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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieutenant Bligh to Sir Joseph Banks. (Banks Papers.)*

Lieutenant Bligh to Sir Joseph Banks. (Banks Papers.)*

On the 16th August, 1787, I received my commission to command his Majesty’s armed vessel Bounty (for that was her establishment), and to fit her out with the utmost despatch for remote parts.

The burthen of this ship was nearly two hundred and fifteen tons, her extreme length on deck 90 ft. 10 in., and breadth from outside to outside of the bends 24 ft. 3 in., a flush deck, and a pretty figure-head of a woman in a riding-habit.

The complement of men and officers:—
1 lieutenant and commander 1 qr.-master’s mate
1 master 1 boatswain’s mate
1 boatswain 1 gunner’s mate
1 gunner 1 carpenter’s mate
1 carpenter 1 sailmaker
1 surgeon 1 armourer
2 master’s mates 1 corporal
2 midshipmen 1 carpenter’s crew
1 clerk 24 able seamen
2 quarter-masters 45, total.

Out of the number 45 is one borne not actually on board, his pay going to the support of widows, so that the real number on board were 44 seamen and officers, likewise one botanist and an assistant, the whole being 46.

On the 4th October I was fully victualled and stored for 18 months, and on the 20th Novemr., 1787, I received my final orders to proceed on my voyage, the purport of which was as follows:—

The King, upon a representation from his subjects in the West Indies that the introduction of the bread-fruit-tree among them would be of universal good to constitute an article of food, and that such having been signified to be his Majesty’s pleasure unto the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by Lord Sydney, one of his Principal Secretaries of State, I was therefore directed to sail forthwith round Cape Horn for the Society Islands, in latitude about 18° S. and longitude 210° east of Greenwich, and there, with the necessary articles I was furnished

* This letter was sent to Sir Joseph Banks on October 13, 1789. Ante, p. 92.

page 95 with, to procure of the natives as many plants as I could stow on board the ship.

Having completed this, I was to proceed through Endeavour Streights (which seperate New Guinea from New Holland), and from thence to Prince’s Island, in the Streights of Sunda, leaving to my discretion to touch at Java or any other island for refreshment and water as I might think most proper.

From Prince’s Island I was to proceed discretionally to St. Vincent’s, one of the Windward Islands, and depositing one-half of my plants there, I was to go immediat’ly to Jamaica, and having given the remainder there to persons appointed to receive them, I was then, with such plants as were directed by his Majesty to be put on board, to return to England.

This was the sole design of my voyage, to complete which I sailed from Spithead on the 23rd December, 1787.

On the 23rd March, 1788, I doubled Staten Land,* and attempted to make my passage round Cape Horn, between the latitude of 59° S. and 61° S., but I met with such dreadfull tempestuous weather and mountainous seas, with hail and snow storms, that altho’ I tryed it for 30 days I could not accomplish it.

I therefore (as my people were getting ill, and I had the honor to have the most discretionary orders to do as I thought best for the good of the voyage) determined to bear away for the Cape of Good Hope on the 22nd of April, and repassed Staten Land the next day.

On the 24th May anchored at the Cape of Good Hope, and having refitted and completed my stores and provisions, I sailed on the 1st July, 1788, arrived at Van Diemen’s Land on the 20th August, and having completed wooding and watering, I sailed from thence the 4th September.

On the 19th September, after having past the south part of New Zealand, I discovered very dangerous rocky islets never known before. They extend 3 1/2 miles east and west, and 1 1/2 north and south. They lie from the Traps, off the south end of New Zealand, so. 89 east, distant 146 leagues. Their latitude is 47° 44′ 30″ so.; longitude, 179° 09′ east.

On the 26th October I anchored in Matavai Bay, Otaheite; sailed the 25th December, and anchored in Toahroah Harbour, 3 miles distance from the bay. I remained here untill the 4th April, when I sailed with 1,015 bread-fruit plants and many fruit kind, in all 774 pots, 39 tubs, and 24 boxes. Latitude of this harbour, 17° 31′ 26″ S.; longitude, p’r observ’n, sun and moon, and stars each side of the moon, 210° 31′ 37″ E.; variation compass, 5° 31′ E.

