Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty: A Botanical Experiment

The HMS Bounty visited Cork recently as part of a European Tour. The ship is a replica of the original Bounty and was constructed in 1960 for the MGM studios film Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando.

Update: On 29th October 2012, the Bounty sank off the North Carolina coast during Hurricane Sandy. News item.

The original Bounty was purchased by the British Admiralty as part of unique botanical experiment- to sail to Tahiti in 1787 and collect samples of breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) and transport them to the West Indies where they could be transplanted and used in the British plantations as a cheap source of food for slaves.

William Bligh was chosen to captain the ship and Sir Joseph Banks of Kew sent one David Nelson to be the botanist on board the ship.

When they got to Tahiti, the crew collected 1,015 breadfruit plants and Bligh allowed some of the crew to remain on land for five months caring for the plants. This was a decision he would live to regret. Without the rigour of life onboard, some of the crew resented having to fall back under Bligh's command for the return journey.

Three weeks out of Tahiti, Fletcher Christian led a mutiny aboard the Bounty. Eighteen of the 44 men on board were set adrift along with the captain in the Bounty's launch. This included the botanist Nelson and his plants, which he had carefully tended, were also thrown overboard. The mutineers had apparently resented the fresh water rations being used to keep the plants alive.

The remaining mutineers took control of the ship and eventually settled on Pitcairn Island and burnt the ship in what is now Bounty Bay.

Bligh captained the small boat, without charts, the 3,600 nautical miles to safety at the Dutch port of Coupang in what is now Indonesia.

A few days after arriving, having survived the epic voyage, Nelson spent a day botanising in the mountains, caught a cold, and died.

Bligh noted in his log:
'The loss of this honest man I much lamented; he had with great care and diligence attended to the object for which he was sent. I was sorry I could get no tombstone to place over his remains.'

What started as a botanical experiment ended as one of the most famous ocean journeys ever recorded.

The Bounty has now left Cork and will reach Belfast in a few days to continue its European tour.


sciencecalling June 22, 2011 at 12:07 AM  

Very interesting! I didn't realised it began as a botanical voyage.

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