Chapter 1: From England to Tahiti
It was a cold day in December, 1787. There was a strong wind and a green sea. Three men and a boy stood on the deck of the little ship, HMS Bounty. Behind them, on the land, were some hills and small white houses. The ship moved slowly out to sea.
The boy, Peter Heywood, was fourteen years old. He was a young officer, and he was happy and excited.
‘England looks very small, Mr Christian,’ he said. Fletcher Christian smiled at him. Christian was a tall young man with black hair and a long tired face. ‘England is small,’ he said. ‘But we’re going to some much smaller islands. Tahiti. The Friendly Islands. They’re small, but they’re very warm and beautiful.’
A sailor, John Adams, laughed. ‘That’s right, Mr Christian, sir,’ he said.
‘Good food, warm sun, blue skies – and hot, beautiful women, too! I want-‘
‘Be quiet, man!’ someone shouted. Christian and Hey wood looked behind them. They saw the captain, William Bligh. He was a small man with brown hair. Christian knew Bligh well; they were friends. But Bligh was a captain now, so things were different. The Bounty was his first ship, and it was very important to him.
‘Don’t talk about women on my ship, Adams!’ he said angrily. ‘Be quiet, and sail this ship! Do you hear?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Adams quietly.
‘Now, listen to me, Mr Christian. And you, too, Mr Heywood.’ Bligh stood very near them, but he didn’t speak quietly. All the sailors could hear him. ‘I’m the captain of this ship-remember that! We’re going thirty thousand kilometres through bad weather and very bad seas, and I don’t want any accidents. You are officers, so you don’t talk to sailors about women or drink, or anything! You must work hard, and your sailors must work hard, too. Do you understand me, Mr Christian?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Christian. But he didn’t look happy.
‘Good. And you, Mr Heywood?’
‘Yes, sir.’ The boy looked at Bligh, afraid. Then Bligh smiled.
‘Is this your first time at sea, boy?’
‘Well, you must work hard, and listen to me. One day, perhaps, you can be a captain too. Would you like that?’
‘Yes, sir, of course.’ Peter Heywood smiled.
‘Right then. Mr Christian! Look at those men there – they aren’t working! Run and talk to them, quickly!’
Bligh smiled again at Heywood. ‘In a happy ship, the men must work hard, but the officers must work harder. Do you understand, boy?’
The Bounty sailed south across the Atlantic. For ten days they were in a storm near Cape Horn, but they could not sail west because of the strong west wind. So they sailed east to South Africa, Tasmania, and Tahiti.
There were thirty-three sailors on the Bounty, and eleven officers. Bligh was the captain, Christian was his second officer. The ship was often wet and cold, but no one was ill. Once Bligh gave the sailors some apples, but they would not eat them because they were old and bad. Bligh was very angry.
‘Damn you men!’ he shouted. ‘Apples are good for you! You eat them, I say!’
On 26 October 1788 the Bounty arrived at Tahiti. The islanders came to the ship in big canoes with food. The King of Tahiti, Otoo, was friendly. Bligh went to Otoo’s house, and gave him things from the King of England.
‘Thank you, Captain,’ Otoo said. ‘You are welcome here. I must give the King of England something, too. But he’s a rich man. What would he like? Do you know?’
Bligh smiled. It was an important question. ‘My King is very rich, Otoo,’ he said. ‘But we don’t have any breadfruit trees in England. My King would like some, for his people in Jamaica. Can I take some on my ship?’
Otoo laughed. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘That’s easy! Take lots of them. My people can help you.’
The Bounty stayed at Tahiti for five months, and by March there were a thousand breadfruit trees on the ship. Tahitian children played on the ship, and in the evenings the sailors danced and sang with the women.
One morning, some sailors and Tahitian women took a ship’s boat to a different island. Bligh was very angry. When the sailors came back, he put chains on their legs. Then he shouted at his officers and men. ‘You men must stay away from these women!’ he said. ‘You must all listen to me, and work hard for me and the King!’
Some officers kept pigs on the ship. Sometimes Bligh took the pigs from his officers. ‘I’m giving this food to the sailors,’ he said. ‘They need it, not you!’
April 4th was the Bounty’s last day in Tahiti. The ship was full of food and people – Otoo and his family, all the sailors and their Tahitian friends. But nobody sang or danced. Everyone was quiet and sad.
