Australasia 1789: Mutiny on the Bounty
Even as the British were establishing the Colony of New South Wales, Western nations were beginning their first serious commercial ventures into the South Pacific. While on an expedition to transplant breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, British Captain William Bligh was overthrown in a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian—who preferred life in the Pacific islands—and his ship, HMS Bounty, was seized. Cast adrift in a longboat, Bligh and his loyalists managed to row to the Dutch East Indies and eventually organize an expedition to hunt down the mutineers. Most were found and arrested in Tahiti in 1791, but a few, who had chosen to found their own settlement on remote Pitcairn Island, would remain undiscovered until 1808.
6 Mar 1788 Norfolk Island penal settlement▲
In April 1787 Arthur Phillip—designated as Governor of New South Wales—was given instructions to secure Norfolk Island for Britain to prevent its occupation by a foreign power (i.e. France). Upon arriving at Port Jackson in January 1788, Phillip immediately dispatched Lieutenant Philip Gidley King with 15 convicts and seven free men to the island, where they arrived in March. Despite attempts at growing New Zealand flax and farming food for Sydney, the settlement would prove to be a disappointment and the island was temporarily abandoned between 1814 and 1825.
3 Mar 1789 Southern whale fishery▲
In September 1788 the whaler Emilia, owned by Samuel Enderby & Sons, departed London for Cape Horn. After rounding the cape into the Pacific the ship began operations in the Southern Ocean, making the region’s first sperm whale catch off the coast of Chile in March 1789. Two years later whalers would begin operations in Australia—while sealers would arrive in New Zealand—marking the beginning of an increased Western involvement in the South Pacific.
28 Apr 1789 Mutiny on the Bounty▲
In 1787–88, in one of Britain’s first commercial ventures in the South Pacific, Captain William Bligh—a veteran of Cook’s explorations—sailed HMS Bounty to Tahiti to collect breadfruit tree seedlings for introduction into the West Indies. While the expedition waited five months in Tahiti for the seedlings to mature, some of the crew—including Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian—formed relations with Tahitian women. 24 days after leaving Tahiti, Christian and other disaffected crew mutinied south of Tofua (in Tonga), seizing the Bounty and setting Bligh and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship’s longboat.
28 Apr–14 Jun 1789 Bligh’s open-boat voyage▲
Cast adrift in the HMS Bounty’s longboat by Fletcher Christian’s mutineers, Captain William Bligh and his 18 followers—equipped with a sextant and compass but no charts—navigated across the South Pacific through the Great Barrier Reef to reach Kupang, on Timor in the Dutch East Indies. Having completed this 6,800-kilometer voyage in just seven weeks, Bligh returned to England aboard a Dutch ship and set about hunting down the mutineers.
28 Apr 1789–15 Jan 1790 Bounty under Christian▲
Having overthrown Captain William Bligh, the HMS Bounty mutineers returned to Tahiti, where sixteen elected to stay until arrested by the British frigate HMS Pandora in 1791. The remaining nine (including Fletcher Christian) sailed for remote Pitcairn Island with 19 Tahitian women and 6 men, where they established a small, violent community. By the time the site was finally discovered by an American sealer in 1808, only one mutineer (John Adams) and nine women were left, along with 19 children.