TAHITI HISTORICAL ASPECTS
Tahiti Bounty - Part 2
Bligh seems to have accepted that the outcome to this adventure did not lie in his hands, and he returned his company to their former routine while awaiting whatever news his Tahitian friends brought him of the deserters. His own time was once again divided between the nursery and enquiry into local customs, and he observed with delight 'the swarms of little Children which are in every part of the Country,' flying kites, playing cat's cradle, and skipping rope, the latter game, as he noted being 'common with the Boys in England.' While onshore on 16 January, he received a message from Fryer that a man known to have given conveyance to the deserters was on board the Bounty.: did Bligh want Fryer to detain him? Incredulous, Bligh returned to the ship to find the informant had escaped by diving overboard and that no attempt had been made to follow him.
'As he knew perfectly my determination in punishing this Man if ever he could be caught, it was an unnecessary delay in confining him,' Bligh wrote of Fryer. The following day, he had even greater cause for anger. Spare sails that Bligh had ordered to be taken out of storage and aired were found to be mildewed and rotting. 'If I had any Offices to supercede the Master and Boatswain, or was capable of doing without them, considering them as common Seamen, they should no longer occupy their respective Stations,' Bligh fumed. 'Scarce any neglect of duty can equal the criminality of this, for it appears that altho the Sails have been taken out twice since I have been in the Island, which I thought fully sufficient and I had trusted to their reports, Yet these New Sails never were brought out.' Bligh had the sails washed in the sea, then hung to dry 'to be ready for repairing'. Bligh had the sails washed in the sea, then hung to dry 'to be ready for repairing', a laborious ask. the Bounty's voyage was only half over, an estimated ten months of sailing lay ahead.
Almost three weeks passed before word was brought that the deserters had been located in Tettahah, some five miles distant. Bligh at once set out to apprehend them, although darkness was coming and it was a rainy, windy night. surprised by Bligh were they had taken shelter, the three men resignedly surrendered without resistance. Once back at the ship, Bligh read the Articles of War and administered punishment" twelve lashes for Charles Churchill, two dozen each for William Muspratt and Millward - to be repeated at a later date. In between the flogging, the men were confined in irons and found time to write Bligh an extraordinary letter:
If the men believed that a submissive, honey-toned letter would charm their captain into dropping the second part of the punishment, they were proved mistaken when, eleven days later, the second round was indeed administered. Why Charles Churchill should have received a lesser punishment than his fellows is unclear. the punishment as a whole was, in any case, lenient, convicted deserters - with good service and character taken into consideration - could expect to receive 100 to 150 lashes. Bligh's leniency had been carefully considered. As he wrote in his log, 'this affair was solely caused by the neglect of the Offices who had the Watch.' the officer in question, identified by Morrison as Midshipman Thomas Hayward, had been asleep at his station, a crime under the Articles of War no less serious than desertion. (No Person in or belonging to the Fleet shall sleep up0on his Watch, or negligently perform the Duty imposed on him, or forsake his Station, upon Pain of Death....') Bligh disrated the officer, turning him before the mast. According to an approving Morrison, he had also been clapped in irons until the runaways were returned.
'I was induced to give them all a lecture on this occasion.' Bligh continued, referring to his order officers, 'and endeavoured to show them that however exempt they wee at present from the like punishment, yet they were equally subject by the Articles of War to a condign one.' In other words, although his officers were exempt 'at present from being flogged, they were liable to 'a severe and well-deserved' punishment. It is within this remarkable lecture that the tensions so fatal to the voyage can be discerned most transparently. 'An Officer with Men under his care is at all times in some degree responsible for their conduct,' Bligh wrote in his log, paraphrasing this lecture, 'but when from his neglect men are brought to punishment while he only meets with a reprimand, because a publick conviction by Tryal will bring both into a more severe and dangerous situation, an alternative often laid aside through lenity, and sometimes necessity, as it now is in both cases; it is an unpleasant thing to remark that no feelings of honor, or sense of shame is to be Observed in such an Offender.'
