Mutiny On The Bounty
Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall
Back Bay Books, NY, Boston, London, 1932
1 Lieutenant Bligh
2 Sea Law
3 At Sea
6 An Indian Household
7 Christian And Bligh
8 Homeward Bound
9 The Mutiny
10 Fletcher Christian
11 The Last Of The Bounty
13 The Moon Of Pipiri
14 The Pandora
15 Doctor Hamilton
16 The Roundhouse
17 The Search For The Bounty
18 The Last Of The Pandora
19 Ten Weary Months
20 Sir Joseph Banks
21 H. M. S. Duke
22 The Case For The Crown
23 The Defense
The Triology Of the Bounty
A Note About The Authors
They began it as buddies. Nordhoff was a graduate of the Ambulance Service. Norman Hall was a veteran of Kitchener’s Army. Just by chance he was in London during the first August days of 1914, and when the mob which went swirling round Nelson’s Column to the lilt of “Good-bye, Leicester Square” was hammered into the kernel of an army, he was part of it. Honorably discharged, he reenlisted, this time in the French aviation service, and found the berth he had been fashioned for in the Escadrille Lafayette. Flying was the thing for Charles Nordhoff, too, and when he joined the squadron two contributors to the Atlantic Monthly met each other for the first time, and interchanged compliments gracefully given and received. This chance friendship, springing from a common love for letters, was riveted by the comradeship of high adventure. Each found in the other a man whose silence and whose speech delighted and refreshed him. From that day to this, they have shared a common destiny as brothers.
Captain Hall and Lieutenant Nordhoff both distinguished themselves. Were I to lay stress on their military records I should outrage the modesty of both, but somewhere in Nordhoff’s trunk under a pile of dungarees you will find a croix de guerre with star, and a citation which his children will preserve. As for Hall, I will gratify him by passing over the words that Pétain wrote, but of the dead it is seemly to speak with living praise, and I am justified in recording that during one of his temporary deaths Hall was thus praised in public by the General of the VIIIth Army:
Brillant pilot de chasse, modéle de courage et d’entrain qui a abattu recemment un avion ennemi, a trouvé une morte glorieuse dans un combat contre quatre monoplanes, dont un a été descendu en flammes.
It is pleasant to remember that the writer of this sketch, mourning the same heroic death, was busily occupied in writing a memoir of the sort that might be well worth dying for, when he was interrupted by a cheerful letter from his resurrected hero, who had, it seemed, just made his breakaway from a German camp.
When both men were mustered from the service I saw them again on a memorable occasion. Each wrote to me without the other’s knowledge, asking for advice. Both had lived with intensity lives high above the conflict, and to both the stridency and (as they felt) the vulgarity of post-war civilization was past endurance. Each had ambitions, talents, and memories of great price. To transmute these intangibles into three meals per diem was the prosaic problem put up to me. How well I remember the day they came to Boston. Reticent an illusive, there was something in each of them that in its pure essence I have not known elsewhere. Conrad called it Romance. When Romance and Chivalry come to refresh my cumbered mind, I see those two young men just as I saw them then.
We talked and we talked, and then we adjourned for counsel to a little Italian restaurant. Those were days when vino rosso was a legitimate dressing for a salad to be eaten with an omelette. We ate, drank, and speculated of those places in the world where the dollar or its equivalent is not the sole essential medium of exchange. I called for a geography. We opened it at Mercator’s projection, and hardly were the pages pinned down by twin cruets of oil and vinegar, when both the adventurers with a single swoop pointed to the route which Stevenson had taken. I called up Cook for information on prices, and while my companions chatted of palm trees and hibiscus—Loti seasoned with Conrad—I did several sums in addition and multiplication.
We planned with the resolution of genius. Then and there Hall and Nordhoff drew up the rough outline of a miraculous work on the South Seas, and when a day or two later the silent partner took it with him to New York, all the spices of the East were in the chapter headings. One publisher was pitted against another. For once in his life the salesman was a credit to his profession, and when he returned, the respectable firm of Hall and Nordhoff was incorporated with a capital of $7,000 – $1,000 paid in. After all, there is more to literature than pretty words and an agile pen.
Historically, the first work of the firm was the official history of the Lafayette Flying Corps. Then came, I believe, the work on the South Seas which, as I have said, I had the honor to sell. Nordhoff wrote by himself a capital boy’s story, “The Pearl Lagoon,” based on his own early life in Lower California. Hall meantime turned out some admirably individual essays, stories, and poems, but the firm added enormously to its reputation when the story of the Escadrille was brilliantly retold as fiction under the title, “Falcons of France.” Of all aerial narratives, this, in my judgment, takes the first place both in its thrilling realism and in that delicate understanding of the coordination of mind, body, and spirit which is at once a flyer’s inheritance and his salvation.
A play followed—“The Empty Chair”—accepted for production on the screen. Of this I know only at second-hand, and will not speak, though I cannot but remark how strange is that conjunction of the planets under whose influence Hall and Nordhoff are reborn in Hollywood.
Now comes the firm’s latest and best bid for fame and fortune. Reader, have you ever heard of the strange history of His Majesty’s Ship Bounty? If ever the sea cast up a saltier story, I should like to know it. A chronicle of its events, clumsy enough in the telling, appeared—Lord, how long since: “The Pitcairn Islanders,” I think was the name of this particular volume. Anyway, it was bound in green and stamped in gold, and for all its heavy-footed style, a boy curled up on a sofa fifty years ago wore the pages through. There was mutiny on the good ship, as the world remembers. Lieutenant Bligh, the Commander, was lowered into his long boat to drift, God knows where, and the mutineers cracked on sail for Tahiti and Fate. At any rate, that story is of the primeval stuff Romance is made of, and if Captain Hall and Lieutenant Nordhoff are not the men to write it, then, thought I, Providence has been clean wrong in all the games she has played on them from the very beginning. I broached the idea to Hall, or perhaps he mentioned it first to me. Anyway, we both knew this was not a chance to be missed, though one thing we were certain of—that a story so perfect must be told with perfect accuracy. A whole literature has been burgeoning about it for a century, and if the ultimate account is to go into a novel, nothing of the truth must be sacrificed. For Romance is not capricious, it is an attitude of Fate, and Fate, my friends, is greatly to be respected. So on a visit to London in the Spring of 1931 I sought the assistance of Dr. Leslie Hotson, who knows the British Museum as if it were the lining of his trousers pocket. We hit on the perfect record worker, and in due time this lady and I laid hands on every scrap of pertinent evidence. We had photostatic copies of every page of the reports of the court martial of the mutineers, hand written in beautiful copper plate. We assaulted the Admiralty, to which our bountiful thanks are due, for within its sacred precincts Captain Tufuell of His Majesty’s Navy made copies of the deck and rigging plans of the Bounty, and in his goodness even made an admirably detailed model of the ship. Meanwhile, booksellers, the mouldier the better, were put on the trail for volumes of the British Navy of the period. Engravers’ collections were searched for illustrations of Captain Bligh and of the rascals he set sail with. Item by item, a library unique in the annals of collecting was built, boxed, and shipped to Tahiti. The firm of Hall and Nordhoff hired by way of inspiration the first room that ever they lived in on the Islands. They pinned maps to the walls, stuck up deck and rigging plans, propped photographs of the model on the table in front of them, and, wonder of wonders, in spite of the fascination of their collection, in the face of the perfume blowing in at their windows, in defiance of the Heaven that Idleness is in the tropics, they fell to work!
Here is the book they have written. Read it, and you, too, will know that Romance has come into her own.
Atlantic office, September 1st, 1932
OFFICERS AND CREW OF H.M.S. BOUNTY
Lieutenant William Bligh, Captain
John Fryer, Master
Fletcher Christian, Master’s Mate
Charles Churchill, Master at Arms
William Elphinstone, Master-ar Arms Mate
“Old Bacchus,” Surgeon
Thomas Ledward, Acting Surgeon
David Nelson, Botanist
William Peckover, Gunner
John Mills, Gunner’s Mate
William Cole, Boatswain
James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate
William Purcell, Carpenter
Charles Norman, Carpenter’s Mate
Thomas Mclntosh, Carpenter’s Crew
Joseph Coleman, Armourer
George Simpson, Quartermaster’s Mate
Lawrence Lebogue, Sailmaker
Mr. Samuel, Clerk
Robert Lamb, Butcher
William Brown, Gardener
THE British are frequently criticized by other nations for their dislike of change, and indeed we love England for those aspects of nature and life which change the least. Here in the West Country, where I was born, men are slow of speech, tenacious of opinion, and averse—beyond their countrymen elsewhere —to innovation of any sort. The houses of my neighbours, the tenants’ cottages, the very fishing boats which ply on the Bristol Channel, all conform to the patterns of a simpler age. And an old man, forty of whose three-and-seventy years have been spent afloat, may be pardoned a not unnatural tenderness toward the scenes of his youth, and a satisfaction that these scenes remain so little altered by time.
No men are more conservative than those who design and build ships save those who sail them; and since storms are less frequent at sea than some landsmen suppose, the life of a sailor is principally made up of the daily performance of certain tasks, in certain manners and at certain times. Forty years of this life have made a slave of me, and I continue, almost against my will, to live by the clock. There is no reason why I should rise at seven each morning, yet seven finds me dressing, nevertheless; my copy of the Times would reach me even though I failed to order a horse saddled at ten for my ride down to Watchet to meet the post. But habit is too much for me, and habit finds a powerful ally in old Thacker, my housekeeper, whose duties, as I perceive with inward amusement, are lightened by the regularity she does everything to encourage. She will listen to no hint of retirement. In spite of her years, which must number nearly eighty by now, her step is still brisk and her black eyes snap with a remnant of the old malice. It would give me pleasure to speak with her of the days when my mother was still living, but when I try to draw her into talk she wastes no time in putting me in my place. Servant and master, with the churchyard only a step ahead! I am lonely now; when Thacker dies, I shall be lonely indeed.
Seven generations of Byams have lived and died in Withycombe; the name has been known in the region of the Quantock Hills for five hundred years and more. I am the last of them; it is strange to think that at my death what remains of our blood will flows in the veins of an Indian woman in the South Sea.
If it be true that a man’s useful life is over on the day when his thoughts begin to dwell in the past, then I have served little purpose in living since my retirement from His Majesty’s Navy fifteen years ago. The present has lost substance and reality, and I have discovered, with some regret, that contemplation of the future brings neither pleasure nor concern. But forty years at sea, including the turbulent period of the wars against the Danes, the Dutch, and the French, have left my memory so well stored that I ask no greater delight than to be free to wander in the past.
My study, high up in the north wing of Withycombe, with its tall windows giving on the Bristol Channel and the green distant coast of Wales, is the point of departure for these travels through the past. The journal I have kept, since I went to sea as a midshipman in 1787, lies at hand in the camphor-wood box beside my chair, and I have only to take up a sheaf of its pages to smell once more the reek of battle smoke, to feel the stinging sleet of a gale in the North Sea, or to enjoy the calm beauty of a tropical night under the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
In the evening, when the unimportant duties of an old man’s day are done, and I have supped alone in silence, I feel the pleasant anticipation of a visitor to Town, who on his first evening spends an agreeable half-hour in deciding which theatre he will attend. Shall I fight the old battles over again? Camperdown, Copenhagen, Trafalgar–these names thunder in memory like the booming of great guns. Yet more and more frequently I turn the pages of my journal still further back, to the frayed and blotted log of a midshipman—to an episode I have spent a good part of my life in attempting to forget. Insignificant in the annals of the Navy, and even more so from an historian’s point of view, this incident was nevertheless the strangest, the most picturesque, and the most tragic of my career.
It has long been my purpose to follow the example of other retired officers and employ the too abundant leisure of an old man in setting down, with the aid of my journal and in the fullest possible detail, a narrative of some one of the episodes of my life at sea. The decision was made last night; I shall write of my first ship, the Bounty, of the mutiny on board, of my long residence on the island of Tahiti in the South Sea, and of how I was conveyed home in irons, to be tried by court-martial and condemned to death. Two natures clashed on the stage of that drama of long ago, two men as strong and enigmatical as any I have known—Fletcher Christian and William Bligh.
When my father died of a pleurisy, early in the spring of 1787, my mother gave few outward signs of grief, though their life together, in an age when the domestic virtues were unfashionable, had been a singularly happy one. Sharing the interest in the natural sciences which had brought my father the honour of a Fellowship in the Royal Society, my mother was a countrywoman at heart, caring more for life at Withycombe than for the artificial distractions of town.
I was to have gone up to Oxford that fall, to Magdalen, my father’s college, and during that first summer of my mother’s widowhood I began to know her, not as a parent, but as a most charming companion, of whose company I never wearied. The women of her generation were schooled to reserve their tears for the sufferings of others, and to meet adversity with a smile. A warm heart and an inquiring mind made her conversation entertaining or philosophical as the occasion required; and, unlike the young ladies of the present time, she had been taught that silence can be agreeable when one has nothing to say.
On the morning when Sir Joseph Banks’ letter arrived, we were strolling about the garden, scarcely exchanging a word. It was late in July, the sky was blue, and the warm air bore the scent of roses; such a morning as enables us to tolerate our English climate, which foreigners declare, perhaps with some justice, the worst in the world. I was thinking how uncommonly handsome my mother looked in black, with her thick fair hair, fresh colour, and dark blue eyes. Thacker, her new maid,— a black-eyed Devon girl,—came tripping down the path. She dropped my mother a curtsey and held out a letter on a silver tray. My mother took the letter, gave me a glance of apology, and began to read, seating herself on a rustic bench.
“From Sir Joseph,” she said, when she had perused the letter at length and laid it down. “You have heard of Lieutenant Bligh, who was with Captain Cook on his last voyage? Sir Joseph writes that he is on leave, stopping with friends near Taunton, and would enjoy an evening with us. Your father thought very highly of him.”
I was a rawboned lad of seventeen, lazy in body and mind, with overfast growth, but the words were like a galvanic shock to me. “With Captain Cook!” I exclaimed. “Ask him by all means!”
My mother smiled. “I thought you would be pleased,” she said.
The carriage was dispatched in good time with a note for Mr. Bligh, bidding him to dine with us that evening if he could. I remember how I set out, with the son of one of our tenants, to sail my boat at high tide on Bridgwater Bay, and how little I enjoyed the sail. My thoughts were all of our visitor, and the hours till dinner-time seemed to stretch ahead interminably.
I was fonder, perhaps, of reading than most lads of my age, and the book I loved best of all was one given me by my father on my tenth birthday—Dr. Hawkesworth’s account of the voyages to the South Sea. I knew the three, heavy, leather-bound volumes almost by heart, and I had read with equal interest the French narrative of Monsieur de Bougainville’s voyage. These early accounts of discoveries in the South Sea, and of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of Otaheite and Owhyhee (as those islands were then called) , excited an interest almost inconceivable to-day. The writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, which were to have such lamentable and far-reaching results, preached a doctrine which had made converts even among people of consequence. It became fashionable to believe that only among men in a state of nature, freed from all restraints, could true virtue and happiness be found. And when Wallis, Byron, Bougainville, and Cook returned from their voyage of discovery with alluring accounts of the New Cytheræa, whose happy inhabitants, relieved from the curse of Adam, spent their days in song and dance, the doctrines of Rousseau received new impetus. Even my father, so engrossed in his astronomical studies that he had lost touch with the world, listened eagerly to the tales of his friend Sir Joseph Banks, and often discussed with my mother, whose interest was equal to his, the virtues of what he termed “a natural life.”
My own interest was less philosophical than adventurous; like other youngsters, I longed to sail unknown seas, to raise uncharted islands, and to trade with gentle Indians who regarded white men as gods. The thought that I was soon to converse with an officer who had accompanied Captain Cook on his last voyage—a mariner, and not a man of science like Sir Joseph—kept me woolgathering all afternoon, and I was not disappointed when the carriage drew up at last and Mr. Bligh stepped out.
Bligh was at that time in the prime of life. He was of middle stature, strongly made and inclining to stoutness, though he carried himself well. His weather-beaten face was broad, with a firm mouth and very fine dark eyes, and his thick powdered hair grew high on his head, above a noble brow. He wore his three-cornered black hat athwartships; his coat was of bright blue broadcloth, trimmed with white, with gold anchor buttons and the long tails of the day. His waistcoat, breeches, and stockings were white. The old-fashioned uniform was one to set off a well-made man. Bligh’s voice, strong, vibrant, and a little harsh, gave an impression of uncommon vitality; his bearing showed resolution and courage, and the glance of his eye gave evidence of an assurance such as few men possess. These symptoms of a strong and aggressive nature were tempered by the lofty brow of a man of intellect, and the agreeable and unpretentious manner he assumed ashore.
The carriage, as I said, drew up before our door, the footman sprang down from the box, and Mr. Bligh stepped out. I had been waiting to welcome him; as I made myself known, he gave me a handclasp and a smile.
“Your father’s son,” he said. “A great loss–he was known, by name at least, to all who practise navigation.”
Presently my mother came down and we went into dinner. Bligh spoke very handsomely of my father’s work on the determination of longitude, and after a time the conversation turned to the islands of the South Sea.
“Is it true,” my mother asked, “that the Indians of Tahiti are as happy as Captain Cook believed?”
“Ah, ma’am,” said our guest, “happiness is a vast word! It is true that they live without great labour, and that nearly all of the light tasks they perform are self-imposed; released from the fear of want and from all salutary discipline, they regard nothing seriously.
“Roger and I,” observed my mother, “have been studying the ideas of J. J. Rousseau. As you know, he believes that true happiness can only be enjoyed by man in a state of nature.
Bligh nodded. “I have been told of his ideas,” he said, “though unfortunately I left school too young to learn French. But if a rough seaman may express an opinion on a subject more suited to a philosopher, I believe that true happiness can only be enjoyed by a disciplined and enlightened people. As for the Indians of Tahiti, though they are freed from the fear of want, their conduct is regulated by a thousand absurd restrictions, with which no civilized man would put up. These restrictions constitute a kind of unwritten law, called taboo, and instead of making for a wholesome discipline they lay down fanciful and unjust rules to control every action of a man’s life. A few days among men in a state of nature might have changed Monsieur Rousseau’s ideas.” He paused and turned to me. “You know French, then?” he asked, as if to include me in the talk.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“I’ll do him justice, Mr. Bligh,” my mother put in; “he has a gift for languages. My son might pass for a native of France or Italy, and is making progress in German now. His Latin won him a prize last year.”
“I wish I had his gift! Lord!” Bligh laughed. “I’d rather face a hurricane than translate a page of Caesar nowadays! And the task Sir Joseph has set me is worse still! There is no harm in telling you that I shall soon set sail for the South Sea.” Perceiving our interest, he went on:—
“I have been in the merchant service since I was paid off four years ago, when peace was signed. Mr. Campbell, the West India merchant, gave me command of his ship, Britannia, and during my voyages, when I frequently had planters of consequence as passengers on board, I was many times asked to tell what I knew of the breadfruit, which flourishes in Tahiti and Owhyhee. Considering that the breadfruit might provide a cheap and wholesome food for their negro slaves, several of the West India merchants and planters petitioned the Crown, asking that a vessel be fitted out suitably to convey the breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indian islands. Sir Joseph Banks thought well of the idea and gave it his support. It is due largely to his interest that the Admiralty is now fitting out a small vessel for the voyage, and at Sir Joseph’s suggestion I was recalled to the Service and am to be given command. We should sail before the end of the year.”
“Were I a man,” said my mother, whose eyes were bright with interest, “I should beg you to take me along; you will need gardeners, no doubt, and I could care for the young plants.”
Bligh smiled. “I would ask no better, ma’am,” he said gallantly, “though I have been supplied with a botanist— David Nelson, who served in a similar capacity on Captain Cook’s last voyage. My ship, the Bounty, will be a floating garden fitted with every convenience for the care of the plants, and I have no fear but that we shall be able to carry out the purpose of the voyage. It is the task our good friend Sir Joseph has enjoined on me that presents the greatest difficulty. He has solicited me most earnestly to employ my time in Tahiti in acquiring a greater knowledge of the Indians and their customs, and a more complete vocabulary and grammar of their language, than it has hitherto been possible to gather. He believes that a dictionary of the language, in particular, might prove of the greatest service to mariners in the South Sea. But I know as little of dictionaries as of Greek, and shall have no one on board qualified for such a task.”
“How shall you lay your course, sir?” I asked. “About Cape Horn?”
“I shall make the attempt, though the season will be advanced beyond the time of easterly winds. We shall return from Tahiti by way of the East Indies and the Cape of Good Hope.”
My mother gave me a glance and we rose as she took leave of us. While he cracked walnuts and sipped my father’s Madeira, Bligh questioned me, in the agreeable manner he knew so well how to assume, as to my knowledge of languages. At last he seemed satisfied, finished the wine in his glass, and shook his head at the man who would have filled it. He was moderate in the use of wine, in an age when nearly all the officers of His Majesty’s Navy drank to excess. Finally he spoke.
“Young man,” he said seriously, “how would you like to sail with me?”
I had been thinking, ever since his first mention of the voyage, that I should like nothing better, but his words took me aback.
“Dou you mean it, sir?” I stammered. “Would it be possible?”
“It rests with you and Mrs. Byam to decide. It would be a pleasure to make a place for you among my young gentlemen.”
The warm summer evening was as beautiful as the day that had preceded it, and when we had joined my mother in the garden, she and Bligh spoke of the projected voyage. I knew that he was waiting for me to mention his proposal, and presently, during a pause in the talk, I summoned up my courage.
“Mother,” I said, “Lieutenant Bligh has been good enough to suggest that I accompany him.”
If she felt surprise, she gave no sign of it, but turned calmly to our guest. “You have paid Roger a compliment,” she remarked. “Could an inexperienced lad be of use to you on board?”
“He’ll make a seaman, ma’am, never fear! I’ve taken a fancy to the cut of his jib, as the old tars say. And I could put his gift for languages to good use.”
“How long shall you be gone?”
“Two years, perhaps.”
“He was to have gone up to Oxford, but I suppose that could wait.” She turned to me half banteringly. “Well sir, what do you say?”
“With your permission, there is nothing I would rather do.”
She smiled at me in the twilight and gave my hand a little pat. “Then you have it,” she said. “I would be the last to stand in the way. A voyage to the South Sea! If I were a lad and Mr. Bligh would have me, I’d run away from home to join his ship!”
Bligh gave one of his short, harsh laughs and looked at my mother admiringly.“You’d have made a rare sailor, ma’am,” he remarked— “afraid of nothing, I’ll wager.”
It was arranged that I should join the Bounty at Spithead, but the storing, and victualing, and fitting-out took so long that the autumn was far advanced before she was ready to sail. In October I took leave of my mother and went up to London to order my uniforms, to call on old Mr. Erskine, our solicitor, and to pay my respects to Sir Joseph Banks.
My clearest memory of those days is of an evening at Sir Joseph’s house. He was a figure of romance to my eyes—a handsome, florid man of forty-five, President of the Royal Society, companion of the immortal Captain Cook, friend of Indian princesses, and explorer of Labrador, Iceland, and the great South Sea. When we had dined, he led me to his study, hung with strange weapons and ornaments from distant lands. He took up from among the papers on his table a sheaf of manuscript.
“My vocabulary of the Tahitian language,” he said. “I have had this copy made. It is short and imperfect, as you will discover, but may prove of some service to you. Please observe that the system of spelling Captain Cook and I adopted should be changed. I have given the matter some thought, and Bligh agrees with me that it will be better and simpler to set down the words as an Italian would spell them—particularly in the case of the vowels. You know Italian, eh?”
“Good!” he went on. “You will be some months in Tahiti, while they are gathering the young breadfruit plants. Bligh will see to it that you are given leisure to devote yourself to the dictionary I hope to publish on your return. Dialects of the Tahitian language are spoken over an immense space of the South Sea, and a dictionary of the commoner words, with some little information as to the grammar, will be in demand among mariners before many years have passed. At present we think of the South Sea as little less remote than the moon, but depend on it, the rich whale fisheries and new lands for planting and settlement will soon attract notice, now that we have lost the American Colonies.
“There are many distractions in Tahiti,” he went on after a pause; “take care that you are not misled into wasting your time. And, above all, take care in the selection of your Indian friends. When a ship drops anchor in Matavai Bay the Indians come out in throngs, each eager to choose a friend, or taio, from among her company. Bide your time, learn something of politics on shore, and choose as your taio a man of consideration and authority. Such a man can be of infinite use to you; in return for a few axes, knives, fishhooks, and trinkets for his women, he will keep you supplied with fresh provisions, entertain you at his residence when you step ashore, and do everything in his power to make himself useful. Should you make the mistake of choosing as your taio a man of the lower orders, you may find him dull, incurious, and with an imperfect knowledge of the Indian tongue. In my opinion they are not only a different class, but a different race, conquered long ago by those who now rule the land. Persons of consequence in Tahiti are taller, fairer, and vastly more intelligent than the manabune, or serfs.”
“Then there is no more equality in Tahiti than among ourselves?”
Sir Joseph smiled. “Less, I should say. The Indians have a false appearance of equality from the simplicity of their manners and the fact that the employments of all classes are the same. The king may be seen heading a fishing party, or the queen paddling her own canoe, or beating out bark cloth with her women. But of real equality there is none; no action, however meritorious, can raise a man above the position to which he was born. The chiefs alone, believed to be descended from the gods, are thought to have souls.” He paused, fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. “You’ve everything you will need?” he asked. “Clothing, writing materials, money? Midshipmen’s fare is not the best in the world, but when you go on board one of the master’s mates will ask each of you for three or four pounds to lay in a few small luxuries for the berth. Have you a sextant?”
“Yes, sir–one of my father’s; I showed it to Mr. Bligh.”
“I’m glad Bligh’s in command; there’s not a better seaman afloat I am told that he is a bit of a tartar at sea, but better a taut hand than a slack one, any day! He will instruct you in your duties; perform them smartly, and remember—discipline’s the thing!”
I took my leave of Sir Joseph with his last words still ringing in my ears—“Discipline’s the thing!” I was destined to ponder over them deeply, and sometimes bitterly, before we met again.
Toward the end of November I joined the Bounty at Spithead. It makes me smile to-day to think of the box I brought down on the coach from London, packed with clothing and uniforms on which I had laid out more than a hundred pounds: blue tail-coats lined with white silk, with the white patch on the collar known in those days as a “weekly account”; breeches and waistcoats of white nankeen, and a brace of “scrapers”— smart three-cornered reefer’s hats, with gold loops and cockades. For a few days I made a brave show in my finery, but when the Bounty sailed it was stowed away for good, and worn no more.
Our ship looked no bigger than a longboat among the tall first-rates and seventy-fours at anchor near by. She had been built for the merchant service, at Hull, three years before, and purchased for two thousand pounds; ninety feet long on deck and with a beam of twenty-four feet, her burthen was little more than two hundred tons. Her name—Bethia— had been painted out, and at the suggestion of Sir Joseph Banks she was rechristened Bounty. The ship had been many months at Deptford, where the Admiralty had spent more than four thousand pounds in altering and refitting her. The great cabin aft was now rigged as a garden, with innumerable pots standing in racks, and gutters running below to allow the water to be used over and over again. The result was that Lieutenant Bligh and the master, Mr. Fryer, were squeezed into two small cabins, on either side of the ladderway, and forced to mess with the surgeon, in a screened-off space of the lower deck, aft of the main hatch. The ship was small to begin with; she carried a heavy cargo of stores and articles for barter with the Indians, and all hands on board were so cramped that I heard mutterings even before we set sail. I believe, in fact, that the discomfort of our life, and the bad humour it brought about, played no small part in the unhappy ending of a voyage which seemed ill-fated from the start.
The Bounty was copper-sheathed, a new thing in those days, and with her bluff, heavy hull, short masts, and stout rigging, she looked more like a whaling vessel than an armed transport of His Majesty’s Navy. She carried a pair of swivel guns mounted on stocks forward, and six swivels and four four-pounders aft, on the upper deck.
