kinloch Kingston
CHAPTER I. TURNED ADRIFT
Not a breath of wind, not a ripple on the surface of the ocean, not a cloud in the sky. The splendid constellations of the Southern Hemisphere shone with exquisite brilliancy. The Bounty lay motionless, with drooping sails, as the night wore on; and the moon, turning pale at the approach of dawn, filled the air with dim and uncertain light.
The Bounty, a vessel of two hundred and fifteen tons burden, manned by a crew of forty-six, had left Spithead on the 23rd of December, 1787, under the command of Captain Bligh, a rough, but experienced seaman, who had accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage of discovery.
The special object of this voyage of the Bounty was to obtain plants of the bread-fruit tree, which grows in profusion in the Tahitian Archipelago, and to carry them to the Antilles.
After remaining for six months in the Bay of Matavai, Captain Bligh, with a cargo of a thousand bread-fruit trees, set sail for the West Indies, stopping at the Friendly Islands for a short time.
The suspicious and passionate character of the captain had repeatedly occasioned disagreeable scenes between him and his officers; but, when the sun rose on the morning of the 28th of April, 1789, the perfect tranquility which prevailed on board the Bounty was disturbed by no token of the serious events about to take place.
By-and-by the apparent tranquility was broken by unwonted animation among the crew: the seamen met, exchanged two or three words in whispers, and then separated quietly. What could be going on?
"Above all things, make no noise, friends," said Fletcher Christian, the second officer of the Bounty. "Load your pistol, Bob; but do not fire till I give the word. Churchill, take a hatchet to burst open the lock of the captain's cabin door, and, mark me, I must have him alive."
Followed by a dozen seamen, armed with sabres, cutlasses, and pistols, Christian glided between decks, where he placed two sentinels before the cabins of Stewart and Peter Heywood, the one the boatswain, the other a midshipman of the Bounty, and then, passing on, he stopped at the captain's door.
"Come, lads!" he cried, "one good shove all together!" The door yielded to their vigorous blows, and the seamen rushed into the cabin.
Confused by the darkness, and, perhaps, reflecting on the serious nature of the step they had taken, they hesitated for a moment.
"Hullo! What's the matter? Who dares --?" exclaimed the captain, jumping out of his cot.
"Silence, Captain Bligh!" answered Churchill. "Silence, and do not attempt to resist, or I will gag you!"
"You needn't trouble yourself to dress," added Bob; "you will cut quite a good enough figure as you are when you are dangling at the yard-arm!"
"Lash his hands behind his back, Churchill," said Christian, "and hoist him up on deck!"
"The most tyrannical captains need be feared no longer, when one knows how to set about dealing with them," remarked John Smith, the philosopher of the crew.
Then, without caring whether or not they awoke the rest of the crew, they returned on deck.
It was a regular mutiny. Of the officers on board besides Christian, Young alone, one of the midshipmen, had made common cause with the mutineers.
As to the crew, those who hesitated at first had been obliged to give in, whilst the other officers, without arms, and without a leader, remained spectators of the drama which was being acted before their eyes.
All were drawn up in silence on the deck, and gazed at their captain, who, half-naked, held his head high in the midst of these men, who usually trembled before him.
"Captain Bligh," said Christian, roughly, "you are deprived of your command."
"I do not recognise your right," replied the captain.
"Do not waste time in useless protestations," interrupted Christian. "I now speak the sentiments of the Bounty's crew. We had scarcely left England when we had already reason to complain of your insulting suspicions, your brutal proceedings. When I say we, I mean the officers as well as the seamen. We not only could not obtain the satisfaction which was our due, but you set aside our complaints with contempt! Are we dogs, that we should be abused on every occasion? Scoundrels, ruffians, liars, thieves, you had no expression strong enough, no abuse coarse enough for us! Indeed, had we patiently borne such a life, we should have been unworthy to be called men! And I, I your countryman, who know your family, and have already made two voyages under you, have you spared me? Did you not accuse me, only yesterday, of stealing some wretched fruit? And the men, they are put in irons when guiltless of a fault. For a trifle they are condemned to receive two dozen lashes. Well, everything is paid for in this world! You have been too liberal with us, Bligh! It is our turn now! You are about to expiate the insults, the injustice, the mad accusations, the moral and physical tortures with which you have overwhelmed your crew during a year and a half, and you shall pay dearly for them! Captain, you have been judged by those whom you have offended, and you are condemned. Is that right, shipmates?"
