Minutes of the Proceedings of the Court-Martial
held at Portsmouth, August 12, 1792 on Ten Persons charged with Mutiny on Board His Majesty's Ship the Bounty. With an Appendix containing a full Account of the real Causes and Circumstances of that unhappy Transaction, the most material of which have hitherto been withheld from the Public.
London, J. Deighton, 1794
In 1789, a gang of disgruntled sailors commandeered the ninety-foot Bounty, rebelling against their captain, William Bligh, following a research voyage to Tahiti to collect plants. Led by ship's mate Christian Fletcher, the mutineers cast Bligh and nineteen of his loyal sailors adrift in a rowing boat before escaping to Pitcairn Island where they planned to settle. They set fire to the Bounty to cover their tracks, but their crimes caught up with them two years later when, after news of the mutiny reached Britain, a ship was dispatched to arrest the mutineers. After rounding up fourteen out of twenty-three of them, they were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on the deck of HMS Pandora. Four died along with thirty-one crewmen when the ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, but the remaining ten prisoners were returned to Britain to face court martial in Portsmouth.
This sensational trial led to three pamphlets: the first by Barney, with an appendix by Fletcher Christian's brother, Edward, in which Christian seeks to justify the mutiny; the second by Bligh in which he defends himself; and the third by Christian, replying to Bligh's defence.
Bligh had already returned to England in 1790, not as the man who had lost his ship to mutineers, but as the courageous hero who had sailed his men to safety in an open boat over 3,600 miles with scant provisions and navigational equipment. This must rank as the greatest row-to in maritime history, perhaps only approached by Worsley's epic voyage in the south Atlantic on Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The sensational news of his ordeal elevated him to celebrity status.
The Minutes of... the Court-Martial is, according to Parsons 'a legendary Pacific rarity'. Hill notes that 'only a few copies were printed for distribution among the interested parties and the ministers of state at that time'. The work gives an account of the trial of the members of the Bounty crew who were captured and repatriated; the minutes were taken by Stephen Barney, who was representing William Musprat.
The Appendix is by Edward Christian is a vindication of his brother Fletcher's conduct in the affair. Christian had represented his brother as a tormented romantic figure, which did much to fix for posterity the perception of Bligh as a brutal authoritarian. Christian notes that the crew declared that 'Captain Bligh used to call his officers "scoundrels, damned rascals, hounds, hell-hounds, beasts, and infamous wretches"... that he frequently threatened them, that when the ship arrived at Endeavour Straits "he would kill one half of the people, make the officers jump overboard, and would make them eat grass like cows;" and that Christian, and Stewart, another midshipman, were as much afraid of the Endeavour Straits, as any child is of a rod' (p63).
The court-martial of the ten mutineers was held aboard the HMS Duke, with Lord Hood presiding over a panel of twelve captains. Of the ten men tried, Joseph Coleman (armourer), Thomas McIntosh and Charles Norman (carpenter's mates), and Michael Byrn (able seaman) were acquitted. Bligh had singled out the first three as loyalists but as there was no more room in the launch on which he was set adrift, they were obliged to stay aboard the Bounty. Peter Heywood (midshipman), James Morrison (boatswain's mate), William Muspratt (cook's assistant), and able seamen Thomas Ellison, John Millward and Thomas Burkett were found guilty and condemned to death. Heywood and Morrison were later given royal pardons; and Muspratt was acquitted owing to the fact that certain evidence had not been entered at the time of the court-martial. Only Burkett, Ellison, and Millward were hanged.
First edition. 4to (32 x 25.5 cms), [iv], 79pp. One line erratum at foot of last page, a superb copy, stitched as issued, completely uncut, with very large margins; title lightly dust-soiled, a few minor marginal nicks, preserved in modern calf-backed book-form box.
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