All was new and strange to me on the morning when I presented myself to Lieutenant Bligh, the ship was crowded with women,—the sailor’ “wives,”—rum seemed to flow like water everywhere, and sharp-faced Jews, in their wherries, hovered alongside, eager to lend money at interest against pay day, or to sell on credit the worthless trinkets on their trays. The cries of the bumboat men, the shrill scolding of the women, and the shouts and curses of the sailors made a pandemonium stunning to a landsman’s ears.
Making my way aft, I found Mr. Bligh on the quarter-deck. A tall, swarthy man was just ahead of me.
“I have been to the Portsmouth observatory, sir,” he said to the captain; “the timekeeper is one minute fifty-two seconds too fast for mean time, and losing at the rate of one second a day. Mr. Bailey made a note of it in this letter to you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Christian,” said Bligh shortly, and at that moment, turning his head, he caught sight of me. I uncovered, stepping forward to present myself. “Ah, Mr. Byam,” he went on, this is Mr. Christian, the master’s mate; he will show you your berth and instruct you in some of your duties. …And, by the way, you will dine with me on board the Tigress; Captain Courtney knew your father and asked me to bring you when he heard that you would be on board.” He glanced at his large silver watch. “Be ready in an hour’s time.”
I bowed in reply to his nod of dismissal and followed Christian to the ladderway. The berth was a screened-off space of the lower deck, on the larboard side, abreast of the main hatch. Its dimensions were scarcely more than eight feet by ten, yet four of us were to make this kennel our home. Three or four boxes stood around the sides, and a scuttle of heavy discoloured glass admitted a dim light. A quadrant hung on a nail driven into the ship’s side, and, though she was not long from Deptford, a reek of bilge water hung in the air. A handsome, sulky-looking boy of sixteen, in a uniform like my own, was arranging the gear in his box, and straightened up to give me a contemptuous stare. His name was Hayward, as I learned when Christian introduced us briefly, and he scarcely deigned to take my outstretched hand.
When we regained the upper deck, Christian lost his air of preoccupation, and smiled. “Mr. Hayward has been two years at sea,” he remarked; “he knows you for a Johnny Newcomer. But the Bounty is a little ship; such airs would be more fitting aboard a first-rate.
He spoke in a cultivated voice, with a trace of the Manx accent, and I could barely hear the words above the racket from the forward part of the ship. It was a calm, bright winter morning, and I studied my companion in the clear sunlight. He was a man to glance at more than once.
Fletcher Christian was at that time in his twenty-fourth year,—a fine figure of a seaman in his plain blue, goldbuttoned frock,—handsomely and strongly built, with thick dark brown hair and a complexion naturally dark, and burned by the sun to a shade rarely seen among the white race. His mouth and chin expressed great resolution of character, and his eyes, black, deep-set, and brilliant, had something of hypnotic power in their far-away gaze. He looked more like a Spaniard than an Englishman, though his family had been settled since the fifteenth century on the Isle of Man. Christian was what women call a romantic-looking man; his moods of gaiety alternated with fits of black depression, and he possessed a fiery temper which he controlled by efforts that brought the sweat to his brow. Though only a master’s mate, a step above a midshipman, he was of gentle birth—better born than Bligh and a gentleman in manner and speech.
“Lieutenant Bligh,” he said, in his musing, abstracted way, “desires me to instruct you in some of your duties. Navigation, nautical astronomy, and trigonometry he will teach you himself, since we have no schoolmaster on board, as on a man-of-war. And I can assure you that you will not sup till you have worked out the ship’s position each day. You will be assigned to one of the watches, to keep order when the men are at the braces or aloft. You will see that the hammocks are stowed in the morning, and report the men whose hammocks are badly lashed. Never lounge against the guns or the ship’s side, and never walk the deck with your hands in your pockets. You will be expected to go aloft with the men to learn how to bend canvas and how to reef and furl a sail, and when the ship is at anchor you may be placed in charge of one of the boats. And, last of all, you are the slave of those tyrants, the master and master’s mates.”
He gave me a whimsical glance and a smile. We were standing by the gratings abaft the mainmast, and at that moment a stout elderly man, in a uniform much like Bligh’s, came puffing up the ladderway. His bronzed face was at once kindly and resolute, and I should have known him for a seaman anywhere.
“Ah, Mr. Christian, there you are!” he exclaimed as he heaved himself on deck. “What a madhouse! I’d like to sink the lot of those Jews, and heave the wenches overboard! Who’s this? The new reefer, Mr. Byam. I’ll be bound! Welcome on board, Mr. Byam; your father’s name stands high in our science, eh, Mr. Christian?”
“Mr. Fryer, the master,” said Christian in my ear.
“A madhouse,” Fryer went on. “Thank God we shall pay off to-morrow night! Wenches everywhere, above decks and below.” He turned to Christian. “Go forward and gather a boat’s crew for Lieutenant Bligh—there are a few men still sober.”
“There’s discipline on a man-of-war at sea,” he continued; “but give me a merchant ship in port. The captain’s clerk is the only sober man below. The surgeon…Ah, here he is now!”
Turning to follow Fryer’s glance, I saw a head thatched with thick snow-white hair appearing in the ladderway. Our sawbones had a wooden leg and a long equine face, red as the wattles of a turkey cock; even the back of his neck, lined with deep wrinkles like a tortoise’s, was of the same fiery red. His twinkling bright blue eyes caught sight of the man beside me. Holding to the ladder with one hand, he waved a half-empty bottle of brandy at us.
“Ahoy there, Mr. Fryer!” he hailed jovially. “Have you seen Nelson, the botanist? I prescribed a drop of brandy for his rheumatic leg; it’s time he took his medicine.”
“He’s gone ashore.”
The surgeon shook his head with mock regret. “He’ll give his good shillings to some Portsmouth quack, I’ll wager. Yet here on board he might enjoy free and gratis the advice of the most enlightened medical opinion. Away with all bark and physic!” He flourished his bottle. “Here is the remedy for nine tenths of human ills. Aye! Drops of brandy! That’s it!” Suddenly, in a mellow, husky voice, sweet and true, he began to sing:—
“And Johnny shall have a new bonnet
And Johnny shall go to the fair,
And Johnny shall have a blue ribbon
To tie up his bonny brown hair.”
With a final flourish of his bottle, our surgeon went hopping down the ladderway. Fryer stared after him for a moment before he followed him below. Left to myself in the midst of the uproar on deck, I looked about me curiously.
Lieutenant Bligh, an old hand in the Navy, was nowhere to be seen. On the morrow the men would receive two months’ wages in advance, and on the following day we should set sail on a voyage to the other side of the world, facing the hardships and dangers of seas still largely unexplored. The Bounty might well be gone two years or more, and now, on the eve of departure, her crew was allowed to relax for a day or two of such amusements as sailors most enjoy.
While I waited for Bligh in the uproar, I diverted myself in studying the rigging of the Bounty. Born and brought up on the west coast of England, I had loved the sea from childhood and lived among men who spoke of ships and their qualities as men gossip of horses elsewhere. The Bounty was shiprigged, and to a true landsman her rigging would have seemed a veritable maze of ropes. But even in my inexperience I knew enough to name her sails, the different parts of her standing rigging, and most of the complex system of halliards, lifts, braces, sheets, and other ropes for the management of sails and yards. She spread two headsails—foretopmast-staysail and jib; on fore and main masts she carried courses, topsails, topgallants, and royals, and the mizzenmast spread the latter three sails. That American innovation, the crossjack, had not in those days been introduced. The crossjack yard was still, as the French say, a vergue sèche,—a barren yard,—and the Bounty’s driver, though loose at the foot, was of the gaff-headed type, then superseding the clumsy lateen our ships had carried on the mizzen for centuries.
As I mused on the Bounty’s sails and ropes, asking myself how this order or that would be given, and wondering how I should go about obeying were I told to furl a royal or lend a hand at one of the braces, I felt something of the spell which even the smallest ship casts over me to this day. For a ship is the noblest of all man’s works—a cunning fabric of wood, and iron, and hemp, wonderfully propelled by wings of canvas, and seeming at times to have the very breath of life. I was craning my neck to stare aloft when I heard Bligh’s voice, harsh and abrupt.
I gathered my wits with a start and found Lieutenant Bligh, in full uniform, at my side. He gave a faint quizzing smile and went on: “She’s small, eh? But a taut little ship—a taut little ship!” He made me a sign to follow him over the Bounty’s side.
Our boat’s crew, if not strictly sober, were able to row, and put their backs into it with a will. We were soon alongside Captain Courtney’s tall seventy-four. The Tigress paid Mr. Bligh the compliment of piping the side. Side boys in spotless white stood at attention by the red ropes to the gangway; the boatswain, in full uniform, blew a slow and solemn salute on his silver whistle as Bligh’s foot touched the deck. Marine sentries stood at attention, and all was silent save for the mournful piping. We walked aft, saluting the quarter-deck, where Captain Courtney awaited us.
Courtney and Bligh were old acquaintances; he had been with Bligh on the Belle Poule, in the stubborn and bloody action of Dogger Bank six years before. Captain Courtney was a member of a great family—a tall, slender officer, with a quizzing glass and a thin-lipped ironic mouth. He greeted us pleasantly, spoke of my father, whom he had known more by reputation than otherwise, and led us to his cabin aft, where a red-coated sentry stood at the bulkhead, a drawn sword in his hand. It was the first time I had been in the cabin of a man-of-war, and I gazed about me curiously. Its floor was the upper gun-deck and its ceiling the poop; so the apartment seemed very lofty for a ship. The ports were glazed, and a door aft gave on the stern-walk, with its carvings and gilded rail, where the captain might take his pleasure undisturbed. But the cabin itself was furnished with Spartan bareness: a long settee under the ports, a heavy fixed table, and a few chairs. A lamp swung in gimbals overhead; there were a telescope in a bracket, a short shelf of books, and a stand of muskets and cutlasses in a rack about the mizzenmast. The table was laid for three.
“A glass of sherry with you, Mr. Bligh,” said the captain, as a man handed the glasses on a tray. He smiled at me in his courtly way, and raised his glass. “To the memory of your father, young man! We seamen owe him a lasting debt.”
As we drank, I heard a great stir and shuffling of feet on deck, and the distant sound of a drum. Captain Courtney glanced at his watch, finished, his wine, and rose from the settee.
“My apologies. They’re flogging a man through the fleet, and I hear the boats coming. I must read the sentence at the gangway—a deuced bore. Make yourselves at home; should you wish to be spectators, I can recommend the poop.”
Next moment he passed the rigid marine at the bulkhead and was gone. Bligh listened for a moment to the distant drumming, set down his glass, and beckoned me to follow him. From the quarter-deck a short ladder led up to the poop, a high point of vantage from which all that went on was visible. Though the air was crisp, the wind was the merest cat’s-paw and the sun shone in a blue and cloudless sky.
The order to turn all hands aft to witness punishment was being piped by the boatswain and shouted by his mates. The marines, with muskets and side arms, were hastening aft to fall in before us on the poop. Captain Courtney and his lieutenants stood on the weather quarter-deck, and the junior officers were gathered to leeward of them. The doctor and purser stood further to leeward, under the break of the poop, behind the boatswain and his mates. The ship’s company was gathered along the lee bulwarks—some, to see better, standing in the boats or on the booms. A tall ninety-eight and a third-rate like the Tigress lay at anchor close by, and I saw that their ports and bulwarks were crowded with silent men.
The half-minute bell began to sound, and the noise of drumming grew louder–the doleful tattoo of the rogue’s march. Then, around the bows of the Tigress, came a procession I shall never forget.
In the lead, rowed slowly in time to the nervous beat of the drum, came the longboat of a near-by ship. Her surgeon and master-at-arms stood beside the drummer; just aft of them a human figure was huddled in a posture I could not make out at first. Behind the longboat, and rowing in time to the same doleful music, came a boat from every ship of the fleet, manned with marines to attend the punishment. I heard an order “Way enough!” and as the rowing ceased the longboat drifted to a halt by the gangway. I glanced down over the rail. My breath seemed to catch in my throat, and without knowing that I spoke, I exclaimed softly, “Oh, my God!” Mr. Bligh gave me a sidelong glance and one of his slight, grim smiles.
The huddled figure in the bows of the boat was that of a powerful man of thirty or thirty-five. He was stripped to his wide sailor’s trousers of duck, and his bare arms were bronzed which were stoutly lashed to a capstan bar. His thick yellow hair was in disorder and I could not see his face, for his head hung down over his chest. His trousers, the thwart on which he lay huddled, and the frames and planking of the boat on either side of him were blotched and spattered with black blood. Blood I had seen before; it was the man’s back that made me catch my breath. From neck to waist the cat-o’-nine-tails had laid the bones bare, and the flesh hung in blackened, tattered strips.
Captain Courtney sauntered placidly across the deck to glance down at the hideous spectacle below. The surgeon in the boat bent over the mutilated, seized-up body, straightened his back, and looked at Courtney by the gangway.
“The man is dead, sir,” he said solemnly. A murmur faint as a stir of air in the treetops came from the men crowded on the booms. The Captain of the Tigress folded his arms and turned his head slightly with raised eyebrows. He made a gallant figure, with his sword, his rich laced uniform, his cocked hat and powdered queue. In the tense silence which followed he turned to the surgeon again.
“Dead,” he said lightly, in his cultivated drawl. “Lucky devil! Master-at-arms!” The warrant officer at the doctor’s side sprang to attention and pulled off his hat. “How many are due?”
“Two dozen, sir.”
Courtney strolled back to his place on the weather side and took from his first lieutenant’s hand a copy of the Articles of War. As he swept off his cocked hat gracefully and held it over his heart, every man on the ship uncovered in respect to the King’s commandments. Then, in his clear, drawling voice, the captain read the Article which prescribes the punishment for striking an officer of His Majesty’s Navy. One of the boatswain’s mates was untying a red baize bag, from which he drew out the red-handled cat, eyeing it uncertainly, with frequent glances to windward. The captain concluded his reading, replaced his hat, and caught the man’s eye. Again I heard the faint sighing murmur forward, and again deep silence fell before Courtney’s glance. “Do your duty,” he ordered calmly; “two dozen, I believe.”
“Two dozen it is, sir,” said the boatswain’s mate in a hollow voice as he walked slowly to the side. There were clenched jaws and gleaming eyes among the men forward, but the silence was so profound that I could hear the faint creak of blocks aloft as the braces swayed in the light air.
I could not turn my eyes away from the boatswain’s mate, climbing slowly down the ship’s side. If the man had shouted aloud, he could not have expressed more clearly the reluctance he felt. He stepped into the boat, and as he moved among the men on the thwarts they drew back with set stern faces. At the capstan bar, he hesitated and looked up uncertainly. Courtney had sauntered to the bulwarks and was gazing down with folded arms.
“Come! Do your duty!” he ordered, with the air of a man whose dinner is growing cold.
The man with the cat drew its tails through the fingers of his left hand, raised his arm, and sent them whistling down on the poor battered corpse. I turned away, giddy and sick. Bligh stood by the rail, a hand on his hip, watching the scene below as a man might watch a play indifferently performed. The measured blows continued—each breaking the silence like a pistol shot. I counted them mechanically for what seemed an age, but the end came at last—twenty-two, a pause, twenty-three…twenty-four. I heard a word of command; the marines fell out and trooped down the poop ladder. Eight bells struck. There were a stir and bustle on the ship, and I heard the boatswain piping the long-drawn, cheery call to dinner.
When we sat down to dine, Courtney seemed to have dismissed the incident from his mind. He tossed off a glass of sherry to Bligh’s health, and tasted his soup. “Cold!” he remarked ruefully. “Hardships of a seaman’s life, eh, Bligh?”
His guest took soup with a relish, and sounds better fitted to the forecastle than aft, for his manners at table were coarse. “Damme!” he said. “We fared worse aboard the old Poule!”
“But not in Tahiti, I’ll wager. I hear you are to pay the Indian ladies of the South Sea another call.”
“Aye, and a long one. We shall be some months in getting our load of breadfruit trees.”
“I heard of your voyage in Town. Cheap food for the West Indian slaves, eh? I wish I were sailing with you.”
“By God, I wish you were! I could promise you some sport.”
“Are the Indian women as handsome as Cook painted them?”
“Indeed they are, if you’ve no prejudice against a brown skin. They are wonderfully clean in person, and have enough sensibility to attract a fastidious man. Witness Sir Joseph; he declares that there are no such women in the world!”
Our host sighed romantically. “Say no more! Say no more! I can see you, like a Bashaw under the palms, in the midst of a harem the Sultan himself might envy!”
Still sickened by what I had seen, I was doing my best to make a pretense of eating, silent while the older men talked. Bligh was the first to mention the flogging.
“What had the man done?” he asked.
Captain Courtney set down his glass of claret and glanced up absently. “Oh, the fellow who was flogged,“ he said. “He was one of Captain Allison’s foretopmen, on the Unconquerable. And a smart hand, they say. He was posted for desertion, and then Allison, who remembered his face, saw him stepping out of a public house in Portsmouth. The man tried to spring away and Allison seized him by the arm. Damme! Good topmen don’t grow on every hedge! Well, this insolent fellow blacked Allison’s eye, just as a file of marines passed. They made him prisoner, and you saw the rest. Odd! We were only the fifth ship; eight dozen did for him. But Allison has a boatswain’s mate who’s an artist, they say—left-handed, so he lays them on crisscross, and strong as an ox.” .
Bligh listened with interest to Courtney’s words, and nodded approvingly. “Struck his captain, eh?” he remarked. “By God! He deserved all he got, and more! No laws are more just than those governing the conduct of men at sea.”
“Is there any need of such cruelty?” I asked, unable to keep silent. “Why did they not hang the poor fellow and have done with it?”
“Poor fellow?” Captain Courtney turned to me with eyebrows raised. “You have much to learn, my lad. A year or two at sea will harden him, eh, Bligh?”
“I’ll see to that,” said the Captain of the Bounty. “No, Mr. Byam, you must waste no sympathy on rascals of that stripe.”
“And remember,” put in Courtney, with a manner of friendly admonishment, “remember, as Mr. Bligh says, that no laws are more just than those governing the conduct of men at sea. Not only just, but necessary; discipline must be preserved, on a merchantman as well as on a man-of-war, and mutiny and piracy suppressed.”
“Yes,” said Bligh, “our sea law is stern, but it has the authority of centuries. And it has grown more humane with time,” he continued, not without a trace of regret. “Keelhauling has been abolished, save among the French, and a captain no longer has the right to condemn and put to death one of his crew.”
Still agitated by the shock of what I had seen, I ate little and took more wine than was my custom, sitting in silence for the most part, while the two officers gossiped, sailor-like, as to the whereabouts of former friends, and spoke of Admiral Parker, and the fight at Dogger Bank. It was mid-afternoon when Bligh and I were pulled back to the Bounty. The tide was low, and I saw a boat aground on a flat some distance off, while a party of men dug a shallow grave in the mud. They were burying the body of the poor fellow who had been flogged through the fleet—burying him below tide mark, in silence, and without religious rites.
OFFICERS AND CREW or H.M.S. BOUNTY
Lieutenant William Bligh, Captain
John Fryer, Master
Fletcher Christian, Master’s Mate
Charles Churchill, Master-at-Arms
William Elphinstone, Master-at-Arm’s Mate
“Old Bacchus,“ Surgeon
Thomas Ledward, Acting Surgeon
David Nelson, Botanist
William Peckover, Gunner
John Mills, Gunner’s Mate
William Cole, Boatswain
James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate
William Purcell, Carpenter
Charles Norman, Carpenter’s Mate
Thomas McIntosh, Carpenter’s Crew
Joseph Coleman, Armourer
George Simpson, Quartermaster’s Mate
Lawrence Lebogue, Sailmaker
Mr. Samuel, Clerk
Robert Lamb, Butcher
William Brown, Gardener
At daybreak on the twenty-eighth of November we got sail on the Bounty and worked down to St. Helen’s, where we dropped anchor. For nearly a month we were detained there and at Spithead by contrary winds; it was not until the twenty-third of December that we set sail down the Channel with a fair wind.
A month sounds an age to be crowded with more than forty other men on board a small vessel at anchor most of the time, but I was making the acquaintance of my shipmates, and so keen on learning my new duties that the days were all too short. The Bounty carried six midshipmen, and, since we had no schoolmaster, as is customary on a man-of-war, Lieutenant Bligh and the master divided the duty of instructing us in trigonometry, nautical astronomy, and navigation. I shared with Stewart and Young the advantage of learning navigation under Bligh, and in justice to an officer whose character in other respects was by no means perfect, I must say that there was no finer seaman and navigator afloat at the time. Both of my fellow midshipmen were men grown: George Stewart of a good family in the Orkneys, a young man of twenty-three or four, and a seaman who had made several voyages before this: and Edward Young, a stout, salty-looking fellow, with a handsome face marred by the loss of nearly all his front teeth. Both of them were already very fair navigators, and I was hard put to it not to earn the reputation of a dunce.
The boatswain, Mr. Cole, and his mate, James Morrison, instructed me in seamanship. Cole was an old-style Navy salt, bronzed, taciturn, and pigtailed, with a profound knowledge of his work and little other knowledge of any kind. Morrison was very different—a man of good birth, he had been a midshipman, and had shipped aboard the Bounty because of his interest in the voyage. He was a first-rate seaman and navigator; a dark, slender, intelligent man of thirty or thereabouts, cool in the face of danger, not given to oaths, and far above his station on board. Morrison did not thrash the men to their work, delivering blows impartially in the manner of a boatswain’s mate; he carried a colt, a piece of knotted rope, to be sure, but it was only used on obvious malingerers, or when Bligh shouted to him: “Start that man!”
There were much irritation and grumbling at the continued bad weather, but at last, on the evening of the twenty-second of December, the sky cleared and the wind shifted to the eastward. It was still dark next morning when I heard the boatswain’s pipe and Morrison’s call: “All hands! Turn out and save a clue! Out or down here! Rise and shine! Out or down there! Lash and carry!”
The stars were bright when I came on deck, and the grey glimmer of dawn was in the East. For three weeks we had had strong southwesterly winds, with rain and fog; now the air was sharp with frost, and a strong east wind blew in gusts off the coast of France. Lieutenant Bligh was on the quarter-deck with Mr. Fryer, the master; Christian and Elphinstone, the master’s mates, were forward among the men. There was a great bustle on deck and the ship rang with the piping of the bos’n’s whistle. I heard the shouting of the men at the windlass, and Christian’s voice above the din: “Hove short, sir!”
“Loose the topsails!” came from Fryer, and Christian passed the order on. My station was the mizzen-top, and in a twinkling we had the gaskets off and the small sail sheeted home. The knots in the gaskets were stiff with frost, and the men setting the fore-topsail were slow at their work. Bligh glanced aloft impatiently.
“What are you doing there?” he shouted angrily. “Are you all asleep, foretop? The main-topmen are off the yard! Look alive, you crawling caterpillars!”
The topsails filled and the yards were braced up sharp; the Bounty broke out her own anchor as she gathered way on the larboard tack. She was smartly manned in spite of Bligh’s complaints, but he was on edge, for a thousand critical eyes watched our departure from the ships at anchor closer inshore. With a “Yo! Heave ho!” the anchor came up and was catted.
Then it was: “Loose the forecourse!” and presently, as she began to heel to the gusts: “Get the mainsail on her!” There was a thunder of canvas and a wild rattling of blocks. When the brace was hove short, Bligh himself roared: “Board the main tack!” Little by little, with a mighty chorus at the windlass: “Heave ho! Heave and pawl! Yo, heave, hearty, ho!” the weather clew of the sail came down to the waterway. Heeling well to starboard, the bluff-bowed little ship tore through the sheltered water, on her way to the open sea.
The sun rose in a cloudless sky—a glorious winter’s morning, clear, cold, and sparkling. I stood by the bulwarks as we flew down the Solent, my breath trailing off like thin smoke. Presently we sped through the Needles and the Bounty headed away to sea, going like a race horse, with topgallants set.
That night the wind increased to a strong gale, with a heavy sea, but on the following day the weather moderated, permitting us to keep our Christmas cheerfully. Extra grog was served out, and the mess cooks were to be heard whistling as they seeded the raisins for duff, not, as a landsman might suppose, from the prospect of good cheer, but in order to prove to their messmates that the raisins were not going into their mouths.
I was still making the acquaintance of my shipmates at this time. The men of the Bounty had been attracted by the prospect of a voyage to the South Sea, or selected for their stations by the master or Bligh himself. Our fourteen ablebodied seamen were true salts, not the scum of the taverns and jails impressed to man so many of His Majesty’s ships; the officers were nearly all men of experience and tried character, and even our botanist, Mr. Nelson, had been recommended by Sir Joseph Banks because of his former voyage to Tahiti under Captain Cook. Mr. Bligh might have had a hundred midshipmen had he obliged all those who applied for a place in the Bounty’s berth; as it was, there were six of us, though the ship’s establishment provided for only two. Stewart and Young were seamen and pleasant fellows enough; Hallet was a sickly looking boy of fifteen with a shifty eye and a weak, peevish mouth; Tinkler, Mr. Fryer’s brother-in-law, was a year younger, though he had been to sea before—a monkey of a lad, whose continual scrapes kept him at the masthead half the time. Hayward, the handsome, sulky boy I had met when I first set foot in the berth, was only sixteen, but big and strong for his age. He was something of a bully and aspired to be cock of the berth, since he had been two years to sea aboard a seventy-four.
I shared with Hayward, Stewart, and Young a berth on the lower deck. In this small space the four of us swung our hammocks at night and had our mess, using a chest for a table and other chests for chairs. On consideration of a liberal share of our grog, received each Saturday night, Alexander Smith, able-bodied, acted as our hammock man, and for a lesser sum of the same ship’s currency, Thomas Ellison, the youngest of the seamen, filled the office of mess boy. Mr. Christian was caterer to the midshipmen’s mess; like the others, I had paid him five pounds on joining the ship, and he had laid out the money in a supply of potatoes, onions, Dutch cheeses (for making that midshipman’s dish called “crab”) , tea, coffee, and sugar, and other small luxuries. These private stores enabled us to live well for several weeks, though a more villainous cook than young Tom Ellison would be impossible to find. As for drink, the ship’s allowance was so liberal that Christian made no special provision for us. For a month or more every man aboard received a gallon of beer each day, and when that was gone, a pint of fiery white mistela wine from Spain—the wine our seamen love and call affectionately “Miss Taylor.” And when the last of the wine was gone we fell back on an ample supply of the sailor’s sheet anchor—grog. We had a wondrous fifer on board—a half-blind Irishman named Michael Byrne. He had managed to conceal his blindness till the Bounty was at sea, when it became apparent, much to Mr. Bligh’s annoyance. But when he struck up “Nancy Dawson” on the first day he piped the men to grog, his blindness was forgotten. He could put more trills and runs into that lively old tune than any man of us had heard before—a cheeriness in keeping with this happiest hour of the seaman’s day.
We lost a good part of our beer in a strong easterly gale that overtook the Bounty the day after Christmas. Several casks went adrift from their lashings and were washed overboard when a great sea broke over the ship; the same wave stove in all three of our boats and nearly carried them away. I was off watch at the time, and below, diverting myself in the surgeon’s cabin on the orlop, aft. It was a close, stinking little den, below the water line—reeking of the bilges and lit by a candle that burned blue for lack of air. But that mattered nothing to Old Bacchus. Our sawbones must have had a name of some sort inscribed on the ship’s articles, but it remained unknown to his companions till the day of his death. His normal state was what sailors call “in the wind” or “shaking a cloth,” and the signal that he had passed his normal state earned him the name by which all hands on the Bounty knew him. When he had indiscreetly added a glass of brandy or a tot of grog to the carefully measured supply of spirits demanded at close intervals by a stomach which must have been copper-sheathed, it was his custom to rise, balancing himself on his starboard leg, place a hand between the third and fourth buttons of his waistcoat, and recite with comic gravity a verse which begins:—
Bacchus must now his power resign.