"Yes, yes, death, death to the tyrant!" shouted the greater number of the seamen, threatening their captain.
"Captain Bligh," resumed Christian, "some have spoken of hoisting you dangling to the yard-arm, between sky and sea; others propose to make your back taste the cat you have so freely bestowed on theirs, until you die under the infliction. They lack imagination. I have a better plan than that. Besides, you are not alone guilty in this matter. Those who have always faithfully executed your orders, however cruel they were, would be in despair at having to submit to my command. They deserve to bear you company wherever the wind may drive you. Lower the long boat!"
Christian's last words were received with a murmur of disapprobation, which, however, did not seem to trouble him. Captain Bligh, who was not intimidated by these menaces, profited by the moment's silence to speak.
"Officers and men," he said, in a firm voice, "in my character of officer in the royal navy, commander of the Bounty, I protest against the treatment with which I am threatened. If you have had reason to complain of the way I have exercised my power, you might have had me tried by a court-martial. But, doubtless, you have not reflected on the serious consequences of the act you are about to commit. To lay hand on your captain is to put yourself in revolt against existing laws; it will render a return to your native country impossible, and will cause you to be treated like pirates! Sooner or later you will come to an ignominious death, the death of traitors and rebels! In the name of honour and the obedience you swore to me, I summon you to return to your duty!"
"We know perfectly well to what we expose ourselves," replied Churchill.
"Enough! Enough!" cried the crew, ready for any deed of violence.
"Well," said Bligh, "if you must have a victim, let it be me, but me alone! Those of my companions whom you condemn with me have only obeyed my orders!"
The voice of the captain was now drowned by a chorus of vociferations, and he was obliged to renounce the hope of moving those pitiless hearts.
While this was going on, arrangements for the execution of Christian's orders had been made.
However, a lively dispute had arisen among the mutineers, some of whom wished to abandon Captain Bligh and his friends without giving them a weapon, or leaving them an ounce of bread.
Some - and it was also Churchill's advice - thought that the number of those who ought to leave the ship was not large enough. They must get rid, he said, of all the men who, not being directly implicated in the plot, were not safe. They could not depend on those who contented themselves with merely accepting accomplished facts. As to himself, his back was still sore from the lashes he had received for deserting at Tahiti. The best, and the most rapid way of healing it would be to deliver the captain over to him! He would know well how to revenge himself, with his own hand!
"Hayward! Hallett!" exclaimed Christian, addressing two of the officers, without taking any notice of Churchill's observations, "get into the boat."
"What have I done to you, Christian, that you should treat me thus?" said Hayward. "You are sending me to my death!"
"Recriminations are useless! Obey, or else -! Fryer, in with you too!"
But these officers, instead of going towards the boat, approached Captain Bligh, and Fryer, who seemed the most determined, bent forward, saying -
"Captain, will you try to retake the ship? We have no arms, it is true, but the mutineers, if surprised, could not resist. If a few of us are killed, what matter! We can but try! What do you think?"
The officers were already preparing to throw themselves on the mutineers, who were now busily engaged in making ready the long boat, when Churchill, whose notice these words, brief as they were, had not escaped, summoning several well-armed men, forced them into the boat.
"Millward, Muspratt, Birket, and you others," said Christian, addressing some of the seamen who had not taken part in the mutiny, "go below and choose whatever you value most! You are to accompany Captain Bligh. You, Morrison, look after those fellows! Purcell, take your carpenter's 'chest, I will allow you to have that."