* Staten Island.

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I left these happy islanders in much distress, for the utmost affection, regard, and good fellowship remained among us during my stay. The King and all the Royal family were allways my guests, and their good sense and observations, joined with the most engaging dispositions in the world, will ever make them beloved by all who become acquainted with them as friends.

On the 12th April I discover’d an island, called by the natives Whytootackee, whose chief was named Comackaiah, as I was informed by people in a cannoe that came off to me. Their language seemed to prove them nearly the same people as at Otaheite. This island is about ten miles in circuit, in latitude 18° 52′ S. It has eight small keys, lying joined by a reef to the S.S.E. of it, and one to the W.S.W. The southermost key lies in latitude 18° 58′ S.; the longitude by observation is 200° 19′ east of Greenwich; variation compass, 8° 14′ E.

On the 18th of April I saw Savage Island, in 19° 02′ S., and longitude, by my observation, 190° 18′ E. of Greenwich.

On the 21st of April I made the Friendly Islands, and on the 23rd following I anchored in Annamoca Road (called by Tasman, Rotterdam). On the 26th, having completed my water and got on board some wood, I sailed.

This island lies in latitude 20° 16′ S., 185° 30′ E.

On the 28th of April, in the morning, the N.W.’most of the Friendly Islands, called Tofoa, bore N.E. ten leagues, and I had directed my course to the W.N.W., with a ship in most perfect order, and all my plants in a most flourishing condition, all my men and officers in good health, and, in short, everything to flatter and insure my most sanguine expectations and success.

But I am now to relate one of the most atrocious and consumate acts of piracy ever committed.

At dawn of day Fletcher Christian, officer of the watch, Charles Churchill, ship’s corporal, Thomas Burkitt, seaman, and several others came into my cabbin, and while I was asleep seized and tyed my hands behind my back with a strong cord, and with cutlasses and a bayonet fixed at my breast threatened instant death if I spoke or made the least noise. I, nevertheless, called out so loud that everyone heard me, and were flying to my assistance; but all my officers, except those concerned, were kept in their cabbins by armed centinels, and the arm-chest was in their possession. I was now hauled upon deck in my shirt, and hands tyed behind me, held by Fletcher Christian and Charles Churchill, with a bayonet at my breast, and two men, Alex. Smith and Thomas Burkitt, behind me with loaded musquets cocked and bayonets fixed. Under this guard I was kept abaft the mizenmast. The different hatchways were all guarded by armed men in the same manner, and those who were to be sent out of page 97 the ship, and some of the mutineers who could be spared, hoisted the boats out. Among these was the boatswain, who, with some others, got sails, twine, rope, grapnel, and a small cask of water into the boat, about which there were many altercations among the mutinous crew, and exerting myself in speaking loud to try if I could rally any with a sense of duty in them, I was saluted with, “Damn his eyes! blow his brains out.“

Being confined and kept apart from everyone, Mr. Samuel, my clerk, secured to me a quadrant and compass, some cloaths, my journals, and a few material ship’s papers; but all my valuable instruments, with a timepiece of three hundred and fifty guineas value, a valuable collection of books, maps, and drawings, with all my remarks and observations for fifteen years past, were kept from me. He also secured about one hundred and fifty pounds of bread.

The officers and men being now drove into the boat one by one, I was told by Christian, “Sir, your officers are now in the boat, and you must go with them.“ I was then taken hold of under a guard, and forced over the gangway into the boat, which waited only for me, and untying my hands, I was veer’d astern by a rope. A few pounds of pork were now thrown to us, being nineteen in number; and each began to sollicit some of their little valuables that were left behind them. I desired only some firearms, and even at last sollicited two, but we received insolence, and were told I should have none. Four cutlasses were, however, thrown into the boat, and we were cast adrift, and rowed with all our strength for the land.