Peter Hey wood saw John Adams with a Tahitian woman. She cried, and he talked to her for the last time. Then she got into a canoe and went back to the island. Peter stood near him, sadly. The sun went down in the west.
‘Mr Christian?’ shouted Captain Bligh. ‘Are all the Tahitians off the ship?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Christian answered.
‘Good. Then we sail for Jamaica, and then back to old England!’ He looked at Peter. ‘Don’t stand there, boy! Get to work! Look at all our beautiful breadfruit trees! King George is going to be very happy about them!’
Chapter 2: Mutiny!
On the evening of 26th April Adams saw Bligh on deck. He looked angry, and stopped near Fletcher Christian.
‘Mr Christian!’ Bligh said. ‘Where are my coconuts? I had fifty yesterday, and there are only twenty here now! Where are they? Do you know?’
‘No, sir,’ Christian said. ‘I don’t know. I never saw them. I didn’t take them – you know that!’
Captain Bligh looked at his tall young officer and said nothing. Bligh and Christian were once friends, Adams remembered. But not now. Bligh was often angry; Christian was always worried, afraid.
Bligh said: ‘Mr Christian, you took my coconuts! I know you did! You’re my second officer, but all you officers take my things! God damn you all!’
At four o’clock that morning, Adams saw Christian again. It was a quiet night, and the ship moved slowly through the water. Christian had a piece of wood with him, and a bag. His face was white in the moonlight. A young officer, George Stewart, talked to Christian.
‘What are you doing, Mr Christian?’ Stewart asked.
‘I’m in hell,’ Christian said. ‘Bligh doesn’t like me, or any of his officers! I must leave the ship!’
‘Leave? What are you talking about? How?’
‘I have some food in this bag, and wood, and I can swim,’ Christian said. ‘We’re not far from the island of Tafua. Perhaps I can swim there.’
‘Swim to Tafua? Of course you can’t, man! Do you want to die?’
‘It doesn’t matter! I can’t stay here with that man! I’m in hell, I tell you! Every day he shouts at me, and it takes a year to sail to England! I must leave the ship!’
‘I understand,’ Stewart said. ‘Many of us are afraid of Bligh – we don’t like him. But you must stay – you’re our best officer. Listen to me, now…’
Bligh was in bed when the door opened. Christian came in, with three sailors. It was still dark. Bligh opened his eyes. In the moonlight, he saw the gun in Christian’s hand.
‘What?’ Bligh sat up. ‘Get out, damn you! This is my-‘
‘Hold him!’ Christian said. The sailors put Bligh’s arms behind his back, and Christian tied them with a rope. ‘Now, sir, come with us!’
They took Bligh out of his bed and up onto the deck. He wore a shirt, but no trousers or shoes. There were ten or twelve men there with guns and small swords. Christian held Bligh’s hands with the rope, and Adams stood behind Bligh with a gun.
‘What are you doing?’ Bligh said angrily. ‘Let me go at once! You’re-‘
‘Be quiet,’ Adams said. ‘Listen to Mr Christian!’
‘But I’m the captain-‘
‘Not now. This is our ship now,’ Christian said. ‘Adams, put the launch in the water.’
The launch was a small boat, seven metres long. Adams put it in the water next to the ship. ‘Right,’ Christian said. ‘Thank you, Adams. You stay with me.’
Christian looked at some other sailors. He didn’t like them. ‘You men!’ he said. ‘Get into that boat! Quickly now!’
‘No!’ Bligh shouted. ‘All of you, stay on this ship! Help me, now!’
He began to run, but Christian held the rope and Adams held a knife to his neck. ‘Do that again, Captain Bligh, and you’re a dead man!’ he said quietly.
At the front of the ship, Peter Heywood came up on deck. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked. He was afraid.
‘Be quiet, Peter,’ Christian said. ‘You stay there. Get into the launch, you men!’ he shouted. ‘I told you!’
Slowly, eighteen sailors got into the launch. Then Christian took Bligh to the side of the ship. ‘Now you, Captain,’ he said. ‘Over the side.’
Two men carried Bligh over the side of the ship. Then the sailors threw some bread into the launch, with a barrel of water, a little meat, bottles of rum and wine, some rope and sails, and some of the captain’s books.
‘You see, we aren’t going to kill you,’ Christian said. ‘You can live on that, for a week or two.’
‘But why are you doing this, Christian?’ Bligh shouted angrily. ‘I’m your captain – and your friend!’