Two masts with their sails, nails, a saw, a piece of sail cloth, four small kegs, each containing twenty-four quarts of water, a hundred and fifty pounds of biscuit, thirty-two pounds of salt pork, six bottles of wine, six bottles of rum, the captain's wine case, were all the stores and provisions they were to be allowed to take.
They were given, besides, two or three old swords, but fire-arms of any description were refused them.
"Where are Peter Hey wood and Stewart?" asked Bligh, when he was in the boat. "Have they also betrayed me?"
They had not betrayed him, but Christian had resolved to keep them on board.
The captain now had a moment of discouragement and very pardonable weakness, which, however, did not last.
"Christian," he said," I give you my word of honour to forget all that has just occurred, if you will give up your abominable plan! I beseech you, think of my wife and family! Should I perish, what will become of them?"
"If you possessed any honour," answered Christian, "things would not have reached this pitch. If you yourself had thought a little more often of your wife, of your family, and of the wives and families of others, you would not have been so harsh, so unjust, towards all of us!"
The boatswain's mate, as he was embarking, endeavoured in his turn to soften Christian. All in vain.
"I have been suffering too long," he replied, bitterly. "You do not know what my tortures have been! No, it cannot last a day longer; and, besides, you are not ignorant that, all this voyage, I, the second officer of the ship, have been treated like a dog! However, in separating myself from Captain Bligh, whom, in all probability, I shall never see again, I wish from pity, not to take from him all hope of safety. Smith, go to the captain's cabin, and bring him his clothes, his commission, his journal, and his portfolio. Also, give him my nautical charts, and my own sextant. He will thus have some chance of being able to save his companions, and get out of the scrape himself!"
Christian's orders were performed, though not without many objections from the crew.
"And now, Morrison, cast off," exclaimed the master's mate, now the commander of the Bounty, "and leave them to the mercy of God!"
Whilst the mutineers saluted Captain Bligh and his unfortunate companions with ironical cheers, the unhappy Christian, leaning against the hammock nettings, could not take his eyes from the departing boat. This brave officer, whose conduct, loyal and open, had always, till then, merited the praises of all the commanders under whom he had served, was to-day no better than the chief of a band of pirates. He could never see again either his old mother, or his betrothed, or the Isle of Man, his native place. He had sunk in his own self-esteem, and was dishonoured in the eyes of everyone.
Chastisement was already following his crime!
CHAPTER II. VOYAGE OF THE LONG BOAT
With her eighteen passengers, officers and men, and the scanty provisions she contained, the boat which carried Bligh was so loaded that her gunwale was only fifteen inches above the level of the sea. Twenty-one feet long and six wide, she was a useful ship's boat for so numerous a crew, but for such a voyage as she was destined to perform, she appeared utterly unsuitable.
The sailors, confident in the skill and energy of their captain and officers, who were now all joined in the same fate, rowed vigorously, and the boat rapidly sped through the waves.
Bligh had no hesitation about what he was to do. He wished first of all to regain as soon as possible the island of Tofoa, the nearest of the Friendly Islands, which they had only left a few days before; they would there collect bread-fruit, and renew their store of water, and then run for Tonga-Tabou. They would there obtain a sufficient quantity of provisions to last them till they could reach the Dutch settlements in Timor, if, through fear of savages, they did not wish to touch at any of the numerous archipelagos scattered here and there on their way.
The first day passed without incident, and night was falling when they sighted the coast of Tofoa. Unfortunately, the shore was so rocky, and the cliffs so steep, that it was impossible to disembark that night. They must wait for day.
Unless it was absolutely necessary, Bligh did not mean to touch their provisions. The island would have to nourish his men and himself. That seemed difficult, for, on first landing, not a trace of inhabitants was to be met with. Some, however, soon made their appearance, and, being well received, others came, who brought them water and a few cocoa-nuts.
