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The Lonely Island: The Refuge of the Mutineers

The Lonely Island: The Refuge of the Mutineers

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


On a profoundly calm and most beautiful evening towards the end of the last century, a ship lay becalmed on the fair bosom of the Pacific Ocean...
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  On a profoundly calm and most beautiful evening towards the end of thelast century, a ship lay becalmed on the fair bosom of the PacificOcean.

  Although there was nothing piratical in the aspect of the ship--if weexcept her guns--a few of the men who formed her crew might have beeneasily mistaken for roving buccaneers. There was a certain swagger inthe gait of some, and a sulky defiance on the brow of others, which toldpowerfully of discontent from some cause or other, and suggested theidea that the peaceful aspect of the sleeping sea was by no meansreflected in the breasts of the men. They were all British seamen, butdisplayed at that time none of the well-known hearty off-hand rollickingcharacteristics of the Jack-tar.

  It is natural for man to rejoice in sunshine. His sympathy with cats inthis respect is profound and universal. Not less deep and wide is hisdiscord with the moles and bats. Nevertheless, there was scarcely a manon board of that ship on the evening in question who vouchsafed even apassing glance at a sunset which was marked by unwonted splendour. Thevessel slowly rose and sank on a scarce perceptible ocean-swell in thecentre of a great circular field of liquid glass, on whose undulationsthe sun gleamed in dazzling flashes, and in whose depths were reflectedthe fantastic forms, snowy lights, and pearly shadows of cloudland. Inordinary circumstances such an evening might have raised the thoughts ofordinary men to their Creator, but the circumstances of the men on boardof that vessel were not ordinary--very much the reverse.

  "No, Bill McCoy," muttered one of the sailors, who sat on the breach ofa gun near the forecastle, "I've bin flogged twice for merely growlin',which is an Englishman's birthright, an' I won't stand it no longer. Apretty pass things has come to when a man mayn't growl without tastin'the cat; but if Captain Bligh won't let me growl, I'll treat him to aroar that'll make him cock his ears an' wink six times withoutspeakin'."

  The sailor who said this, Matthew Quintal by name, was a short,thick-set young man of twenty-one or thereabouts, with a forbiddingaspect and a savage expression of face, which was intensified at themoment by thoughts of recent wrongs. Bill McCoy, to whom he said it,was much the same in size and appearance, but a few years older, andwith a cynical expression of countenance.

  "Whether you growl or roar, Matt," said McCoy, with a low-toned laugh,"I'd advise you to do it in the minor key, else the Captain will giveyou another taste of the cat. He's awful savage just now. You shouldhave heard him abusin' the officers this afternoon about hiscocoa-nuts."

  "So I should," returned Quintal. "As ill luck would have it, I wasbelow at the time. They say he was pretty hard on Mr Christian."

  "Hard on him! I should think he was," rejoined McCoy. "Why, if MrChristian had been one of the worst men in the ship instead of the bestofficer, the Cap'n could not have abused him worse. I heard and saw 'imwith my own ears and eyes. The cocoa-nuts was lyin', as it might behere, between the guns, and the Cap'n he came on deck an' said he missedsome of his nuts. He went into a towerin' rage right off--in the oldstyle--and sent for all the officers. When they came aft he says tothem, says he, `Who stole my cocoa-nuts?' Of course they all said theydidn't know, and hadn't seen any of the people take 'em. `Then,' saysthe Cap'n, fiercer than ever, `you must have stole 'em yourselves, forthey couldn't have been taken away without your knowledge.' So hequestioned each officer separately. Mr Christian, when he came to him,answered, `I don't know, sir, who took the nuts, but I hope you do notthink me so mean as to be guilty of stealing yours.' Whereupon theCap'n he flared up like gunpowder. `Yes, you hungry hound, I do,' sayshe; `you must have stolen them from me, or you would have been able togive a better account of them.'"

  "That was pitchin' into 'im pretty stiff," said Quintal, with a grimsmile. "What said Mr Christian?"