‘No you’re not! Not now!’ Christian said. ‘Don’t you understand? I’m in hell, with you here on this ship!’
‘You’re going to be in hell all your life now, Christian, because of this!’ Bligh said.
Bligh sat in the launch with eighteen men. Christian and the sailors watched him from the back of the ship, then they opened a bottle of rum, and laughed.
‘England is that way, Captain Bligh!’ one of the sailors said. ‘Thirty thousand kilometres to the north!’
‘Forget England, my friend,’ Adams said. ‘I’m thinking about Tahiti, and those beautiful women! We’re going to be happy now, on Tahiti with Mr Christian!’
Christian looked at Adams for a minute, but he didn’t smile. His face, in the early morning sun, was white and cold. Then he looked at the launch, far away across the sea, with nineteen men in it.
‘Tahiti, England, or the Bounty-it doesn’t matter, John,’ he said. ‘I’m going to live and die in hell.’
Chapter 3: In the launch
The launch was seven metres long, and there were nineteen men in it. Captain Bligh sat at the back of the launch, and looked at his men. The sides of the launch were only thirty centimetres above the sea.
‘Mr Hall, look at our food, please,’ Bligh said.
Bligh looked away, over the sea. The Bounty was very far away now, but there was a small island, Tafua, about twenty kilometres to the west.
After some minutes, Mr Hall, a young officer, said: ‘Sir, we have 150 kilos of bread, two kilos of meat, six bottles of rum, and 126 litres of water, sir.’
‘Is that all?’ Bligh asked.
‘We have a small sail, and some coats, sir,’ Hall said. ‘That’s all.’
‘Thank you, Mr Hall,’ Bligh said. ‘It’s not much, but we’re going to Tafua, so perhaps we can find some more food and water there.’
Bligh was afraid, but he didn’t want them to see that. The men were quiet; they didn’t look angry.
Next day they landed at Tafua. They found breadfruit, bananas, and coconuts, but no water. A lot of islanders came down to the sea. ‘Where is your ship?’ they asked.
‘It sank,’ Bligh said. ‘All our friends are dead. We need food and water.’
The islanders laughed. It was not a friendly laugh. They talked quietly. More men came – soon there were nearly a hundred. They began to pick up stones.
‘Get back into the boat!’ Bligh said. ‘Quickly, now.’ But the islanders killed one man with stones. When the launch went out to sea, the islanders came after it in their canoes. They threw stones at the sailors.
‘Throw the coats into the sea,’ Bligh said. ‘Quick!’
The islanders stopped and picked the coats out of the sea. Then the canoes went back to Tafua.
‘We can’t land on any islands, then,’ Bligh said. ‘Not without a big ship, and guns.’ He looked at his men. They were quiet, and afraid. ‘We must be very careful with our food,’ he said. ‘Every man can have a small piece of bread and coconut today, and a cup of water. That’s all. When it’s cold we can have some rum. But don’t worry. Remember, I’m your captain. Listen to me, and we can stay alive.’
Then the youngest, a boy called Robert Tinkler, said: ‘I want to go home.’
Bligh looked at him, and for a minute the boy was afraid, because Bligh was often angry. Then he saw a small, cold smile on Bligh’s face. ‘To England, Robert?’
‘Well, that’s about thirty thousand kilometres away. So first, let’s find Timor. That’s much nearer. There are Dutch ships there; they can take us home.’
‘Yes, sir.’ The boy looked happier. ‘How far is it to Timor, sir?’
For a minute Bligh didn’t answer. He looked away, over the cold green sea. The wind was stronger now, and the sky was dark. ‘Oh, not far,’ he said slowly. ‘Only about seven thousand kilometres.’
Next morning the wind got stronger and stronger, and the launch went up and down over big green waves. Everyone was wet, and white water came into the launch. The sailors used the empty coconuts to throw the water back into the sea. At midday they ate five small coconuts and drank some rum, and they ate some wet breadfruit in the evening. The wind and waves were strong all night, so no one could sleep.
Next day, the bread was wet, but they didn’t throw it away. In the afternoon it rained, and they caught the water in cups and coconuts. But it rained all night, so everyone was cold and wet. The launch was small, so they could not all sleep. Most men sat up all night.
On 8th May it was sunny. The men took off their wet shirts and trousers. Bligh gave them some rum, coconut milk, and eighty grams of bread. Often he talked about New Guinea, Australia, and Timor.
