March 2014 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Mutiny on the Bounty, 225 Years Later

The HMS Bounty was just a small merchant vessel on its way to Tahiti to collect breadfruit. Under the command of the now infamous Captain Bligh, the ship left dock in December of 1787 for its arduous ten-month journey at sea, during which time Bligh demoted his sailing master and replaced him with Fletcher Christian, a move he would surely come to regret. Still, they made it to Tahiti, where the crew stayed for five months. In April of 1789, they left the island and headed for disaster.

It took only a few weeks for the mutiny to foment. Christian and his band of mutineers took the ship (eventually to Pitcairn Island, where they eluded the Royal Navy), and set Bligh and his loyalists adrift in a small boat. Amazingly, Bligh returned his crew to England.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.21.31 AM.pngIt is, of course, a story that was sensational from the beginning, providing the basis for many books and films. One of the first publications was the printed minutes of the 1792 court-martial of the Bounty mutineers--those the Navy had caught, anyway. Ten men went to trial, of which three were hanged. For a collector of Bounty books and relics, this is undoubtedly a high spot. Bonhams sold one last year for slightly more than $50,000.

Edward R. Leahy is one such Bounty collector. His interest lies in the historical efforts to demonize Bligh, who was often portrayed as tyrannical. "From Bligh's Narrative to the mutineer's court martial transcripts to the spurious Fletcher Christian letters and the authentic and extremely rare Peter Heywood letters, Mr. Leahy has assembled the historical evidence," according to the University of Scranton special collections librarian Michael Knies. "But he has also collected the start of the Mutiny saga in the arts with works like Lord Byron's The Island."

Mutiny Small Boat 2.jpgThe image seen here of the small boat that Bligh and his crew survived in after the mutiny, from Leahy's 1818 first edition of An Account of the Dangerous Voyage, Performed by Captain Bligh, With a part of the crew of His Majesty's Ship Bounty, in an open boat, over twelve hundred leagues of the Ocean, with an Appendix, In which is contained an Account of the Island of Otaheite (London, Juvenile Library edition). With other selections from Leahy's library, it is currently on display through April 17 at the University of Scranton's Weinberg Library in an exhibit called The Mutiny on the Bounty: A 225-Year Voyage from Fiction to Fact. On April 9, Leahy will present a lecture on the facts and the myths of the Bounty.

Images: Top, courtesy of Bonhams; Bottom, courtesy of the University of Scranton, Weinberg Library.