With his wooden leg, his fiery face, snow-white hair, and rakish blue eyes, Old Bacchus seemed the veritable archetype of naval surgeons. He had been afloat so long that he could scarcely recollect the days when he had lived ashore, and viewed with apprehension the prospect of retirement. He preferred salt beef to the finest steak or chop to be obtained ashore, and confided to me one day that it was almost impossible for him to sleep in a bed. A cannon ball had carried away his larboard leg when his ship was exchanging broadsides, yardarm to yardarm, with the Ranger, and he had been made prisoner by John Paul Jones.
The cronies of Old Bacchus were Mr. Nelson, the botanist, and Peckover, the Bounty’s gunner. The duties of a gunner, onerous enough on board a man-of-war, were of the very lightest on our ship, and Peckover—a jovial fellow who loved a song and a glass dearly—had some leisure for conviviality. Mr. Nelson was a quiet, elderly man with iron-grey hair. Though devoted to the study of plants, he seemed to derive great pleasure from the surgeon’s company, and could spin a yarn with the best when in the mood. The great event in his life had been his voyage to the South Sea with Captain Cook, whose memory he revered.
Mr. Nelson’s cabin was forward of the surgeon’s, separated from it by the cabin of Samuel, the captain’s clerk, and he was to be found more often in the surgeon’s cabin than in his own. All of the cabins were provided with standing bed places, built in by the carpenters at Deptford, but Bacchus preferred to sling a hammock at night, and used his bed as a settee and the capacious locker under it as a private spirit room. The cabin was scarcely more than six feet by seven; the bed occupied nearly half of this space, and opposite, under the hammock battens, were small casks of wine, as yet unbroached. On one of them a candle guttered and burned blue.
Another cask served as a seat for me, and Bacchus and Nelson sat side by side on the bed. Each man held a pewter pint of flip—beer strongly laced with rum. The ship was on the lardboard tack and making heavy weather of it, so that at times my cask threatened to slide from under me, but the two men on the settee seemed to give the weather no thought.
“A first-rate man, Purcell!” remarked the surgeon, glancing down admiringly at his new wooden leg; “a better ship’s carpenter never swung an adze! My other leg was most damnably uncomfortable, but this one’s like my own flesh and bone! Mr. Purcell’s health!” He took a long pull at the flip and smacked his lips. “You’re a lucky man, Nelson! Should anything happen to your underpinning, you’ve me to saw off the old leg and Purcell to make you a better one!”
Nelson smiled. “Very kind, I’m sure,” he said; “but I hope I shall not have to trouble you.”
“I hope not, my dear fellow—I hope not! But never dread an amputation. With a pint of rum, a well-stropped razor, and a crosscut saw, I’d have your leg of before you knew it. Paul ones’s American surgeon did the trick for me.
“Let’s see—it must have been in seventy-eight. I was on the old Drake, Captain Burden, and we were on the lookout for Paul Jones’s Ranger at the time. Then we learned that she was hove-to off the mouth of Belfast Lough. An extraordinary affair, begad! We actually had sight-seers on board— one of them was an officer of the Inniskilling Fusileers in full uniform. We moved out slowly and came up astern of the American ship. Up went our colours and we hailed: ‘What ship is that?’ ‘American Continental ship Ranger!’ roared the Yankee master, as his own colours went up. ‘Come on— we’re waiting for you!’ Next moment both ships let go their broadsides…Good God!”
The Bounty staggered with the shock of a great sea which broke into her at that moment. “Up with you, Byam!” ordered the surgeon; and, as I sprang out of his cabin toward the ladderway, I heard, above the creaking and straining of the ship and the roar of angry water, a faint shouting for all hands on deck. Then I found myself in an uproar and confusion very strange after the peace of the surgeon’s snuggery.
Bligh stood by the mizzenmast, beside Fryer, who was bawling orders to his mates. They were shortening sail to get the ship hove-to. The men at the clew lines struggled with might and main to hoist the stubborn thundering canvas to the yards.
My own task, with two other midshipmen, was to furl the mizzen topsail—a small sail, but far from easy to subdue at such a time. The men below brailed up the driver and made fast the vangs of its gaff. Presently the Bounty was hove-to, all snug on the larboard tack, under reefer fore and main topsails.
The great wave which had boarded us left destruction in its wake. All three of our boats were stove in; the casks of beer which had been lashed on deck were nowhere to be seen; and the stern of the ship so damaged that the cabin was filled with water, which leaked into the bread room below, spoiling a large part of our stock of bread.
In latitude 39∘ N. the gale abated, the sun shone out, and we made all sail for Teneriffe with a fine northerly wind. On the fourth of January we spoke a French merchant vessel, bound for Mauritius, which let go her topgallant sheets in salute. The next morning we saw the island of Teneriffe to the southwest of us, about twelve leagues distant, but it fell calm near the land and we were a day and a night working up to the road of Santa Cruz, where we anchored in twenty-five fathoms, close to a Spanish packet and an American brig.
For five days we lay at anchor in the road, and it was here that the seeds of discontent, destined to be the ruin of the voyage, were sown among the Bounty’s people. As there was a great surf on the beach, Lieutenant Bligh bargained with the shore boats to bring off our water and supplies, and kept his own men busy from morning to night repairing the mischief the storm had done our ship. This occasioned much grumbling in the forecastle, as some of the sailors had hoped to be employed in the ship’s boats, which would have enabled them at least to set foot on the island and to obtain some of the wine for which it is famous, said to be little inferior to the best London Madeira.
During our sojourn the allowance of salt beef was stopped, and fresh beef, obtained on shore, issued instead. The Bounty’s salt beef was the worst I have ever met with at sea, but the beef substituted for it in Teneriffe was worse still. The men declared that it had been cut from the carcasses of dead horses or mules, and complained to the master that it was unfit for food. Fryer informed Bligh of the complaint; the captain flew into a passion and swore that the men should eat the fresh beef or nothing at all. The result was that most of it was thrown overboard—a sight which did nothing to soothe Bligh’s temper.
I was fortunate enough to have a run ashore, for Bligh took me with him one day to wait upon the governor, the Marquis de Brancheforté. With the governor’s permission Mr. Nelson ranged the hills every day in search of plants and natural curiosities, but his friend the surgeon only appeared on deck once during the five days we lay at anchor. Old Bacchus had ordered a monstrous supply of brandy for himself—enough to do the very god of wine, his namesake, for a year. Not trusting the shore boats with such precious freight, he had obtained the captain’s permission to send the small cutter to the pier, and when a man went below to inform him that his brandy was alongside, the surgeon came stumping to the ladderway and clambered on deck. The cutter was down to the gunwales with her load; as there was a high swell running, Old Bacchus stood by the bulwarks anxiously. “Easy with it!” he ordered with tender solicitude. “Easy now! A glass of grog all around if you break nothing!” When the last of the small casks was aboard and had been sent below, the surgeon heaved a sigh. I was standing near by and saw him glance at the land for the first time. He caught my eye. “One island’s as like another as two peas in a pod,” he remarked indifferently, pulling out a handkerchief to mop his fiery face.
When we sailed from Teneriffe, Bligh divided the people into three watches, making Christian acting lieutenant, and giving him charge of the third watch. Bligh had known him for some years in the West India trade, and believed himself to be Christian’s friend and benefactor. His friendship took the form of inviting Christian to sup or dine one day, and cursing him in the coarsest manner before the men the next; but in this case he did him a real service, since it was ten to one that, if all went well on the voyage, the appointment would be confirmed by the Admiralty, and Christian would find himself the holder of His Majesty’s commission. He now rated as a gentleman, with the midshipmen and Bligh; and Fryer was provided with a grievance both against the captain, and— such is human nature—against his former subordinate.
Nor were grievances wanting during our passage from Teneriffe to Cape Horn. The people’s food on British ships is always bad and always scanty—a fact which in later days caused so many of our seamen to desert to American vessels. But on the Bounty the food was of poorer quality, and issued in scantier quantities, than any man of us had seen before. When Bligh called the ship’s company aft to read the order appointing Christian acting lieutenant, he also informed them that, as the length of the voyage was uncertain, and the season so far advanced that it was doubtful whether we should be able to make our way around Cape Horn, it seemed necessary to reduce the allowance of bread to two thirds of the usual amount. Realizing the need for economy, the men received this cheerfully, but continued to grumble about the salt beef and pork.
We carried no purser. Bligh filled the office himself, assisted by Samuel, his clerk—a smug, tight-lipped little man, of a Jewish cast of countenance, who was believed, not without reason, to be the captain’s “narker” or spy among the men. He was heartily disliked by all hands, and it was observed that the man who showed his dislike for Mr. Samuel too openly was apt to find himself in trouble with Lieutenant Bligh. It was Samuel’s task to issue the provisions to the cooks of the messes; each time a cask of salt meat was broached, the choicest pieces were reserved for the cabin, and the remainder, scarcely fit for human food, issued out to the messes without being weighed. Samuel would call out “Four pounds,” and mark the amount down in his book, when anyone could perceive that the meat would not have weighed three.
Seamen regard meanness in their own kind with the utmost contempt, and that great rarity in the Service, a mean officer, is looked upon with loathing by his men. They can put up with a harsh captain, but nothing will drive British seamen to mutiny faster than a captain suspected of lining his pockets at their expense.
While the Bounty was still in the northeast trades, an incident occurred which gave us reason to suspect Bligh of meanness of this kind. The weather was fine, and one morning the main hatch was raised and our stock of cheeses brought up on deck to air. Bligh missed no detail of the management of his ship; he displayed in such matters a smallness of mind scarcely in accord with his commission. This unwillingness to trust those under him to perform their duties is apt to be the defect of the officer risen from the ranks,—or “come in through the hawse-hole,” as seamen say,—and is the principal reason why such officers are rarely popular with their men.
Bligh stood by Hillbrandt, the cooper, while he started the hoops on our casks of cheese and knocked out the heads. Two cheeses, of about fifty pounds weight, were found to be missing from one of the casks, and Bligh flew into one of his passions of rage.
“Stolen, by God!” he shouted.
“Perhaps you will recollect, sir,” Hillbrandt made bold to say, “that while we were in Deptford the cask was opened by your order and the cheeses carried ashore.”
“You insolent scoundrel! Hold your tongue!”
Christian and Fryer happened to be on deck at the time, and Bligh included them in the black scowl he gave the men near by. “A damned set of thieves,” he went on. “You’re all in collusion against me—officers and men. But I’ll tame you—by God, I will!” He turned to the cooper. “Another word from you and I’ll have you seized up and flogged to the bone.” He turned aft on his heel and bawled down the ladderway. “Mr. Samuel! Come on deck this instant.”
Samuel came trotting up to his master obsequiously, and Bligh went on: “Two of the cheeses have been stolen. See that the allowance is stopped—from the officers too, mind you until the deficiency is made good.”
I could see that Fryer was deeply offended, though he said nothing at the time; as for Christian,—a man of honour,— his feelings were not difficult to imagine. The men had a pretty clear idea of which way the wind blew by this time, and on the next banyan day, when butter alone was served out, they refused it, saying that to accept butter without cheese would be a tacit acknowledgment of the theft. John Williams, one of the seamen, declared publicly in the forecastle that he had carried the two cheeses to Mr. Bligh’s house, with a cask of vinegar and some other things which were sent up in a boat from Long Reach.
As the private stocks of provisions obtained in Spithead now began to run out, all hands went “from grub galore to the King’s own,” as seamen say. Our bread, which was only beginning to breed maggots, was fairly good, though it needed teeth better than mine to eat the central “reefer’s nut”; but our salt meat was unspeakably bad. Meeting Alexander Smith one morning when he was cook to his mess, I was shown a piece of it fresh from the cask—a dark, stony, unwholesome-looking lump, glistening with salt.
“Have a look, Mr. Byam,” he said. “What’ll it be, I wonder? Not beef or pork, that’s certain! I mind one day on the old Antelope—two years ago, that was—the cooper found three horseshoes in the bottom of a cask!” He shook his pigtail back over his shoulder and shifted a great quid of tobacco to his starboard cheek. “You’ve seen the victualing yards in Portsmouth, sir? Pass that way any night, and you’ll hear the dogs bark and the horses neigh! And I’ll tell you something else you young gentlemen don’t know.” He glanced up and down the deck cautiously and then whispered: “It’s as much as a black man’s life is worth to pass that way by night! They’d pop him into a cask like that!” He snapped his fingers impressively.
Smith was a great admirer of Old Bacchus, whom he had known on other ships, and a few days later he handed me a little wooden box. “For the surgeon, sir,” he said. “Will you give it to him?”
It was a snuffbox, curiously wrought of some dark, reddish wood, like mahogany, and very neatly fitted with a lid; a handsome bit of work, carved and polished with a seaman’s skill. I found leisure to visit the surgeon the same evening.
Christian’s watch was on duty at the time. Young Tinkler and I were in Mr. Fryer’s watch, and the third watch had been placed in charge of Mr. Peckover, a short, powerful man of forty or forty-five, who could scarcely remember a time when he had not been at sea. His good-humoured face had been blackened by the West Indian sun, and his arms were covered with tattooing.
I found Peckover with the doctor and Nelson—squeezed together on the settee.
“Come in,” cried the surgeon. “Wait a bit, my lad—I think I can make a place for you.”
He sprang up with surprising agility and pushed a small cask into the doorway. Peckover held the spigot open while the wine poured frothing into a pewter pint. I delivered the snuffbox before I sat down on my cask, pint in hand.
“From Smith, you say?” asked the surgeon. “Very handsome of him! Very handsome indeed! I remember Smith well on the old Antelope—, Peckover? I have a recollection that I used to treat him to a drop of grog now and then. And why not, I say! A thirsty man goes straight to my heart.” He glanced complacently about his cabin, packed to the hammock battens with small casks of spirits and wine. “Thank God that neither I nor my friends shall go thirsty on this voyage!”
Nelson stretched out his hand for the snuffbox and examined it with interest. “I shall always marvel,” he remarked, “at the ingenuity of our seamen. This would be a credit to any craftsman ashore, with all the tools of his trade. And a fine bit of wood, handsomely polished, too! Mahogany, no doubt, though the grain seems different.”
Bacchus looked at Peckover quizzically, and the gunner returned the look, grinning. ,
“Wood?” said the surgeon. “Well, I have heard it called that, and worse. Wood that once bellowed—aye, and neighed and barked, if the tales be true. In plain English, my dear Nelson, your mahogany is old junk, more politely called salt beef—His Majesty’s own!”
“Good Lord!” exclaimed Nelson, examining the snuffbox in real astonishment.
“Aye, salt beef! Handsome as any mahogany and quite as durable. Why, it had been proposed to sheathe our West India frigates with it—a material said to defy the attacks of the toredo worm!”
I took the little box from Nelson’s hand, to inspect it with a new interest. “Well, I’m damned!” I thought.
Old Bacchus had rolled up his sleeve and was pouring a train of snuff along his shaven and polished forearm. With a loud sniffing sound it disappeared up his nose. He sneezed, blew his nose violently on an enormous blue handkerchief, and filled his tankard with mistela.
“A glass of wine with you gentlemen!” he remarked, and poured the entire pint down his throat without taking breath. Mr. Peckover glanced at his friend admiringly.
“Aye, Peckover,” said the surgeon, catching his eye, “nothing like a nip of salt beef to give a man a thirst. Let the cook keep his slush. Give me a bit of the lean, well soaked and boiled, and you can have all the steaks and cutlets ashore. Begad! Just suppose, now, that we were all wrecked on a desert island, without a scrap to eat. I’d pull out my snuffbox and have one meal, at any rate, while the rest of you went hungry! Ha! Ha!”
“Ha! Ha!” echoed the gunner in his rumbling voice, grinning from ear to ear.
One sultry afternoon, before we picked up the southeast trades, Bligh sent his servant to bid me sup with him. Since the great cabin was taken up with our breadfruit garden, the captain messed on the lower deck, in an apartment on the larboard side, extending from the hatch to the bulkhead abaft the mainmast. I dressed myself with some care, and, going aft, found that Christian was my fellow guest. The surgeon and Fryer messed regularly with Bligh, but Old Bacchus had excused himself this evening.
There was a fine show of plate on the captain’s table, but when the dishes were uncovered I saw that Bligh fared little better than his men. We had salt beef, in plenty for once, and the pick of the cask, bad butter, and worse cheese, from which the long red worms had been hand-picked, a supply of salted cabbage, believed to prevent scurvy, and a dish heaped with the mashed pease seamen call “dog’s body.”
Mr. Bligh, though temperate in the use of wine, attacked his food with more relish than most officers would care to display. Fryer was a rough, honest old seaman, but his manners at table put the captain’s to shame; yet Christian, who had been a mere master’s mate only a few days before, supped fastidiously despite the coarseness of the food. Christian was on the captain’s right, Fryer on his left, and I sat opposite, facing him. The talk had turned to the members of the Bounty’s company.
“Damn them!” said Bligh, his mouth full of beef and pease, which he continued to chew rapidly as he spoke. “A lazy, incompetent lot of scoundrels! God knows a captain has trials enough without being cursed with such a crew! The dregs of the public houses…” He swallowed violently and filled his mouth once more. “That fellow I had flogged yesterday; what was his name, Mr. Fryer?”
“Burkitt,” replied the master, a little red in the face.
“Yes, Burkitt, the insolent hound! And they’re all as bad. I’m damned if they know a sheet from a tack!”
“I venture to differ with you, sir,” said the master. “I should call Smith, Quintal, and McCoy first-class seamen, and even Burkitt, though he was in the wrong…”
“The insolent hound!” repeated Bligh violently, interrupting the master. “At the slightest report of misconduct, I shall have him seized up again. Next time it will be four dozen, instead of two!”
Christian caught my eye as the captain spoke. “If I may express an opinion, Mr. Bligh,” he said quietly, “Burkitt’s nature is one to tame with kindness rather than with blows.”
Bligh’s short, harsh laugh rang out grimly. “La-di-da, Mr. Christian! On my word, you should apply for a place as master in a young ladies’ seminary! Kindness, indeed! Well, I’m damned!” He took up a glass of the reeking ship’s water, rinsing his mouth preparatory to an attack on the sourcrout. “A fine captain you’ll make if you don’t heave overboard such ridiculous notions. Kindness! Our seamen understand kindness as well as they understand Greek! Fear is what they do understand! Without that, mutiny and piracy would be rife on the high seas!”
“Aye,” admitted Fryer, as if regretfully. “There is some truth in that.”
Christian shook his head. “I cannot agree,” he said courteously. “Our seamen do not differ from other Englishmen. Some must be ruled by fear, it is true, but there are others, and finer men, who will follow a kind, just, and fearless officer to the death.”
“Have we any such paragons on board?” asked the captain sneeringly.
“In my opinion, sir,” said Christian, speaking in his light and courteous manner, “we have, and not a few.”
“Now, by God! Name one!”
“Mr. Purcell, the carpenter. He…”
This time Bligh laughed long and loud. “Damme!” he exclaimed, “you’re a fine judge of men! That stubborn, thick-headed old rogue! Kindness…Ah, that’s too good!”
Christian flushed, controlling his hot temper with an effort. “You won’t have the carpenter, I see,” he said lightly: “then may I suggest Morrison, sir?”
“Suggest to your heart’s content,” answered Bligh scornfully. “Morrison? The gentlemanly boatswain’s mate? The sheep masquerading as a wolf? Kindness? Morrison’s too damned kind now!”
“But a fine seaman, sir,” put in Fryer gruffly; “he has been a midshipman, and is a gentleman born.”
“I know, I know!” said Bligh in his most offensive way; “and no higher in my estimation for all that.” He turned to me, with what he meant to be a courteous smile. “Saving your presence, Mr. Byam, damn all midshipmen, I say! There could be no worse schools than the berth for the making of sea officers!” He turned to Christian once more, and his manner changed to an unpleasant truculence.
“As for Morrison, let him take care! I’ve my eye on him, for I can see that he spares the cat. A boatswain’s mate who was not a gentleman would have had half the hide off Burkitt’s back. Let him take care, I say! Let him lay on when I give the word or, by God, I’ll have him seized up for a lesson from the boatswain himself!”
I perceived, as the meal went on, that the captain’s mess was anything but a congenial one. Fryer disliked the captain, and had not forgotten the incident of the cheeses. Bligh made no secret of his dislike for the master, whom he often upbraided before the men on deck; and he felt for Christian a contempt he was at no pains to conceal.
I was not surprised, a few days later, to learn from Old Bacchus that Christian and the master had quitted the captains mess, leaving Bligh to dine and sup alone. We were south of the line by this time.
At Teneriffe, we had taken on board a large supply of pumpkins, which now began to show symptoms of spoiling under the equatorial sun. As most of them were too large for the use of Bligh’s table, Samuel was ordered to issue them to the men in lieu of bread. The rate of exchange—one pound of pumpkin to replace two pounds of bread—was considered unfair by the men, and when Bligh was informed of this he came on deck in a passion and called all hands. Samuel was then ordered to summon the first man of every mess.
“Now,” exclaimed Bligh violently, “let me see who will dare to refuse the pumpkins, or anything else I order to be serve. You insolent rascals! By God! I’ll make you eat grass before I’ve done with you!”
Everyone now took the pumpkins, not excepting the officers, though the amount was so scanty that it was usually thrown together by the men, the cooks of the different messes drawing lots for the whole. There was some murmuring, particularly among the officers, but the grievance might have ended there had not all the hands begun to believe that the casks of beef and pork were short of their weight. This had been suspected for some time, as Samuel could never be prevailed on to weigh the meat when opened, and at last the shortage became so obvious that the people applied to the master, begging that he would examine into the affair and procure them redress. Bligh ordered all hands aft at once.
“So you’ve complained to Mr. Fryer, eh?” he said, shortly and harshly. “You’re not content! Let me tell you, by God, that you’d better make up your minds to be content! Everything that Mr. Samuel does is done by my orders, do you understand? My orders! Waste no more time in complaints, for you will get no redress! I am the only judge of what is right and wrong. Damn your eyes! I’m tired of you and your complaints! The first man to complain from now on will be seized up and flogged.”
Perceiving that no redress was to be hoped for before the end of the voyage, the men resolved to bear their sufferings with patience, and neither murmured nor complained from that time. But the officers, though they dared make no open complaints, were less easily satisfied and murmured frequently among themselves of their continual state of hunger, which they thought was due to the fact that the captain and his clerk had profited by the victualing of the ship. Our allowance of food was so scanty that the men quarreled fiercely over the division of it in the galley, and when several men had been hurt it became necessary for the master’s mate of the watch to superintend the division of the food.
About a hundred leagues off the coast of Brazil, the wind chopped around to north and northwest, and I realized that we had reached the southern limit of the southeast trades. It was here, in the region of variable westerlies, that the Bounty was becalmed for a day or two, and the people employed themselves in fishing, each mess risking a part of its small allowance of salt pork in hopes of catching one of the sharks that swam about the ship.
The landsman turns up his nose at the shark, but, to a sailor craving fresh meat, the flesh of a shark under ten feet in length is a veritable luxury. The larger sharks have a strong rank smell, but the flesh of the small ones, cut into slices like so many beefsteaks, parboiled first and then broiled with plenty of pepper and salt, eats very well indeed, resembling codfish in flavour.
I tasted shark for the first time one evening off the Brazilian coast. It was dead calm; the sails hung slack from the yards, only moving a little when the ship rolled to a gently northerly swell. John Mills, the gunner’s mate, stood forward abreast of the windlass, with a heavy line coiled in his hand. He was an old seaman, one of Christian’s watch—a man of forty or thereabouts who had served in the West Indies on the Mediator, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood. I disliked the man,—a tall, rawboned, dour old salt,—but I watched with interest as he prepared his bait. Two of his messmates stood by, ready to bear a hand—Brown, the assistant botanist, and Norman, the carpenter’s mate. The mess had contributed the large piece of salt pork now going over the side; they shared the risk of losing the bait without results, as they would share whatever Mills was fortunate enough to catch. A shark about ten feet long had just passed under the bows. I craned my neck to watch.
Next moment a small striped fish like a mackerel flashed this way and that about the bait. “Pilot fish!” cried Norman. “Take care—here comes the shark!”
“Damn you!” growled Mills. “Don’t dance about like a monkey—you’ll frighten him off!”
The shark, an ugly yellowish blotch in the blue water, was rising beneath the bait, and all eyes were on him as he turned on his side, opened his jaws, and gulped down the piece of pork. Hooked, by God!” roared Mills as he hove the line short. “Now, my hearties, on deck with him!” The line was strong and the messmates hove with a will; in an instant the shark came struggling over the bulwarks and thumped down on deck. Mills seized a hatchet and struck the fish a heavy blow on the snout; next moment six or seven men were astride of the quivering carcass, knives out and cutting away for dear life. The spectable was laughable. Mills, to whom the head belonged by right of capture, was seated at the forward end; each of the others, pushing himself as far aft as possible, to enlarge his cut of shark, was slicing away within an inch of the next man’s rump. There were cries of “Mind what you are about, there!” “Take care, else I’ll have a slice off your backside!” And in about three minutes’ time the poor fish had been severed into as many great slices as there had been men bestriding him.
The deck was washed, and Mills was picking up the several slices into which he had cut his share of the fish, when Mr. Samuel, the captain’s clerk, came strolling forward.
“A fine catch, my good man,” he remarked in his patronizing way. “I must have a slice, eh?”
In common with all of the Bounty’s people, Mills disliked Samuel heartily. The clerk drank neither rum nor wine, and it was suspected that he hoarded his ration of spirits for sale ashore.
“So you must have a slice,” growled the gunner’s mate. “Well, I must have a glass of grog, and a stiff one, too, if you are to eat shark to-day.” .
“Come! Come! My good man,” said Samuel pettishly. “You’ve enough fish there for a dozen.”
“And you’ve enough grog stowed away for a thousand, by God!”
“It’s for the captain’s table I want it,” said Samuel.
“Then catch him a shark yourself. This is mine. He gets the best of the bread and the pick of the junk cask as it is.”
“You forget yourself, Mills! Come, give me a slice— that large one there—and I’ll say nothing.”
“Say nothing be damned! Here—take your slice!” As he spoke, Mills flung the ten or twelve pounds of raw fish straight at Samuel’s face, with the full strength of a brawny, tattooed arm. He turned on his heel to go below, growling under his breath. .
Mr. Samuel picked himself up from the deck, not forgetting his slice of shark, and walked slowly aft. The look in his eye boded no good fortune to the gunner’s mate.
The news spread over the ship rapidly, and for the first time aboard the Bounty Mills found himself a popular man, though there was little hope that he would escape punishment. As Old Bacchus put it that night, “The least he can hope for is a red-checked shirt at the gangway. Samuel’s a worm and a dirty worm, but discipline’s discipline, begad!”
I believe that a day will come when flogging will be abolished on His Majesty’s ships. It is an over-brutal punishment, which destroys a good man’s self-respect and makes a bad man worse. Landsmen have little idea of the savagery of a flogging at the gangway. The lashes are laid on with the full strength of a powerful man’s arm, with such force that each blow knocks the breath clean out of the delinquent’s body. One blow takes off the skin and draws blood where each knot falls. Six blows make the whole back raw. Twelve cut deeply into the flesh and leave it a red mass, horrible to see. Yet six dozen are a common punishment.
As had been predicted, Mills spent the night in irons. The kind hearts of our British seamen were evident next morning when I was told that his messmates had saved their entire allowance of grog for Mills, to fortify him against the flogging they considered inevitable. At six bells Mr. Bligh came on deck, and bade Christian turn the hands aft to witness punishment. The weather had grown cooler, and the Bounty was slipping southward with all sail set, before a light north-west breeze. The order was piped and shouted forward; I joined the assembly of officers aft, while the people fell in on the booms and along the ship’s side. All were silent.