Bligh's perplexity was great. What was he to say to these natives, who had already trafficked with the Bounty on her last visit? At any cost it was necessary to hide the truth, so as not to destroy the prestige which the strangers had before acquired. Could they say that they were sent for provisions for their ship, which was out at sea?
That was impossible, for the Bounty was not visible, even from the tops of the hills! Should they state that their vessel was wrecked, and they were the only survivors? That was the story most likely to be credited. Perhaps that would touch the hearts of the natives and induce them to complete the provisioning of the boat. Bligh determined to say this, though it was dangerous, and he cautioned his men to adhere to the statement, so that they might all agree.
On hearing this the natives made no sign of either joy or sorrow. Their faces only expressed profound astonishment, and it was impossible to guess what they thought.
On the 2nd of May, the number of natives from other parts of the island increased to an alarming extent, and Bligh soon guessed that they had hostile intentions. Some even tried to haul the boat up on the shore, and only drew back before the energetic demonstrations of the captain, who menaced them with his cutlass. Whilst this was going on, some of the men, whom Bligh had sent to search, brought back three gallons of water.
The time had come for quitting this inhospitable island. At sunset all was ready; but it was not easy to gain the boat. The beach was covered with natives, clashing stones against each other, ready to throw. The boat kept off a few fathoms from the shore, and only touched just as the men were ready to embark.
The English, really uneasy at the hostile look of the savages, walked down the beach, in the midst of two hundred natives, who were evidently only waiting a signal to rush upon them. However, all got safely into the boat, when one of the sailors, named Bancroft, imprudently returned to fetch some article he had forgotten. In a second, the foolish man was surrounded and felled with stones, his companions, having no firearms, being unable to help him. At the same time they themselves were attacked, and stones rained upon them.
"Come, lads," shouted Bligh, "bend to your oars and pull hard!"
The natives followed them into the sea, and showers of pebbles fell upon them. Many men were wounded; but Thomas Hayward (there were two midshipmen of that name belonging to the Bounty), picking up a stone which had fallen into the boat, took aim at one of their assailants and hit him between the eyes. The savage fell back with a cry, which was answered by a cheer from the English. Their unfortunate comrade was avenged.
By this time several canoes had left the shore and were giving chase. This pursuit could have only ended in a combat, the issue of which could not have been favourable, when the master had a bright idea. Without suspecting that he was imitating Hippomenes in his race with Atalanta, he stripped off his jacket, which he threw into the sea. The natives, leaving the prey for the shadow, stopped to pick it up, and this expedient permitted the boat to double the point of the bay.
In the meantime night came on, and the savages discouraged, abandoned the chase.
This first attempt at landing was too unlucky to be renewed; such at least was the opinion of Captain Bligh.
"We must now come to a resolution," he said. "The scene which has just passed at Tofoa will occur again, I am certain, at Tonga Tabou, and wherever else we may touch. So small a number as we are, without firearms, would be absolutely at the mercy of the savages. Having no articles for barter, we could not buy provisions, and it is impossible for us to procure them by force. We are reduced to our own resources; and you, my friends, know as well as I do, how miserable they are! But would it not be better to be contented with them, rather than at each landing to risk the lives of some of our party? However, I do not wish to hide anything of the horror of our situation from you. To reach Timor we have nearly twelve hundred leagues to run, and you must be satisfied with one ounce of biscuit and a quarter of a pint of water a day! Safety can be obtained at this price only, and also on the condition that you yield me implicit obedience. Answer me without reserve! Do you consent to attempt the enterprise? Will you swear to obey my orders, whatever they may be? Will you promise to submit without murmuring to these privations?"
"Yes, yes, we swear it!" exclaimed Bligh's companions, with one voice.
"My friends," resumed the captain," we must also forget our reciprocal wrongs, our antipathies, and our hates, in one word, sacrifice our personal grudges to the interest of all, which must alone guide us!"
"If you keep your word," added Bligh, "and if need be, I can force you to do so, I will answer for your safety."