The size of the boat was 23 feet from stem to stern, and rowed six oars, and was so deeply lumbered that they believed we could never reach the shore, and some of them made their jokes of it. However, by 7 o’clock in the evening I got safe under Tofoa, but could find no landing, and therefore kept the boat under the land all night, paddling with two oars to preserve our station.

29th.—Endeavouring to find landing, to increase our stock of water and to get some cocoanuts and provisions.

30th.—Found landing at the N. W. part of the island, in a cove, latitude 19° 41′ S., as I observed it. Went in search of water, but found only a few quarts in holes of the rocks; suffered much fatigue and distress. I should now have proceeded, as I intended, for some of the islands where I had a knowledge of the chiefs, for I was well acquainted here, but the wind and sea was too stormy to venture out. Part of us slept in the boat, and others, with myself, on shore, and as we saw no natives we felt our distress the more, because we wanted not to use any of our own stock.

page 98

1st May.—Party out as yesterday, and found out the residence who brought supplies of cocoanuts and breadfruit, besides shells of water, all of which I bought for buttons which we cut off our cloaths. They all left us at sundown. W’r so windy could not proceed to sea.

2nd.—In the morning two cheifs—Eegyeefow, and the other Maccaacabou—came down; also two cannoes came in, and another chief, called Vageetee, and having enquired our situation and my determination to proceed to Paulehow, their king (Eegyeefow) agreed as soon as it moderated to go with me. This readiness gave me pleasure, but in a few hours I had as much uneasyness. The natives began to be very troublesome, and shewed signs of hostilities towards us. We, however, thought they would go off at sundown, as they had done before, and that then I could leave the place without any risk, but it proved to the contrary, for three cannoes were now come in, and places were fixed on for their residence during the night and fires made.

I therefore determined to do our best while it was light, and directed some provisions we had bought to be put in the boat. The cheifs desired I would stay, notwithstanding they perceived that I saw all their people were arming with clubs and stones. We were now all on the go, and taking one of the cheifs by the hand, with a cutlass in the other, and my people with sticks, we proceeded down to the boat, when we were attacked by a multitude of Indians, in the course of which I lost a very worthy good man,* and the rest of us more or less bruized and wounded.

As I hauled out to our grapnel I hoped they could no longer annoy us, but here I was mistaken, for they launched their cannoes and gave battle to us, or rather stoned us, untill I got a league from the land. I could not return their salute but with such stones as lodged in the boat. I therefore, as the only thing left for to save our lives, exhorted everyone to persevere in rowing, and throwing overboard some cloaths, which beguiled them and they lost time in taking up, together with the night coming on, we very miraculously escaped. Taking this as a real sample of their natural disposition, there were little hopes to expect much where I was going, for I considered their good behaviour hitherto owing to a dread of our firearms, which now knowing us to have none would not be the case, and that supposing our lives were safe, our boat, compass, and quadrant would all be taken from me, and thereby I should not be able to return to my King and country to give an account of the transaction.

* The Quarter-master, John Norton.

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I was now sollicited by every person to take them towards home, and when I told them no hopes of releif remained for us but what I might find at New Holland untill I came to Timor, a distance of 1,200 leagues, where there was a Governor, but that I had no idea at what part of the island the settlement was, they all agreed to live on one ounce of bread per day and one gill of water.

I therefore, after reccommending this promise for ever to their memory, bore away for New Holland, and from thence to Timor, a distance of 1,200 leagues accross a sea where navigation is dangerous and not known, and in a small boat deep loaded with eighteen souls, without a single map, and nothing but my own reccollection and general knowledge of the situation of places, assisted by a table in an old book of latitude and longitude, to guide me.

Our stock of provisions at first consisted of 150 pounds of bread (part of which afterwards got damaged and lost), 28 gallons of water, 20 pounds of pork, 3 bottles of wine, and 5 quarts of rum.