  "He said nothin', but he looked thunder. I saw him git as red as aturkey cock, an' bite his lips till the blood came. It's my opinion,messmate," added McCoy, in a lower tone, "that if Cap'n Bligh don'tchange his tone there'll be--"

  "Come, come, mate," interrupted a voice behind him; "if you talk mutinylike that you'll swing at the end o' the yard-arm some fine mornin'."

  The sailor who joined the others and thus spoke was a short, sturdyspecimen of his class, and much more like a hearty hare-brained tar thanhis two comrades. He was about twenty-two years of age, deeply pittedwith small-pox, and with a jovial carelessness of manner that had wonfor him the sobriquet of Reckless Jack.

  "I'm not the only one that talks mutiny in this ship," growled McCoy."There's a lot of us whose backs have bin made to smart, and whose groghas been stopped for nothin' but spite, John Adams, and you know it."

  "Yes, I do know it," returned Adams, sharply; "and I also know thatthere's justice to be had in England. We've got a good case against theCaptain, so we'd better wait till we get home rather than take the lawinto our own hands."

  "I don't agree with you, Jack," said Quintal, with much decision, "and Iwonder to see you, of all men, show the white feather."

  Adams turned away with a light laugh of contempt, and the other twojoined a group of their mates, who were talking in low tones near thewindlass.

  Matthew Quintal was not the only man on board who did not agree with themore moderate counsels of Reckless Jack, _alias_ John Adams, _alias_John Smith, for by each of those names was he known. On thequarter-deck as well as on the forecastle mutterings of deep indignationwere heard.

  The vessel was the celebrated _Bounty_, which had been fitted up for theexpress purpose of proceeding to the island of Otaheite,

now namedTahiti

, in the Pacific for plants of the breadfruit tree, it beingthought desirable to introduce that tree into the West India Islands.We may remark in passing, that the transplantation was afterwardsaccomplished, though it failed at this time.

  The _Bounty_ had been placed under the command of Lieutenant Bligh ofthe Royal Navy. Her burden was about 215 tons. She had been fittedwith every appliance and convenience for her special mission, and hadsailed from Spithead on the 23rd December 1787.

  Lieutenant Bligh, although an able and energetic seaman, was of an angrytyrannical disposition. On the voyage out, and afterwards at Otaheite,he had behaved so shamefully, and with such unjustifiable severity, bothto officers and men, that he was regarded by a large proportion of themwith bitter hatred. It is painful to be obliged to write thus of onewho rose to positions of honour in the service; but the evidence led inopen court, coupled with Bligh's own writings, and testimony from otherquarters, proves beyond a doubt that his conduct on board the _Bounty_was not only dishonourable but absolutely brutal.

  When the islanders were asked at first the name of the island, theyreplied, "O-Tahiti," which means, "It is Tahiti", hence the earlier formof the name--_Otaheite_.

  It was after the _Bounty_ had taken in the breadfruit trees at Otaheite,and was advanced a short distance on the homeward voyage, that theevents we are about to narrate occurred.

  We have said that mutterings of deep discontent were heard on thequarter-deck. Fletcher Christian, acting lieutenant, or master's mate,leaned over the bulwarks on that lovely evening, and with compressedlips and frowning brows gazed down into the sea. The gorgeous cloudsand their grand reflections had no beauty for him, but a shark, whichswam lazily alongside, showing a fin now and then above water, seemed toafford him a species of savage satisfaction.

  "Yes," he muttered, "if one of his legs were once within your ugly jaws,we'd have something like peace again after these months of torment."

  Fletcher Christian, although what is called a high-spirited youth, wasnot quick to resent injury or insult. On the contrary, he had bornewith much forbearance the oft-repeated and coarse insolence of hissuperior. His natural expression was bright and his temperament sunny.He possessed a powerful frame and commanding stature, was agile andathletic, and a favourite with officers and men. But Bligh's conducthad soured him. His countenance was now changed. The last insult aboutthe cocoa-nuts, delivered openly, was more than he could bear. "WhenGreek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war." In this case the tug wastremendous, the immediate results were disastrous, and the ultimateissues amazing, as will be seen in the sequel of our tale.