A course was now steered to the W.N.W. The wind, which was strong, blew a regular gale by the evening of the 4th of May. The waves were so high that the boat disappeared between them, and could hardly struggle up again. Every moment the danger increased. Drenched and chilled, the unfortunate men had nothing to comfort them on that day but a glass of rum and the quarter of a half-rotten bread-fruit.
During the next and following days their condition did not improve. The boat passed by a few islands, from which several canoes put off.
Was it to give chase, or to try and barter? In any case it would be imprudent to stop. The boat, therefore, her sails filled with a fair breeze, soon left them far behind.
On the 9th of May again a terrible storm broke over them. Thunder and lightning succeeded without interruption. The rain fell with a force, of which even the most violent storms of our climate fail to give an idea. It was impossible to dry their clothes. Bligh then thought of plunging them into the sea, and thus to impregnate them with salt, so as to bring back to the skin a little of the warmth carried away by the rain. These torrents of rain, however, which caused so much suffering to the captain and his companions, spared them other tortures still more horrible, the tortures of thirst, which unbearable heat would soon have produced.
On the morning of the 17th of May, after a frightful gale, complaints became general.
"We shall never have strength to reach New Holland," cried the unfortunate crew. "Wet through by the rain, exhausted by fatigue, we shall never have a moment's rest! We are half dead with hunger; will you not increase our rations, captain? What matters it if our provisions do fail? We can easily replace them on arriving at New
"I refuse," replied Bligh. "That would be to act like fools. What! We have only crossed half the distance we had to run when cast adrift to reach Australia, and you are already discouraged! Do you think, besides, that you will find it easy to obtain provisions on the coast of New Holland? You know neither the country nor the inhabitants!"
And Bligh described in a graphic way the nature of the soil, the manners and customs of the natives, the small dependence they must place on a friendly reception, everything, indeed, that his voyage with Captain Cook had taught him. For this time his companions listened and were silenced.
For the next fifteen days they were cheered by a bright sun, which dried their clothes. On the 27th they crossed the reefs which border the eastern coast of New Holland. The sea was calm behind this coral belt, and several groups of islands, covered with exotic vegetation, rejoiced their sight.
They landed, and advanced cautiously. No traces of the natives did they find, except some signs of fires. It was, therefore, possible to pass a good night on shore. But they had to eat. By great good luck one of the sailors discovered a bed of oysters, which furnished them with a regular feast.
The next day Bligh found in the boat a magnifying glass and a tinder-box. This enabled them to procure fire to cook game or fish.
Bligh then proposed to divide his crew into three parties; one to stay and put everything in order in the boat, the two others to go and search for food. But several men complained bitterly, declaring that they would rather go without their dinner than venture into the country.
One of them, more violent or more bold than his companions, went so far as to say to the captain -
"One man is as good as another, and I don't see why you should always take your ease! If you are hungry go and get something to eat! For all the good you do I could do as well!"
Bligh, knowing that this mutinous spirit must be put a stop to, immediately seized a cutlass, and throwing another at the rebel's feet, he exclaimed -
"Defend yourself, or I will kill you like a dog!"
This energetic attitude soon brought the mutineer back to reason, and the general discontent was calmed.
During this rest the boat's crew collected an abundance of oysters and other shell-fish, as well as a supply of fresh water.
A little further on, in the Endeavour Straits, of two detachments, sent out to chase tortoises and noddies (a species of sea-fowl), the first returned with empty hands, the second with only six noddies; but they would have taken many more had it not been for the obstinacy of one of the hunters, who, straying from his comrades, frightened the birds. This man acknowledged afterwards that he had managed to get hold of nine noddies, and had eaten them raw on the spot.
Without the food and fresh water they found on the coast of New Holland, it is very certain that Bligh and his companions would have perished. As it was, they were in a most pitiable condition, so exhausted and emaciated as to resemble skeletons rather than living men.