It may be asked what could be the cause for such a revolution. In answer to which I have only to give a description of Otaheite, which has every allurement both to luxury and ease, and is the Paradise of the world.

The women are handsome and mild in their manners and conversation, with sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved, and the cheifs have acquired such a liking to our people that they rather have encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions to them.

Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desireable, is it to be now wondered at that a set of sailors void of connections (or, if they have any, not possessed of natural feelings sufficient to wish themselves never to be seperated from them) should be led by such powerful tyes.

But equal to this, what a temptation is it to such wretches when they find it in their power (however illegally it can be got at) to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest island in the world, where they need not labour, and where the allurements of disipation are more than equal to anything that can be conceived.

Desertions have happened more or less in every ship that has been at the Society Isles, but it has ever been in the commander’s power to make the cheifs return their people. They therefore knew such a plan could never succeed, and perhaps suggested that never so small a ship and so elligible an opportunity would offer to them again.

page 100

Christian was the officer on deck, and the whole watch being concerned except two midshipmen, who knew not what the officer was about, it is not surprising that the business was speedily done, all the able men being concerned, and also the greatest number, as may be seen by the following list:—

People who came in the boat.
John Fryer, master Jno. Norton {qr.-mr. (Killed at Tofoa.
Willm. Cole, boatswain Jno. Norton {qr.-mr. (Killed at Tofoa.
Willm. Peckover, gunner Geo. Simpson, qr.-mrs. mate
Willm. Purcell, carpenter Lawrce. Libogue, sailmaker
Thos. Dr. Leward, act. surgeon Robt. Tinkler, a boy
Wm. Elphinstone, master’s mate Jno. Smith, capt’s servt.
Thos. Hayward, mid’n Thos. Hall, ship’s cook
Jno. Hallett, do Robt. Lamb, butcher
Jno. Samuel, clerk. David Nelson, botanist* 18, total.
Peter Linkletter, qr.-mr.
People who remained in the ship.
Fletcher Christian, master’s mate Mattw. Thompson, seaman
Geo. Stewart, acting do Thos. Ellison, do
Peter Heywood, mid’n. Wm. Mickoy, do
Edwd. Young, do Jno. Millward, do
Chas. Churchill, corporal Richd. Skinner, do
James Morrison, boatsw’s mate Mathw. Quintal, do
John Mills, gunner’s mate Michl. Byrne, do
Chas. Norman, carp’r’s mate Heny. Hilbrant, do
Thos. M’Intosh, do crew Isaac Martin, do
Josh. Coleman, armourer Alex. Smith, do
Thos. Burkitt, seaman Willm. Muspratt, do
Jno. Sumner, do Willm. Brown, botanist’s assist.
Jno. Williams, do 25, total remaining in the ship.

To return now to my proceedings in the boat. I steered to the W.N.W., as I formerly had heard from the Freindly Island people that land lay in that quarter.

The weather very boisterous, and obliged to keep right before the sea, which at times run into us and nearly filled the boat, and were obliged to throw all spare cloaths overboard and every article we could possibly do without.

On the 4th May, latitude 18° 58′ S., long. 182° 16′ E., I discover’d land, an island, W.S.W. 4 or 5 leagues.

On the 6th discovered ten other islands, and that day at noon was in lat. 17° 53′ S., and long. 179° 43′ east. Many shoals.

On the 7th discovered other islands; at noon latitude 16° 33′ S., 178° 34′ E., were chased by two large cannoes, but got clear of them by rowing. At night torrents of rain, with thunder and lightning; caught 6 gallons water.

* Died of fever at Koepang. Post, p. 104.

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On the 9th fair w’r; kept steering to the W.N.W. and west.

On the 10th very heavy rains, hard gales and a high sea unto the 14th; suffered much cold in the nights, being constantly wet.

On the 14th discovered land—five islands—and were at noon in latitude 13° 29′ S., 169° 31′ E.; steered to W.S.W.

