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The most famous sea story of them all has everything: adventure, sex, cruelty, violence, the most glamorous of heroes, the wickedest of villains. A glimpse of Paradise and the ordeals of Hell.

That’s the Mutiny On The Bounty as we know it, as Hollywood has shown it, time after time.

Fletcher Christian, the mutineers’ leader, is always played by an (American) heart-throb — Clark Gable, Marlon Brando. Captain Bligh is an exercise in splenetic tyranny for an (English) character actor — Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard — spluttering with rage and fairly simmering with savagery.

The problem is, it’s almost entirely untrue
...

How movie bosses sunk the reputation of a British hero: On screen he's always made out to be a monster, but Mutiny On The Bounty's Captain Bligh has been terribly wronged, says Michael Buerk


By former BBC newsreader Michael Buerk For The Daily Mail
4 March 2017

The most famous sea story of them all has everything: adventure, sex, cruelty, violence, the most glamorous of heroes, the wickedest of villains. A glimpse of Paradise and the ordeals of Hell.

That’s the Mutiny On The Bounty as we know it, as Hollywood has shown it, time after time.

Fletcher Christian, the mutineers’ leader, is always played by an (American) heart-throb — Clark Gable, Marlon Brando. Captain Bligh is an exercise in splenetic tyranny for an (English) character actor — Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard — spluttering with rage and fairly simmering with savagery.


The greatest sea-tale of them all - Mutiny On The Bounty - is also the biggest lie, an obscuration of history according to Michael Buerk

The problem is, it’s almost entirely untrue. Worse, it has obscured the real story. A story of bravery, barely believable endurance and extraordinary skill that ranks as one of the greatest maritime achievements in history.

Worst of all, it’s got the hero and the villain the wrong way round. The Bounty was a tiny ship to make such a big mark on history, a Royal Navy vessel little longer than a cricket pitch and too small to merit a proper captain. Bligh was a mere lieutenant; ‘Captain’ was a courtesy to any officer commanding a ship.

And what a bizarre project it was that was to make her famous. The early explorers had discovered a plant in the Pacific Islands called the breadfruit because its fruit — the size of a man’s head — was edible and had a taste and texture (it was claimed) uncannily like bread.

The idea was to sail to Tahiti, load the ship with young breadfruit plants and take them to the West Indies where they would provide a suitably cheap diet for the thousands of African slaves on the sugar plantations.


'Fletcher Christian, the mutineers’ leader, is always played by an (American) heart-throb — Clark Gable, Marlon Brando. Captain Bligh is an exercise in splenetic tyranny for an (English) character actor — Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard — spluttering with rage and fairly simmering with savagery'

Bligh had been to Tahiti with Captain Cook and was with him when he was killed. He inherited Cook’s mantle as the foremost navigator of the age. Fletcher Christian, a charming but petulant man, was his protégé.

Christian was poor but his family was well connected. He’d already been on two voyages under Bligh’s wing and begged to go with him a third time.

By the standards of the day, Bligh was a considerate, even exemplary, captain. He divided the crew into three watches, rather than the normal two, so they could get more sleep. He was obsessed with hygiene, having the whole ship washed and rinsed with vinegar — a primitive disinfectant.

He inspected the entire crew for cleanliness, right down to their fingernails, every Sunday, and had dancing sessions on the deck most evenings


'The problem is, it’s almost entirely untrue. Worse, it has obscured the real story. A story of bravery, barely believable endurance and extraordinary skill that ranks as one of the greatest maritime achievements in history'

The Bounty, at least in the early stages of the voyage, was a contented vessel. Bligh wrote home: ‘My men are all active, good fellows & what has given me much pleasure is that I have not yet been obliged to punish anyone.’

Tahiti, in 1788, was a paradise that had only recently been discovered. Palm trees rustled over sand, there were flowers everywhere — and sweet-smelling languor in the air.

The people were handsome, clean-limbed, smooth-skinned, their smiles full of snow-white teeth. The English sailors were mostly toothless, the majority of them pockmarked from endemic smallpox, bow-legged, misshapen, scarred — and, despite Bligh’s best efforts, filthy and stinking as well.

The Tahitians were endlessly generous and almost totally uninhibited. The girls’ attitude to sex amazed and delighted the English sailors — and left Bligh aghast, noting in his log ‘the uncommon ways they have of gratifying their beastly inclinations’.

The Bounty’s crew had to stay five months in this earthly paradise to collect the seedlings.

Discipline disintegrated. There were rows. Bligh had a sharp tongue, and a ready temper. But Bligh, in any case, would quickly calm down.

Irritable, he might have been, a tyrant he definitely wasn’t. As soon as they left, however, many of the crew having bade reluctant farewells to friends and sweethearts, relationships started seriously to sour.

The flashpoint for the most famous shipboard rebellion in history was ridiculously trivial. Bligh accused Christian of taking a coconut from a pile kept on deck.