The voyage to Timor, through a little-known sea, was but a mournful repetition of the sufferings already endured by these unfortunate men before they reached the coasts of New Holland. The only difference was that the strength of all, without exception, was much diminished. In the course of a few days their legs became swollen, and while in this prostrate condition they were overwhelmed with an incessant longing for sleep. These symptoms, it was conjectured, foreboded a termination to their sufferings, which could not be long in coming. As soon as Captain Bligh perceived these alarming symptoms he distributed double rations to the weakest, and strove to inspire them with some hope.
At last, on the morning of the 12th of June, the coast of Timor appeared, after a voyage of three thousand six hundred miles had been accomplished under the most frightful and trying circumstances.
The English received an excessively sympathetic reception at Coupang; and remained there two months to recruit. Captain Bligh, having here purchased a small schooner, sailed for Batavia, which place was reached in safety, and thence he embarked for England.
On the I4th of March, 1790, the deserted men landed at Portsmouth. The recital of the tortures they had endured excited universal sympathy and indignation. The Admiralty almost immediately fitted out the frigate Pandora, of twenty-four guns, which, with a crew of a hundred and sixty men, was sent out in pursuit of the mutineers of the Bounty.
We will now see what had become of them.
CHAPTER III. THE MUTINEERS
After Captain Bligh had been deserted in the open sea, the Bounty set sail for Tahiti. The same day she reached Toubouai. The smiling aspect of this little island, surrounded by a belt of coral rocks, invited Christian to touch there; but the demonstrations of the inhabitants appearing too threatening, a landing was not effected.
On the 6th of June, 1789, the anchor was dropped in the roads of Matavai. Great was the surprise of the Tahitians on recognising the Bounty. The mutineers soon fell in with the natives, whose friendship they had gained on a previous occasion, and to them they told a story, into which they took care to bring the name of Captain Cook, whom the Tahitians well remembered.
On the 29th of June the mutineers departed for Toubouai and began a search for some island out of the ordinary route of ships, where the soil was fertile enough to supply them with food, and where they might live in security. They roved thus from one group of islands to another, committing excesses of all sorts, which Christian's authority was rarely sufficient to prevent. Then, attracted once more by the fertility of Tahiti, and by the gentle and easy nature of the inhabitants, they returned to the Bay of Matavai. There two-thirds of the crew landed, but that same evening the Bounty weighed anchor and disappeared, before the men suspected Christian of any intention of going without them.
Left to their own resources, the seamen established themselves without much regret in different parts of the island. George Stewart and Peter Heywood, the two midshipmen whom Christian had excepted from the sentence pronounced against Bligh, and had brought in spite of themselves, remained at Matavai near the king Tippao, whose sister Stewart soon afterwards married. Morrison and Milward joined the chief Peno, who received them well. As to the others they went inland, and before long took Tahitian wives.
Churchill and a mad fellow named Thompson, after having committed all sorts of crimes, came at last to blows. Churchill was killed in the struggle, and Thompson was stoned to death by the natives.
Thus perished two of the persons who had taken the greatest share in the mutiny. The others, on the contrary, by their good conduct, endeared themselves to the Tahitians.
However, Morrison and Milward, always seeing chastisement suspended over their heads, could not live quietly in an island where they might be so easily discovered. They, therefore, conceived the idea of building a schooner, in which to reach Batavia, there to conceal themselves in the midst of a civilised community. With eight of their companions, having only a few ordinary carpenters' tools, they contrived, not without difficulty, to construct a small vessel, which they called the Resolution, mooring her in a bay behind Venus Point; but the impossibility of procuring sails prevented them from putting to sea.
All this time, strong in their innocence, Stewart cultivated a garden, and Peter Heywood collected materials for a vocabulary, which, later, was of great assistance to the English missionaries.
Eighteen months had thus passed away, when, on the 23rd of March, 1791, a vessel doubled Venus Point, and anchored in Matavai Bay. This was the Pandora, sent in pursuit of the mutineers by the English Admiralty.