“Rig the gratings,” ordered Mr. Bligh, in his harsh voice.
The carpenter and his mates dragged aft two of the wooden gratings used to cover the hatches. They placed one flat on the deck, and the other upright, secured to the bulwarks by the lee gangway.
“The gratings are rigged, sir,” reported Purcell, the carpenter.
“John Mills!” said Bligh. “Step forward!”
Flushed with the rum he had taken, and dressed in his best, Mills stepped out from among his messmates. His unusual smartness was designed to mollify the punishment, yet there was in his bearing a trace of defiance. He was a hard man, and he felt that he had been hardly used.
“Have you anything to say?” asked Bligh of the bare-headed seaman before him.
“No, sir,” growled Mills sullenly.
“Strip!” ordered the captain.
Mills tore off his shirt, flung it to one of his messmates, and advanced bare-shouldered to the gratings.
“Seize him up,“ said Bligh.
Norton and Lenkletter, our quartermasters— old pigtailed seamen who had performed this office scores of times in the past—now advanced with lengths of spun yarn, and lashed Mills’s outstretched wrists to the upright grating.
“Seized up, sir!” reported Norton.
Bligh took off his hat, as did every man on the ship, opened a copy of the Articles of War, and read in a solemn voice the article which prescribes the punishments for mutinous conduct. Morrison, the boatswain’s mate, was undoing the red baize bag in which he kept the cat.
“Three dozen, Mr. Morrison,” said Bligh as he finished reading. “Do your duty!”
Morrison was a kindly, reflective man. I felt for him at that moment, for I knew that he hated flogging on principle, and must feel the injustice of this punishment. Yet he would not dare, under the keen eye of the captain, to lighten the force of his blows. However unwilling, he was Bligh’s instrument.
He advanced to the grating, drew the tails of the cat through his fingers, flung his arm back, and struck. Mills winced involuntarily as the cat came whistling down on his bare back, and the breath flew out of his body with a loud “Ugh!” A great red welt sprang out against the white skin, with drops of blood trickling down on one side. Mills was a burly ruffian and he endured the first dozen without crying out, though by that time his back was a red slough from neck to waist.
Bligh watched the punishment with folded arms. “I’ll show the man who’s captain of this ship,” I heard him remark placidly to Christian. “By God, I will!” The thirteenth blow broke the iron of Mills’s self control. He was writhing on the grating, his tongue bitten halfway through and the blood pouring from his lips. “Oh!” he shouted thickly. “Oh, my God! Oh!”
“Mr. Morrison,” called Bligh, sternly and suddenly. “See that you lay on with a will.”
Morrison passed the tails of the cat through his fingers to free them of blood and bits of flesh. Under the eye of the captain he delivered the remaining lashes, taking a time that seemed interminable to me. When they cut Mills down he was black in the face and collapsed at one on the deck. Old Bacchus stumped forward and ordered him taken below to the sick bay, to be washed with brine. Bligh sauntered to the ladderway and the men resumed their duties sullenly.
Early in March we were ordered to lay aside our light tropical clothing for warm garments which had been provided for our passage around Cape Horn. The topgallant masts were sent down, new sails bent, and the ship made ready for the heavy winds and seas which lay ahead. The weather grew cooler each day, until I was glad to go below for my occasional evenings with Bacchus and his cronies, or to my mess in the berth. The surgeon messed with us now, as well as Stewart and Hayward, my fellow midshipmen, Morrison, and Mr. Nelson, the botanist. We were all the best of friends, though young Hayward never forgot that I was his junior in service, and plumed himself on a knowledge of seamanship certainly more extensive than my own.
Those were days and nights of misery for every man on board. Sometimes the wind hauled to the southwest, with squalls of snow, forcing us to come about on the larboard tack; sometimes the gale increased to the force of a hurricane and we lay hove-to under a rag of staysail, pitching into the breaking seas. Though our ship was new and sound, her seams opened under the strain and it became necessary to man the pumps every hour. The hatches were constantly battened down, and when the forward deck began to leak, Bligh gave orders that the people should sling their hammocks in the great cabin aft. At last our captain’s iron determination gave way, and to the great joy and relief of every man on board he ordered the helm put up to bear away for the Cape of Good Hope.
The fine weather which followed and our rapid passage east did much to raise the spirits of the men on board. We had caught great numbers of sea birds off Cape Horn and penned them in cages provided by the carpenter. The pintado and the albatross were the best; when penned like a Strasburg goose and well stuffed with ground corn for a few days, they seemed to us as good as ducks or geese, and this fresh food did wonders for our invalids.
With the returning cheerfulness on board, the Bounty’s midshipmen began to play the pranks of their kind the world over, and none of us escaped penance at the masthead penance that was in general richly deserved. No one, was oftener in hot water than young Tinkler, a monkey of a lad, beloved by every man on the ship. Bligh’s severity to Tinkler, one cold moonlight night, when we were in the longitude of Tristan da Cunha, was a warning to all of us, and the cause of much murmuring among the men.
Hallet, Hayward, Tinkler, and I were in the larboard berth. The gunner’s watch was on duty, and Stewart and Young on deck. We had supped and were passing the time at Ablewhackets—a game I have never seen played ashore. It is commenced by playing cards, which must be named the Good Books. The table is termed the Board of Green Cloth, the hand the Flipper; the light the Glim, and so on. To call a table a table, or a card a card, brings an instant cry of “Watch,” whereupon the delinquent must extend his Flipper to be severely firked with a stocking full of sand by each of the players in turn, who repeat his offense while firking him. Should the pain bring an oath to his lips, as is more than likely, there is another cry of “Watch,” and he undergoes a second round of firking by all hands. As will be perceived, the game is a noisy one.
Young Tinkler had inadvertently pronounced the word “table,” and Hayward, something of a bully, roared, “Watch!” When he took his turn at the firking, he laid on so hard that the youngster, beside himself with pain, squeaked, “Ouch! Damn your blood!” “Watch!” roared Hayward again, and a the the same moment we heard another roar from aft—Mr. Bligh calling angrily for the ship’s corporal. Tinkler and Hallet rushed for their berth on the starboard side; Hayward doused the glim in an instant, kicked off his pumps, threw off his jacket, and sprang into his hammock, where he pulled his blanket up to his chin and began to snore, gently and regularly. I wasted no time in doing the same, but young Tinkler, in his anxiety, must have turned in all standing as he was.
Next moment, Churchill, the master-at-arms, came fumbling into the darkened berth. “Come, come, young gentlemen; no shamming, now!” he called. He listened warily to our breathing, and felt us to make sure that our jackets and pumps were off, before he went out, grumbling, to the starboard berth. Hallet had taken the same precautions as ourselves, but poor little Tinkler was caught red-handed—pumps, jacket, and all. “Up with you, Mr. Tinkler,” rumbled Churchill. “This’ll mean the masthead, and it’s a bloody cold night. I ’d let you off if I could. You young gentlemen keep half the ship awake with your cursed pranks!” He led him aft, and presently I heard Bligh’s harsh voice, raised angrily.
“Damme, Mr. Tinkler! Do you think this ship’s a bear garden? By God! I’ve half a mind to seize you up and give you a taste of the colt! To the masthead with you!”
Next morning at daylight Tinkler was still at the main topgallant crosstrees. The sky was clear, but the strong west-southwest wind was icy cold. Presently Mr. Bligh came on deck, and, hailing the masthead, desired Tinkler to come down. There was no reply, even when he hailed a second time. At a word from Mr. Christian, one of the topmen sprang into the rigging, reached the crosstrees, and hailed the deck to say that Tinkler seemed to be dying, and that he dared not leave him for fear he would fall. Christian himself then went aloft, sent the topman down into the top for a tailblock, made a whip with the studding-sail halliards, and lowered Tinkler to the deck. The poor lad was blue with cold, unable to stand up or to speak.
We got him into his hammock in the berth, wrapped in warm blankets, and Old Bacchus came stumping forward with a can of his universal remedy. He felt the lad’s pulse, propped his head up, and began to feed him neat rum with a spoon. Tinkler coughed and opened his eyes, while a faint colour appeared in his cheeks.
“Aha!” exclaimed the surgeon. “Nothing like rum, my lad! Just a sip, now. That’s it! Now a swallow. Begad! Nothing like rum. I’ll soon have you right as a trivet! And that reminds me—I’ll have just a drop myself. A corpse reviver, eh?”
Coughing as the fiery liquor ran down his throat, Tinkler smiled in spite of himself. Two hours later he was on deck, none the worse for his night aloft.
On the twenty-third of May we dropped anchor in False Bay, near Cape Town. Table Bay is reckoned unsafe riding at this time of year, on account of the strong northwest winds. The ship required to be caulked in every part, for she had become so leaky that we had been obliged to pump every hour during our passage from Cape Horn. Our sails and rigging were in sad need of repair, and the timekeeper was taken ashore to ascertain its rate. On the twenty-ninth of June we sailed out of the bay, saluting the Dutch fort with thirteen guns as we passed.
I have few recollections of the long, cold, and dismal passage from the Cape of Good Hope to Van Diemen’s Land. Day after day we scudded before strong westerly to southwesterly winds, carrying only the foresail and close-reefed maintopsail. The seas, which run for thousands of miles in these latitudes, unobstructed by land, were like mountain ridges; twice, when the wind increased to a gale, Bligh almost drove his ship under before we could get the sails clewed up and the Bounty hove-to. I observed that as long as the wind held southwest or west-southwest great numbers of birds accompanied us,—pintados, albatross, and blue petrels,—but that when the wind chopped around to the north, even for an hour or two, the birds left us at once. And when they reappeared their presence was always the forerunner of a southerly wind.
On the twentieth of August we sighted the rock called the Mewstone, which lies near the southwest cape of Van Diemen’s Land, bearing northeast about six leagues, and two days later we anchored in Adventure Bay. We passed a fortnight here —wooding, watering, and sawing out plank, of which the carpenter was in need. It was a gloomy place, hemmed in by forests of tall straight trees of the eucalyptus kind, many of them a hundred and fifty feet high and rising sixty or eighty feet without a branch. Long strips of bark hung in tatters from their trunks, or decayed on the ground underfoot; few birds sang in the bush; and I saw only one animal—a small creature of the opossum sort, which scuttled into a hollow log. There were men here, but they were timid as wild animals— black, naked, and uncouth, with hair growing in tufts like peppercorns, and voices like the cackling of geese. I saw small parties of them at different times, but they made off at sight of us.
Mr. Bligh put me in charge of a watering party, giving us the large cutter and instructing me to have the casks filled in a gully at the west end of the beach. Purcell, the carpenter, had rigged his saw pit close to this place, and was busy sawing out plank, with his mates, Norman and McIntosh, and two of the seamen detailed to the task. They had felled two or three of the large eucalyptus trees, but the carpenter, after inspecting the wood; had declared it worthless, and instructed his men to set to work on certain smaller trees of a different kind, with a rough bark and firm reddish wood.
I was superintending the filling of my casks one morning when Bligh appeared, a fowling piece over his arm and accompanied by Mr. Nelson. He glanced toward the saw pit and came to a halt.
“Mr. Purcell!” he called harshly.
The Bounty’s carpenter was not unlike her captain in certain respects. Saving the surgeon, he was the oldest man on board, and nearly all of his life had been spent at sea. He knew his trade as well as Bligh understood navigation, and his temper was as arbitrary and his anger as fierce and sudden as Bligh’s.
“Damme, Mr. Purcell!” exclaimed the captain. “Those logs are too small for plank. I thought I instructed you to make use of the large trees.”
“You did, sir,” replied Purcell, whose own temper was rising.
“Obey your orders, then, instead of wasting time.”
“I am not wasting time, sir,” said the carpenter, very red in the face. “The wood of the large trees is useless, as I discovered when I had cut some of them down.”
“Useless? Nonsense…. Mr. Nelson, am I not right?”
“I am a botanist, sir,” said Nelson, unwilling to take part in the dispute. “I make no pretense to a carpenter’s knowledge of woods.”
“Aye—that’s what a carpenter does know,” put in old Purcell. “The wood of these large trees will be worthless if sawn into plank.”
Bligh’s temper now got the better of him. “Do as I tell you, Mr. Purcell,” he ordered violently. “I’ve no mind to argue with you or any other man under my command.”
“Very well, sir,” said Purcell obstinately. “The large trees it is. But I tell you the plank will be useless. A carpenter knows his business as well as a captain knows his.”
Bligh had turned away; now he spun about on his heel.
“You mutinous old bastard—you have gone too far! Mr. Norman, take command of the work here. Mr. Purcell, report yourself instantly to Lieutenant Christian for fifteen days in irons.”
It was my task to ferry Purcell out to the ship. The old man was flushed with anger; his jaw was set and his fists clenched till the veins stood out on his forearms. “Calls me a bastard” he muttered to no one in particular, “and puts me in irons for doing my duty. He has n’t heard the last of this, by God! Wait till we get to England! I know my rights, I do!”
We were still on the shortest of short rations, and Adventure Bay offered little in the way of refreshment for our invalids, or food for those of us who were well. Though we drew the seine repeatedly, we caught few fish and those of inferior kinds, and the mussels among the rocks, which at first promised a welcome change in our diet, proved poisonous to those who partook of them. While Mr. Bligh feasted on the wild duck his fowling piece brought down, the ship’s people were half starved and there was much muttering among the officers.
The whole of our fortnight in Adventure Bay was marred by wrangling and discontent. The carpenter was in irons; Fryer and Bligh were scarcely on speaking terms, owing to the master’s suspicions that the captain had lined his pockets in victualing the ship; and just before our departure, Ned Young, one of the midshipmen, was lashed to a gun on the quarter-deck and given a dozen with a colt.
Young had been sent, with three men and the small cutter, to gather shell fish, crabs, and whatever he might find for our sick, who lived in a tent pitched on the beach. They pulled away in the direction of Cape Frederick Henry and did not return till after dark, when Young reported that Dick Skinner, one of the A. B.’s and the ship’s hairdresser, had wandered off into the woods and disappeared.
“Skinner saw a hollow tree,” Young told Mr. Bligh, “which, from the bees about it, he believed to contain a store of honey. He asked my permission to smoke the bees out and obtain their honey for our sick, saying that he had kept bees in his youth and understood their ways. I assented readily, knowing that you, sir, would be pleased if we could obtain the honey, and an hour or two later, when we had loaded the cutter with shellfish, we returned to the tree. A fire still smouldered at its foot, but Skinner was nowhere to be seen. We wandered through the woods and hailed till nightfall, but I regret to report, sir, that we could find no trace of the man.”
I chanced to know that Bligh had called for the hairdresser, requiring his services that very afternoon, and had been incensed at Young when it was learned that Skinner had accompanied him. Now that the man was reported missing, Mr. Bligh was thoroughly enraged.
“Now damn you and all other midshipmen!” roared the captain. “You’re all alike! If you had gotten the honey, you would have eaten it on the spot! Where the devil is Skinner, I say? Take your boat’s crew this instant and pull back to where you saw the man last. Aye, and bring him back this time!”
Young was a man grown. He flushed at the captain’s words, but touched his hat respectfully and summoned his men at once. The party did not return till the following forenoon, having been nearly twenty four hours without food. Skinner was with them this time; he had wandered off in search of another honey tree and become lost in the thick bush.
Bligh paced the quarter-deck angrily as the boat approached. By nature a man who brooded over grudges till they were magnified out of all proportion to reality, the captain was ready to explode the moment Young set foot on deck.
“Come aft, Mr. Young!” he called harshly. “I’m going to teach you to attend to your duty, instead of skylarking about the woods. Mr. Morrison!”
“Come aft here and seize up Mr. Young on that gun yonder! You’re to give him a dozen with a rope’s end.”
Young was an officer of the ship and rated as a gentleman, a proud, fearless man of gentle birth. Though Bligh was within his powers as captain, the public flogging of such a man was almost without precedent in the Service. Morrison’s jaw dropped at the order, which he obeyed with such evidence of reluctance that Bligh shouted at him threateningly, “Look alive, Mr. Morrison! I’ve my eye on you!”
I shall not speak of the flogging of Young, nor tell how Skinner’s back was cut to ribbons with two dozen at the gangway. It is enough to say that Young was a different man from that day on, performing his duties sullenly and in silence, and avoiding the other midshipmen in the berth. He informed me long afterwards that, had events turned out differently, it was his intention to resign from the Service on the ship’s arrival in England, and call Bligh to account as man to man.
On the fourth of September, with a fine spanking breeze at northwest, we weighed anchor and sailed out of Adventure Bay. Seven weeks later, after an uneventful passage made miserable by an outbreak of scurvy and the constant state of starvation to which we were reduced, I saw my first South Sea island.
We had gotten our easting in the high southern latitudes, and once in the trade winds we made a long board to the north on the starboard tack. We were well into the tropics now and in the vicinity of land. Man-of-war hawks hovered overhead, their long forked tails opening and shutting like scissorblades; shoals of flying fish rose under the ship’s cutwater to skim away and plunge into the sea like whiffs of grapeshot. The sea was of the pale turquoise blue only to be seen within the tropics, shading to purple here and there where clouds obscured the sun. The roll of the Pacific from east to west was broken by the labyrinth of low coral islands to the east of us,—the vast cluster of half-drowned lands called by the natives Paumotu, and the Bounty sailed a tranquil sea.
I was off watch that afternoon and engaged in sorting over the articles I had laid in, at the suggestion of Sir Joseph Banks, for barter with the Indians of Tahiti. Nails, files, and fishhooks were in great demand, as well as bits of cheap jewelry for the women and girls. My mother had given me fifty pounds for the purchase of these things, and Sir Joseph had added another fifty to it, advising me that liberality to the Indians would be amply repaid. “Never forget,” he had remarked, “that in the South Sea the Seven Deadly Sins are compounded into one, and that one is meanness.” I had taken this advice to heart, and now, as I looked over my store of gifts, I felt satisfied that I had laid out my hundred pounds to good effect. I had been a lover of fishing since childhood, and my hooks were of all sizes and the best that money could buy. My sea chest was half filled with other things—coils of brass wire, cheap rings, bracelets, and necklaces; files, scissors, razors, a variety of looking-glasses, and a dozen engraved portraits of King George, which Sir Joseph had procured for me. And down in one corner of the chest, safe from the prying eyes of my messmates, was a velvet-lined box from Maiden Lane. It contained a bracelet and necklace, curiously wrought in a design like the sinnet seamen plait. I was a romantic lad, not without my dreams of some fair barbarian girl who might bestow her favours on me. As I look back over the long procession of years, I cannot but smile at a boy’s simplicity, but I would give all my hard earned worldly wisdom to recapture if only for an hour the mood of those days of my youth. I had returned them to my chest when I heard Mr. Bligh’s harsh, vibrant voice. His cabin was scarcely fifteen feet aft or where I sat.
“Mr. Fryer!” he called peremptorily. “Be good enough to step into my cabin.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the master s voice.
I had no desire to eavesdrop on the conversation that followed, but there was no way to avoid it without leaving my open chest in the berth.
“To-morrow or the day after,” said Bligh, “we shall drop anchor in Matavai Bay. I have had Mr. Samuel make an inventory of the stores on hand, which has enabled him to cast up an account of the provisions expended on the voyage so far. I desire you to glance over this book, which requires your signature.”
A long silence followed, broken at last by Fryer’s voice, I cannot sign this, sir,” he said.
“Cannot sign it? What do you mean, sir?”
“The clerk is mistaken, Mr. Bligh. No such amounts of beef and pork have been issued!”
“You are wrong!” answered the captain angrily. “I know what was taken aboard and what remains. Mr. Samuel is right!”
“I cannot sign, sir,” said Fryer obstinately.
“And why the devil not? All that the clerk has done was done by my orders. Sign it instantly! Damme! I am not the most patient man in the world.”
“I cannot sign,” insisted Fryer, a note of anger in his voice; “not in conscience, sir!” “
“But you can sign,” shouted Bligh in a rage; “and what is more, you shall!” He went stamping up the ladderway and on to the deck. “Mr. Christian!” I heard him shout to the officer of the watch. “Call all hands on deck this instant!”
The order was piped and shouted forward and, when we assembled, the captain, flushed with anger, uncovered and read the Articles of War. Mr. Samuel then came forward with his book and a pen and ink.
“Now, sir!” Bligh ordered the master, “sign this book!”
There was a dead silence while Fryer took up the pen reluctantly.
“Mr. Bligh,” he said, controlling his temper with difficulty, “the ship’s people will bear witness that I sign in obedience to your orders, but please to recollect, sir, that this matter may be reopened later on.”
At that moment a long-drawn shout came from the man in the foretop. “Land ho!”
The lookout had sighted Mehetia, a small, high island forty miles to the southeast of Tahiti. I stared ahead, half incredulously, at the tiny motionless projection on the horizon line. The wind died away toward sunset and we were all night working up to the land.
I went off watch at eight bells, but could not sleep; an hour later, perched on the fore-topgallant crosstrees, I watched the new day dawn. The beauty of that sunrise seemed ample compensation for all of the hardships suffered during the voyage: a sunrise such as only the seaman knows, and then only in the regions between the tropics, remote from home. Saving the light, fluffy “fair-weather clouds” just above the vast ring of horizon which encircled us, the sky was clear. The stars paled gradually; as the rosy light grew stronger, the velvet of the heavens faded and turned blue. Then the sun, still below the horizon, began to tint the little clouds in the east with every shade of mother-of-pearl.
An hour later we were skirting the reef, before a light air from the south. For the first time in my life I saw the slender, graceful trunk and green fronds of the far-famed coconut tree, the thatched cottages of the South Sea Islanders, set in their shady groves, and the people themselves, numbers of whom walked along the reef not more than a cable’s length away. They waved large pieces of white cloth and shouted what I supposed were invitations to come ashore, though their voices were drowned in the noise of a surf which would have made landing impossible even had Mr. Bligh hove-to and lowered a boat.
Mehetia is high and round in shape, and not more than three miles in its greatest extent. The village is at the southern end, where there is a tolerably flat shelf of land at the base of the mountain, but elsewhere the green cliffs are steep-to, with the sea breaking at their feet. The white line of the breakers, the vivid emerald of the tropical vegetation covering the mountains everywhere, the rich foliage of the breadfruit trees in the little valleys, and the plumed tops of the coconut palms growing in clusters here and there, made up a picture which enchanted me. The island had the air of a little paradise, newly created, all fresh and dewy in the dawn, stocked with everything needful for the comfort and happiness of man.
The men walking along the shelf of reef at the base of the cliffs were too far away for inspection, but they seemed fine stout fellows, taller than Englishmen. They were dressed in girdles of bark cloth which shone with a dazzling whiteness in the morning sunlight. They were naked except for these girdles, and they laughed and shouted to one another as they followed us along, clambering with great agility over the rocks.
As we rounded the northern end of the island, Smith hailed me from the top. “Look, Mr. Byam!” he shouted, pointing ahead eagerly. There, many leagues away, I saw the outlines of a mighty mountain rising from the sea,—sweeping ridges falling away symmetrically from a tall central peak,—all pale blue and ghostly in the morning light. ,
The breeze was making up now, and the Bounty, heeling a little on the larboard tack, was leaving a broad white wake. When I reached the deck I found Mr. Bligh in a rarely pleasant mood. I bade him good morning, standing to leeward of him on the quarter-deck, and he saluted me with a clap on the back.
“There it is, young man,” he said, pointing to the high ghostly outlines of the land ahead. “Tahiti! We have made a long passage of it, a long hard passage, but, by God, there is the island at last!”
“ It looks a beautiful island, sir,” I remarked.
“Indeed it is—none more so. Captain Cook loved it only next to England; were I an old man, with my work done and no family at home, I should ask nothing better than to end my days under its palms! And you will find the people as friendly and hospitable as the land they inhabit. Aye—and some of the Indian girls as beautiful. We have come a long way to visit them! Last night I was computing the distance we have run by log since leaving England. To-morrow morning, when we drop anchor in Matavai Bay, we shall have sailed more than twenty-seven thousand miles!”
Since that morning, so many years ago, I have sailed all the seas of the world and visited most of the islands in them including the West Indies, and the Asiatic Archipelago. But off all the islands I have seen, none approaches Tahiti in loveliness.
As we drew nearer to the land, with the rising sun behind us there was not a man on board the Bounty who did not aze, ahead with emotions that differed in each case, no doubt, but in which awe and wonder played a part. But I am wrong— there was one. Toward six bells, when we were only a few miles off the southern extremity of the island, Old Bacchus, came stumping on deck. Standing by the mizzenmast, with a hand on a swivel-stock, he stared indifferently for a moment at the wooded precipices, the waterfalls and sharp green peaks, now abeam of the ship. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
“They’re all the same,” he remarked indifferently. “When you’ve seen one island in the tropics, you’ve seen the lot.”
The surgeon went stumping to the ladderway, and, as he disappeared, Mr. Nelson ceased his pacing of the deck to stand at my side. The botanist was a believer in exercise and kept his muscles hard and his colour fresh by walking two or three miles on deck each morning the weather permitted.
“Well, Byam,” he remarked, “I’m glad to be back! Many a time, since my voyage with Captain Cook, I’ve dreamed of revisiting Tahiti, without the faintest hope that the dream might come true. Yet here we are! I can scarcely wait to set foot on shore!”
We were skirting the windward coast of Taiarapu, the richest and loveliest part of the island, and I could not take my eyes off the land. In the foreground, a mile or more offshore, a reef of coral broke the roll of the sea, and the calm waters of the lagoon inside formed a highway on which the Indians travel back and forth in their canoes. Behind the inner beach was the narrow belt of flat land where the rustic dwellings of the people were scattered picturesquely among their neat plantations of the ava and the cloth plant, shaded by groves of breadfruit and coconut. In the background were the mountains—rising fantastically in turrets, spires, and precipices, wooded to their very tops. Innumerable waterfalls plunged over the cliffs and hung like suspended threads of silver, many of them a thousand feet or more in height and visible at a great distance against the background of dark green. Seen for the first time by European eyes, this coast is like nothing else on our workaday planet; a landscape, rather, of some fantastic dream.
Nelson was pointing ahead to a break in the line of reef. “Captain Cook nearly lost his ship yonder,” he said, “when the current set him on the reef during a calm. One of his anchors lies there to this day—there where the sea breaks high. I know this part of the island well. As you can see, Tahiti is made up of two high islands, connected by the low isthmus the Indians call Taravao. This island is the lesser one, called Taiarapu or Tahiti Iti; the great island yonder they call Tahiti Nui. Vehiatua is the king of the smaller island—the most powerful of the Indian princes. His realm is richer and more populous than those of his rivals.”
All through the afternoon we skirted the land, passing the low isthmus between the two islands, coasting the rich verdant districts of Faaone and Hitiaa, and toward evening, as the light breeze died away, moving slowly along the rock-bound coast of Tiarei, where the reef ends and the sea thunders at the base of cliffs.
There was little sleeping aboard the Bounty that night. The ship lay becalmed about a league off the mouth of the great valley of Papenoo, and the faint land breeze, wandering down from the heights of the interior, and out to sea, brought with it the sweet smell of the land and of growing things. We sniffed it eagerly, our noses grown keen from the long months at sea, detecting the scent of strange flowers, of wood smoke, and of Mother Earth herself—sweetest of all smells to a sailor. The sufferers from scurvy, breathing deep of the land breeze, seemed to draw in new life; their apathy and silence left them as they spoke eagerly of the fruits they hoped to eat on the morrow, fruits they craved as a man dying of thirst craves drink.
We sighted Eimeo a little before sunset: the small lofty island which lies to the west of Tahiti, four leagues distant. The sun went down over the spires and pinnacles of Eimeo’s sky line, and was followed into the sea by the thin golden crescent of the new moon. There is little twilight in these latitudes and, almost immediately it seemed to me, the stars came out in a cloudless dome of sky. One great planet, low in the west, sent a shimmering track of light over the sea. I saw the Cross and the Magellanic Clouds in the south, and constellations unknown to dwellers in the Northern Hemisphere, all close and warm and golden against the black sky. A faint burst of song came from the surgeon’s cabin below, where he was carousing with Peckover; every other man on the ship, I be- lieve, was on deck.