'The idea was to sail to Tahiti, load the ship with young breadfruit plants and take them to the West Indies where they would provide a suitably cheap diet for the thousands of African slaves on the sugar plantations.'

It was little more than a tiff, so much so that Bligh invited Christian to dinner that evening. But he, in a huff, refused.

At dawn the following morning, Bligh was woken by Christian and three other seamen armed with pistols and cutlasses. They dragged him out of his cot and bound his hands behind his back.

There was confusion on deck. Christian, who’d been drinking heavily, kept poking his captive with a bayonet. Bligh shouted: ‘Consider, Mr Christian, I have a wife and four children in England, and you have danced my children on your knee.’

But Bligh and those loyal to him were ordered into the ship’s launch boat — far more went than Christian had expected. At least four of those who wanted to go with the Captain were forced to stay on the ship because there wasn’t room.


'Bligh had been to Tahiti with Captain Cook and was with him when he was killed. He inherited Cook’s mantle as the foremost navigator of the age. Fletcher Christian, a charming but petulant man, was his protégé'

Cast adrift in the South Pacific, Bligh and his men seemed to face certain death. There were 19 of them packed into the launch, which was only 23ft long and little more than 6ft at its very widest.

They had minimal supplies — bread, salted pork, a little rum, and water — enough to last that many people, on normal rations, five days.

The boat was so packed, the freeboard — the bit above the water — was just 9in, the length, it was said, of a man’s hand. Bligh sailed that overloaded little craft 3,618 miles. It took 48 days. A triumph of navigation, of seamanship, of pure leadership that has probably never been rivalled. And all the time he kept a detailed log — a journal of endurance that sometimes seems beyond belief.

He made first for the nearest island, but the natives there attacked them and killed the quartermaster. So Bligh decided to head directly for the Dutch East Indies, the nearest European settlement, thousands of miles away in what is now Indonesia.


'The Bounty, at least in the early stages of the voyage, was a contented vessel. Bligh wrote home: ‘My men are all active, good fellows & what has given me much pleasure is that I have not yet been obliged to punish anyone’

He set the ration — one ounce of bread and a quarter pint of water a day. He split the men into watches, so they could find a tiny amount of physical space in the impossibly overcrowded boat. Almost immediately they were in a violent sea. They bailed non-stop, but were in constant danger of foundering.

The men threw everything they could overboard. It went on like that for 24 days. Endless downpours of rain, violent storms, numbing cold; the small boat was continually awash. All the time, they were bailing, bailing for their lives.

They had terrible cramps from never being able to stretch out. Three times a day Bligh weighed and distributed the tiny rations. If it was particularly grim he’d carefully measure a teaspoon each of rum.

He had no maps or charts. Just a quadrant and a compass, and a bit of rope they put knots in as a log line to measure the speed of the boat.

He recorded it all in his log. ‘Our situation is highly perilous . . . men half dead . . . our appearance horrible. Extreme hunger now evident. Everybody now complaining of violent pain in their bones.’


'The flashpoint for the most famous shipboard rebellion in history was ridiculously trivial. Bligh accused Christian of taking a coconut from a pile kept on deck'

It was nearly a month after they were cast adrift, and they were barely alive, when they reached the Barrier Reef and then the northern coast of what is now Australia. They were so exhausted and cramped only half of them could get out of the boat to collapse.

They coastal-hopped for four days to the northern tip of the continent. Then all that remained was 1,100 more miles of open water, more storms, more bailing, even greater pain, fear and suffering.

It was a collection of skeletons in rags that reached the Dutch settlement on the island of Timor. Thanks to Bligh’s careful management, there were still 11 days’ rations left.

After he had left those 19 men to die, Christian and half of the mutineers sailed the Bounty to Pitcairn Island with their Tahitian girlfriends, whom they’d collected en route. There, they largely killed each other off. Their descendants still live there - now a British Overseas Territory - today.

The other mutineers stayed in Tahiti where they were recaptured by the Navy and court martialled. Three were hanged.


'The people were handsome, clean-limbed, smooth-skinned, their smiles full of snow-white teeth. The English sailors were mostly toothless, the majority of them pockmarked from endemic smallpox, bow-legged, misshapen, scarred — and, despite Bligh’s best efforts, filthy and stinking as well'

Bligh was briefly lionised and sent to do the voyage again — successfully this time, except the West Indian slaves refused to eat the breadfruit.

But he was out of the country, unable to defend himself, when Christian’s powerful family, and the influential connections of Peter Heywood, another mutineer, started the campaign to blacken his name which continues to this day.

It shadowed the rest of his life. But he commanded ships in two of the great battles of the Napoleonic wars, was Governor of New South Wales, and died a Vice-Admiral, the same rank as his friend, Horatio Nelson. He is buried in Lambeth.