  "To whom does your amiable wish refer?" asked a brother-officer namedStewart, who came up just then and leaned over the bulwarks beside him.

  "Can you not guess?" said the other, sternly.

  "Yes, I can guess," returned the midshipman, gazing contemplatively atthe shark's fin. "But, I say, surely you don't really mean to carry outyour mad intention of deserting."

  "Yes, I do," said Christian with emphasis. "I've been to thefore-cockpit several times to-day, and seen the boatswain and carpenter,both of whom have agreed to help me. I've had a plank rigged up withstaves into a sort of raft, on which I mean to take my chance. There'sa bag all ready with some victuals in it, and another with a few nails,beads, etcetera, to propitiate the natives. Young Hayward is the onlyother officer besides yourself to whom I have revealed my intention.Like you, he attempts to dissuade me, but in vain. I shall goto-night."

  "But where will you go to?" asked Stewart.

  Christian pointed to Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, which was thenin sight like a little black speck on the glowing sky where the sun hadjust disappeared.

  "And how do you propose to escape _him_?" said the midshipman, pointingsignificantly to the shark, which at the moment gave a wriggle with itstail as if it understood the allusion and enjoyed it.

  "I'll take my chance of that," said Christian, bitterly, and with acountenance so haggard yet so fierce that his young companion feltalarmed. "See here," he added, tearing open his vest and revealingwithin it a deep sea-lead suspended round his neck; "I had rather diethan live in the torments of the last three weeks. If I fail to escape,you see, there will be no chance of taking me alive."

  "_Better try to take the ship_!" whispered a voice behind him.

  Christian started and grew paler, but did not turn his head to see whohad spoken. The midshipman at his side had evidently not heard thewhisper.

  "I cannot help thinking you are wrong," said Stewart. "We have only tobear it a little longer, and then we shall have justice done to us inEngland."

  Well would it have been for Fletcher Christian, and well for all onboard the _Bounty_, if he had taken the advice of his young friend, buthis spirit had been tried beyond its powers of endurance--at least so hethought--and his mind was made up. What moral suasion failed to effect,however, the weather accomplished. It prevented his first intentionfrom being carried out.

  While the shades of evening fell and deepened into a night of unusualmagnificence, the profound calm continued, and the ship lay motionlesson the sea. The people, too, kept moving quietly about the deck, eitherinduced thereto by the sweet influences around them, or by someindefinable impression that a storm sometimes succeeds a calm as well inthe moral as the material world. As the ship had no way through thewater, it was impossible for the rash youth to carry out his plan eitherduring the first or middle watches. He was therefore compelled to giveit up, at least for that night, and about half-past three in the morninghe lay down to rest a few minutes, as he was to be called by Stewart torelieve the watch at four o'clock.

  He had barely fallen into a troubled slumber when he was awakened byStewart, and rose at once to go on deck. He observed in passing thatyoung Hayward, the mate of his watch, had lain down to take a nap on thearm-chest. Mr Hallet, the other midshipman of the watch, had also goneto sleep somewhere, for he was not to be seen. Whether the seriouslyreprehensible conduct of these two officers roused his already excitedspirit to an ungovernable pitch, or their absence afforded a favourableopportunity, we cannot tell, but certain it is that Fletcher Christianopened his ear at that time to the voice of the tempter.

  "_Better try to take the ship_," seemed burning in words of fire intohis brain.

  Quick to act as well as to conceive, he looked lustily and earnestly atthe men of his watch. The one who stood nearest him, looking vacantlyout upon the sea, was Matthew Quintal. To him Christian revealed hishastily adopted plan of seizing the ship, and asked if he would joinhim. Quintal was what men call a deep villain. He was quite ripe formutiny, but from some motive known only to himself he held back, andexpressed doubt as to the possibility of carrying out the plan.