All along shore we could see the flare of innumerable torches, where the Indians went about their fishing or traveled from house to house along the beach. The men of the Bounty stood by the bulwarks or on the booms, speaking in low voices and gazing toward the dark loom of the land. A change seemed to come over all of us that night: all unhappiness, all discontent, seemed banished, giving way to a tranquil content and the happiest anticipation of what the morrow would bring. Mr. Bligh himself, walking the deck with Christian, was rarely affable; as they passed me from time to time I overheard snatches of his talk: “Not a bad voyage, eh? …Only four down with scurvy, ’ and we’ll have them right in a week ashore…. The ship’s sound as a walnut…Bad anchorage…We’ll soon shift out of Matavai Bay…A fine place for refreshments…”
I was in the master’s watch, and toward midnight Mr. Fryer chanced to notice me stifling a yawn, for it was many hours since I had slept.
“Take a caulk, Mr. Byam,” he said kindly. “Take a caulk! All’s quiet to-night. I’ll see that you are waked if we need you.”
I chose a place in the shadow of the bitts, just abaft of the main hatch, and lay down on deck, but, though I yawned with heavy eyes, it was long before sleep came to me. When I awoke, the grey light of dawn was in the East.
We had drifted some distance to the west during the night, and now the ship lay off the valley of Vaipoopoo, from which runs the river that empties into the sea at the tip of Point Venus, the most northerly point of Tahiti Nui. It was here that the Dolphin, Captain Wallis, had approached the newly discovered land, and here on this long, low point Captain Cook had set up his observatory to study the transit of the planet which gave the place its name. Far off in the interior of the island, its base framed in the vertical cliffs bordering the valley, rose the tall central mountain called Orohena, a thin sharp pinnacle of volcanic rock which rises to a height of seven thousand feet and is perhaps as difficult to ascent as any peak in the world. Its summit is now touched by the sun, and as the light of day grew stronger, driving the shadows from the valley and illuminating the foothills and the rich smiling coastal land, I fancied that I had never gazed on a scene more pleasing to the eye. The whole aspect of the coast about Matavai Bay was open, sunny, and hospitable.
The entrance to the bay bore southwest by west, little more than a league distant, and a great number of of canoes were now putting out to us. Most of them were small holding only four or five persons; strange-looking craft, with an outrigger on the larboard side and a high stern seeping up in a shape almost semicircular. There were two or three double canoes among them, each holding thirty or more passenger. The Indian craft approached us rapidly. Their paddlers took half a dozen short quick strokes on one side and then, at a signal from the man astern, all shifted to the other side. As the leading canoes drew near, I heard questioning shouts: “Taio? Peritane? Rima which is to say: “Friend? British? Lima?” In the latter case, they were asking whether the Bounty was a Spanish ship from Peru. “Taio!” shouted Bligh, who knew some words of the Tahitian language. “Taio! Peritane!” Next moment the first boatload of Indians came springing over the bulwarks, and I had my first glimpse at close quarters of this far-famed race.
Most of our visitors were men—tall, handsome, stalwart fellows, of a light copper colour. They wore kilts of figured cloth of their own manufacture, light fringed capes thrown over their shoulders and joined at the throat, and turbans of brown cloth on their heads. Some of them, naked from the waist up, displayed the arms and torsos of veritable giants; others, instead of turbans, wore on their heads the little bonnets of freshly plaited coconut leaves they call taumata. Their countenances, like those of children, mirrored every passing mood, and when they smiled, which was often, I was astonished at the whiteness and perfection of their teeth. The few women who came on board at this time were all of the lower orders of society, and uncommonly diminutive as compared with the men. They wore skirts of white cloth falling in graceful folds, and cloaks of the same material to protect their shoulders from the sun, draped to leave the right arm free, and not unlike the toga of the Romans. Their faces were expressive of good nature, kindness, and mirth, and it was easy to perceive why so many of our seamen in former times had formed attachments among girls who seemed to have all the amiable qualities of their sex.
Mr. Bligh had given orders that the Indians were to be treated with the greatest kindness by everyone on board, though watched closely to prevent the thefts to which the commoners among them were prone. As the morning breeze freshened and we worked in toward the entrance with yards braced up on the larboard tack, the hubbub on the ship was deafening. At least a hundred men and a quarter as many women overran the decks, shouting, laughing, gesticulating, and addressing our people in the most animated manner, as if taking for granted that their unintelligible harangues were understood. The seamen found the feminine portion of our visitors so engaging that we had difficulty in keeping them at their stations. The breeze continued to freshen, and before long we sailed through the narrow passage between the westerly point of the reef before Point Venus and the sunken rock called the Dolphin Bank, on which Captain Wallis so nearly lost his ship. At nine in the forenoon we dropped anchor in Matavai Bay, in thirteen fathoms.
A vast throng of visitors set out immediately from the beach in their canoes, but for some time no persons of consequence came on board. I was joking with a party of girls to whom I had given some trifling gifts, when Mr. Bligh’s servant came on deck to tell me that the captain desired to see me below. I found him alone in his cabin, bending over a chart of Matavai Bay.
“Ah, Mr. Byam,” he said, motioning me to sit down on his chest. “I want a word with you. We shall probably lie here for several months while Mr. Nelson collects our young breadfruit plants. I am going to release you from further duties on board so that you may be free to carry out the wishes of my worthy friend, Sir Joseph Banks. I have given the matter some thought and believe that you will best accomplish your task by living ashore among the natives. Everything now depends on your choice of a taio, or friend, and let me advise you to go slowly. Persons of consequence in Tahiti, as elsewhere, do not wear their hearts on their sleeves, and should you make the mistake of choosing a friend among the lower orders of their society, you will find yourself greatly handicapped in your work.”
He paused and I said, “I think I understand, sir.”
“Yes,” he went on. “By all means go slowly. Spend as much time as you wish on shore for a day or two, and when you have found a family to your liking inform me of the fact, so that I may make inquiries as to their standing. Once you have settled on a taio you can move your chest and writing materials ashore. After that I expect to see no more of you except when you report your progress to me once each week.”
He gave me a curt but friendly nod, and perceiving that the interview was at an end, I rose and took leave of him. On deck, Mr. Fryer, the master, beckoned me to him.
“You have seen Mr. Bligh?” he asked, raising his voice to make the words audible in the din. “He informed me last night that on our arrival here you were to be relieved of duty on board the ship. There is nothing to fear from the Indians. Go ashore at any time you wish. You are free to make gifts of your own things to the Indians, but remember—no trading. The captain has placed all of the trading in the hands of Mr. Peckover. You are to make a dictionary of the Indian tongue, I understand?”
“Yes, sir—at the desire of Sir Joseph Banks.”
“A praiseworthy task–a praiseworthy task! Some slight knowledge of the language will no doubt be of great service to future mariners in this sea. And you’re a lucky lad, Mr. Byam, a lucky lad! I envy you, on my word I do!”
At that moment a double canoe, which had brought out a handsome gift of pigs from some chief ashore, cast off from the ship. I was all eagerness to set foot on land. “May I go with those people if they’ll have me?” I asked the master.
“Off with you, by all means. Give them a hail.”
I sprang to the bulwarks and shouted to catch the attention of a man in the stern of one of the canoes, who seemed to be in a position of authority. As I caught his eye, I pointed to myself, then to the canoe, and then to the beach a cable’s length away. He caught my meaning instantly and shouted some order to his paddlers. They backed water so that the high stern of one of the canoes came close alongside, rising well above the Bounty’s bulwarks. As I sprang over the rail and slid down the hollowed-out stern into the canoe, the paddlers, glancing back over their shoulders and grinning at me, raised a cheer. The Indian captain gave a shout, a score of paddles dug into the water simultaneously, and the canoe moved away toward the land.
From One Tree Hill to Point Venus a curving beach of black volcanic sand stretches for about a mile and a half. We were heading for a spot about midway between these two boundaries of Matavai Bay, and I saw that a considerable surf was pounding on the steep beach. As we drew near the breakers the man in the stern of the other canoe snatched up a heavy steering paddle and shouted an order which caused the men to cease paddling while four or five waves passed under us. A dense throng of Indians stood on the beach, awaiting our arrival with eagerness. Suddenly the man beside me began to shout, gripping the haft of his steering paddle strongly.
“A hoe!” he shouted. “Teie te are rahi!” (Paddle! Here is the great wave!) I recollect the words, for I was destined to hear them many times.
The men bent to their work, all shouting together; the canoe shot forward as a wave larger than the others lifted us high in the air and sent us racing for the sands. While the steersman held us stern-on, with efforts that made the muscles of his arms bulge mightily, we sped far up the beach, where a score of willing hands seized our little vessel to hold her against the backwash of the sea. I sprang out as the wave receded and made my way to high-water mark, while rollers were fetched and the double canoe hauled ashore with much shouting and laughter, to be housed under a long thatched shed.
Next moment I was surrounded by a throng so dense that I could scarcely breathe. But the crowd was good-natured and civil as no crowd in England could be; all seemed desirous to welcome me with every sign of pleasure. The clamour was deafening, for all talked and shouted at once. Small children with bright dark eyes clung to their mothers’ skirts and stared at me apprehensively, while their mothers and fathers pushed forward to shake my hand, a form of greeting, as I was to learn with some surprise, immemorially old among the Tahitians.
Then, suddenly as the clamour of voices had begun, it ceased. The people fell back deferentially to make way for a tall man of middle age, who was approaching me with an air of easy authority and good-natured assurance. A murmur ran through the Crowd: “Oh Hitihiti!”
The newcomer was smooth-shaven, unlike most of the Indian men, who wore short beards. His hair, thick and sprinkled with grey, was close-cropped, and his kilt and short fringed cloak were of the finest workmanship and spotlessly clean. He was well over six feet in height, lighter-skinned than the run of his countrymen, and magnificently proportioned; his face, frank, firm, and humorous, attracted me instantly.
This gentleman—for I recognized at a glance that he was of a class different from any of the Indians I had seen hitherto —approached me with dignity, shook my hand warmly, and then, seizing me by the shoulders, applied his nose to my cheek, giving several loud sniffs as he did so. I was startled by the suddenness and novelty of the greeting, but I realized that this must be what Captain Cook and other navigators had termed “nose-rubbing,” though in reality it is a smelling of cheeks, and corresponds to our kiss. On releasing me, my new friend stepped back a pace while a loud murmur of approval went through the crowd. He then pointed to his broad chest and said: “Me Hitihiti! You midshipman! What name?”
I was so taken aback at these words of English that I stared at him for a moment before I replied. The people had evidently been waiting to see what effect the marvelous accomplishment of their compatriot would produce, and my display of astonishment turned out to be precisely what they were hoping for. There were nods and exclamations of satisfaction on all sides, and Hitihiti, now thoroughly pleased with himself and with me, repeated his question, “What name?”
“Byam,” I replied; and he said, “Byam! Byam!” nodding violently, while “Byam, Byam, Byam,” echoed throughout the crowd.
Hitihiti again pointed to his chest. “Fourteen year now,” he said with an air of pride, “me sail Captain Cook!” “Tuté! Tuté!” exclaimed a little old man close by, as if afraid that I might not understand.
“Could I have a drink of water?” I asked, for it was long since I had tasted any but the foul water aboard ship. Hitihiti started, and seized my hand.
He shouted an order to the people about us, which sent some of the boys and young men scampering off inland. He then led me up the steep rise behind the beach to a rustic shed where several young women made haste to spread a mat. We sat own side by side, and the crowd, increasing rapidly as parties of Indians arrived from up and down the coast, seated themselves on the grass outside. A dripping gourd, filled to the brim with clear sparkling water from the brook near by, was handed me, and I drank deep, setting it down half empty with a sigh of satisfaction.
I Was then given a young coconut to drink—my first taste of this cool, sweet wine of the South Sea—and a broad leaf was spread beside me, on which the young women laid ripe bananas and one or two kinds of fruit I had not seen before. While I set to greedily on these delicacies, I heard a shout go up from the crowd, and saw that the Bounty’s launch was coming in through the surf, with Bligh in the stern sheets. My host sprang to his feet. “0 Parai!” he exclaimed, and, as we waited for the boat to land, “You, me, taio, eh?”
Hitihiti was the first of the Indians to greet Bligh, whom he seemed to know well. And the captain recognized my friend at once.
“Hitihiti,” he said as he shook the Indian’s hand, “you’ve grown little older, my friend, though you’ve some grey hairs now.”
Hitihiti laughed. “Ten year, eh? Plenty long time! By God! Parai, you get fat!”
It was now the captain’s turn to laugh, as he touched his waist, by no means small in girth.
“Come ashore,” the Indian went on emphatically “Eat plenty pig! Where Captain Cook? He come Tahiti soon?”
Hitihiti looked at Bligh in astonishment. “Captain Cook your father?” he asked.
“Certainly—did n’t you know that?”
For a moment the Indian chief stood in silent amazement; then, with extraordinary animation, he raised a hand for silence and addressed the crowd. The words were unintelligible to me, but I perceived at once that Hitihiti was a trained orator, and I knew that he was telling them that Bligh was the son of Captain Cook. Mr. Bligh stood close beside me as the chief went on with his harangue.
“I have instructed all of the people not to let the Indians know that Captain Cook is dead,” he said in a low voice. “And I believe that we shall accomplish our mission the quicker for their belief that I am his son.”
While I was somewhat taken aback by this piece of deception, I knew the reverence in which the people of Tahiti held the name of Cook, and perceived that, according to the Jesuitical idea that the end justifies the means, Mr. Bligh was right.
As Hitihiti ceased to speak there was a buzz of excited talk among the Indians, who looked at Bligh with fresh interest, not unmixed with awe. In their eyes, Captain Cook’s son was little less than a god. I took the opportunity to inform Mr. Bligh that Hitihiti had offered to become my taio, and that with his approval I thought well of the idea, since I should be able to communicate to some extent with my Indian friend.
“Excellent,” said the captain with a nod. “He is a chief of consequence on this part of the island, and nearly related to all of the principal families. And, as you say, the English he picked up on board the Resolution should be of great assistance to you in your work.” He turned to the Indian. “Hitihiti!”
“Mr. Byam informs me that you and he are to be friends.”
Hitihiti nodded. “Me, Byam, taio!” ,
“Good!” said Bligh. “Mr. Byam is the son of a chief in his own land. He will have gifts for you, and in return I want you to take him to your house, where he will stop. His work, while we are here, is to learn your language, so that British seamen may be able to converse with your people. Do you understand?”
Hitihiti turned to face me and stretched out an enormous hand. “Taio, eh?” he remarked smilingly, and we shook hands on the bargain.
Presently a canoe was launched to fetch my things from the ship, and that night I slept in the house of my new friend— Hitihiti-Te-Atua-Iri-Hau, chief of Mahina and Ahonu and hereditary high priest of the temple of Fareroi.
An Indian Household
I can still recall vividly our walk that afternoon—from the landing place to Point Venus, and eastward, behind a second long curving beach of sand, on which the sea broke high, to the house of my taio, set on a grassy point, sheltered from the sea by a short stretch of coral reef which supported a beautiful little islet called Motu Au. The islet was not more than a half a cable’s length from shore; its beaches were of snowy coral sand, contrasting with the rich dark green of the tall trees that grew almost to the water’s edge. Between the beach and the islet lay the lagoon—warm blue water, two or three fathoms deep and clear as air.
We walked in constant shade, under groves of breadfruit trees on which the fruit was beginning to ripen. Many of these trees must have been of immense age, from their girth and height; with their broad glossy leaves, smooth bark, and majestic shape, they are among the noblest of all shade trees, and certainly the most useful to mankind. Here and there the slender bole of an old coconut palm rose high in the air; scattered picturesquely, as if at random, among the groves I saw the houses of the Indians, thatched with bright yellow leaves of the palmetto and surrounded by fences of bamboo.
My host, though no more than forty-five, was already many times a grandfather, and as we approached his house, after a walk of little more than half an hour, I heard joyful shouts and saw a dozen sturdy children skipping out to greet him. They halted at sight of me, but soon lost their fear and began to climb up Hitihiti’s legs and examine, inquisitively as monkeys, the strange garments I wore. By the time we came to the door the chief had a small boy on each of his shoulders, and his eldest granddaughter was leading me by the hand. The house was a fine one—sixty feet long by twenty wide, with a lofty, newly thatched roof, and, instead of cables, semicircular extensions at each end, giving the whole an oval shape. Such houses were built only for chiefs. The ends, supported by pillars of old polished coconut wood, were open, and the sides were walled by vertical lathes of bright yellow bamboo, through which the air filtered freely. The floor was of fresh white coral sand, spread with mats at one end on a thick bed of sweet-smelling grass called aretu. Of furniture there was scarcely any: small wooden pillows on the family bed, like tiny tables with four short legs; two or three of the seats used only by chiefs, carved from a single log of hard red wood; and a stand of weapons hanging on one of the pillars which supported the ridgepole, including my host’s ponderous war club.
Hitihiti’s daughter—mother of two of the younger children accompanying us—met us at the door. She was a young woman of twenty-five, with a stately figure and carriage, and the pale golden skin and auburn hair which are not uncommon among this people. These fair Indians were termed ebu; I have seen men and women of this strain—unmixed with European blood—whose eyes were blue. My host smiled at his daughter and then at me.
“O Hina,” he said in introduction. He said something to her in which I distinguished the word taio and my own name. Hina stepped forward with a grave slow smile to shake my hand, and then, taking me by the shoulders as her father had done, she laid her nose to my cheek and sniffed. I reciprocated this Indian kiss, and smelled for the first time the perfume of the scented coconut oil with which the women of Tahiti anoint themselves.
There are perhaps no women in the world—not even the greatest ladies of fashion in Europe—more meticulous in the care of their persons than were the Indian women of the upper class. Each morning and evening they bathed in one of the innumerable clear cool streams, not merely plunging in and out again, but stopping to be scrubbed from head to foot by their serving women with a porous volcanic stone, used as we use pumice in our baths. Their servants then anointed them with monoi–coconut oil, perfumed with the petals of the Tahitian gardenia. Their hair was dried and arranged, a task which required an hour or more; their eyebrows were examined in a mirror which consisted of a blackened coconut shell filled with water, and plucked or shaven with a shark’s tooth, to make the slender arch which was the fashion among them. A servant then brought a supply of powdered charcoal with which the teeth were scrubbed. When they were ready to dress, the skirt, or pareu, which reached from waist to the knees and was of snow-white bark cloth, was adjusted so that each fold hung in a certain fashion. Then came the cloak, which was worn to protect the upper part of the body from sunburn, which the ladies of Tahiti dreaded quite as much as the ladies of the English Court. Each fold of the cloak was arranged just so, and it was ridiculous—to a man, at least—to watch the long efforts of a tirewoman to please her mistress in this respect.
Hina’s manners were as handsome as her person. She had the smiling dignity and perfect assurance only to be found among the highest circles of our own race, a poised urbanity, neither forward not shy. And this is, perhaps, a fitting place to say a word for the Indian ladies, so often and so shamelessly slandered by the different navigators who have visited their island. Captain Cook alone, who knew them best and was their loyal friend, has done them justice, saying that virtue was perhaps as common and as highly prized among them as among our own women at home, and that to form an impression of the ladies of Tahiti from the women who visited his ships would be like judging the virtue of Englishwomen from a study of the nymphs of Spithead. In Tahiti, as in other lands, there are people given over to vice and lewdness, and women of this kind naturally congregated upon the arrival of a ship; but, so far as now, there was also as great a proportion of faithful wives and affectionate mothers as elsewhere, many of whom were a veritable honour to their sex.
The house which was to be my dwelling for many months stood as I have said, on a grassy point, about a mile to the eastward of Point Venus. Either by accident or by design, the site was one that commanded in all directions prospects an artist might have traveled many miles to paint. On the northern side were the beach, the lagoon, and the beautiful little island already mentioned; to the south, or directly inland, was the great valley of Vaipoopoo and a distant glimpse of Orohena, framed in the cliffs of the gorge; to the west lay Point Venus, with the sea breaking high on the protecting reefs; and to the east, facing the sunrise, was a magnificent view of the rocky unprotected coast of Orofara and Faaripoo, where the surges of the Pacific thundered and spouted at the base of stern black cliffs. No doubt because of the beauty of the easterly view at dawn, the name of our point was Hitimahana —the rising of the sun.
A little crowd of the chief’s retainers gathered about us, regarding their patron’s friend with respectful curiosity, and, while Hina gave some order to the cooks, an exceedingly handsome some girl came out of the house and, at a word from my taio, greeted me as is daughter had done. Her name was Maimiti, and she was a niece of my host’s—a proud, shy girl of seventeen.
With a nod to Hina my taio led me to his rustic dining room —a thatched shed in the shade of a clump of ironwood trees, about a hundred yards distant. The floor of coral sand was spread with mats, on which a dozen of the broad fresh leaves of the plantain served as our tablecloth. The men of Tahiti were uncommonly fond of the company of their women, whose position in society was perhaps as high as that of women anywhere. They were petted, courted, permitted no share in any hard labour, and allowed a liberty such as only our own great ladies enjoy. Yet in spite of all this, the Indians believed that Man was sky-descended, and Woman earth-born: Man raa, or holy; Woman noa, or common. Women were not permitted to set foot in the temples of the greater gods, and among all classes of society it was forbidden—unthinkable in fact—for the two sexes to sit down to a meal together. I was surprised to find that Hitihiti and I sat down alone to our dinner, and that no woman had a hand either in the cooking or in the serving of the meal.
We sat facing each other across the cloth of fresh green leaves. A pleasant breeze blew freely through the unwalled house, and the breakers on the distant reef made a murmuring undertone of sound. A serving man brought two coconut shells of water, in which we washed our hands and rinsed our mouths. I felt a sharp hunger, augmented by savoury whiffs of roasting pork from the cookhouse not far off.
We were given baked fish with cooked plantains and bananas; pork fresh from the oven, and certain native vegetables which I had never tasted before; and a great pudding to finish with, served with a sauce of rich, sweet coconut cream. I was only a lad, with the appetite of a midshipman, and I had been many months at sea, but though I did my best to maintain the honour of England by eating enough for three men, my host put me to shame. Long after repletion forced me to halt, Hitihiti continued his leisurely meal, devouring quantities of fish, pork, plantains, and pudding I can only describe as fabulous. At last he sighed and called for water to wash his hands.
“First eat—now sleep,” he said, as he rose. A wide mat was spread for us under an old branching purau tree on the beach. We lay down side by side for the siesta which in Tahiti always follows the midday meal.
This was the beginning of a period of my life on which I look back with nothing but pleasure. I had not a care in the world, save the making of my dictionary, in which I took the keenest interest, and which gave me sufficient occupation to prevent ennui. I lived on the fat of the land, among affectionate friends and amid surroundings of the most exquisite beauty. We rose at dawn, plunged into the river which ran within pistol shot of Hitihiti’s door, ate a light breakfast of fruits, and went about our occupations until the fishing canoes returned from the sea at eleven or twelve o’clock. Then, while the meal was preparing, I had a bath in the sea, swimming across to the islet or sporting in the high breakers further west. After dinner the whole household slept till three or four in the afternoon, when I frequently joined them in excursions to visit their friends. After sundown, when the strings of candlenuts were it, we lay about on mats, conversing or telling stories till one after another dropped off to sleep.
During the voyage out from England I had gone through Dr. Johnson s dictionary, which had been provided for me, marking such words as seemed to me in most common usage in everyday speech. I had then set these down alphabetically— nearly seven thousand in all. My present task was to discover and set down their equivalents in the Indian tongue. I have always loved languages; the study of them has been one of the chief interests of my life, and in my younger days I could pick up a new tongue more readily, perhaps, than most men. If I am blessed with any talent, it is the humble one of the gift of tongues.
The language of Tahiti appealed to me from the first, and with the help of my taio, his daughter, and young Maimiti, I made rapid progress and was soon able to ask simple questions an to understand the replies. It is a strange language and a beautiful one. Like the Greek of Homer, it is rich in words descriptive of the moods of Nature and of human emotions; and, like Greek again, it has in certain respects a precision that our English lacks. To break a bottle is parari; to break a rope, motu; to break a bone, fati. The Indians distinguish with the greatest nicety between the different kinds of fear: fear of a scolding or of being shamed is matau; fear of a dangerous shark or of an assassin, riaria; fear of a spectre must be expressed with still another word. They have innumerable adjectives to express the varying moods of sea and sky. One word describes the boundless sea without land in sight; another the deep blue sea off soundings; another the sea in a calm with a high oily swell. They have a word for the glance which passes between a man and a woman planning an assignation, and another word for the look exchanged by two men plotting to assassinate a third. Their language of the eyes, in fact, is so eloquent and so complete that at times they seem scarcely to need a spoken tongue. They are masters of the downcast eye, the sidelong glance, the direct glance, the raising of the eyebrow, the lift of the chin, and all the pantomime with which they can communicate without those about them being aware of the fact.
I think I may say, in all truth, that I was the first white man to speak fluently the Tahitian tongue, and the first to make a serious attempt to reduce the language to writing. Sir Joseph Banks had provided me with a brief vocabulary, compiled from his own notes and from Captain Cook’s, but as soon as I heard the Indian tongue spoken I realized that, as he had suggested, a new system of orthography must be devised. Since my work was to be done for the benefit of mariners, it seemed better to aim at simplicity than at a high degree of academic perfection, so I devised an alphabet of thirteen letters—five vowels and eight consonants—with which the sounds of the language could be set down fairly well.
Hitihiti spoke the Tahitian language as only a chief could, for the lower orders, as in other lands, possessed vocabularies of no more than a few hundred words. He was interested in my work and of infinite use to me, though, as with all his countrymen, mental effort fatigued him if sustained for more than an hour or two. I overcame this difficulty by making myself agreeable to the ladies, and dividing my work into two parts. From Hitihiti I learned the words pertaining to war, religion, navigation, shipbuilding, fishing, agriculture, and other manly pursuits; from Hina and Maimiti I obtained vocabularies concerning the pursuits and amusements of women.
I opened my chest on the day of my arrival at their house and made my host a present of what I thought would please him and the ladies most. This was the seal on our pledged friendship, but though my files, fishhooks, scissors, and trinkets were received with appreciation, I had the satisfaction of learning, as time went on, that the friendship of an Indian like Hitihiti was not for sale. He and his daughter and his niece were sincerely fond of me, I believe, showing their affection in many unmistakable ways. I must have been an in finite nuisance to them, with my pen and ink and endless questions, but their patient good-humour was equal to my demands. Sometimes Maimiti would throw up her hands in mock despair, and exclaim laughingly: “Let me be! I can think no more!” or the old chief, after an hour’s patient answering of my questions, would say: “Let us sleep, Byam! Take care, or you will crack your head and mine with too much thinking!” But on the next morning they were always ready to help me once more.
Each Sunday I gathered my manuscript together and reported myself on board the Bounty to Mr. Bligh. I must say, in justice to him, that whatever task he undertook was thoroughly performed. He showed the greatest interest in my work, and never failed to run over with me the list of words I had set down during the week. Had his character in other respects been equal to his courage, his energy, and his understanding, Bligh would to-day have his niche in history, among the great seamen of England.
Shortly after the arrival of the Bounty, Mr. Bligh had ordered a large tent pitched near the landing place, and Nelson and his assistant, a young gardener named Brown, were now established on shore, with seven men to help them gather and pot the breadfruit plants.