Heywood and Stewart hastened on board, declared their names and rank, and said that they had taken no part in the mutiny; but they were not believed, and were immediately put in irons, as were the rest of the men found on shore, without the least enquiry having been made as to the truth of their statements. Loaded with chains, and threatened that they would be shot should they converse in the Tahitian language among themselves, they were shut up in a cage eleven feet long, placed at the end of the quarter-deck, to which some one versed in mythology gave the name of Pandora's box.
On the 19th of May, the Resolution, which had been provided with sails, and the Pandora, put to sea. For three months they cruised among the Friendly Isles, where it was supposed that Christian and the rest of the mutineers had taken refuge. As the Resolution did not draw much water, she was of great use in this cruise; but she disappeared near Chatham Island, and although the Pandora remained in the neighbourhood for several days, nothing was ever again heard of her or of the five seamen by whom she was manned.
The Pandora was on her way back to Europe with the prisoners, when, in Torres Straits, she struck on a coral reef, and went down with thirty-one of her own men, and four of the mutineers.
The crew and the prisoners who escaped gained a sandy island. There the officers and seamen sheltered themselves under tents; but the mutineers, exposed to the heat of a vertical sun, were obliged, in order to obtain a little relief, to bury themselves up to their necks in sand.
The castaways remained on this islet for some days, and then all reached Timor in the Pandora's boats, the strict watch kept over the mutineers, notwithstanding the fearful circumstances in which they were placed, never being for a moment relaxed.
Reaching England in the month of June, 1792, the mutineers were brought before a court-martial, presided over by Admiral Hood. The trial lasted six days, and was terminated by the acquittal of four of the accused, and the condemnation to death of six others, for the crime of desertion and carrying off of the vessel given to their charge. Four of the condemned were hung on board a ship of war; the two others, Stewart and Peter Heywood, whose innocence was at last acknowledged, were pardoned.
But what had become of the Bounty? Had she been wrecked with the last of the mutineers? This no one could tell.
In 1814, twenty-five years after the scene with which this narrative commences, two English ships of war were cruising in Oceania, under the command of Captain Staines. They found themselves to the south of the dangerous archipelago, in sight of a mountainous and volcanic island, discovered by Carteret in his voyage round the world, and by him given the name of Pitcairn Island. It was a mere islet, almost without a shore, rising perpendicularly from the sea, and clothed to its summit with forests of palms and bread-fruit trees.
This island had never before been visited; it was twelve hundred miles from Tahiti, 25 4' south latitude, and 180 8' west longitude; it measured four miles and a half in circumference, and only a mile and a half across in its widest part. No one knew what report Carteret had given of it.
Captain Staines resolved to survey it, and ascertain if a suitable place for landing existed.
On approaching the shore, he was surprised at seeing huts, plantations, and on the beach, two natives, who, having launched a boat and skilfully crossed the surf, came towards his vessel. But his astonishment was boundless when they addressed him in excellent English with the words -
"Hullo, you there! Will you heave us a rope, that we may get on board!"
Directly they reached the deck, the two sturdy rowers were surrounded by the wondering sailors, who overwhelmed them with questions. Brought before the captain, they were interrogated in form -
"Who are you?"
"My name is Thursday October Christian, and my mate here is Ned Young."
These names told nothing to Captain Staines, who was far from thinking of the survivors of the Bounty.
"How long have you lived here?"
"We were born here."
"How old are you?"
"I am five-and-twenty, and Young is eighteen."
"Were your parents wrecked on this island?"
The son of Fletcher Christian, for such the young man was, then gave Captain Staines the following narrative -
On leaving Tahiti, where he abandoned twenty-one of his comrades, Christian, who had on board an account of Cartaret's voyage, steered towards Pitcairn Island, the position of which appeared to him suitable for the plan he proposed. Twenty-eight men now composed the crew of the Bounty. They were Fletcher Christian, the midshipman Young, and seven seamen, six Tahitians, three with wives, a child of ten months old, and three men and six women, natives of Roubouai.
