Stopping at Pitcairn island, a remote island 4,000 miles from Panama and 3,000 miles from New Zealand, to drop off stores to the islanders in their long boats when sailing in ships bound for New Zealand; and meeting the radio operator for the island Tom Christian, a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the infamous mutineer, the Mutiny on the Bounty story has always fascinated me.
Now the National Maritime Museum Cornwall is to launch its second major new temporary exhibition for 2017; Captain Bligh: Myth, Man and Mutiny.
Running from March 17, 2017, to January 7, 2018, this exhibition not only remembers a notable West Countryman and significant national figure, in the 200th anniversary year of his death, telling a story that challenges the more commonly known Hollywood depiction; it also brings to life one of the greatest small-boat survival stories in history, featuring relics from the voyage and a specially built replica of the Bounty launch, giving a very real sense of the situation of the 18 men who sailed it over 3,600 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.
The exhibition also takes a globally important story, and explores the Cornwall context, in this case Bligh’s Cornish roots.
In April 1789 HM Bounty, an armed transport was sailing in the Pacific under the command of Lt William Bligh when a mutiny led by his acting Lt. Fletcher Christian started off a chain of events that would go down in naval history.
Bligh and his loyal men were cast adrift mid-ocean in the Bounty’s 23-foot launch in the expectation they would die. In a remarkable feat of seamanship, Bligh sailed the heavily overloaded launch to safety across 3,600 miles of open sea from Tonga to Timor, in the East Indies.
This journey has been described as one of the greatest small-boat survival voyages, a triumph of endurance, navigation and leadership against extraordinary odds.
Following extensive research a replica of the Bounty’s boat in which Bligh was cast adrift, is being constructed at the museum led by professional and accomplished local boatbuilder, Andrew Nancarrow, supported by the Museum’s new trainee Boat Curator, Ollie Crediton and Advanced Apprentice in Boat Conservation, Reuben Thompson, a small team of Museum Volunteers and students from Falmouth Marine School.
The exhibition also challenges the myths and stereotypical perceptions created by the various Hollywood depictions. There have been three popular films based on the incident: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton as Christian and Bligh; Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard appeared were cast in the 1962 version, while The Bounty (1984) had Mel Gibson confronting Anthony Hopkins. Each presents a fairly straightforward dramatic tale of Bligh as ‘villain’ versus Fletcher Christian as romantic hero. Today notable historians paint a more sympathetic picture of Bligh.