This tree cannot be propagated from seeds, since it produces none. Mr. Nelson informed me that in his opinion the breadfruit had been cultivated and improved from time immemorial, until—as in the case of the banana–seeds had been entirely eliminated from the fruit. It seems to thrive best when tended by man, and in the neighbourhood of his dwellings. When well grown, the breadfruit tree sends out lateral roots of great length, within a foot or two of the surface of the ground. Should an Indian desire a young tree to plant elsewhere, he has only to dig down and cut one of these roots, which, when separated from the parent tree, immediately sends up a vigorous young plant. When the shoot has reached the height of a man, it is ready to be transplanted, which is done by first cutting it back to a height of about a yard, and then digging down to cut off a small section of the root. Planted in suitable soil and watered from time to time, not one in a hundred of the young trees will fail to grow.
Nelson took long walks daily, scouring the districts of Mahina and Pare for young plants already well grown. The chiefs had ordered their subjects to give Nelson all he asked for, as a present to be sent to King George in return for the gifts the Bounty had brought from England.
The Bounty’s people who remained on board seemed to have forgotten for the time being their captain’s severities and the hardships of our long voyage. Discipline was relaxed; the men were allowed to go frequently on shore; and except for the surgeon every man of them had his Indian taio, and nearly every one his Indian lass. Tahiti was in those days a veritable paradise to the seaman—one of the richest islands in the world, with a mild and wholesome climate, abounding in every variety of delicious food, and inhabited by a race of gentle and hospitable barbarians. The humblest A. B. in the forecastle might enter any house on shore, assured of a welcome. And as regards the possibilities of dissipation, to which seamen are given in every port, the island could only be described as a Mohammedan paradise.
When I had been about a fortnight at my taio’s house I was agreeably surprised one morning to receive a visit from some of my shipmates, who came around from Matavai Bay in a double canoe. She was paddled by a dozen or more Indians, and three white men sat in the stern. My host had gone aboard the Bounty that day to dine with Bligh, and I stood on the beach as the canoe approached, with Hina, Maimiti, and Hina’s husband a young chief named Tuatau. As the canoe rose on a wave I saw that the two white men facing me were Christian and Peckover, and a moment later I was amazed to see Old Bacchus on the thwart aft of them. A wave reared up behind the little vessel, the Indians dashed their paddles into the water and the canoe swept forward and ran far up the beach.
The surgeon sprang over the gunwale and came stumping up to greet me, his wooden leg sinking deep into the sand 1 had on only a girdle of the native cloth. and my shoulders were burned brown by the sun.
“Well, Byam,” said Bacchus as he shook my hand, “damme if I did n’t think you an Indian at first! Time I was going ashore, I thought, and where should I go if not to pay you a visit my lad! So I bottled off a dozen of Teneriffe wine.“ He turned to the gunner, who stood by the canoe. “Hey, Peckover,” he called solicitously, “tell them to be easy with that hamper—should any of the bottles be broken, it would mean another trip to the ship.”
Christian gave me a handshake, with a glint of amusement in his eyes, and we waited while the surgeon and Peckover superintended the unloading of a large hamper of wine. Presently a native came staggering up the beach with it, and I introduced my shipmates to my Indian friends. Hina and her husband led the way to the house, and we followed. Maimiti walking with Christian and me. I had liked Christian from the moment when I first set eyes on him, but it was not until we reached Tahiti that I came to know him well. He was a stalwart, handsome man, and more than once. during the short walk to the house, I saw young Maimiti give him a sidelong glance.
When we were seated on mats on Hitihiti’s cool verandah, Old Bacchus motioned the men to set down the hamper of wine. Still panting from the exertion of his walk, he fumbled for his snuffbox, pulled up his sleeve, laid a train of snuff on his polished forearm, and sniffed it up in a twinkling. Then, after a violent sneeze or two and a flourish of his enormous handkerchief, he reached into his coat tails and produced a corkscrew.
He and Peckover were soon well under way on a morning’s carouse, and Tuatau loth to leave them while the wine held out, so Christian, Maimiti, Hina, and I walked away up the beach, leaving the preparations of our dinner to Hitihiti’s numerous cooks. The morning was warm and calm, and we were glad to walk in the shade of the tall ironwood trees that fringed the sands. A river little larger than an English brook flowed into the sea about a mile east of the house, ending in a clear deep pool close to the beach. Gnarled cold hibiscus trees arched together overhead, and the sun, filtering through their foliage, cast changing patterns of light and shade on the still water. The two girls retreated into the underbrush and soon stepped out clad in light girdles of glazed native cloth, which is nearly waterproof. No women in the world are more modest than the ladies of Tahiti, but they bare their breasts as innocently as an Englishwoman shows her face. Standing beside me on the bank, clad in a native kilt which showed his own stalwart figure to the best advantage, Christian glanced up at them and caught his breath.
“My God, Byam!” he said in a low voice.
Slenderly and strongly made, in the first bloom of young womanhood, and with her magnificent dark hair unbound, Maimiti made a picture worth traveling far to behold. She stood for a moment with a hand on the elder woman’s shoulder, and then, gathering her kilt about her, she ran nimbly up a gnarled limb that overhung the deep water. Poising herself for an instant high above the pool, she sprang into the water with a merry shout, and I saw her swimming with slow easy strokes along the bottom, two fathoms deep. Christian, a capital swimmer, went in head first, and Hina followed him with a great splash. For an hour or more we frolicked in the pool, startling shoals of small speckled fish like trout, and making the cool green tunnel overhead echo with laughter.
The Indians of Tahiti rarely bathe in the sea except when a great surf is running. At such times the more daring among the men and women delight in a sport they call horue— swimming out among the great breakers with a light board about a fathom long, and choosing their moment to come speeding in, a quarter of a mile or more, on the crest of a high feathering sea. Their daily bathing is done in the clear cool streams which flow down from the mountains everywhere, and though they bathe twice, and often three times each day, they look forward to the next bath as though it were the first in a month. Men, women, and children bathe together with a great hubbub of shouting and merriment, for this is the social hour of their day, when friends are met, courtships carried on, and gossip and news exchanged.
After our bath we dried ourselves in the sun, while the girls combed out their hair with combs of bamboo, curiously carved. Christian was a gentleman, and very far from a rake, though of a warm and susceptible temperament. He lagged behind with young Maimiti while we walked back to the house, and once, turning my head by chance, I saw that the two were walking hand in hand. They made a handsome couple—the young English seaman and the Indian girl. The kindly fate which veils the future from us gave me no inkling of what lay in store for these two—destined to face together, hand in hand as I saw them now, long wanderings and suffering, and tragedy. Maimiti cast down her eyes, while a blush suffused her clear olive cheeks with crimson, and strove gently to release her hand; but Christian held her fast, smiling at me.
“Every sailor must have his sweetheart,” he said, half lightly and half in earnest, “and I’ve found mine. I’ll stake my life there’s not a truer lass in all these islands!”
Hina smiled gravely and touched my arm as a hint to leave Christian to his courting. She had liked him at first sight, and knew his rank on board. And thanks to the uncanny fashion in which news of every sort spreads among the people of Tahiti, she knew that he had had no traffic with the women who infested the ship.
Christian And Bligh
From the day of his meeting with Maimiti, Christian missed no opportunity of visiting us, arriving by day or by night as his duties on board the Bounty permitted. The Indians, who felt no need of unbroken sleep, were frequently up and about during the night, and often made a meal at midnight when the fishers returned from the reef. Old Hitihiti oftentimes awakened me merely from a desire to converse, or when he suddenly recollected some word which had escaped his memory during the day. I grew accustomed to this casual and broken sleep, and learned, like my host, to make up during the afternoon for what was lost at night.
Christian was soon accepted by the household as the avowed lover of Maimiti. He seldom came without some little gifts for her and the others, and his visits were anticipated with eager pleasure. He was a man of moods; at sea I had seen him stern, reticent, and almost intimidating for a fortnight at a time. Then all at once he would unbend, shake off his preoccupation, and become the heartiest and gayest of companions. No man knew better how to make himself agreeable to others when he chose; his sincerity, his education, which went beyond that of most sea officers of the time, and the charm of his manner combined to win the respect of men and women alike. And the ardour of his nature, his handsome person and changing moods, made him what women call a romantic man.
One night, when I had been about six weeks at the house of Hitihiti, I was awakened gently in the Indian fashion by a hand on my shoulder. The flare of a candlenut made a dim light in the house, and I saw Christian standing over me, with his sweetheart at his side.
“Come down to the beach, Byam,” he said; “they have built a fire there. I have something to tell you.”
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I followed them out of the house, to where a fire of coconut husks burned bright and ruddy. The night was moonless and the sea so calm that the breakers scarcely whispered on the sand. Mats were spread around the fire, and Hitihiti’s people lay about, conversing in low voices while fish roasted on the coals.
Christian sat down, his back to the bole of a coconut palm and an arm about Maimiti’s waist, while I reclined near by. I knew at the first glance that his gaiety of the weeks past had been succeeded by one of his sombre moods.
“I must tell you,” he said slowly, at the end of a long silence, “Old Bacchus died last night.”
“Good God!” I exclaimed …“What…”
“He died, not of drink, as might have been supposed, but of eating a poisonous fish. We purchased about fifty pounds of fish from a canoe that came in from Tetiaroa, and your mess had a string of them fried for dinner yesterday. They were of a bright red colour and different from the others. Hayward, Nelson, and Morrison were close to death for six hours, but they are better now. The surgeon died at eight bells, four hours ago.”
“Good God!” I repeated stupidly and mechanically.
“He will be buried in the morning, and Mr. Bligh bids you to be on hand.”
At first the news dazed me and I did not realize the full extent of the loss; little by little the fact that Old Bacchus was no longer of the Bounty’s company came home to me.
“A drunkard,” said Christian musingly, as if to himself, “but beloved by all on board. We shall be the worse off for his death.”
Maimiti turned to me, and in the ruddy firelight I saw glistening in her eyes the easy tears of her race. “Ua mate te ruau awe hoe,” she said sorrowfully. (The old man with one leg is dead.)
“I have been many years at sea,” Christian went on “and I can tell you that the welfare of men on shipboard depends on things which seem small. A joke at the right moment, a kind word, or a glass of grog is sometimes more efficacious than the cat-of-nine-tails. With the surgeon gone, life on the Bounty will not be what it was.”
Christian spoke no more that night, but sat gazing into the fire, a sombre expression in his eyes. Maimiti, a silent girl, laid her head on his shoulder and fell asleep, while he stroked her hair tenderly and absently. I lay awake for a long time, thinking of Old Bacchus and of the trick of fate which had so abruptly closed his career, on a heathen island, twelve thousand miles from England. Perhaps his jovial shade would be well content to haunt the moonlit groves of Tahiti, where the sea he loved was only a pistol shot away—its salt smell in the air and the thunder of its breakers sounding day and night. And he had died on shipboard, as he would have desired, safe from the dreaded years of retirement on shore. Christian was right I thought; without Old Bacchus, life on the Bounty could not be the same.
We buried him on Point Venus, close to where Captain Cook had set up his observatory twenty years before. There was some delay in getting the consent of Teina, the great chief whom the English had believed to be king of Tahiti and who was the first of the Pomares. At last all was arranged, and the Indians themselves dug the grave, laying it out very exactly east and west. It was not until four o’clock in the afternoon that Old Bacchus was laid to rest, Bligh reading the burial service and a great crowd of Indians—silent, attentive and respectful—surrounding us. When the captain and the Bounty’s people had gone on board to see to the auctioning of the dead man’s effects, Nelson and Peckover remained on shore, the former still pale and shaken from fish poisoning. The Indians had dispersed, and only the three of us lingered by the new grave, covered with slabs of coral in the Indian style.
Nelson cleared his throat and drew from a bag he carried three glasses and a bottle of Spanish wine. “We were his best friends on board,” he said to Peckover, “you and Byam and I. I think it would please him if we added one small ceremony to the burial service Captain Bligh read so well.” The botanist cleared his throat once more, handed us the glasses, and uncorked his bottle of wine. Then, baring our heads, we drank in silence to Old Bacchus, and when the bottle was empty we broke our glasses on the grave.
The relaxation of discipline which had followed the hardships of the Bounty’s long voyage now came to an end as Bligh’s harsh and ungovernable temper once more began to assert itself. I saw something of what was going on during my visits to the ship, and learned more from Hitihiti and Christian, who gave me to understand that there was much murmuring on board.
Each man on the ship, as I have said, had his Indian friend, who felt it his duty to send out to his taio frequent gifts of food. The seamen quite naturally regarded this as their own property, to be disposed of as they wished, but Bligh soon put an end to such ideas by announcing that all that came on board belonged to the ship, to be disposed of as the captain might direct. It was hard for a seaman whose taio had sent out a fine fat hog of two or three hundredweight to see it seized for ship’s stores, and to be forced to dine on a small ration of poor pork issued by Mr. Samuel. Even the master’s hogs were seized, though Bligh had at the moment forty of his own.
I witnessed unpleasant scenes of this kind one morning when I had gone on board to wait upon Mr. Bligh. The captain had gone ashore and was not expected for some time, so I loitered by the gangway, watching the canoes put out from shore. Young Hallet, the petulant and sickly-looking midshipman whom I liked least of those in the berth, was on duty to see that no provisions were smuggled on board, and he stepped to the gangway as a small canoe, paddled by two men, came alongside Tom Ellison, the youngest of the seamen and the most popular with all hands, was in the bow of the canoe. He dropped his Paddle, clambered up the ship’s side, touched his forelock to Hallet, and leaned down to take the gifts his taio handed to him. They were a handful of the Indian apples called vi, a fan, with a handle made of a whale’s tooth, curiously carved; and a bundle of the native cloth. The Indian grinned up at Ellison, waved his hand, and paddled away. Hallet stooped to take up the apples laid on deck, and began to eat one, saying, I must have these, Ellison.”
“Right, Sir.” Said Ellison, though I could see that he regretted his fruit. “You’ll find them sweet!”
“And this fan,” said the midshipman, taking it from Ellison’s hand. Will you give it to me?”
I cannot, sir. It comes from a girl. You’ve a taio of your own.”
“He pays me no attention these days. What have you there?”
“A bundle of tapa cloth.”
Hallet stooped to feel the thick bundle and gave the seaman an evil smile. “It feels uncommonly like a sucking pig. Shall I call Mr. Samuel? Ellison flushed and the other went on, without giving him time to reply, “See here! A bargain— the fan’s mine, and I say nothing about the pig.”
Without a word, the young seaman snatched up his bundle and strode off to the forecastle in a rage, leaving the fan in his superior’s hands. I was about to utter angry words when Samuel, the captain’s clerk, walked aft. Hallet stopped him. “Do you want a bit of tender pork?” he asked in a low voice. “Then go to the forecastle. I suspect that Ellison has a sucking pig wrapped up in a bale of the Indian cloth!” Samuel gave him a nod and a knowing leer, and passed. I stepped forward.
“You little swine!” I said to Hallet.
“You have been spying on me, Byam!” he squeaked.
“And if you were not such a contemptible little sneak, I’d do more than that!”
The captain’s boat was approaching. and, swallowing my anger, I began to prepare the manuscript of my week’s work for his inspection. Half an hour later, when the interview with Bligh was over and we came on deck, I found Christian at the gangway, to receive a gift of provisions and other things sent out by Maimiti, a great landowner in her own right.
There were a brace of fat hogs, as well as taro plantains, and other vegetables; fine mats, Indian cloaks and a pair of handsome pearls from the Low Islands. Bligh strolled to the gangway, and, seeing the hogs, called for Samuel and ordered him to take them over for ship’s stores. Christian flushed.
“Mr. Bligh,” he said, “I meant these hogs for my own mess.”
“No!” answered the captain harshly. He glanced at the mats and cloaks, which Christian was about to send below. “Mr. Samuel.“ he went on, “take charge of these Indian curiosities, which may ’be useful for trading in other groups.”
“One moment, sir,” protested Christian. “These things were given me for members of my family in England.“
Instead of replying, the captain turned away contemptuously toward the gang. Maimiti’s servant was handing up to Christian a small package done up in the tapa cloth. “Pearls,” said the man in the Indian tongue. . My mistress sends them to you, to be given your mother in England.” Still deeply flushed with anger, Christian took the package from the man’s hand.
“Did he say pearls?” put in Bligh. “Come—let me see them¡‘
Samuel craned his neck and I admit that I did the same. Reluctantly, and in angry silence, Christian unwrapped the small package to display a matched pair of pearls as large as gooseberries, and of the most perfect orient. Samuel, a London Jew, permitted himself an exclamation of astonishment. After a moment’s hesitation, Bligh spoke.
“Give them to Mr. Samuel,” he ordered. “Pearls are highly prized in the Friendly Islands.”
“Surely, sir,” exclaimed Christian angrily, “you do not mean to seize these as well! They were given me for my mother!”
“Deliver them to Mr. Samuel,” Bligh repeated.
“I refuse!” replied Christian, controlling himself with a great effort.
He turned away abruptly, closing his hand on the pearls, and went below. A glance passed between the captain and his clerk, but though Bligh’s hands were clasping and unclasping behind his back, he said no more.
It was not hard to imagine the feelings of the Bounty’s people at this time—rationed in the midst of plenty, and treated like smugglers each time they returned from shore. There must have been much angry murmuring in the forecastle, for the contrast between life on shore and life on the ship was oversharp. I had a home and my mother to return to, but the seamen could look forward to nothing in England save the prospect of the press gang, or begging on the Portsmouth streets. It seemed to me that if Mr. Bligh continued as he had begun, we should soon have desertions or worse.
Going on board to report myself one morning in mid-January, I found the captain pacing the quarter-deck in a rage. I stood to leeward of him for some time before he noticed me, and then, catching his eye, I saluted him and said, “Come on board, sir.”
“Ah, Mr. Byam,” he said, coming to a halt abruptly. “I cannot run over your work to-day; we’ll put it off till next week. The ship’s corporal and two of the seamen—Muspratt and Millward—have deserted. The ungrateful scoundrels shall suffer for this when I get my hands on them! They took the small cutter and eight stand of arms and ammunition. I have just learned that they left the cutter not far from here and set out for Tetiaroa in a sailing canoe.” Mr. Bligh paused, his face set sternly, and seemed to reflect. “Has your taio a large canoe?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“In that case I shall put the pursuit in your hands. Ask for Hitihiti’s canoe and as many of his men as you think necessary, and sail for Tetiaroa to-day. The wind is fair. Secure the men without using force if you can, but secure them! Churchill may give you some trouble. Should you find that they are not on the island, return to-morrow if the wind permits.”
When I had taken leave of the captain, I found Stewart and Tinkler in the berth.
“You’ve heard the news, of course,” said Stewart.
“Yes; Mr. Bligh told me, and I’ve the task of catching the men.”
Stewart laughed. “By God! I don’t envy you!”
“How did they make off with the cutter?” I asked.
“Hayward was mate of the watch, and was fool enough to take a caulk. The men stole away with the cutter while he slept. Bligh was like a madman when he learned it. He’s put Hayward in irons for a month, and threatens to have him flogged on the day of his release!”
An hour later I found Hitihiti at the house, and told him of my orders and of the captain’s request for the loan of his large sailing canoe. He agreed at once to let me have her, with a dozen of his men, and insisted on accompanying the expedition himself.
My host’s vessel was of the kind called va’a motu—a single sailing canoe, about fifty feet long and two foot beam. On the larboard side, at a distance of about a fathom from the hull, was a long outrigger, or float, made fast to cross booms fore and aft, which crossed the gunwales and were lashed fast to them. Her mast was tall and strongly stayed, and her great sail of closely woven matting was bordered with a light frame of saplings.
I watched idly while Hitihiti’s retainers rolled the vessel out from her shed where she was kept, carefully oiled and chocked high above the ground. They fetched the mast and stepped it, and set up the standing rigging all ataut. Then, in their leisurely fashion, the women of the household fetched bunches of newly husked drinking nuts and other provisions for the voyage. The men seemed to look forward eagerly to the expedition— a break in the dreamy monotony of their lives. Counting on taking the deserters by surprise, they seemed to have no fear of the muskets, but Hitihiti asked me with some concern if I were sure that Churchill and his companions had no pistols. When I assured him that the deserters were not provided with pistols, he brightened at once, and began to speak of the voyage.
We sailed at two o’clock in the afternoon, with a fresh easterly breeze on the beam. Tetiaroa lies almost due north of Matavai, about thirty miles distant. It is a cluster of five low coral islands, set here and there on the reef which encircles a lagoon some four miles across, and is the property of what mariners call the royal family—that of the great chief Teina, or Pomare. It is the fashionable watering place for the chiefs of the north end of Tahiti; they repair to its shady groves to recover from the ravages of the ava with which they constantly intoxicate themselves, and to live on a light wholesome diet of coconuts and fish. And to Tetiaroa also repair the pori—the young girls, one from each district of Tahiti, who are placed on stone platforms at certain times of the year where they may be admired and compared with their competitors by passers-by. In Tetiaroa, these pori are fed on a special diet, kept in the shade to bleach their skins, and constantly rubbed with the perfumed mollifying oil called moni; and I must do the old women who care for them the justice to remark that the whole of Europe might be searched without finding a score of young females lovelier than the pori I saw on one small coral island.
As we bore away for Tetiaroa I began to appreciate the qualities of Hitihiti’s canoe. Amidships, a long, heavy plank, adzed out of a breadfruit tree, extended from the outrigger float, across the gunwales, and well outboard on the weather side. Four or five of the heaviest men of our crew now took their places on this plank, well out to windward, t0 prevent us from capsizing in the gusts. Two other men were employed constantly in bailing, as the canoe tore through the waves at a speed of not less than twelve knots. The Bounty sailed well, as ships went in those days, but Hitihiti’s little vessel would have sailed two miles to her one. The chief and I sat side by side on a seat in her high stern, well above the spray which flew over her bows as she sliced through the the waves.
At considerable hazard we ran our canoe over the reef and into the calm waters of the Tetiaroa lagoon. There we were soon surrounded by small canoes and swimmers, all eager to impart some information of importance: the deserters, fearing pursuit, had set sail two or three hours before, some thought for Eimeo, others for the west side of Tahiti. The wind was dying away, as it does toward sunset in this region, and since darkness would soon set in and we had no certain knowledge of Churchill’s destination, Hitihiti deemed it best to spend the night on Tetiaroa, and return to Bligh with our news when the morning breeze made up.
I shall not forget the night I spent on the coral island. The Indians of Tahiti are by nature a people given over to levity, passionately devoted to pleasure, and incapable of those burdens of the white man—worry and care. And in Tetiaroa, their watering place, they seemed to cast aside whatever light cares of family and state they feel when at home, and pass the time in entertainments of every kind, by night and by day. Relieved of his mission, which I am convinced he would have done his utmost to accomplish under other circumstances, Hitihiti now seemed to forget everything but the prospects of entertainment ashore, directing his paddlers to make at once for the nearest islet, called Rimatuu.
Three or four chiefs and their retinues were on the islet at the time, and, as its area was no more than five hundred acres, the place seemed densely populated. We were lodged at the house of a famous warrior named Poino, whose recent excesses in drinking the ava had nearly cost him his life. He lay on a pile of mats, scarcely able to move, his skin scaling off and green as verdigris, but Hitihiti informed me that in a month he would be quite restored. Several of Poino’s relatives had accompanied him to Tetiaroa, and among them was a young girl, a member of the great Vehiatua family of Taiarapu, in charge of two old women. I had a glimpse of her in the distance as we supped, but thought no more of the young lady till after nightfall, when I was invited to see a heiva, or Indian entertainment.
Strolling with Hitihiti through the groves, we saw the flare of torchlight some distance ahead, and heard the beating of the small drums—a hollow, resonant sound with a strange measure. My friend’s head went up and his step quickened. Ahead of us, in a large clearing, there was a raised platform of hewn blocks of coral, about which no less than two or three hundred spectators were seated on the ground. The scene was brightly illuminated by torches of coconut leaves, bound in long bundles and held aloft by serving men, who lighted fresh ones as fast as the old burned out. As we took our places, two clowns, called faaata, were finishing a performance which raised a gale of laughter, and as they stepped off the platform six young women, accompanied by four drummers, trooped on to perform. These girls were of the lower order of society, and their dance was believed by the Indians to ensure the fertility of the crops. The dress of the dancers consisted of no more than a wreath of flowers and green leaves about their waists, and the dance itself, in which they stood in two lines of three, face to face, was of a nature so unbelievably wanton that no words could convey the least idea of it. But if the clowns had raised a gale of laughter, the dance raised a hurricane. Hitihiti laughed as heartily as the rest—the antics of one girl, in fact, brought the tears to his eyes and caused him to slap his thigh resoundingly. Presently the dance was over and, in the pause that followed, my taio informed me that we were now to see a dance of a very different kind.
The second group of dancers came through the crowd, which parted right and left before them, each girl escorted by two old women and announced by a herald, who shouted her name and titles as she stepped on to the platform. All were dressed alike and very beautifully, in flowing draperies of snow white Indian cloth, and the curious headdresses called tamau. They carried fans, with handles curiously carved, and over their breasts they wore plates of pearl shell, polished till they gleamed like mirrors, and tinted with all the colors of the rainbow. Selected for their beauty, nurtured with the greatest care, kept constantly in the shade, and beautified with the numerous Indian cosmetics, these girls were of the most exquisite loveliness. Poino’s young relative, the second to be announced, caused a murmur of admiration among the spectators.
Like all the Indians of the upper class, she was a full head taller than the commoners. Her figure was of the most perfect symmetry, her skin smooth and blooming as an apricot, and her dark lustrous eyes set wide apart in a face so lovely that I caught my breath at sight of her. While the herald announced her long name, and longer list of titles, she stood facing us, her eyes cast down proudly and modestly. Judging that the announcement was unintelligible to me, Hitihiti leaned over and whispered the girl’s household name. ’ “Tehani,” he announced in my car, which is to say “The Darling,” a name by no means inappropriate, I thought. The hura is danced in couples, and next moment Tehani and the first girl began to dance. The measure is slow, stately, and of great beauty, the movements of the arms, in particular, being wonderfully graceful and performed in the most exact time. When Tehani and her companion retired from the stage, amid hearty applause, they were succeeded by a brace of clowns, whose antics kept us laughing till the next pair of girls was ready to dance. But I scarcely noticed the other performers, for I was eager to return to the house, whither I knew Tehani had been led. It was fortunate for my work and my peace of mind, I thought somewhat ruefully, that she was not a member of Hitihiti’s household, yet I knew that I would have given anything I possessed to have had her there. But I was not destined to see her again in Tetiaroa, for her two old duennas guarded her closely in a small separate house.
We sailed about two hours after sunrise, with the east wind abeam, and I was able to make my report to Mr. Bligh the same afternoon. The deserters were not apprehended till nearly three weeks later, when they gave themselves up, worn out by guarding against the constant attempts of the Indians to capture them. Churchill was given two dozen lashes, and Muspratt and Millward four dozen each.
The Bounty had at this time been shifted to a new anchorage in the harbour of Toaroa, where she was moored close to the shore. It had been Bligh’s intention to have Hayward flogged with the deserters, and on the morning of the punishment, happening to be on board, I saw Hayward’s taio, a chief named Moana, standing on deck with a sullen and gloomy face. But at the last moment the captain changed his mind and ordered Hayward below, to serve out the balance of his month in irons. On the same night an incident occurred which might have caused the loss of the ship and left us marooned among the Indians without the means of returning to England. The wind blew fresh from northwest all night, directly on shore, and at daybreak it was discovered that two strands of the small bower cable had been cut through, and that only one strand was holding the Bounty off the rocks. Mr. Bligh made a great to-do about the affair, but it was not till sometime afterwards that I learned the truth of it.
Hitihiti told me that Moana, Hayward’s taio, was so incensed at the prospect of seeing the midshipman flogged that he had gone aboard that morning with a loaded pistol concealed under his cloak, planning to shoot Mr. Bligh through the heart before the first stroke of the cat could be delivered. Seeing his taio escape a flogging, but sent below to be confined, Moana conceived the idea of releasing his friend by wrecking the ship. He sent one of his henchmen to sever the cable under cover of night, and had the man performed his task properly the ship would infallibly have been lost.