The list of his officers' transgressions while in Tahiti, quite apart from incidents in the earlier part of the voyage, is impressive: when moving from Matavai to Oparre, Fryer had allowed the ship to run aground; a midshipman had slept on his watch and allowed three men to desert; the sails had been allowed to rot; on returning from capturing the deserters, Bligh had discovered that the ship's timekeeper, critical to accurate navigation, had been allowed to run down; the ship's rudder had been stolen from the camp; and in early March, an azimuth compass had been taken from under the noses of the men onshore, for which, according to Morrison, 'Mr. Bligh ... went on shore and rebuked the Officers at the tent for neglecting their duty.; In addition, there are two enigmatic entries in the index Bligh composed to his missing personal log that refer to Mr. Hallet's contumacy' and 'Mr. Hallet's behaviour.'
No wonder, then, that Bligh had raged after learning of the desertion that 'such neglectfull and worthless petty Officers I believe never was in a Ship as are in this. No Orders for a few hours together are Obeyed by them, and their conduct in general is so bad, that no confidence or trust can be reposed in them, in short,' he concluded ominously, 'they have drove me to every thing but Corporal punishment and that must follow if they do not improve.' The tenor of these occasional outbursts suggests that many more aggravations had passed unrecorded. it is a striking fact that, with one exception, Fryer and Purcell are the only officers named by Bligh in his official log. The names of Hallett, Hayward, Christian - other known offenders - have all been edited out, perhaps along with others of his young gentlemen. Bligh was later, privately, to refer to Edward Young, for example, as 'a worthless wretch', which at the very least suggests dereliction of some duties; and yet Young's name is never mentioned in the Admiralty's log. All of these young gentlemen were friends of the friends and patrons Bligh would have to rub shoulder with once back in England.
On 4 February, two nights after the second part of the deserters' punishment was meted out under cover of heavy rain, the cable of the Bounty's bower anchor was cut, an act that could have brought the ship to disaster by allowing it to drift upon the reef. No explanation for what Bligh termed 'this Malicious act' could be made; indeed, the mystery would be cleared up only much later, when the mutineers returned to Tahiti and learned that the agent had been the taio of Midshipman Hayward. His object had been to wreck the ship so as to ensure that his friend never left Tahiti. More alarming, he declared that he had watched as the deserters were flogged and vowed that if a lash were laid on Hayward, he would kill Bligh for it. But now, perplexed and affronted, Bligh threatened 'instant revenge' unless the perplexed and affronted, Bligh threatened 'instant revenge' unless the perpetrator was produced. To underscore his displeasure, Bligh held aloof from Tynah and Iddeeah for two days, approaching them only to reiterate his anger. but for all his efforts, the unhappy chief was unable to produce the villain, and at length burst into tears.
'I could no longer keep these people under an idea that I mistrusted them,' Bligh wrote, already repentant. 'Our reconciliation therefore took place, and they came on board with me at Noon to dine.'
February and March, the last two months the Bounty was to be in Tahiti, were spent readying the ship for departure. Under the great lowering cloud banks that filled the sky with violent colour and claimed the island heights, the bounty's men worked through the daily fits of rain that ranged from light to torrential. Their very visible activities - caulking, repairing sails, mending iron fittings, stowing provisions and all the bustle preparatory to a long voyage - caused consternation among the 'Tahitian, now faced with the imminent certainty of losing their friends. Tynah began an unsuccessful bid to persuade Bligh to carry himself and Iddeeah to England. This period also saw an increase in the number of thefts, as many Tahitians saw their last chance for a little profit fading. As Bligh wrote, 'it is to be expected when a ship is near the time of Sailing,' adding that he attached no blame to the Tahitians, because he was perfectly certain that had the Ship been lying in the river Thames, a hundred times as much would have been Stolen.' nonetheless, when thanks to Tynah's efforts, the thief of the azimuth compass was found, Bligh felt the time had come to deter all such future acts with a demonstration of Pretanee's might.
'Kill him,' said Tynah, committed to demonstrating his unwavering good faith. Bligh was not inclined to do so, but instead administered the most severe punishment of his voyage; one hundred lashes to the thief, who was then confined in irons until the departure of the ship. 'His back became very much swelled,' Bligh recorded with a kind of wonderment, 'but only the last stroke broke the Skin.' the incident is also recorded by Morrison, who administered the flogging and makes no adverse comments on it, only remarking that Bligh had gone 'in a passion' to Tynah when the theft was first discovered. Still the rains continued, and on the dawn watch of a day and night that had seen 'much Rain', the mate of the watch heard a splash over the side of the ship, which on investigation turned out to be the sound of the confined thief diving overboard to his freedom. The thief's escape - according to Morrison, he had picked his lock - elicited a last strenuous outburst from Bligh.
