The Mutiny on the Bounty … 1789 …


Monday, April 28, 2014, was the 225th Anniversary of another historical event which has always fascinated me — the Mutiny on HMS Bounty …

… the basic story, of course, is well-known … a group of mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian … … overthrew their captain (actually Lieutenant) William Bligh …

… setting him and 18 loyal crewmen adrift on the Pacific Ocean in a 23 foot open launch …

The mutineers then tried unsuccessfully for several weeks to settle on the island of Tubuai … set sail again, dropping off 16 sailors on Tahiti, and sailing on to Pitcairn Island … 

… there they burned the ship …

Burning of HMS Bounty in Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island

Burning of HMS Bounty in Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island

… in what is now called Bounty Bay and settled on the island. The settlers included Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 18 women, one with a baby.

What is less well-known is the aftermath — for both Christian and Bligh. The latter navigated the launch in which he had been set adrift for 47 days until reaching Timor in the Dutch East Indies …

William Bligh's 47 Day Voyage

William Bligh’s 47 Day Voyage

… he did this with a quadrant and a pocket watch, but no charts or compass, and covered a distance of approximately 3,618 nautical miles or 4,164 miles, an extraordinary feat of seamanship. Bligh went on to have a long and successful career in the British Navy.

On Pitcairn …

… things were less sanguine. The Tahitians who had accompanied the Englishmen to Pitcairn were treated as virtual slaves and eventually revolted. There is some disagreement in surviving accounts of what happened, but what is clear is that Christian, most of the other Englishmen and all of the Tahitian men died in a series of battles that took place just four years after the landing. Some reports indicate that Christian actually committed suicide during the fighting.

By 1808, when the American trading ship Topaz visited Pitcairn, only one Englishman (John Adams), nine women and a handful of children were still alive.

John Adams Pitcairn Island Stamp

John Adams Pitcairn Island Stamp

Their descendants (approximately 48 people) still live today on Pitcairn, a British overseas territory.

Pitcairn Island TodayBligh later wrote a book about the incident,”The Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty” …

The Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty by William Bligh

The Mutiny on Board HMS Bounty by William Bligh

… as did Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, whose 1932 novel “Mutiny on the Bounty” was my introduction to the event in the mid-1950’s.

Mutiny on the Bounty by Nordhoff & Hall

Mutiny on the Bounty by Nordhoff & Hall

I later read the Notable Trials Library edition of “The Court-Martial of the ‘Bounty’ Mutineers”…

The Court Martial of the "Bounty" Mutineers, The Notable Trials Library

The Court Martial of the “Bounty” Mutineers, The Notable Trials Library

… which was first published in England in 1931, and which contains both correspondence among the principals and a transcript of the courts-martial proceedings against Bligh and the mutineers who were captured on Tahiti.

More recently, Caroline Alexander has written “The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty”, which brings to the events a more modern interpretation.

The Bounty:  The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

And, of course, Hollywood has made three big budget movies about the Bounty:

In 1935, “The Mutiny on the Bounty”, starring Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Christian …

Mutiny on the Bounty 1935

Mutiny on the Bounty 1935

… in 1962, “The Mutiny on the Bounty”, starring Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian …

Mutiny on the Bounty 1962

Mutiny on the Bounty 1962

… and in 1984, “The Bounty”, starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian …

The Bounty 1984

The Bounty 1984

I have watched all three multiple times … each has strengths and weaknesses … my personal favorite among them is the 1962 version.

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For more information about the Mutiny on the Bounty, see:

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mutiny_on_the_Bounty

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“Django Unchained” … from History …


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… with the Oscar awards coming up on Sunday night, I thought this would be a good time to comment on …

… the historical anachronisms in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained … we are not big Tarantino fans, but Candy & I went to see this because it is Oscar-nominated … and we both liked it more than we thought we would …

… nevertheless, several blatant anachronisms were strikingly obvious … and upon further reflection, several others not as obvious appeared …