I reflected for some time on Hitihiti’s words, and finally, considering the incident closed and knowing that the cables were now watched with extra care throughout the night, I came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to inform Mr. Bligh of what I had learned. To tell him would only have increased his harshness to Hayward, and caused trouble with Moana, a powerful chief.
Toward the end of March it became evident to all hands that the Bounty would soon set sail. More than a thousand young breadfruit trees, in pots and tubs, had been taken on board, and the great cabin aft resembled a botanical garden with the young plants standing thick in their racks, all in a most flourishing condition, their foliage of the richest dark green. Great quantities of pork had been salted down, under the captain’s direction, and a large sea store of yams laid in. Only Mr. Bligh knew when we would sail, but it was clear that the day of departure could not be far off.
I confess that I felt no eagerness to leave Tahiti. No man could have lived with so kind a host as Hitihiti without becoming deeply attached to the old man and his family, and my work on the Indian language interested me more each day. I was now able to carry on ordinary conversations with some fluency, though I knew enough to realize that a real mastery of this complex tongue would require years. The vocabulary I had planned was now complete and had been many times revised as I perceived mistakes, and I had made good progress on the grammar. Leading a life of the most delightful ease and tranquillity, and engaged on a congenial task in which I felt that I was making some headway, it is not to be wondered at that for days at a time I scarcely gave England a thought. Had it not been for my mother, I believe that I might have been content to settle down to a long period of the Indian life, and had I been assured that another vessel would touch at Tahiti within six months or a year, I should certainly have asked Mr. Bligh’s permission to stop over and complete my work.
Christian, whom I had grown to know well, disliked the thought of departure as much as I. His attachment to Maimiti was of the tenderest description, and I knew how he must dread the final parting from her. Of the midshipmen, Stewart was as deeply attached to his Indian sweetheart as Christian himself. Young was constantly in the company of a girl called Taurua, the Indian name for the evening star. Stewart called his sweetheart Peggy; she was the daughter of a chief of some consequence on the north end of the island, and devotedly attached to him.
A day or two before the Bounty sailed, Christian, Young, and Stewart strolled up the beach to call on me, accompanied by Alexander Smith, my hammock man. Smith had formed an alliance with a short, dark, lively girl of the lower orders, who loved him in the robust fashion of a sailor’s lass. He called her Bal’hadi, which was as close as his honest English tongue could twist itself to Paraha Iti, her true name.
We had been so long in Tahiti, and my shipmates had been so constantly in the company of the natives, that many of them were able to make themselves understood to some extent in the Indian language. Stewart spoke it remarkably well; Young was too indolent and Smith too thoroughly British to acquire a foreign tongue. Smith, like so many of his class at home, believed that if English were spoken slowly and in a loud voice, it must be a stupid foreigner indeed who could fail to understand.
As my visitors from the Bounty approached the house I knew instinctively that Christian had news for me, but he had been so much among the Indians that he had acquired some notion of their ceremonial ideas of politeness, which demand a decent interval of light conversation before any important announcement is made.
Maimiti greeted her lover affectionately, and old Hitihiti had mats spread for us in the shade and ordered drinking coconuts to be fetched. My host had asked me, as a last favour, to have made for him a model of the Bounty’s launch, which he admired greatly. He believed that with the aid of this model his native shipwrights would be able to build a boat, since I had explained to him the process of warping a plank. I had entrusted the model making to Smith, who had completed the task in less than a week, with every dimension true to scale. He walked behind the others, followed by Bal’hadi, who carried the model on her shoulder. Hitihiti’s face lit up at sight of it.
“Now I shall start my boat,” he said to me in the native tongue. “You have kept your word and I am well content!”
“Let him remember,” said Smith, “a foot to the inch and he can’t go wrong, I’ll warrant!”
He handed the model to Hitihiti, who took it with every sign of pleasure and gave me an order to one of his servants, who soon appeared leading a pair of fine hogs.
“They are for you, Smith,” I explained, but my hammock man shook his head regretfully.
“No use, sir,” he said. “Mr. Bligh won’t let us keep the pigs our taios send on board. But if the old chief would give me a sucking pig, me and my lass could cook and eat it in no time. He smacked his lips and gave me a hopeful glance.
Hitihiti smiled with pleasure at the request and directed that Smith should go with one of the Indians to pick out the pig that pleased him best. A few minutes later the seaman passed us, his sweetheart at his side and a squealing young porker under his arm. They disappeared into a thicket near the beach, and presently we heard louder squeals, followed by silence, and saw a column of smoke rising above the trees. I have a fancy that the Indian law which prohibited women from dining with men was broken that day.
Reclining in the shade and drinking the sweet milk of young coconuts, we had been gossiping idly with the girls, and presently Christian glanced up and caught my eye.
“I have news for you, Byam,” he said. “We are to set sail on saturday. Mr. Bligh bids you come on board on Friday night.
As if she understood the words, Maimiti looked at me sorrowfully, took her lover’s hand and held it tight. “Bad news for me, at any rate,” Christian went on. “I have been very happy here.”
“And for me,” put in Stewart, with a glance at his Peggy.
Young yawned. “I ’m not sentimental,” he remarked. “Taurua here will soon find another fancy man.” The lively brown-eyed girl at his side understood his words perfectly. She tossed her head in denial and gave him a playful slap on the cheek. Christian smiled.
“Young is right,” he said; “when the true seaman leaves one sweetheart he is already looking forward to the next! But I find it hard to practise what I preach!”
Toward evening our guests left us to return to the ship, and I was forced to follow them the next day. I took leave of Hitihiti and his household with sincere regret, fully convinced that I should never see any one of them again.
I found the Bounty crowded with Indians, and loaded with coconuts, plantains, hogs, and goats. The great chief Teina and his wife were the captain’s guests and slept on the ship that night. At daybreak we worked out through the narrow Toaroa passage, and stood off and on all day, while Bligh took leave of Teina and made up his parting gifts to the chief. Just before sunset the launch was sent ashore with Teina and Itea, while we manned the ship with all hands and gave them three hearty cheers. An hour later the helm was put up and the Bounty stood off shore with all sail set.
Now that we were at sea again, I had time to observe the change that had come over the ship’s company as a result of our long island sojourn. In colour we were almost as brown as the Indians, and most of us were tattooed on various parts of our bodies with strange designs that added to our exotic appearance. The Tahitians are wonderfully skilled at tattooing, and although the process of acquiring it is both slow and painful, there were few of the men who had not been willing to undergo the torture for the sake of carrying home such evidence of their adventures in the South Sea. Edward Young was the most completely decorated of the midshipmen. On either leg he carried the design of a coconut tree, the trunk beginning at the heel and the foliage spreading out over the fleshy part of the calf. Encircling the thighs were wide bands of conventionalized design, and on his back he had the picture of a breadfruit tree, done with such spirit that one could all but hear the rustle of the wind through its branches.
In addition to such pictures, there was scarcely a man on the ship who had not acquired some words and phrases of the Tahitian language, which they took care to use in their talk with one another. A few had become remarkably proficient, and could carry on conversations in which scarcely a word of English was to be heard. All of them had pieces of the Indian cloth, and it was a curious sight, in the early mornings when they were washing down the decks, to see them at their work dressed only in turbans of tapa, with a strip of the same material about their loins, and jabbering away with great fluency in the Indian tongue. An Englishman fresh from home would hardly have recognized them as fellow countrymen.
There was an inward change as noticeable to any thoughtful observer as these outward ones. Duties were performed as usual, but there was little heartiness displayed, and this applied to some of the officers as well as to the men. Never, I fancy, has one of His Majesty’s ships been worked homeward, after long absence, with less enthusiasm.
I was talking of this matter one day with Mr. Nelson, who was always to be found during the daylight hours in the great cabin, looking after his beloved breadfruit plants. I felt vaguely uneasy at this time, and it was always a comforting experience to talk with Mr. Nelson. He was one of those men who are truly called the salt of the earth, and was a rock of peace in our somewhat turbulent ship’s company. I confessed that I was disturbed, without knowing exactly why, at the way the ship’s work was going on. Nelson thought there was nothing to be concerned about.
“Does it seem strange to you, my dear fellow, that we should all feel a little let down after our idyllic life at Tahiti? I am surprised that the men show as much willingness as they do. My own feelings as I think of England ahead of us and Tahiti behind are decidedly mixed ones. Yours must be, too.”
“I admit that they are,” I replied.
“Imagine, then, how the men must feel, who have so little to go home to. What have they to expect at the end of the voyage? Before they have been a week ashore most of them may be seized by some press gang as recruits for another of His Majesty’s ship’s. Who knows what the situation may be by the time the Bounty reaches England? We may be at war with France, or Spain, or Holland, or heaven knows what power; and in that case, alas for any poor seamen arriving in a home port! They won ’t even be given the chance to spend their back pay. The sailor leads a dog’s life, Byam, and no mistake.
“Do you think war with France is likely?” I asked,
“War with France is always likely,” he replied, smiling. “If I were an A.B. I should curse the thought of any war. Think what a paradise Tahiti has been for our men. For once in their lives they have been treated as human beings. They have had abundant, food, easy duties, and unlimited opportunities for the sailor’s chief distraction, women. I confess that I was surprised, before we left Tahiti, that the lot of them did n’t take to the hills. Certainly I should have done so had I been in any of their places.”
As the days passed, and we left Tahiti farther and farther astern, the memory of our life there seemed like that of a dream, and gradually, one by one, we fell into the old routine. No unhappy incidents occurred to mar the peace of that period. Captain Bligh took his regular turns on the quarter-deck, but he rarely spoke to anyone, and most of his time was spent in his cabin, where he was busy working on his charts of the islands. So all went quietly enough until the morning of April 23. When we sighted the island of Namuka, in the Friendly Archipelago. Bligh had been here before, with Captain Cook, and it was his intention to replenish our wood and water before proceeding in the direction of Endeavour Straits.
The wind being to the the southward, we had some difficulty in making the land, and it was not until late afternoon that we came to anchor in the road, in twenty-three fathoms. The island was much less romantic in appearance than Tahiti or any of the Society Islands that we had seen, but I was conscious of the same feeling of awe and wonder I had experienced elsewhere as I looked upon lands which only a handful of white men had ever seen, and whose very existence, to say nothing of their names, was unknown to people at home.
On the morning of the twenty-fourth we weighed and worked more to the eastward, and again anchored a mile and a half from shore, at a more convenient place for our watering parties. By this time the arrival of the ship was known far and wide on shore, and the Indians were arriving not only from various parts of Namuka, but from neighbouring islands as well. We had scarcely come to our new anchorage before we were surrounded with canoes, and our decks were so filled with people that we had difficulty in performing our duties. At first the confusion was great, but order was established when two chiefs came aboard whom Bligh remembered from his visit in 1777. We were able to make them understand that the decks must be cleared, and they set about it in so resolute and impetuous a manner that soon all of the Indians, except those in the chiefs’ retinues, were again in their canoes. Captain Bligh then called me to him to act as interpreter, but I found that my study of the Tahitian language was of little service here. The Friendly Island speech, although it has points of resemblance, differs greatly from the Tahitian. However, with the aid of signs and an occasional word or phrase, we explained our purpose in coming, and, the chiefs having shouted some orders to their people, most of the canoes made speedily for shore.
It was Captain Cook who had given the name, “The Friendly Islands,” to this archipelago, but my own impressions of its inhabitants were far from favourable. They resembled the Tahitians in stature, the colour of the skin and hair, and it was plain that they belonged to the same great family; but there was an insolent boldness in their behaviour lacking in the deportment of the Tahitians. They were thieves of the worst order and, if offered the slightest opportunity, would seize whatever loose article lay nearest and leap overboard with it. Christian was strongly of the opinion that they were not to be trusted in any respect, and suggested that a strong guard accompany the parties to be sent ashore for wood and water. Captain Bligh laughed at the notion.
“Surely you’re not afraid of the beggars, Mr. Christian?”
“No, sir, but I think we have reason to be cautious in our dealings with them. In my opinion…”
He was not permitted to finish.
“And who’s asked you for your opinion? Damme! If I have n’t an old woman for my second-in-command! Come Mr. Nelson, we must do something to reassure these timid souls,” and he went down the ladder to the cutter that was waiting to row him ashore. Mr. Nelson followed—he was to collect some breadfruit plants to replace several that had died during the voyage—and the party, including the two chiefs, set out for the beach.
This little scene had taken place before many of the ship’s company, and I could see that Christian had controlled his temper with difficulty. Mr. Bligh had the unfortunate habit of making such humiliating remarks to his officers, no matter who might be within hearing. It may be said in his defense, perhaps, that, being a thick-skinned man, he had no conception of how galling such remarks could be, particularly to a man like Christian.
As it chanced nothing unusual happened that day. The fact that Mr. Bligh had gone off with two of the chiefs was a guarantee that his party would not be molested. Later in the day the natives came off to trade, bringing the usual island produce—pigs, fowls, coconuts, yams, and plantains. The afternoon and the whole of the following day were given up to this business, and the third morning the wood and watering parties were sent ashore in Christian’s charge. It was then that his distrust of the Indians proved fully justified, for we had no sooner set foot on the beach than they began to make trouble for us. Mr. Bligh had not refused to send a guard with the ship’s boats, but he had given strict orders that the arms were not to be used. Hayward was in charge of the cutter and I of the launch, and Christian went with the shore parties. The Indians thronged to the watering place, several hundred yards from the beach. Every effort was made to keep then at a distance, but they became increasingly bold as the work went on and we had not been half an hour ashore before several of the sailors, who were cutting wood, had had their axes snatched from their hands. Christian performed his work admirably in the opinion of all the shore party, and it was thanks to his coolness that we were not rushed and overwhelmed by the savages. They outnumbered us fifty to one. We managed to get down our wood and water without coming to a pitched battle, but when we were getting off, toward sundown, they rushed us and managed to make off with the grapnel of the cutter.
When we arrived on board and our losses were reported by Christian, Captain Bligh flew into a rage, cursing him in language that would have been out of place had he been speaking to a common sailor.
“You are an incompetent cowardly rascal, sir! Damn me if you’re not! Are you afraid of a crowd of bloody savages while you have arms in your hands?”
“Of what service are they, sir, when you forbid their use?” Christian asked quietly. Bligh ignored this question and continued to pour out such a flood of abuse that Christian turned abruptly and left him, going down to his cabin. When in one of his rages Bligh seemed insane. I had never before met a man of this kind, and my conclusion was, having observed him so often in this state, that he had little recollection, afterward, of what he had said or done. I observed that he frequently worked himself into these passions over matters for which he was really to blame. Being unwilling to admit a fault in his own conduct, it seemed necessary to convince himself, through anger, that the blame lay elsewhere.
Usually, after Bligh had given vent to a fit of this sort1,1W; could promise ourselves several days of calm, during which time he would have little or nothing to say to us, but it chanced that the following day a similar incident occurred which was to have the gravest consequences for all of us. I am no believer in fate. Men’s actions, in so far as their relationships with one another are concerned, are largely under their own control; but there are times when malicious powers seem to order our small human affairs for their own amusement, and one of these occasions must surely have been on the twenty-seventh day of April, in the year 1789.
We had sailed from Namuka on the evening of the twenty-sixth and, the wind being light, had made but little progress during the night. All of the following day we were within seven or eight leagues of the land. The supplies we had received from the Indians were being stored away, and the carpenters were making pens for the pigs and crates for the fowls not intended for early use. Mr. Bligh had kept to his cabin all the morning, but early in the afternoon he appeared on deck to give some instructions to Mr. Samuel, who was in charge of the work of sorting over our purchases at Namuka. A great many coconuts had been piled up on the quarter-deck between the guns, and Bligh, who knew to the last ounce how many yams we had purchased, and the exact number of coconuts, discovered that a few of the latter were missing. He may have been told of this by Samuel, but at any rate he knew it.
He ordered all the officers to come on deck immediately, and questioned each of them as to the number of coconuts he had bought on his own account, and whether or not he had seen any one of the men helping himself to those on the quarter-deck. All denied having any such knowledge, and Bligh, doubtless thinking that the officers were shielding the men, became more and more angry. At length he came to Christian.
“Now, Mr. Christian, I wish to know the exact number of coconuts you purchased for your own use.”
“I really don’t know, sir,” Christian replied, “but I hope you don’t think me so mean as to be guilty of stealing yours?”
“Yes, you bloody hound! I do think so! You must have stolen some of mine or you would be able to give a better account of your own. You’re damned rascals and thieves, the lot of you! You’ll be stealing my yams next, or have the men steal them for you! But I’ll make you suffer! I’ll teach you to steal, you dogs! I’ll break the spirit of every man of you! You’ll wish you’d never seen me before we reach Endeavour Straits!”
Of all the humiliating scenes that had taken place up to that time, this was the worst; and yet, considering the nature of the offense committed, there was something meanly comic about it. Christian, however, could not see this side of the matter, and small wonder that he could not. No other captain in His Majesty’s service would have made such an accusation against his second-in-command, to say noting of his other officers. Bligh stamped up and down the quarter-deck, his face distorted with passion, shaking his fists and shouting at us as though we were at the other end of the ship. Of a sudden he stopped.
“Yes, sir,” said Samuel, stepping forward.
“You’ll stop the villains’ grog until further orders. And instead of a pound of yams per you’ll issue half a pound to all the messes. Understand?”
“And, by God, I’ll reduce you to a quarter of a pound if I find anything else missing, and make you crawl on your bellies for that!”
He then gave orders that all of the coconuts, belonging to officers and men alike, be carried aft to add to the ship’s stores. When this had been done he returned to his cabin.
I never remember the ship to have been more silent than she was that evening. Most of us, doubtless, were thinking of the long voyage ahead. Another year might pass before the Bounty could reach England. Meanwhile we should be under the heavy hand of a captain who could do with us as he pleased; against whose tyranny there could be no appeal. My own mess was particularly silent, for at this time Samuel was a member of it, and we knew that anything we might say would be quickly carried to Captain Bligh. Peckover ate his salt junk and his half a pound of yams in a few savage bites, and withdrew. The rest of us were not long in following.
Mr. Fryer’s watch came on at eight o’clock. Most of the ship’s company were on deck during the early hours, owing to the fineness of the evening. The breeze had been light all day and remained so; we had no more than steerageway, but the air was refreshingly cool. The moon was in its first quarter, and by its light we could dimly see, far ahead, the outline of the island of Tofoa.
Between ten and eleven Bligh came on deck to leave his orders for the night. He paced up and down the quarter-deck for some time, paying no attention to anyone. Presently he stopped near Fryer, who ventured to say: “Sir, I think we shall have a fine breeze by and by. This moon coming on will be fortunate for us when we approach the coast of New Holland.”
“Yes, Mr. Fryer, so it will,” he replied. A few minutes later he gave his orders as to the course to be steered, and returned to his cabin.
Fryer’s prediction of wind was not to be fulfilled. At midnight, when our watch went off duty, the sea was like a mill pond, with a glassy sheen upon the water, reflecting the Southern constellations. Going below, I found it much too hot for sleep. Tinkler and I came on deck together and stood for a while by the rail aft, talking of home and what we would choose for our first meal on shore. Presently, looking around cautiously, he said: “Byam, do you know that I am a double-dyed villain? I stole one of Mr. Bligh’s missing coconuts.”
“So it’s you we have to thank for our dressing-down, you little rascal,” I replied.
“Alas, yes. I’m one of the damned rogues and thieves. I could tell you the names of two others, but I forbear. We were thirsty and too lazy to go to the main top for the gun barrel. And there were the coconuts, such a tempting sight, a great heap of them between the guns on the quarter-deck. I wish they were there now; I’d steal another. There’s nothing more refreshing than coconut water. Curse old Nelson’s breadfruit garden! It keeps a man thirsty all the time.”
We were all, in fact, envious of our breadfruit plants. Whatever happened, they had to be watered regularly, and in order to cut down the amount drunk by the ship’s company Bligh had thought of a very excellent and ingenious arrangement to prevent us from quenching our thirst too often. Any man who wanted a drink had first to climb to the main top to fetch a gun barrel left there. He then climbed down with this to the scuttle butt, outside the galley, inserted the gun barrel into the bunghole, and, having sucked up his drink, he was required to carry the drinking tube to the main top again. No man, no matter how thirsty he might be, was permitted to make more than two of these gun-barrel climbs during his watch, and a lazy man did without his drink until thirst got the better of him. ’
“God be thanked! For once I was n’t suspected,” Tinkler went on. “How do you explain that? If he had asked me I should have denied, of course, that I’d had anything to do with his rotten coconuts. But I’m afraid my guilty conscience might have given me away this time. I was so damned sorry for Christian.”
“Did Christian know that you had taken some of the nuts?”
“Not some—only one, mind you! As I’ve told you, there were fellow conspirators. Of course he did. In fact, he saw me do it and looked the other way, as any decent officer was bound to do. It was n’t as though we were endangering the safety of the vessel. Four coconuts missing, that’s all—I give you my word. Four out of how many thousands? And I was responsible for only one. Well, if I sleep over my sins, perhaps they won’t seem so black to-morrow.”
Tinkler was like the ship’s cat; he could curl up anywhere for a nap. He now lay down by one of the quarter-deck guns, with his arm for a pillow, and, as I thought, was soon fast asleep.
It was then about one o’clock, and with the exception of the watch there was no one on deck but Tinkler and myself. Mr. Peckover was standing at the rail on the opposite side of the deck. I could make out his form dimly in the starlight. Someone appeared at the after ladderway. It was Christian. After half a dozen turns up and down the deck, he observed me standing between the guns.
“Oh: It’s you, Byam?” He came and stood beside me, his elbows on the rail. I had not seen him since the affair of the afternoon.
At length he asked, “Did you know that he had invited me to sup with him? Why? Can you tell me that? After spitting on me, wiping his feet on me, he sent Samuel to ask me to eat at his table!”
“You did n’t go?”
“After what had happened? God in heaven, no!”
I had never before seen a man in a mood of such black despair. He seemed at the last extremity of endurance. I was glad to be there, to be of service as a confidant, for it was plain that he was in desperate need of unburdening himself. That Bligh should have asked him to supper was, in truth, all but incredible, after the events of the afternoon. I suggested that it might be taken as evidence of an unsuspected delicacy of conscience in Bligh, but I believed this no more than did Christian himself.
We’re in his power. Officers and men alike, he considers us so many dogs to be kicked or fondled according to his whim. And there can be no relief. None. Not till we reach England. God knows when that will be!”
He was silent for some time, staring gloomily out over the starlit sea. At length he said, “Byam, there’s something I wish you would do for me.”
“What is it?”
“The chances are there’ll be no occasion, but on a long voyage like this one never knows what may happen. If, for any reason, I should fail to reach home, I’d like you to see my people in Cumberland. Would that be too much trouble for you?”
“Not at all,” I replied.
“During the last conversation I had with my father, just before I joined the ship, he asked that I make such an arrangement with someone aboard the Bounty. In case anything should happen, he said that it would be a comfort to him to talk with one of my friends. I promised, and I’ve let half the voyage pass without fulfilling it. I feel better now that I have spoken.”
“You can count on me,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Good! That’s settled, then.”
“Well, Mr. Christian! You’re up late.”
We turned quickly to find Bligh standing a yard away. He was barefoot and dressed only in his shirt and trousers. Neither of us had heard him approach.
“Yes, sir,” Christian replied, coldly.
“And you, Mr. Byam. Can’t you sleep?”
“It’s very warm below, sir.”
“I had n’t noticed it. A true sailor can sleep in an oven if the case requires. Or on a cake of ice.”
He stood there for a moment as though expecting us to make some reply; then he turned abruptly and walked to the ladderway, halting to glance at the trim of the sails before going below again. Christian and I talked in desultory fashion for a brief time; then he bade me good night and went forward somewhere.
Tinkler, who had been lying in deep shadow guns, sat up and stretched his arms with a deep yawn.
“Go below, Byam, and show that you are a true seaman, Damn you and Christian and your gabble! I was just getting drowsy when he came along.”
“Did you hear what he said?” I asked,
“About notifying his father in case anything happened? Yes; I could n’t help eavesdropping. My father made no such request of me—which only goes to show that he has no hope of my not coming back…I must have a drink. I’ve been thinking of nothing but water this past hour, and I’m not to one before morning. What would you do, in my case?”
Mr Peckover has just gone below for a moment,” I said. “You might chance it.”
“Has he?” Tinkler leaped to his feet. He ran up the shrouds for the gun barrel and had carried it aloft again before Peckover returned. As we went below together I heard three bells strike, and the far-off call of the lookout in the foretop: “All’s well!” I settled myself in my hammock and was soon asleep.
Shortly after daybreak I was awakened by someone shaking me roughly by the shoulder, and at the same time I was aware of loud voices, Mr. Bligh’s among them, and the heavy trampling of feet on deck. Churchill, the master-at-arms, stood by my hammock with a pistol in his hand, and I saw Thompson, holding a musket with the bayonet fixed, stationed by the arms chest which stood on the gratings of the main hatch. At the same time two men,, whose names I do not remember, rushed into the berth and one of them shouted, “We’re with you, Churchill! Give us arms”. They were furnished with muskets by Thompson and hurried on deck again. Stewart, whose hammock was next to mine in the larboard berth, was already up and dressing in great haste. Despite the confused tumult of voices overhead, Young was still asleep.
“Have you been attacked, Churchill?” I asked; for my first thought was that the Bounty must have drifted close to one of the islands thereabout, and that we had been boarded by the savages.
“Put on your clothes and lose no time about it, Mr. Byam,“ he replied “We have taken the ship and Captain Bligh is a prisoner.”
Aroused suddenly from the deepest slumber, I did not even then gasp the meaning of what he said, and for a moment sat gazing stupidly at him.
“They’ve mutinied, Byam!” said Stewart. “Good God, Churchill! Are you mad? Have you any conception of what you?’re doing?”
“We know very well what we’re doing,” he replied. “Bligh has brought all this on himself. Now, by God, we’ll make him suffer!”
Thompson shook his musket in menacing fashion. “We’re going to shoot the dog!” he said; “and don’t you try any of your young gentlemen’s tricks on us, or we’ll murder some more of you! Seize ’em up, Churchill! They’re not to be trusted.”
“Hold your tongue and mind the arms chest,” Churchill replied. “Come, Mr. Byam, hurry into your clothes. Quintal, stand fast by the door there! No one’s to come forward without my orders— understand?”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Turning my head, I saw Matthew Quintal at the rear entrance to the berth. Even as I looked, Samuel appeared behind him, dressed only in his trousers, his thin hair standing awry and his pale face considerably paler than its wont. “Mr. Churchill!” he called.
“Go back, you fat swine, or I’ll run you through the guts!” Quintal shouted.
“Mr. Churchill, sir! Allow me to speak to you,” Samuel called again.
“Drive him back,” Churchill said, and Quintal made so fierce a gesture with his musket that Samuel vanished without waiting to hear more. “Give him a prod in the backside, Quintal,” someone shouted, and, looking up, I saw two more armed men leaning over the hatchway.
Without weapons of any sort, there was nothing that Stewart and I could do but obey Churchill’s orders. Both he and Thompson were powerful men and we should have been no match for them even had they been unarmed. I immediately thought of Christian, a man as quick in action as in decision, but I knew there could be no hope of his still being at liberty. He was the officer of the morning watch and had doubtless been rushed and overwhelmed at the very outset of the mutiny, even before Bligh had been secured. Catching my eye, Stewart shook his head slightly, as much as to say, “It’s useless. There’s nothing to be done.”
We dressed in short order, and Churchill then ordered us to precede him along the passage to the fore ladderway. “Keep the others in the berth, Thompson,” he called back. “Leave ’em to me; I’ll mind ’em!” Thompson replied. There were several armed guards at the fore-hatch, among them Alexander Smith, my hammock man, whose loyalty in whatever situation I should have thought unquestionable. It was a shock to see him in Churchill’s party, but the scene that presented itself as we came on deck made me forget the very existence of Smith.