'I have such a neglectfull set about me,' he wrote, after castigating the mate of the watch, whom, exceptionally, he named as George Stewart (it is worth noting he had not come to Bligh through a patron), 'that I believe nothing but condign punishment can alter their conduct' - this was the second occasion Bligh had adverted to the possibility of 'condign' punishment of his officers. 'Verbal orders in the course of Month were so forgot that they would impudently assert no such thing or directions were given, and I have been at last under the necessity to trouble myself with writing what by decent Young Officers would be compiled with as the common rules of Service.'
As preparations for departure continued, it is likely that at least some of the Bounty's men looked up from their work on the shi, through the rain and its steaming aftermath, across the water to the rustling skirt of palms and the dense canopies of fragrant trees they now knew so well . . . and dreaded the day of departure. Not just a life of ease, but friends, lovers, common-law wives, in some cases their future children would be left behind. William Bligh, on the other hand, for all the praise he showered on the island and for all hi ease and professed friendships with his hosts, had always had his eye on the homeward run. His outbursts at his officers significantly increased in the final months of the Tahitian sojourn. Whether this was simply because Bligh had reached the limit of tolerance for their irresponsible behaviour, or because he responded to the increased pressures of the approaching departure by lashing out at those next in pecking order, is impossible to know. Certainly Bligh had much to tank about even without the worry over unreliable officers. His ship and everything in her had to be overhauled and provisioned for the long voyage still ahead; he had to take final surveys of the coast and harbour, which would be submitted to the Admiralty for the use of future navigators; he had to relate the ships timekeeper, and keep a clear head for the Endeavour Straits. Relationships with Tynah and all local dignitaries had to be massaged until the last moment, so that future British vessels would receive as much goodwill as had the bounty. And he had to nurse the 1015 breadfruit and other miscellaneous plants through the vicissitudes of a twelve-thousand-mile voyage home.
'One day, or even one hours negligence may at any period be the means of destroying all the Trees and Plants which may have been collected,' Banks had written in his final orders to Nelson and characteristic directness, noting earlier, 'You will take care to remind Lieutenant Bligh of that circumstance.' On 27th March, Bligh ordered all cats and the two dogs disembarked in preparation for bringing the plants on board, an operation that he characterized as 'tedious'. Nor firmly rooted in boxes, tubs and pots, they had all to be sorted by size and arranged in their appropriate holdings.
'Thus far I have accomplished the Object of my voyage,' Bligh wrote, days later, when the operation was finished. complacently surveying his flourishing plants neatly arrayed in the great cabin, he noted he had managed to stow 309 additional breadfruit to what had originally been planned; he was, then , sagely covered for any losses. With the ship crammed - 'lumbered', to borrow Morrison's items - with gifts of coconuts, yams and 0lantains, the men made their goodbyes, Tynah and Iddeeah wept bitterly, begging Bligh to spend one last night in Matavai, but this he gently declined. He had grave misgivings about leaving his friends, knowing, as did they, that once the protection of the Bounty was removed they would be vulnerable to attacks from other chiefs from other parts of the island, jealous of the many gifts that the English visitors had showered upon them.
'I hope,' Bligh had logged earlier, 'that they will never be forgot by us.' He had complied with Tynah's wish to be left two muskets and two pistols for protection. Purcell, unexpectedly, had thrown in an American musket that was much appreciated; Iddeeah in particular had impressed the bounty's men with her proficiency in firearms (as she had done with her surfing and wrestling). 'If therefore these good and friendly people are to be destroyed from our intercourse with them, unless they have timely assistance,' Bligh logged by way of a pointed note to the Admiralty, 'I think it is the business of any of his Majestys Ships that may come here to punish any such attempt.' As he noted, he and his men had for twenty-three weeks been 'treated with the greatest kindness: fed with the best of Meat and finest Fruits in the world.'
In the early afternoon of 5 April, Bligh, with his officers, took affectionate leave of Tynah and Iddeeah on board the Bounty, and then ordered the cutter to carry them ashore near Point Venus. As the ship rode at anchor in the lee of the outlying reef, all on board could watch the small, bobbing boat make its way to the black shore one last time. The weather was squally, the palms clattering unheard across the water as Tynah and Iddeeah bade good-bye to the boatmen, and then turned to face the Bounty and the sea.
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