On the 15th discovered an island; latitude at noon 13° 4′ S., long. 167° 35′ E. Very fresh gale and high sea, with rain; constantly wet and constantly bailing. Distress’d for want of light to see to steer by, the w’r being stormy, with thunder, lightning, rain, and a high sea, keeping the boat before it to the 21st, when we had most dreadfull weather, and the rain fell so heavy that we could scarce keep the boat from filling.

To the 24th the weather and sea continued very bad, and we now dreaded the nights, for we were all benumbed with cold, and what added to our distress in the weak situation we were in, one of us in turns was obliged to be constantly bailing the boat in all this dreadfull weather, being continually wet, and never having a dry rag about us. The resource I directed to be taken was, in the intervals when the rain ceased to strip naked and wash and wring all our cloaths in the sea, which was a great refreshment.

To the 28th the weather better, when at midnight I fell in with most dreadfull breakers, but I was able to stand away clear of them. As I knew I was near the coast of New Holland, I considered this to be the reef off that coast, and I therefore stood to the west again in the morning to search for a passage within it. At 9 in the morning I saw the reef again, and soon after standing along it to the northward I discovered an opening, which I safely entered and got into smooth water.

At noon latitude 12° 46′ S., 145° 02′ E. The entrance I came in at S.E., about 2 leagues.

At ¼-past 5 in the afternoon I got into a bay on an island about a ¼-mile from the main, and finding it uninhabited I determined on searching for supplies. Night came on. We, however, got a few oysters from the rocks, which gave us a tolerable good meal.

As our boat was only large enough to admitt one-half of us to rest at a time, I consented that one party should sleep on shore, but, unfortunately, having no materials, we could not light a fire.

29th May.—At dawn of day we went in search of water and what else we could get, and happily by digging found fine fresh water, and plenty of it. Oysters were the only supply besides, of which, with our allowance of bread, we made very good stews. When the sun came out strong I was enabled to kindle a fire by page 102 a small magnifying-glass, and we then made tinder and matches to supply our wants in future.

All hands were very weak, which with dizziness in the head and a dreadfull tenesmus were the only complaints. At night part of us slept on shore.

30th May.—I now determined, as the people were a little refreshed, to proceed on. I therefore by noon got our small water-casks filled, and having found some fern root that I thought wholesome and very conducive to prevent thirst, I ordered a parcel into the boat. Birds could have easily have been got here if I had had arms. On that account every one we saw recalled to us our miserable situation, but Providence has been graciously kind to us, for we frequently caught by hand sea fowls, which made great additions to our dinners of bread. The frequent supply of water was also a great blessing, but I had not vessels to contain a sufficient allowance; it therefore happen’d that nearly half a pint of water was what each person received in the course of the day, issued at 8 in the morning, at noon, and sunset, with 1/24 of a pound of bread at breakfast, and the same at dinner.

I found the latitude of this place 12° 39′ S., 144° 44′ E. The main appeared with a variety of high and low land, interspersed with wood, and the more interior parts mountainous.

31.—At 4 in the afternoon, having performed divine service, I sailed. Saw twenty natives, armed with spears, come down on the shore opposite to us. They were black, and waved to us to come to them.

I steered along shore to the N.N.W. and N.W. by N., in the direction of the coast. Saw several islands, and at 8 in the morning passed through a cluster, and saw more natives armed in the same manner, and made the same signs. I, however, did not land.

The appearance of the country all changed, being very low, and mostly sandhills. Landed on an island, and gathered shellfish, oysters, and clams; also water, in the hollow of a rock, which enabled us to fill our sea store.

From the heights of this island I saw a small key to the N.W. by N. As my present situation was, therefore, too near the main, having discovered at this place the natives to have cannoes, I again prepared to sail, so as to reach the key before night. At noon dined on stewed oysters and clams. Found the latitude of this isl’d 11° 58′ S., 144° 29′ E.

1st June.—With a continuance of fine w’r this evening I landed and spent the night at the key above mentioned; could get no supplies of any kind. Some of my people were taken ill with vomitings and dizziness; besides, a most dreadfull tenes- page 103 mus afflicted many of them, who had not been at stool for three weeks, and some more.