  "I did not expect to find cowardice in _you_," said Christian, with alook of scornful indignation.

  "It is not cowardice, sir," retorted Quintal. "I will join if othersdo. Try some one else. Try Martin there, for instance."

  Isaac Martin was a raw-boned, sallow, six-foot man of about thirty, whohad been undeservedly flogged by Bligh. Christian went to him at once,and put the question, "Will you join me in taking the ship?"

  "The very thing, Mr Christian. I'm with you," answered Martin,promptly.

  The eager readiness of this man at once decided Quintal. Christian thenwent to every man in his watch, all of whom had received more or lessharsh treatment from the Captain, and most of whom were more thanwilling to join the conspirators. Those who hesitated, whatever mighthave been their motives, had not sufficient regard for their commanderto warn him of his danger. Perhaps the very suddenness of the proposal,as well as fear of the mutineers, induced them to remain silent. Inpassing along the deck Christian encountered a man named William Brown.He was assistant-botanist, or gardener, to the expedition, and havingbeen very intimate with Christian, at once agreed to join him. Althougha slenderly made young man, Brown was full of vigour and resolution.

  "We must look sharp," said Christian to him, in that low eager whisperin which the conversation among the mutineers had hitherto been carriedon. "It will soon be daylight. You know the men as well as I do. Gobelow and gain over those whom you feel sure of influencing. Don'twaste your time on the lukewarm or cowardly. Away with you. Here,Williams," he added, turning to another man who was already in the plot,"go below and send up the gunner's mate, I want him; then call JohnAdams,--I feel sure that Reckless Jack will join; but do it softly. Nonoise or excitement."

  In a few seconds John Mills, the gunner's mate, a strongly-builtmiddle-aged man, came on deck, and agreeing at once to join, was sent tofetch the keys of the arm-chest from the armourer, under pretence ofgetting out a musket to shoot a shark which was alongside.

  Meanwhile John Williams went to the hammock of John Adams and rousedhim.

  "I don't half like it," said Adams, when he was sufficiently awake tounderstand the message of his mate. "It's all very true what you say,Williams; the ship _has_ been little better than a hell since we leftSpithead, and Captain Bligh don't deserve much mercy, but mutiny iswrong any way you look at it, and I've got my doubts whether anycircumstances can make it right."

  The reasoning of Adams was good, but his doubts were cleared away, ifnot solved, by the abrupt entrance of Christian, who went to thearm-chest just opposite Adams's hammock and began to distribute arms toall the men who came for them. Seeing this, and fearing to be left onthe weaker side, Adams rose, armed himself with a cutlass, and went ondeck.

  The morning of the 28th of April was now beginning to dawn. Before thatthe greater part of the ship's company had been gained over and armed;yet all this was done so quietly and with such firmness that theremainder of the crew were ignorant of what was going on. No doubt afew who might have given the alarm were afraid to do so. Among thosewho were asleep was one deserving of special notice, namely, PeterHeywood, a midshipman who was true as steel at heart, but whose extremeyouth and inexperience, coupled with the surprise and alarm of beingawakened to witness scenes of violence, produced a condition of inactionwhich resulted in his being left, and afterwards classed, with themutineers.

  Shortly after five o'clock the armed men streamed quietly up thefore-hatch and took possession of the deck. Sentinels were placed belowat the doors of the officers' berths, and above at the hatchways. ThenFletcher Christian, John Adams, Matthew Quintal, William McCoy, IsaacMartin, and several others went aft, armed with muskets, bayonets, andcutlasses. Leaving Martin in charge of the quarter-deck, they descendedto Captain Bligh's cabin.

  The commander of the _Bounty_, all ignorant of the coming storm whichhis ungentlemanly and cruel conduct had raised, was sleeping calmly inhis berth.

  He was roughly awakened and bidden to rise.

  "What is the reason of such violence?" he demanded, addressingChristian, as they half forced him out of bed.

  "Silence, sir," said Christian, sternly; "you know the reason wellenough. Tie his hands, lads."

