William Bligh & HMS Bounty Effects Offered at Sworders
Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, England — Personal effects once owned by Lieutenant William Bligh (1754-1817) of HMS Bounty fame come for sale in Essex this month. A timed auction at Sworders (September 17-26) will offer the collection of the late John O’Conner (1940-2020), an authority on the subject who first became interested in the Bounty story after watching a rerun of a 1935 movie. He collected for many years and visited Pitcairn Island, where the descendants of the mutineers still live, on three different occasions.
Buying at auction and through other collectors, O’Conner owned some of Bligh’s most personal possessions. His silver pair cased verge pocket watch hallmarked London 1802 is expected to sell for up to £5000. It has a provenance to Bligh's eldest daughter Harriet Maria Barker (1781-1856) and a Christie's sale in 1997 while two horn beakers, once owned by Bligh's daughters Frances (1788-1862) and Jane (1788-1875) bought at Bonhams in 1996 are guided at £200-300.
A green-stained bone handled knife and fork (estimate £200-300) and a yew wood walking stick (estimate £400-600) both have a provenance to Mary Putland (1783-1864), Bligh’s second eldest daughter who accompanied him to Australia when he became the fourth governor of New South Wales (1806-08).
A green glass wine bottle, believed to have been carried onboard HMS Bounty on its infamous journey, comes with documentation with expectations of £200-300.
The mutiny on the Bounty occurred in the South Pacific on 28 April 1789. On a mission to collect bread-fruit trees from Tahiti and take them to plantations in the West Indies, disaffected crewmen, led by acting-Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship's open launch. Bligh navigated more than 3500 nautical miles in the launch to reach safety in Timor while the mutineers variously settled on Tahiti and on Pitcairn.
Debate still continues as to whether Bligh was victim or a villain. Much of what is known of the story comes from Bligh’s personal account, published shortly after he was honourably acquitted at a Royal Navy court martial inquiry in October 1790.
First edition copies are included in the sale. A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship Bounty; and the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew, in the Ship's Boat (1790) is guided at £1000-2000 while A Voyage to the South Sea... for the Purpose of Conveying the Bread-fruit Tree to the West Indies (1792) is expected to bring £500-800.
“The Mutiny on the Bounty remains one of the most famous voyages of the Navy and John O’Conner was an expert in his field and something of an obsessive on the topic having visited Pitcairn Island on three different occasions. There are some truly historical items in the collection and we expect interest from all over the world, “ said Daniel Webster, Senior Valuer at Sworders.