There were storms for the next two weeks. Sometimes they saw the sun for an hour, but every day it rained. Big green waves threw white water into the launch. They were always wet, tired, and hungry. Three times they saw islands, but they didn’t go near them. They ate bad bread and old meat, but they had lots of rain water to drink. When they were very wet, Bligh gave his men some rum. No one could sleep for more than one or two hours.
But every hour, Bligh held a long rope over the side. The rope had knots in it. The men watched carefully. The knots went behind the launch, and Bligh looked at his watch. ‘We’re going quickly today,’ Bligh told them, and wrote in a little book.
‘We’re going about one hundred and sixty kilometres every day,’ he told his men. ‘But we can’t always sail west, because of the wind. So, I’m sorry, but today we can only have forty grams of bread.’
‘Bad bread, too,’ said one man, Purcell.
‘Yes, but it keeps us alive,’ Bligh answered angrily. Then he laughed. ‘Look-up there!’ he said.
There was a bird on the front of the launch. Its small yellow eye looked at them. Carefully, two sailors opened their hands, very slowly. The bird didn’t move. One man put his hand on it. The bird moved away. But at the same time, his friend caught the bird’s feet, and killed it.
The sailors laughed and shouted. It was only a very small black and white bird, but it was food! Good food!
‘I caught it!’ the first sailor said.
‘No, you didn’t!’ the other man said. ‘I did!’
‘Be quiet!’ Bligh said. ‘Give it to me.’ He cut the bird with his knife, and caught its red blood in a cup. The men drank the blood. Then Bligh cut the bird into eighteen pieces and put them in front of him.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘Fryer, sit here, with your back to the bird. Now, I have one piece of the bird in my hand.’ He held up a piece of its leg. ‘Tell me, Fryer, who shall have this?’
‘Ledward,’ Fryer said.
‘All right.’ Bligh gave the piece to Ledward, and picked up a second piece. ‘And who shall have this?’
‘All right.’ No one was angry, because Fryer couldn’t see the pieces. Everyone watched. Bligh picked up the bird’s head and feet. ‘Who shall have this?’ he asked.
‘Bligh,’ Fryer answered. Everyone laughed, and Bligh looked at the head and feet sadly. ‘Oh well,’ he said. ‘I know it’s good for me.’ Slowly, he began to eat them.
That evening, they caught a bigger bird, and ate that too. Next day they caught one more. Everyone was happy.
‘Why are all these birds here?’ the boy Robert asked.
Bligh smiled. ‘Because we are near land,’ he said.
On 28th May, at midnight, they saw white water in front of them.
‘The Barrier Reef,’ Bligh said. ‘A line of rocks underwater. We must be careful – ships often sink here! Take down the sail, and move slowly. We must find a way through!’
They sailed slowly near the white angry water. Then, after four hours, they found a way through. Behind the Barrier Reef, the sea was blue and quiet. They sailed quietly to a small island.
They could sleep on the island, and walk about. They began to look stronger. But they were two thousand kilometres from Timor, so they could not stay long. After six days they went to sea again – west, towards Timor. The sun was very hot, and two men were ill. Bligh gave them some rum, and the blood of birds. ‘But they can’t live much longer in a little boat like this,’ he thought. ‘We’re all tired and hungry – someone is going to die soon.’
But it was not far now. Every hour Bligh held the rope over the side, and wrote in his little book. He watched the sun and the sea and the sky. And then, on 11th June, Bligh said: ‘You cannot see it, but south of us, there’s a big island called Timor.’ They laughed and smiled and sang. Next day, they saw the island – green trees and hills. Two days later, they came to a town called Caupang. There were some Dutch sailors by the sea. Bligh and his men walked up to them.
‘Who are you?’ a Dutch officer asked. ‘You look hungry, and ill. Where are you from?’
‘I’m Captain William Bligh, of the English ship HMS Bounty. These men are English sailors. We left Tafua forty-one days ago.’
‘Tafua?’ the Dutch officer asked. ‘Where is that?’
‘It is a small island, about seven thousand kilometres away. We came in that small launch.’
‘My God! Forty-one days – in that!’ The Dutchman looked at the launch, and for a minute he said nothing. Then he asked: ‘Did many of you die?’
Bligh smiled. ‘Oh no. Only one, and the islanders on Tafua killed him. Seventeen men left Tafua with me, and seventeen men are here now. Alive.’