  Disregarding the order to be silent, Bligh shouted "murder!" at the topof his voice.

  "Hold your tongue, sir, else you're a dead man," said Christian, seizinghim by the tied hands with a powerful grasp, and holding a bayonet tohis breast.

  Of course no one responded to the Captain's cry, the hatchways,etcetera, being guarded. They gave him no time to dress, but hurriedhim on deck, where, amid much confusion and many abusive cries,preparations were being made for getting out a boat, for it was resolvedto set Bligh and his friends adrift. At first there was some disputingamong the mutineers as to which boat should be given to them.Eventually the launch was decided on.

  "Hoist her out, bo's'n. Do it smartly and instantly, or look-out foryourself."

  The order was given sternly, for the boatswain was known to be friendlyto Bligh. He obeyed at once, with the assistance of willing men whowere only too glad to get rid of their tyrannical commander.

  "Now, Mr Hayward and Mr Hallet, get into the boat," said Christian,who seemed to be torn with conflicting emotions. His tone and look weresufficient for those young midshipmen. They obeyed promptly.

  Mr Samuel the clerk and several more of the crew were then ordered intothe boat. At this point Captain Bligh attempted to interfere. Hedemanded the intentions of the mutineers, but was told to hold histongue, with threats of instant death if he did not obey. Particularpersons were then called on to go into the boat, and some of these wereallowed to collect twine, canvas, lines, sails, cordage, and otherthings to take with them. They were also allowed an eight-and-twentygallon cask of water, fifty pounds of bread, a small quantity of rum andwine, a quadrant, and a compass.

  When all the men obnoxious to the mutineers were in the boat, CaptainBligh was ordered into it. Isaac Martin had been placed as a guard overthe Captain, and appeared to favour him, as he enabled him to moistenhis parched lips with a shaddock. For this he was removed, and Adamstook his place. Bligh looked round, but no friendly eye met his. Hehad forfeited the regard of all on board, though there were undoubtedlymen there whose detestation of mutiny and whose sense of honour wouldhave inclined them to aid him if they had not been overawed by thenumbers and resolution of the mutineers. The master, indeed, hadalready made an attempt to rally some of the men round him, but hadfailed, and been sent to his cabin. He, with the others, was now in theboat. Poor young Peter Heywood the middy looked on bewildered as if ina dream. He could not be said in any sense, either by look or act, tohave taken part with the mutineers.

  At last he went below for some things, intending to go in the boat, butwas ordered to remain below. So also, it is thought, was Edward Young,another midshipman, who did not make his appearance on deck at allduring the progress of the mutiny. It was afterwards said that theleading seamen among the mutineers had purposely ordered these officersbelow, and detained them with a view to their working the ship in theevent of anything happening to Christian.

  Bligh now made a last appeal.

  "I'll give you my honour, Mr Christian," he said, "never to think ofwhat has passed this day if you will desist. To cast us adrift here inan open boat is to consign us to destruction. Think of my wife andfamily!"

  "No, Captain Bligh," replied Christian, sternly; "if you had any honourthings had not come to this; and if you had any regard for your wife andfamily, you should have thought of them before and not behaved so muchlike a villain. It is too late. You have treated me like a dog all thevoyage. Come, sir, your officers and men are now in the boat, and youmust go with them. If you attempt resistance you shall be put todeath."

  Seeing that further appeal would be useless, Bligh allowed himself to beforced over the side. When in the boat his hands were untied.

  "You will at least allow us arms, to defend ourselves from the savages,"he said. Fire-arms were refused, but four cutlasses were ultimatelyallowed him. At this point Isaac Martin quietly descended into theboat, but Quintal, pointing a musket at him, threatened to shoot him ifhe did not return to the ship. He obeyed the order with reluctance, andsoon after the boat was cast adrift.

  The crew of the _Bounty_ at the time consisted of forty-four souls, alltold. Eighteen of these went adrift with the Captain. The remainingtwenty-five steered back to the sunny isles of the Pacific.