- Cavanagh, Paula, SBLT, RAN, RANC
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
a) Bligh’s View: That the men simply could not resist the lure of the Tahiti Islands.
b) Edward Christian’s View: That Bligh’s defective character and flawed personality prompted an erratic outburst from Fletcher Christian after months of suffering under his explosive temper.
c) Gavin Kennedy’s View: That Fletcher Christian’s own weak temperament meant he could not cope with the stresses of what was customary treatment for the time. ((Kennedy, G., ‘Captain Bligh: The Man and his Mutinies’, Duckworth, London, 1989, pg. 72))
d) Sir John Barrow’s View: The stereotypical view of Bligh as a tyrannical and ruthless commander whose intolerable methods prompted the mutiny.
e) Richard Hough’s View: That Bligh and Christian were homosexual lovers and that Christian’s eventual rejection of Bligh drove him to domineering and tyrannical behaviour thus causing the subsequent mutiny.
f) Greg Denning’s View: That Bligh’s language was so ‘foul and abusive that he violated the standards of decency’, thus eroding respect for the chain of command.
An Alternative Interpretation
It has been stated that the Bounty’s mutiny was ‘spontaneous, poorly planned and chaotic’. What is also clear is that the other officers made no attempt to stop it from occurring. Had one of them tried to stop it, it is distinctly possible they would have succeeded in swaying the uncertain loyalties of the mutineers away from Christian. Indeed, there were so many people against the mutiny that three men had to be forcibly prevented from going in the small launch with Bligh. All told, there were only 16 mutineers out of a ship’s company of 43!
So why did no one stop it? Christian, despite his theatrics, did not appear to be a strong leader and Bligh, regardless of his faults, had certainly proven himself a most capable seaman. The problem appears to be twofold.
The first part is that Bligh had made a fatal error in allowing discipline to erode to such an extent while the crew was in Tahiti. His failure to effectively assert his command authority whilst in Tahiti when his senior officers behaved negligently themselves, made it impossible for him to quickly re-assert this authority back at sea.
The second part is that Bligh did not take into account the fact that the crew did not wish to leave their idyllic lifestyles in Tahiti and go back to the rigours of sea. The discontent of the crew was probably not apparent initially, but fights soon erupted over the most minor of problems. This culminated with a fight between Bligh and Christian over the ownership of some coconuts, the repercussions of which were to be much greater than suggested by the trivial nature of the incident.
Additionally, while Bligh’s behaviour and treatment of his subordinates was not considered unusually harsh or inappropriate for the time, he did not take into account Christian’s sensitive temperament. It seems from all accounts that Christian was unusually sensitive to personal criticism and the combination of this and Bligh’s penchant for publicly harassing his officers likely caused him to become more unbalanced than another person may have under the same circumstances.
A number of factors influenced the voyage of HMS Bounty and the eventual mutiny. This writer believes that a combination of poor circumstances more than the leadership of a single man caused the resulting mutiny. What must be remembered about the voyage of the Bounty was that not all the blame for the mutiny can be apportioned to Bligh.
The author believes that rather than being the tyrannical stereotype he is often made out to be, Bligh’s lack of ability to discipline his crew and assert his command authority was a major contributing element in the ensuing mutiny.
Overall, it was Bligh’s lack of effective leadership for a short, but crucial period of time, which ultimately allowed the mutiny to occur.
- Barrow, J., The Eventful History of the Mutiny and the Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty: Its Causes and Consequences, 1831
- Bligh, W., Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty, Pageminster Press, England, 1981
- Bligh, W., A Voyage to the South Sea, George Nicol, London, 1792, (facsimile edition 1969)
- Christian, E., A Short Reply to Captain Bligh’s Answers, London, 1795
- Darby, M., Who Caused the Mutiny on the Bounty?, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1965
- Denning, G., Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1992
- Divine, D., Six Great Sailors, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, Great Britain, 1955
- du Reitz, R., The Causes of the Bounty Mutiny, Almqvist & Wiksell, Uppsala, 1965
- Frame, T. & Baker, K., Mutiny! Naval Insurrections in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 2000
- Hough, R., Captain Bligh and Mr Christian: The Men and the Mutiny, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1972
- Kennedy, G., Captain Bligh: The Man and his Mutinies, Duckworth, London, 1989
Mackaness, G., Some Correspondence of Captain William Bligh, R.N., with John and Francis Godolphin Bond 1776 – 1811, D.S. Ford Printers, Sydney, 1949