Chapter 4: The Pandora
On 14th March 1790, Bligh and his men arrived in England. When he told the story of the mutiny, English people were very angry. They sent Captain Edwards, in the Pandora, to Tahiti.
On 23rd March 1791, the Pandora arrived in Tahiti. Captain Edwards and his men looked carefully at the island. They could see a lot of trees and small houses, but no English ship. Then, a small canoe came out to the Pandora. The three men in the canoe shouted and smiled.
‘I think they’re Englishmen, sir,’ a sailor said.
‘All right,’ Captain Edwards said. ‘They can come on the ship. Perhaps they can tell us something.’
The three men were brown and strong, but they wore English sailors’ hats and trousers. One of them – a boy, about eighteen years old – smiled at Edwards.
‘Good morning, sir! My name is Peter Heywood – I’m a young officer from the Bounty. This is Mr Stewart, and Joseph Coleman, a sailor.’
‘Yes, I see,’ said Edwards. ‘Three of you? Where are your friends? Where is Mr Christian and the Bounty?’
Heywood looked worried. ‘Mr Christian? He sailed away in the Bounty, sir, a year ago, I think. But we didn’t go with them. We waited – for you. We aren’t afraid.’
‘I see,’ Edwards said. He looked at them carefully. ‘All right, then. Tell me your story. What happened, after Christian put Captain Bligh in the launch?’
‘Well, sir,’ Heywood said. ‘We threw the breadfruit trees into the sea, and sailed here, to Tahiti. Otoo, the King of Tahiti, was good to us, and a lot of men wanted to stay here. But Mr Christian was afraid. “We can’t stay here,” he said, “because a ship is going to come from England.” So Otoo gave us a lot of pigs, and goats and food, and we sailed to a different island, Toobouai. Some islanders from Tahiti came with us-eight men, nine women, and seven boys. But the people of Tooboaui didn’t like us, and some of us didn’t like Mr Christian. So Mr Christian sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti, and left sixteen of us here.’
‘And then?’ Captain Edwards was excited. ‘What did Mr Christian do?’ he asked.
‘He sailed away in the Bounty, sir.’
‘I see. And how many men went with him?’
‘Nine sailors, I think, sir. But they took seven Tahitian men and twelve women, too.’
‘I see,’ Edwards said. He looked at them angrily. ‘Sixteen men stayed on Tahiti, and three of you are here. So where are the other thirteen? Are they waiting for me, too, on the island?’
‘Er… well, yes, sir… I mean…’ Peter Heywood stopped. He was worried and afraid.
‘They were here, but they aren’t here now,’ said George Stewart quickly. He put his hand on Peter Heywood’s arm. ‘They sailed away too.’
‘Oh, did they?’ Captain Edwards asked. ‘When?’
Heywood and Stewart both spoke at once.
‘… ago, sir,’ they said. Then they stopped.
Edwards watched them. ‘I see,’ he said slowly. ‘First you are in a mutiny, and now you tell me things that are not true! Sailor!’
‘Yes, sir,’ one of the Pandora’s sailors answered.
‘Put these three men in chains. They are prisoners.’
‘But sir!’ Peter Heywood said. ‘We didn’t run away! We came to tell you our story. And Mr Stewart has a wife!’
‘A wife?’ Captain Edwards laughed. ‘Is she at home in England?’
‘No, sir. Here,’ Mr Stewart answered. ‘She’s a Tahitian woman. Her name is Peggy – Mrs Peggy Stewart. And we have a daughter.’
Edwards laughed again. ‘A Tahitian woman! I’m sorry for her! But don’t worry. She can come on the ship and see you in your new prison. Look behind you. We have a wonderful prison for you and your friends. Look!’
The three sailors looked behind them. On the deck of the Pandora was a wooden box, about two metres high and four metres long. It had a small door, but no windows. The Pandora’s sailors put the prisoners in the box, with chains on their arms and legs. Captain Edwards laughed.
‘There! Are you happy now? You can stay there, all the way to England!’
‘But… my wife! My little daughter!’ Stewart said. The door closed in his face. ‘We didn’t put Bligh in the launch – Christian did! We came to tell you everything!’
Edwards laughed, and Peter Heywood said nothing.