At noon I found the latitude of this key 11° 47′ S., longitude 144° 24′ E.

2nd June.—This afternoon it came on stong gales, and my people being still ill I preferred giving them a good night’s rest to going to sea. At dawn of day I sailed; people much better. Passed several islands; the coast sandy and barren. At noon, lat. 11° 18′ S., 144° 20′ E., I saw what I considered to be Cape York, bearing W. 1/2 N., 3 leagues.

3rd.—At night I again stopt on an island, whose latitude is 10° 52′ S., 141° 05′ E., by corrected longitude from Cape York, whose true situation is 141° 15′ E. My account, therefore, yesterday was 3° 05′ wrong.

4th.—At dawn of day I again sailed, and followed the direction of the coast to the N.W.; saw many islands and breakers. At noon I was in 10° 31′ S., and 140° 40′ E. I now found I had doubled the north part of New Holland.*

At 5 o’clock this evening I left New Holland, and steered accordingly for Timor, the latitude of which I was not very certain of. However, I determined to make it in the latitude of about 9° 30′ S.

On the 12th June, at 3 in the morning, I saw the island of Timor, bearing W.N.W.

At daylight, finding I was on the S.E. end of it, I went to the south of the island, laying-to at night lest I might pass any settlement, for I was not certain where the Governor resided.

On the 14th, in the afternoon, after having passed through a very heavy breaking sea and shoal water, I discovered an opening, into which I entered and anchored at 3 o’clock, which I since find to be a bay on Timor, opposite to Pulo Samow, in the south entrance, the island Rotty being in sight to the S.W. by S.

Saw some Malays on the shore. Sent two men after them, and they brought several men to me. One of them agreed to be my pilot, and I agreed to give ten half-ducatoons to conduct me to the Governor.

This being settled, we rowed along shore, conducted by him, and on the morning, at dawn of day, I anchored off Coupang, and waited for leave to come on shore. At sunrise I was desired by a soldier to come on shore, and I was conducted to a gentleman’s house (Captain Spykerman), who, upon my application, ordered breakfast and victuals for all hands; the Governor, from severe indisposition, not being able to see me just at that time. The surgeon, a Mr. Max, gave us every kind

* He had passed Cape York and was in Torres Straits.

page 104 assistance in dressing our sores, and all who saw us were ready to contribute to the comfort of such poor distress’d creatures, one-half of whom could not have survived a week longer, and some, perhaps, not a few days.

The Governor, with much goodness, became anxious about us, and altho’ his illness was very severe, I had it in my power to see him by 11 o’clock, and was received in a most affectionate and peculiar manner of kindness, which will ever endear him to my memory.

Orders were instantly given for our accomodation and supplies, and I had full power to see my people taken care of.

Thus happily ended, through the blessing of Divine Providence, without accident, a voyage of the most extraordinary nature that ever happened in the world, let it be taken either in its extent, duration, or so much want of the necessaries of life.

I remained at Coupang untill the 20th August, 1789,* during which time I had the misfortune to lose Mr. David Nelson (botanist), whose good conduct in the course of the whole voyage and manly fortitude in our late disastrous circumstances deserves this tribute to his memory. He died of a fever on the 20th of July.

I have not given so full an account to the Admiralty. You will please, therefore, to attend to it in that particular.

* Bligh arrived at Batavia on the 1st of October, 1789, and sailed for the Cape of Good Hope on the 16th October, arriving on the 16th December. He left the Cape on the 2nd January, 1790, and arrived at Portsmouth on the 14th March.

The last sentence is in Bligh’s handwriting. Although Bligh did not give “so full an account to the Admiralty,“ he wrote and published, on his return to England in 1790, “A Narrative of the Mutiny on board° His Majesty’s Ship Bounty,“ which occupied 88 pages 4to. It was repeated in a fuller account of the Bounty’s voyage, published in 1792.