The first care of Christian and his companions on reaching Pitcairn had been to destroy the Bounty, so as not to be discovered. This, of course, prevented their leaving the island again, but it was necessary for their safety.
The establishment of the little colony was not made without difficulty among persons whose only bond of union was their common crime. Bloody quarrels soon broke out between the Tahitians and the English. In 1794 only four of the mutineers survived. Christian had fallen by the knife of one of the natives he had brought to the island. All the Tahitians had been massacred.
One of the English, who had discovered a way of manufacturing spirits from the root of a plant, became brutalised by drunkenness, and, in a fit of delirium tremens, threw himself from the top of a cliff into the sea.
Another, in a fit of madness, attacked Young, and one of the sailors, named John Adams, was obliged to kill him. In 1800 Young died from a violent attack of asthma.
John Adams was then the sole survivor of the mutineers. Remaining alone, with several women and twenty children, the offspring of marriages between his shipmates and the natives, the character of John Adams underwent a complete change. He was then not more than thirty-six; but during those years he had been present at so many scenes of violence and bloodshed, he had seen human nature under so many sad aspects, that, on looking back on his conduct, he became an altered man.
In the library of the Bounty, kept on the island, were a Bible and several Prayer-books. John Adams, who read them frequently, became converted, brought up the youthful population, who considered him as a father, in excellent principles, and became, in the nature of things, the legislator, the high priest, and, so to speak, the king of Pitcairn.
However, up to 1814, his alarms had been constant. In 1795, a vessel had approached Pitcairn, and the four survivors of the Bounty hid themselves in inaccessible woods, not daring to descend to the bay until after the departure of the ship. John Adams acted in the same way, when, in 1808, an American captain landed on the island, from which he carried off a chronometer and a compass, which he sent to the British Admiralty; but the Admiralty were not affected at the sight of these relics of the Bounty, there being something more important to think of in Europe just at that time.
Such was the narrative given to Captain Staines by the two natives, English on their father's side, one the son of Christian, the other the son of Young; but when Captain Staines asked to see John Adams, the latter refused to come on board, until he knew how he was likely to be treated.
The captain, having assured the two young men that John Adams was safe, as twenty-five years had passed since the mutiny of the Bounty, went on shore, where he was received by a population composed of forty-six adults, and a large number of children. All were tall and strong, of a clearly-marked English type, the girls especially being remarkably pretty, the modesty of their manners making them altogether charming.
The laws in force in the island were of the simplest character. On a register was noted all that each one gained by his work. Money was unknown, all transactions being made by means of exchange; but there was no manufactory, as no materials were to be had. For clothing the inhabitants wore large hats and belts of grass. Fishing and agriculture were their principal occupations. Marriages were only made with the permission of Adams, and when the man had cleared and planted ground sufficient for the support of his future family.
Captain Staines, having collected much curious information relating to this island, thus long concealed from the civilised world in the most unfrequented part of the Pacific, put to sea, and returned to Europe.
Since that time the venerable John Adams has terminated his checkered career. He died in 1829, and was replaced by the Reverend John Nobbs, who then fulfilled in the island the functions of pastor, doctor, and schoolmaster.
In 1853, the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty numbered a hundred and seventy individuals. Since then the population had increased and become so numerous that, three years later, it was decided to remove a number to Norfolk Island, which until then had been used for convicts. But the party of emigrants regretted Pitcairn so much, although Norfolk was four times larger, its soil remarkable for its richness, and living there was far easier, that after a couple of years' stay, several families returned to Pitcairn, where they continue to prosper.
Such was the issue of an adventure which had begun in so tragic a way.
At first, mutineers, murderers, madmen, and now, under the influence of Christian morals, and instruction given by a poor converted sailor, Pitcairn Island has become the fatherland of a gentle, hospitable, and happy population, among whom are found the primitive manners of the patriarchal ages.
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