Captain Edwards caught eleven more men, and put them in the Pandora’s box, too. Their Tahitian wives and children came onto the Pandora and cried, but Captain Edwards didn’t open the door. For three months, the Pandora sailed to different islands, and the prisoners stayed in the box. But Edwards couldn’t find Christian or the Bounty, and so he began to sail home.
Near Australia, the Pandora hit the Barrier Reef. Water came into the ship, and the sailors couldn’t stop it. After twelve hours, Captain Edwards said: ‘We must leave the ship! Get into the boats, men!’
The prisoners could hear the noise outside, and water came in through the door. Captain Edwards took three prisoners out, but then he closed the door.
‘What about us?’ Peter Heywood shouted. ‘Please, Captain, open the door! Why are you leaving us in here?’
‘Be quiet, boy!’ said Captain Edwards. ‘We’re working hard now – the ship is sinking!’
‘But we’re going to die – we can’t move!’ George Stewart shouted. ‘Open the door!’
But Edwards closed the door, and no one helped them. Outside, the first sailors got into the boats, and rowed away. Inside the box, the prisoners hit the walls, and shouted. But they couldn’t move, because of the chains.
After an hour, a sailor opened the door and helped them out of their chains. But there was very little time. All of them got their legs free, but some couldn’t get their arms free. Peter Heywood was nearly the last man to get out. In the sea, he held on to some wood. He saw George Stewart and four other prisoners. They couldn’t swim, because of the chains on their arms.
‘Help me, Peter!’ Stewart called. But the sea took Stewart away. Peter Heywood never saw his friend again.
Peter Heywood landed on a small island with some prisoners, Captain Edwards and the Pandora’s sailors. They had four boats, but only one small barrel of water and some bread. Like Captain Bligh, they sailed to the Dutch island of Timor. Then a Dutch ship took them to England. They arrived on 19th June 1792.
Peter Heywood looked across the water at the green hills and small houses. ‘Home,’ he said quietly to a Dutch sailor. ‘England is very beautiful, you know. I left here five years ago!’
‘Are you going to see your family?’ the Dutchman asked.
‘Not yet,’ Peter answered. ‘I must go to my trial first. And the punishment for mutiny, you know…’
He stopped. The wind moved his brown hair. The Dutchman put a hand on his arm.
‘I know, Peter,’ he said sadly. ‘The punishment for mutiny… is death.’
Chapter 5: Death, life, and Thursday
There were nine captains at the trial. Peter Hey wood stood in front of them, and talked about the night of the mutiny.
‘It was four years ago,’ he said. ‘I was a young officer, fifteen years old. When I came up on deck, Captain Bligh was Mr Christian’s prisoner. How could I help him? I didn’t have a sword or a gun. Mr Christian put Captain Bligh and eighteen men into the launch.’
One of the nine captains asked: ‘Did you try to help Captain Bligh, Mr Heywood?’
‘No, sir. I couldn’t. Christian and his men had swords and guns… I had nothing.’
A different captain asked: ‘Did Mr Christian do the right thing, then? What do you think?’
‘No sir, of course not!’
‘But you didn’t get into the launch with Captain Bligh. Why not?’
‘I couldn’t, sir! It was full. There were nineteen men in it. It nearly sank without me.’
‘Did you say anything to Captain Bligh?’
‘Er… no, sir, I didn’t. Some men did, but not me.’
‘So, Mr Heywood, you were an officer on the Bounty, and you saw this mutiny, but you did nothing. You just stood, and watched. Is that right?’
‘Er… yes, sir.’ Peter Heywood was afraid now. ‘I was… very young then, sir.’
‘You were an officer. An officer must always help his captain. Wait there.’ The nine captains walked out of the room.
Peter waited for a long time. His mother and sister were with him, but he felt afraid. Then the captains came back, and the oldest captain said: ‘Peter Heywood, because you did not help Captain Bligh, we say you helped the mutiny. And there is only one punishment for mutiny. Death. Do you understand?’
Peter’s face was white and he felt ill. But he said quietly: ‘Yes, sir. I understand.’
Two days later he saw the oldest captain again. There was a small, cold smile on his face. ‘Mr Heywood, I have a letter from the King. The older sailors must die, but because you were a young boy on the Bounty, the King says you can live. You can go, Mr Heywood. You are a free man.’
‘Oh, sir! Thank you. Thank you very much.’
Peter Heywood lived for many years. Twenty years later, he was a captain of a ship, like Captain Bligh.