The grave has this inscription: Sacred to the memory of William Bligh, Esquire, Fellow of the Royal Society, Vice-Admiral of the Blue. The celebrated navigator who first transplanted the Breadfruit tree from Tahiti to the West Indies, bravely fought the battles of his country, and died beloved, respected and lamented on the 7th day of December, 1817. In coelo quies [There is peace in Heaven].

It’s not the story we know today, but it is a great deal closer to the truth.

What happened when SAS man relived Bligh's epic voyage

Matthew Bell


Of all the places to be trapped with a bunch of strangers, a tiny boat in the Pacific must be the worst. But that is where nine men have spent several weeks in an attempt to recreate the extraordinary journey of Captain Bligh after he was cast adrift with his loyal crew.

For the reality TV show Mutiny, Channel 4 commissioned a faithful replica of the 23ft dinghy and found volunteers to follow Bligh’s 3,600-mile route from the waters off Tonga in the South Pacific to Timor.

Leading the expedition was Ant Middleton, a tattooed former Marine, who stars as the chief instructor on another C4 show, SAS: Who Dares Wins. But while his training set him in good stead for the ordeal, some of the others had never even sailed before.


Channel 4 show Mutiny sees former SAS commando Ant Middleton lead an expedition in a faithful replica of the famous 23ft dingy to follow Bligh's 3,600-mile route from Tonga to Timor

‘I thought we’d be on a much bigger ship, like in Pirates Of The Caribbean,’ says Freddy Benjafield, who at 23 was the youngest to take part. ‘They didn’t tell us at first what they were trying to recreate. As soon as someone mentioned Captain Bligh I thought, “Uh oh . . .” ’

Each crew member was chosen for a different skill: there’s a cook, a carpenter and a doctor. Four are professional sailors, and two are cameramen.

They shunned modern navigation aids for a sextant and map charts, and lived off a ration of dry sea biscuits and cured meat, totalling just 400 calories per day. There was no toilet nor washing facilities, and nowhere but the hard wooden benches to sleep.

‘I lost about 19kg,’ says Freddy. ‘People began to really suffer. Luke, the doctor, couldn’t sleep, and his bones started sticking out of his body.’

At one point it rained for three days, causing the men’s skin to start rotting. One of the cameramen had such bad ‘trench hand’ that he was unable to pull ropes or handle equipment for fear clumps of skin would come off.

Then there were the storms, which threatened to capsize the boat, and dangerous reefs, one of which they encountered at night.

And when there was no wind, the boat would sit almost stationary, in what is known as ‘the doldrums’, a dangerous state of listlessness that can send sailors mad. But perhaps hardest of all was the psychological challenge of getting on with eight strangers (the crew was made up of nine men rather than the original 19 to allow room for the camera equipment).

‘I absolutely knew there was going to be disagreement. It was just a case of waiting for it to happen,’ says Dan Etheridge, 38, one of the cameramen.

Sure enough, within 48 hours, a row erupted when one of the crew — Liverpudlian ex-convict Chris — ignored orders to forage for firewood on a desert island. All of which makes for gripping television.

The boat was followed by a support vessel, and if anyone decided they couldn’t carry on, they had the option of quitting. However, as a test of mental endurance, it was very real.


Ant Middleton, a tattooed former Marine, who stars as the chief instructor on another C4 show, SAS: Who Dares Wins. But while his training set him in good stead for the ordeal, some of the others had never even sailed before

The only times the dinghy had contact with the support vessel was to change batteries or memory cards for the four cameras rigged up on the boat.

‘When the cameras stopped rolling, and you realised you were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the rescue boat is so many miles away, it hits you,’ says Ben Gotsell, 27, the ship’s carpenter. ‘That’s when I discovered fear for the first time.

‘Even when we got to some of the islands, I thought it would be like a Bounty advert. But actually you’ve got to try to land without breaking the boat, then make a fire and find food. All when you’re hungry and tired and wet.’

L ike Captain Bligh, Ant Middleton experienced a few mutinies of his own. In the first episode, we see one crew member refusing to row when the boat gets dangerously close to rocks.

And Middleton was worried about commanding non-military trained men. ‘The challenge is going to be greater for me than for Bligh,’ he says. ‘He had 18 trained sailors; I don’t.’

Amazingly, Bligh’s journal of the voyage survives, and the modern-day adventurers took a copy which they would read as they went along.

‘It was creepy how often our experiences would mirror his, almost word for word,’ says Freddy.

In the original journey, one of Bligh’s men was stoned to death by aggressive islanders. Although we will have to wait to see if all nine stick it to the end, we do know they all survived. Even for C4, that would have been a reality too far.

Mutiny is on Channel 4 on Monday at 9pm

Read more: Mutiny On The Bounty is the biggest lie | Daily Mail Online
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Last edited by Blackleaf; 2 weeks ago at 06:26 AM..