… the most obvious, because of its central role in the movie (including the handling thereof by Tarantino himself in a bit part) was the use of dynamite to blow stuff up … of course, blowing stuff up is the primary raison d’etre for Tarantino’s movies, so his use of dynamite in this one is no surprise … however … the movie (according to the introduction) is set in 1858 … and dynamite wasn’t even invented until 1866 … furthermore, despite the use of the technique as a plot device, dynamite cannot be exploded by shooting into it … dynamite, by the way, was invented by Alfred Nobel, who patented his invention in 1867 … yes, the same Nobel after whom the Peace Prize is named … obviously, he would not have won it himself for that particular invention …

… another obvious anachronism was the appearance of a group of hooded terror-riders … though not specifically identified as Ku Klux Klan, this rather inept group was obviously intended to evoke the Klan … even though the Klan wasn’t founded until, coincidentally, 1866 … however much whites may have subjugated and abused blacks in the antebellum era, they didn’t do it by riding around on horses while wearing white hoods … the Ku (not Klu) Klux Klan was founded by former confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and several other equally delusional ex-CSA officers …  by 1869, the Klan had essentially disappeared, only to be revived in 1915 … by 1920, the Klan was advertising its opposition to “niggers, Catholics, Jews … dope, bootlegging, graft, nightclubs and road houses, violations of the Sabbath, unfair business dealings, sex and scandalous behavior” … despite deep-seated hatred on the part of some, the Klan had once again pretty much died off by the 1950’s and is now an historical irrelevancy …

… other less obvious anachronisms …

… several of the weapons used in the movie were not produced until after the Civil War … including the Derringer pistols used by Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) … the Sharps rifle used by Django, which was first produced in 1874 … and the Henry 1860 repeating rifles used by Schultz and Django which was first produced in, well, 1860 …

… sunglasses of the type worn in the movie by Django and Old Man Carrucan (Bruce Dern) were invented by Sam Foster, founder of Foster Grant, in 1929 …

… Dr. Schultz (and others) refer to his home country as “Germany”, which didn’t exist until 1871 … someone from Dusseldorf, Schultz’s ostensible hometown in the movie, would have said he was from Prussia, which was the national identity of the region at the time … Germany, as a country, was founded in 1871 by Otto von Bismarck, after whom the World War II German battleship was named …

… Django and Schultz meet Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the “Cleopatra Club” … which features as its emblem a bust of Nefertiti … but Nefertiti’s bust wasn’t discovered until 1912, when it was found in Thutmose’s workshop in Amarna, Egypt, by a German archaeological team lead by Ludwig Borchardt …

… high quality straws of the type used by Candie were not invented until at least 1888, depending on whether it is paper or plastic … paper straws were invented in 1888 by Marvin Stone … plastic straws were invented in 1938 by Joseph Friedman … prior to 1888, straws were generally made from hollow grass stems, reeds or metal tubes …

… Candie’s sister was playing “Fur Elise” on the harp … but “Fur Elise” was written and published by Ludwig von Beethoven in 1867 …

… Schultz exclaims “Sold American!” when he finds Django at the beginning of the film … but that phrase was introduced as an advertising catchphrase for Lucky Strike cigarettes in the 1930’s …

… similarly, the term “Mandingo”, used in the film, didn’t come into common usage until publication of the 1957 novel of the same name by Kyle Onstott and the 1975 movie based on the novel … the book was set in the 1830’s, but Onstott used the term “Mandingo” as a variation of the tribal name Mandinka, the ethnic heritage of Ganymede, the primary slave character in the book … interestingly, Kunta Kinte, the primary character in Alex Haley’s “Roots”, was also a Mandinka …

… even the pervasive use throughout the film of the word “nigger” as a racial pejorative is historically inaccurate … although the word, and its alternatives, niggur and niggra, were in common use during the mid-1800’s, it was generally used as a descriptive rather than pejorative term and was used with respect to all dark-skinned people, not just African slaves … in popular literature from the second half of the 19th century, such as Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884), both of which were set in the 1840’s, the term is used in a non-pejorative sense … even as late as the 1897 Joseph Conrad novella “The Nigger of ‘Narcissus'”, the term was used without derogatory racial connotation … it wasn’t until the 1900’s that the word came into widespread use as a racial epithet.

So, if you are a Tarantino fan, enjoy the movie for what he’s good at (blowing stuff up), but don’t rely on it for historical research or accuracy.