Captain Bligh, naked except for his shirt, and with his hands tied behind his back, was standing by the mizzenmast. Christian stood before him, holding in one hand the end of the line by which Bligh was bound and in the other a bayonet, and around them were several of the able seamen, fully armed, among whom I recognized John Mills, Isaac Martin, Richard Skinner, and Thomas Burkitt. Churchill then said to us, “Stand by here. We mean no harm to either of you unless you take part against us.” He then left us.
Stewart and I had taken it for granted that Churchill was the ringleader of the mutineers. As already related, after his attempted desertion at Tahiti he had been severely punished by Bligh. I knew how deeply he hated him, and it was conceivable that such a man could goad himself even to the point of mutiny. But that Christian could have done so, no matter what the provocation, was beyond anything I could have dreamed of as possible. Stewart’s only comment was, “Christian! Good God! Then there’s no hope.”
The situation looked hopeless indeed. At this time the only unarmed men I saw on deck were Captain Bligh and ourselves. The ship was entirely in the hands of the mutineers. Evidently we had been brought up to divide the party of midshipmen below, thus preventing any opportunity for our taking concerted action. In the confusion we made our way aft a little way, and as we approached the spot where Bligh was standing, I heard Christian say, “Will you hold your tongue, sir, or shall I force you to hold it? I’m master of this ship now, and, by God, I’ll stand no more of your abuse!” Sweat was pouring down Bligh’s face. He had been making a great outcry, shouting, “Murder! Treason!” at the top of his voice.
“Master of my ship, you mutinous dog!” he yelled. “I’ll see you hung! I’ll have you flogged to ribbons! I’ll…”
“Manu, sir. Hold your tongue or you are dead this instant!”
Christian placed the point of his bayonet at Bligh’s throat with a look in his eye there was no mistaking. “Slit the dog’s gullet!” someone shouted; and there were cries of “Let him have it, Mr. Christian!” “Throw him overboard!” “Feed the bastard to the sharks!” and the like. It was only then, I think, that Captain Bligh realized his true situation. He stood for a moment, breathing hard, looking about him with an expression of incredulity on his face.
“Mr. Christian, allow me to speak!” he begged hoarsely. Think what you do! Release me—lay aside your arms! Let us be friends again, and I give you my word that nothing more shall be said of this matter.”
“Your word is of no value, sir,” Christian replied. “Had you been a man of honour things would never have come to this pass.”
“What do you mean to do with me?” “Shoot you, you you bloody rogue!” cried Burkitt, shaking his musket at him.
“Shooting’s too good for him! Seize him up at the gratings, Mr. Christian! Give us a chance at him with the cat!”
“That’s it! Seize him up! Give him a taste of his own poison!”
“Flay the hide off him!”
“Silence!” Christian called, sternly; and then, to Bligh: “We’ll give you justice, sir, which is more than you have ever given us. We’ll take you in irons to England…”
A dozen protesting voices interrupted him.
“To England? Never! We won’t have it, Mr. Christian!”
Immediately the deck was again in an uproar, all the mutineers clamouring against Christian’s proposal. Never was the situation with respect to Bligh so critical as at that moment, and it was to his credit that he showed no sign of flinching. The men were in a savage mood, and it was touch and go as to whether he would be shot where he stood; but he glared at each of them in turn as though challenging them to do so. Luckily a diversion was created when Ellison came dashing up flourishing a bayonet. There was no real harm in this lad, but he loved mischief better than his dinner, and, being thoughtless and high spirited, he could be counted upon to get himself into trouble whenever the opportunity presented itself. Evidently he considered joining in a mutiny nothing more than a fine lark, and he now came dancing up to Bligh with such a comical expression upon his face that the tension was relieved at once. The men broke into cheers. “Hooray, Tommy! Are you with us, lad?”
“Let me guard him, Mr. Christian!” he cried. “I’ll watch him like a cat!” He skipped up and down in front of Bligh, brandishing his weapon. “Oh, you rogue! You old villain! You’d flog us, would you? You’d stop our grog, would you? You’d make us eat grass, would you?”
The men cheered him wildly. “Lay on, lad!” they shouted. “We’ll back you! Give him a jab in the guts!”
“You and your Mr. Samuel! A pair of swindlers, that’s what you are! Cheating us out of our food! You’ve made a pretty penny between you! You old thief! You should be a bumboat man. I’ll lay you’d make your fortune in no time!”
It was a bitter experience for Bligh to be baited thus by the least of his seamen, but as a matter of fact nothing more fortunate for him could have happened. His life at that moment hung in the balance, and Ellison, in giving vent to his feelings, relieved the pent-up emotions of men who were not glib of speech and could express their hatred of Bligh only in action. Christian realized this, I think, and permitted Ellison to speak his mind, but he soon cut him short and put him in his place.
“Clear the cutter!” he called. “Mr. Churchill!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“Fetch up Mr. Fryer and Mr. Purcell! Burkitt!”
“You and Sumner and Mills and Martin—stand guard here over Mr. Bligh!”
Burkitt took the end of the line in one of his huge hairy fists.
“We’ll mind him, sir! I’ll lay to that!”
“What’s your plan, Mr. Christian? We’ve a right to know,” said Sumner. Christian turned quickly and looked it him. “Mind what you’re about, Sumner!” he said quietly. “I in master of this ship! Lively, men, with the cutter.”
Several men climbed into the boat to clear out the yams, sweet potatoes, and other ship’s stores which were kept there, while others unlashed it and got ready the tackle for hoisting it over the side. Burkitt stood directly in front of Captain Bligh, holding the point of a bayonet within an inch of his breast. Sumner stood behind him with his musket at ready, and the other men on either side. Thompson excepted, they were the hardest characters among the sailors, and Bligh wisely said nothing to arouse them further. Others of the mutineers were stationed about the decks, and there were three at each of the ladderways. I wondered how the affair had been so well and secretly planned. I searched my memory, but could recall no incident of a character in the least suspicious.
I had been so intent in watching the scene of which Bligh was the centre that I had forgotten Stewart. We had become separated, and while I was searching for him Christian saw me for the first time. He came at once to where I was standing. His voice was calm, but I could see that he was labouring under great excitement.
“Byam, this is my affair,” he said. “Not a man shall be hurt, but if any take part against us it will be at the peril of the entire ship’s company. Act as you think best.
“What do you mean to do?” I asked.
“I would have carried Bligh to England as a prisoner. That is impossible; the men won’t have it. He shall have the cutter to go where he chooses. Mr. Fryer, Hayward, Hallet, and Samuel shall go with him.”
There was no time for further talk. Churchill came up with the master and Purcell. The carpenter, as usual, was surly and taciturn. Both he and Fryer were horror-stricken at what had happened, but they were entirely self-possessed. Christian well knew that these two men would seize the first opportunity, if one presented itself, for retaking the ship, and he had them well guarded.
“Mr. Byam, surely you are not concerned in this? Fryer asked.”
“No more than yourself, sir, I replied.
“Mr. Byam has nothing to do with it,” said Christian. Mr. Purcell…”
Fryer interrupted him.
“In God’s name, Mr. Christian! What is it you do? Do you realize that this means the ruin of everything? Give up this madness, I’ll promise that we shall all make your interest our own. Only let us reach England…”
“It is too late, Mr. Fryer,” he replied, coldly. “I have been in hell for weeks past, and I mean to stand it no longer.”
“Your difficulties with Captain Bligh give you no right to bring ruin upon the rest of us.”
“Hold your tongue, sir,” said Christian. “Mr. Purcell, have your men fetch up the thwarts, knees, and gear bolts for the large cutter. Churchill, let the carpenter go below to see to this. Send a guard with him.”
Purcell and Churchill went down the forward ladderway.
“Do you mean to set us adrift?” Fryer asked.
“We are no more than nine leagues from the land here,” Christian replied. “In so calm a sea Mr. Bligh will have no difficulty in making it.”
“I will stay with the ship.”
“No, Mr. Fryer; you will go with Captain Bligh. Williams! Take the master to his cabin while he collects his clothes. He is to be kept there until I send word.”
Fryer requested earnestly to be allowed to remain with the vessel, but Christian well knew his reason for desiring this and would not hear to the proposal. He put an end to the matter by sending the master below.
Purcell now returned, followed by Norman and McIntosh, his mates, carrying the gear for the cutter. Purcell came up to me at once.
“Mr. Byam, I know that you have no hand in this business. But you are, or have been, a friend to Mr. Christian. Beg him to give Captain Bligh the launch. The cutter is rotten and will never swim to the land.”
This, I knew, was the case. The cutter was riddled with worms and leaked so badly as to be almost useless. The carpenters were to have started repairing her that same morning. Purcell would not come with me to speak of the matter, giving as a reason Christian’s dislike of him. “He would not care to grant any request of mine,” he said. “If the cutter is hoisted out, it will be almost certain death for Captain Bligh and all who are permitted to go with him.”
I wasted no time, but went to Christian at once. Several of the mutineers gathered round to hear what I had to say. Christian agreed at once. “He shall have the launch,” he said. “Tell the carpenter to have his men fit her.” He then called, “Leave off with the cutter, my lads! Clear the launch.”
There were immediate protests, led by Churchill, against this new arrangement.
“The launch, Mr. Christian?”
“Don’t let him have it, sir! The old fox’ll get home in her!”
“She’s too bloody good for him!”
There was an argument over the matter, but Christian forced his will upon the others. In fact, they made no determined stand. All were eager to be rid of the captain, and they had little reason to fear that he would ever see England again.
The mutineers were in such complete control of the situation that Christian now gave orders for the rest of those who were not of his party to be brought on deck. Samuel, Bligh’s clerk, was among the first to appear. He was anything but a favourite with the ship’s company, and was greeted with jeers and threats by his particular enemies. I had supposed that he would make a poor showing in such a situation. On the contrary, he acted with spirit and determination. Disregarding the insults of the sailors, he went directly to Captain Bligh to receive his orders. He was permitted to go to Bligh’s cabin with John Smith, the captain’s servant, to fetch up his clothes. They helped him on with his boots and trousers and laid his coat over his shoulders.
I saw Hayward and Hallet standing aft by the rail. Hallet was crying, and both of them were in a state of great alarm. Someone touched my shoulder and I found Mr. Nelson standing beside me.
“Well, Byam, I’m afraid that we’re even farther from home than we thought. Do you know what they plan to do with us?”
I told him the little I knew. He smiled ruefully, glancing toward the island of Tofoa, now a faint blur on the horizon.
“I suppose that Captain Bligh will take us there,” he said. I don’t much relish the prospect of meeting any more Friendly Islanders. Their friendliness is of a kind that we can well dispense with.”
The carpenter appeared at the ladderway, followed by Robert Lamb, the butcher, who was helping to bring up his tool chest.
“Mr. Nelson,” he said, “we know whom we have to thank for this.”
“Yes, Mr. Purcell, our unlucky stars,” Nelson replied.
“No, sir! We have Captain Bligh to thank for it, and him alone. He has brought it upon us all by his damnable behaviour!”
Purcell had the deepest hatred for Bligh, which was returned with interest. The two men had not spoken for months save when absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, when Mr. Nelson suggested that he might be permitted to stay with the ship if he chose, the carpenter was horrified.
“Stop aboard? With rogues and pirates? Never, sir! I shall follow my commander.”
At this moment Churchill, who was everywhere about the decks, caught sight of us.
“What are you about there, Purcell? Damn your blood! You’d steal our tools, would you?”
“Your tools, you scoundrel? They’re mine, and they go where I go!”
“You shan’t take a nail from the ship if I have my way” Churchill replied. He then called out to Christian, and their was another argument, not only with respect to the tool chest, but as to the carpenter himself. Christian was partly in the mind to keep him on the vessel, knowing his value as a craftsman, but all the others urged against it. Purcell had a violent temper and was regarded by the men as a tyrant second only to Bligh.
“He’s a damned old villain, sir!”
“Keep the carpenter’s mates, Mr. Christian. They’re the men for us.”
“Make him go in the boat!”
“Make me go, you pirates?” he cried. “I’d like to see the man who’ll stop me!”
Unfortunately, Purcell was as thick-headed as he was fearless, and he now so far forgot the interests of Bligh’s party as to boast of what we would do as soon as we should be clear of the mutineers.
“Mark my word, you rogues! We’ll bring every man of you to justice! We’ll build a vessel to carry us home…”
“So he will, Mr. Christian, if we give him his tools,” several men shouted.
“The old fox could build a ship with a clasp knife!”
Purcell realized too late what he had done. I believe that Christian would have given him many of his tools, of which there were duplicates on board, but having been reminded of what he might do with them, he now ordered the tool chest to be taken below, and Purcell was permitted to have nothing but a hand saw, a small axe, a hammer, and a bag of nails. Bligh, who had overhead all that was said, could contain himself no longer. “You infernal idiot!” he roared at Purcell, and was prevented from saying more by Burkitt, who placed a bayonet at his throat.
The decks were now filled with people, but Christian took good care that those not of his party should be prevented from coming together in any numbers. As soon as the launch had been cleared, he ordered the boatswain to swing her out. “And mind yourself, Mr. Cole! If you spring a yard or carry anything away it will go hard with you!” Fifteen or more of us were ordered to assist him, for the mutineers were too canny to lay aside their arms and bear a hand.
“Foresail and mainsail there! All ready?”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“Let go sheets and tacks!”
“All clear, sir!”
“Clew garnets—up with the clews!” The breeze was still so light as barely to fill the sails, and the clews of the mainsail and foresail went smoothly up to the quarters of the yards. . The yards were now squared and the braces made fast, and with half a dozen men holding the launch inboard she was hoisted, swung out over the bulwarks, and lowered away.
One of the first men ordered into her was Samuel. Hayward and Hallet followed next. Both were shedding tears and crying for mercy, and they were half carried to the gangway. Hayward turned to Christian, clasping his hands imploringly.
“Mr. Christian, what have I ever done that you should treat me so?” he exclaimed. “In God’s name, permit me to stay with the ship!”
“We can dispense with your services here,” Christian replied, grimly. Into the boat, the pair of you!”
Purcell went next. He required no urging. I think he would have died rather than remain in the ship now that she had been seized by mutineers. His few tools were handed down to him by the boatswain, who followed. Christian ordered Bligh to be brought to the gangway, and his hands were freed.
“Now, Mr. Bligh, there is your boat, and you are fortunate to have the launch and not the cutter. Go into her at once sir!”
“Mr. Christian,” said Bligh, “for the last time I beg you to reflect! I’ll pawn my honour—I pledge you my word never to think of this again if you will desist. Consider my wife and family!”
“No, Mr. Bligh. You should have thought of your family long before this, and we well know what your honour is worth. Go into the boat, sir!”
Seeing that all pleading was useless, Bligh obeyed, and was followed by Mr. Peckover and Norton, the quartermaster.
Christian then handed down a sextant and a book of nautical tables.
“You have your compass, sir. This book is sufficient for every purpose, and the sextant is my own. You know it to be a good one.”
With his hands freed and once more in command, though only of his ship’s launch, Bligh became his old self again.
“I know you to be a bloody scoundrel!” he shouted, shaking his fist in Christian’s direction. “But I’ll have vengeance! Mind that, you ungrateful villain! I’ll see you swinging at a yardarm before two years have passed! And every traitor with you!” ’
Fortunately for Bligh, Christian’s attention was engaged elsewhere, but several of the mutineers at the bulwarks replied to him in language as forceful as the captain’s, and it was a near thing that he was not fired upon.
In the confusion I had lost sight of Stewart. We had been hauling together at one of the braces when the launch was hoisted out, but now I could find him nowhere. It soon became clear that many were to be allowed to go with Bligh, and Mr. Nelson and I, who had been standing together by the bulwarks, were hastening toward the after ladderway when we were stopped by Christian.
“Mr. Nelson, you and Mr. Byam may stay with the ship if you choose,” he said.
“I have sympathy with you for the wrongs you have suffered, Mr. Christian,” Nelson replied, “but none whatever with this action to redress them.”
“And when have I asked you for sympathy, sir? Mr. Byam, what is your decision?”
“I shall go with Captain Bligh.”
“Then make haste, both of you.”
“Have we permission to fetch our clothes?” Nelson asked.
“Yes, but look sharp!”
Nelson’s cabin was on the orlop deck directly below that of Fryer. Two guards stood by the ladderway on the lower deck. We parted there and I went to the midshipmen’s berth, where Thompson was still on guard over the arms chest. I had seen nothing of Tinkler and Elphinstone, and was about to look into the starboard berth to see if they were still there. Thompson prevented me.
“Never you mind the starboard berth,” he said. “Get your clothes and clear out!”
The berth was screened off from the main hatchway by a canvas-covered framework. To my surprise, I found Young still asleep in his hammock. He had been on watch from twelve to four, and this was his customary time for rest, but it was strange that he could have slept through such a turmoil. I tried to rouse him, but he was a notoriously heavy sleeper. Finding the matter hopeless, I left off and began to ransack my chest for things I should most need. Stacked in the corner of the berth were several Friendly Island war clubs that we had obtained from the savages of Namuka. They had been carved from the toa, or ironwood tree, which well deserved its name, for in weight and texture the wood was indeed like iron. At the sight of them the thought flashed into my mind, “Could I strike Thompson down with one of these?” I glanced quickly out the doorway. Thompson was now seated on the arms chest with his musket between his knees, facing the passageway leading aft. But he saw me thrust out my head and, with an oath, ordered me to “look sharp and clear out of there.”
At this moment Morrison came along the passageway, and as luck would have it Thompson’s attention was attracted by someone calling him from above. I beckoned Morrison into the berth, and he dodged in without having been seen. There was no need for words. I handed him one of the war clubs and took another for myself; then, together, we made a last effort to waken Young. Not daring to speak, we nearly shook him out of his hammock, but we might have spared ourselves the trouble. I heard Thompson call out, “He’s getting his clothes, sir. I’ll have him up at once.” Morrison drew back by the door and raised his club, and I stood at ready on the other side, for we both expected Thompson to come in for me. Instead of that he shouted, “Out of there, Byam, and be quick about it!”
“I’m coming,” I called, and again looked out of the doorway. My heart sank as I saw Burkitt and McCoy coming along from the fore hatchway. They stopped by the arms chest to speak to Thompson. Both had muskets, of course. Our chance to get at Thompson and the arms chest was lost unless they should pass on. Fortune was against us. We waited for at least two minutes longer and the men remained where they were. I heard Nelson’s voice calling down the hatchway: “Byam! Lively there, lad, or you’ll be left behind!” And Tinkler’s: “For God’s sake, hasten, Byam!”
It was a bitter moment for Morrison and me. The opportunity had been a poor one at best, but had there been time something might have come of it. We quickly put the war clubs aside and rushed out, colliding with Thompson, who was coming to see what I was about.
“Damn your blood, Morrison! What are you doing here?”
We didn’t wait to explain, but ran along the passage to the ladderway. Morrison preceded me, and in my haste to reach the deck, cumbered as I was with my bag of clothes, I slipped and fell halfway down the ladder, giving my shoulder a wrench as I struck the gratings. I clambered up again and was rushing toward the gangway when Churchill seized me. “You’re too late, Byam,” he said. “You can’t go.” “Can’t go? By God, I will!” I exclaimed, giving him a shove which loosened his hold and all but toppled him over. I was frantic, for I saw the launch being veered astern, one of the mutineers carrying the painter aft. Burkitt and Quintal were holding Coleman, the armourer, who was begging to go into the boat, and Morrison was struggling with several men who were keeping him back from the gangway. We were, in fact, too late; the launch was loaded almost to the point of foundering, and I heard Bligh shouting: “I can take no more of you, lads! I’ll do you justice if ever we reach England!”
When the launch had drifted astern, the man holding the painter took a turn with it around the rail and threw the free end to someone in the boat. Those left in the ship now crowded along the rail, and I had difficulty in finding a place where I could look over the side. I was sick at heart, and appalled at the realization that I was, indeed, to be left behind among the mutineers. Norton was in the bow of the launch holding the end of the painter. Bligh was standing on a thwart, astern. Of the others, some were seated and some were standing, and the boat was so heavily loaded as to have no more than seven or eight inches of freeboard. There was a great deal of shouting back and forth, and Bligh was contributing his full share to the tumult by bellowing out orders to those in the boat, and curses and imprecations against Christian and his men.
Some of the mutineers looked on silently and thoughtfully, but others were jeering at Bligh, and I heard one of them shout: “Go and see if you can live on half a pound of yams a day, you dirty old fool!” Fryer called out, “In God’s name, Mr. Christian, give us arms and ammunition! Think where we go! Let us have a chance to defend our lives!” Others, the boatswain among them, joined earnestly in this plea.
“Arms be damned!” someone shouted back.
“You don’t need ’em.”
“Old Bligh loves the savages. He’ll take care of you!”
“Use your rattan on ’em, boatswain!”
Coleman and I sought out Christian, who was standing by one of the cabin gratings, out of sight of the launch. We begged him to let Bligh have some muskets and ammunition.
“Never!” he said. “They shall have no firearms.”
“Then give them some cutlasses at least, Mr. Christian,” Coleman urged, “unless you wish them to be murdered the moment they set foot on shore. Think of our experience at Namuka!”
Christian consented to this. He ordered Churchill to fetch some cutlasses from the arms chest, and a moment later he returned with four, which were handed into the boat. Meanwhile, Morrison had taken advantage of this opportunity to run below for some additional provisions for the launch. He and John Millward brought up a mess kid filled with pieces of salt pork, several calabashes of water, and some additional bottles of wine and spirits, which they lowered into the boat.
“You cowards!” Purcell shouted, as the cutlasses were handed in. “Will you give us nothing but these?”
“Shall we lower the arms chest, carpenter?” William Brown asked, jeeringly. McCoy threatened him with his musket. “You’ll get a bellyful of lead in a minute,” he shouted.
“Bear off and turn one of the swivels on ’em!” someone else called. “Give ’em a whiff of grape!”
Burkitt now raised his musket and pointed it at Bligh. Alexander Smith, who was standing beside him, seized the barrel of the musket and thrust it up. I am convinced that Burkitt meant to shoot Bligh, but Christian, observing this, ordered him to be dragged back, deprived of his arms, and placed under guard. He made a terrific struggle, and it required four men to disarm him.
Meanwhile, Fryer and others were urging Bligh to cast off lest they should all be murdered. This Bligh now ordered to be done, and the launch dropped slowly astern. The oars were gotten out, and the boat, so low in the water that she seemed on the point of foundering, was headed toward the island of Tofoa, which bore northeast, about ten leagues distant. Twelve men made a good load for the launch. She now carried nineteen, to say nothing of the food and water and the gear of the men.
“Thank God we were too late to go with her, Byam!”
Morrison was standing beside me.
“Do you mean that?” I asked.
He was silent for a moment, as though considering the matter carefully. Then he said, “No, I don’t. I would willingly have taken my chance in her—but it’s a slim chance indeed. They’ll never see England again.”
Tinkler was sitting on a thwart. Mr. Nelson, and Peckover, the gunner, and Elphinstone, the master’s mate, and all of the others—they were as good as dead—more than a thousand leagues from any port where they might expect help. About them were islands filled with the cruellest of savages, who could be held at bay only by men well armed. Granted that some might escape death at the hands of the Indians, what chance had so tiny a boat, so appallingly loaded, to reach any civilized port? The possibility was so remote as to be not worth considering.
Sick at heart, I turned away from the sight of the frail craft, looking so small, so helpless, on that great waste of waters. There had been a cheer from some of the mutineers: “Huzza for Tahiti!” as Christian had ordered, “Get sail on her!” Ellison, McCoy, and Williams had run aloft to loose the fore topgallant sail. Afterward a silence had fallen over the ship, and the men stood by the bulwarks, gazing at the launch growing smaller and smaller as we drew away from her. Christian, too, was watching, standing where I had last seen him, by the cabin grating. What his thoughts were at this time it would be impossible to say. His sense of the wrongs he had suffered at Bligh’s hands was so deep and overpowering as to dominate, I believe, every other feeling. In the course of a long life I have met no others of his kind. I knew him, I suppose, as well as anyone could be said to know him, and yet I never felt that I truly understood the workings of his mind and heart. Men of such passionate nature, when goaded by injustice into action, lose all sense of anything save their own misery. They neither know not care, until it is too late, what ruin they make of the lives of others.
It was getting on toward eight o’clock when the launch had been cast off. Shortly afterward the breeze, from the northeast, freshened, and the Bounty gathered way quietly, slipping through the water with a slight hiss of foam. The launch became a mere speck, seen momentarily as she rose to the swell or as the sunlight flashed from her oars. Within half an hour she had vanished as though swallowed up by the sea. Our course was west-northwest.
Our company was divided, and, though linked together by a common disaster, we were not to share a common fate. I doubt whether a ship has ever sailed from England whose numbers, during the course of her voyage, were to be so widely scattered over the face of the earth, and whose individual members were to meet ends so strange, and in many cases, tragic.
There had gone with Bligh, in the launch: -
John Fryer, Master
Thomas Ledward, Acting Surgeon
David Nelson, Botanist
William Peckover, Gunner
William Cole, Boatswain
William Elphinstone, Master’s Mate
William Purcell, Carpenter
George Simpson, Quartermaster’s Mate
Lawrence Lebogue, Sailmaker
Mr. Samuel, Clerk
Robert Lamb, Butcher
Of those who remained in the Bounty, the following had taken an active part in the mutiny:—
Fletcher Christian, Acting Lieutenant
John Mills, Gunner’s Mate
Charles Churchill, Master-at-Arms
William Brown, Gardener
Those in the Bounty with, but not of, Christian’s party, were:—
James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate
Joseph Coleman, Armourer
Charles Norman, Carpenter’s Mate
Thomas McIntosh, Carpenter’s Crew
William Muspratt, Able Seaman
Also Michael Byrne, the half-blind seaman, and myself. William Muspratt had, for a moment, pretended to be of the mutineers’ party and had accepted a musket offered to him by Churchill. He had overheard Fryer say that he hoped to form a party to retake the vessel, and I am certain he had taken the musket for no other reason than to assist Fryer. When he saw that the matter was hopeless, he immediately laid aside his arms. Coleman, Norman, and McIntosh had been prevented from going in the launch because the mutineers had need of their services as artificers. Smiths and carpenters can no more be dispensed with on a ship at sea than can seamen themselves.
It was but natural that those who had taken no part in the mutiny should be looked upon with suspicion by those who had. Most of the seamen, however, showed no active hostility against us. Churchill ordered us to remain on deck, but forward of the mizzenmast, and there we awaited Christian’s pleasure. Burkitt, who had been deprived of his musket and placed under arms, lest he should shoot Captain Bligh, was again set at liberty. He and Thompson now began baiting and jeering at us, and McCoy and John Williams joined with them. For a moment it seemed likely that there would be a pitched battle between us, and there is no doubt that the non-mutineers would have had the worst of it. Fortunately for us, Christian soon restored order. He came forward, his eyes blazing with anger.
“Get about your work, Thompson,” he ordered. “Burkitt, if I have any more trouble from you, I’ll put you in irons and keep you there!”
“That’s how it is to be, is it?” Thompson replied. “Well, we won’t have it, Mr. Christian. We ain’t mutinied to have you come the Captain Bligh over us!”
“No, by God, we have n’t!” Williams added; “and that you’ll find!”
Christian looked at them for a moment without speaking, and there was that in his eyes to relieve any apprehensions one might have had as to his ability to cope with the situation. The four turbulent men dropped their glances sullenly. Several of the seamen were standing by, Alexander Smith among them. “Order all hands aft, Smith,” said Christian. He returned to the quarter-deck and paced up and down while the men collected. Then he turned and faced them.
“There is one matter we will decide once for all,” he began, quietly, “and that is who is to be captain of this ship. I have taken her with your help, in order to be rid of a tyrant who has made life a burden to all of us. Make no mistake about our status from this time on. We are mutineers, and if we should be discovered and taken by one of His Majesty’s vessels, not a man of us but will suffer death. That