Everyone named Christian on this island descended from the same two bastard boys, Charles and Thursday. There are hundreds of us now, spread as far as Australia and the States.
When we recount the history, we agree Fletcher Christian seized the Bounty from Bligh and sailed it to Pitcairn, that he brought along the two native women he’d made pregnant and enough men to crew the ship, since many of the mutineers stayed on Tahiti.
But there the stories diverge. The Good Christians, as they call themselves, insist Fletcher was murdered by the jealous Tahitians. Our side knows that he got drunk and attacked Adams, who shot him in self-defense. We’ve argued most bitterly for more than two centuries. There have been fights and even murders.
I’ve spend my entire life here and never said a word to a Good Christian, though they live right next to me.
Thanks to Hollywood, part of the story is well known: Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against his captain, Lieutenant William Bligh, seizing the HMS Bounty and setting Bligh and eighteen loyal followers adrift in a 23-foot open boat. Christian sailed the ship to Pitcairn Island and burned it in the harbor.
But the rest of the tale is even more interesting. Bligh managed to navigate some 4000 miles, eventually reaching England. The Admiralty dispatched the HMS Pandora to track down the mutineers and bring them back for trial, but the shup wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef before it reached Pitcairn. During the courts martial of the mutineers, Bligh seemed to find himself on trial. In the end, only three of the ten were executed.
This story continues to fascinate us, spawning dozens of books and movies. One of my favorite books, Patrick O’Brian’s excellent Desolation Island, briefly touches upon it in this passage:
Yet in spite of their eagerness, they learnt little about Bligh. ‘He did not wish to say anything against Captain Bligh – a capital navigator – very touchy himself, but had no notion of how he offended others – would give you the lie in front of all hands one day and invite you to dinner the next – you never knew where you were with him – led Christian, the master’s mate, a sad life of it, yet probably liked him in his own strange way – never knew where he was with Bounty’s people – no idea at all – was amazed when they turned on him – an odd, whimsical man: had gone to great pains to teach Heywood how to work his lunar observations, yet had sworn his life away with a most inveterate malice – had also brought his carpenter to court-martial for insolence, and that after they had survived the voyage in the launch together – four thousand miles in an open boat, and you bring a man to trial at Spithead!’
He also brings to life what happened when the mutineers were captured:
Captain Edwards had commanded the Pandora, which was sent to capture the mutineers, and which found those who had remained on Tahiti. Heywood looked back to the boy he had been, putting off from the shore as soon as the ship was seen, delighted, and sure of a welcome: he emptied his glass, and with bitter resentment he said, ‘That damned villain of a man put us in irons, built a thing he called Pandora’s Box on the quarterdeck, four yards by six, and crammed us into it, fourteen men, innocent and guilty all together – kept us in it four months and more while he looked for Christian and the others – never found them, of course, the lubber – in irons all the time, never allowed out, even to go to the head. And we were still in the box and still in irons when the infernal bugger ran his ship on to a reef at the entrance to the Endeavour Straits. And what do you think he did for us when she went down? Nothing whatsoever. Never had our irons taken off, never unlocked the box, though it was hours before she settled. If the ship’s corporal had not tossed the keys through the scuttle at the last moment, we must all have been drowned: as it was, four men were trodden under and smothered in the wicked scuffle – water up to our necks . . . Then, although the wretched fellow had four boats out, he had not the wit to provision them: a little biscuit and two or three beakers of water were all we had until we reached the Dutchmen at Coupang, a thousand miles away and more: not that he would ever have found Coupang, either, but for the master. The scoundrel. If it were not uncharitable, I should drink to his damnation for ever and a day.’