Captain Bligh went back to Tahiti, and took some more breadfruit trees to Jamaica. After that, he sailed many more ships. He was an important man. He died in 1817.
But what happened to the Bounty, and Fletcher Christian? For years, no one knew. Then, twenty years after the mutiny, in 1809, an American ship, the Topaz, visited a small island called Pitcairn. When the captain of the Topaz came home, he had an interesting story. And five years after that, in 1814, two British ships – the Briton and the Tagus-arrived.
Pitcairn was a small island with nowhere good for ships to land. But a canoe came out through the white water to the British ships. The men from the canoe came onto the Briton and looked for the captain, Sir Thomas Staines.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said. ‘Who are you?’
A tall young man answered: ‘I’m Thursday.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Captain Staines said. ‘What did you say?’
‘My name is Thursday,’ answered the young man. ‘Thursday October Christian. I live on this island. You are welcome here. Would you like to come to my village, and eat with us? Mr Adams would like to see you.’
‘Well, thank you very much,’ said Captain Staines. ‘And Captain Pipon, from the Tagus-can he come too?’
‘Of course,’ said Thursday. ‘He is welcome.’
The two captains got into the canoe, and Thursday and his friends took it through big green and white waves to the island. Near the beach was a small village.
‘How many people live here?’ Captain Staines asked. ‘About forty,’ said Thursday. ‘Here is our king, John Adams.’
An old man with white hair came towards the two captains. He wore trousers and an English sailor’s shirt. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said. ‘My name is John Adams, of HMS Bounty. Welcome to Pitcairn Island.’
Some old women gave the captains wonderful food, and John Adams told them his story.
‘When the Bounty left Tahiti, Christian was very worried. “A ship is going to come from England,” he said. “They want to kill me. They must never find us.” So when we landed here, we took all the pigs and goats, and burned the Bounty. We stood by the sea and watched. Then we made our village. But Christian was always worried and afraid, and it was difficult to live here. The Tahitian men didn’t like the English sailors. There were ten English men, seven Tahitian men, and twelve Tahitian women. When Christian took the wife of one of the Tahitian men, the Tahitian man killed him. Then the Tahitian men killed most of the English men – they nearly killed me! But the women stopped them – the women killed the Tahitian men! After that, there was one man alive on the island – me! But there were nine women, and some small children – this young man, Thursday, is Fletcher Christian’s son.’
‘Oh, I see!’ said Captain Staines. ‘So… you were alone here, with nine wives!’
John Adams smiled. He looked a tired but happy man. The old women near him smiled too. ‘Well, yes, sir,’ he said. ‘But I’m a good husband to them, and a good father to all these children. And of course, now that these boys are men, they have wives too.’
‘Do you all speak English?’ Captain Pipon asked.
‘Yes, sir. English and Tahitian too. We have our pigs and goats and coconut trees, and we think about God every day, sir.’
‘You are very happy,’ Captain Staines said.
‘We are, sir,’ John Adams said. ‘All of us. But…’ He stood up slowly. ‘I know why you are here. You are going to take me to England with you. I must die there.’
Captain Staines looked at him. The Pitcairn islanders looked very sad, and some of the women began to cry.
‘What do you mean, man?’ Captain Staines asked.
‘Well, Captain, I was in the mutiny against Captain Bligh. It was a long time ago, but I did it. I must take my punishment.’
‘But… my God!’ Captain Staines looked at Captain Pipon. ‘Of course the man is right,’ he said. ‘But… we can’t do this. You’re an old man, Mr Adams, and you are happy here. Your wives and children need you. It was twenty years ago, man! People in England don’t talk about the Bounty today. And Fletcher Christian is dead!’
‘He is dead, but I’m not,’ John Adams said. ‘I helped him, and I’m here, now, in front of you.’
‘And this is your home,’ Captain Staines said. ‘You are an old man. You must die here – not in England. Sit down, Mr Adams. Let’s finish this wonderful food.’
‘All right, Captain,’ John Adams said. ‘And… thank you.’ He sat down, and the Pitcairn islanders smiled.
‘Tell me about Bligh,’ Captain Staines said. ‘He’s an important man now, you know. But most people like him. Why were you all angry with him?’
Adams thought for a minute. He looked up at the trees over his village, and at the smiling faces of his wives and children. ‘Bligh,’ he said. ‘Well, he was a good sailor, of course. We were angry with him, but I can’t remember why. It’s a very long time ago…’