Lost Ships and Lonely Seas/Chapter 7
FOUR THOUSAND MILES IN AN OPEN BOAT
OF all the stories of blue water there is none so romantic and well remembered as that of the mutineers of the Bounty who sought an Arcadia in the South Seas, and found it on Pitcairn Island, where their descendants to-day welcome the occasional ship that stops in passing. In 1787, ten years after Captain Cook had been slain by the natives of Hawaii, a group of West India merchants in London, whose interest was stirred by the glowing reports of the discoverers, urged the Government to explore the natural resources of those enchanted realms of the Pacific and particularly to transport the breadfruit tree to Jamaica and plant it there.
The ship Bounty was accordingly fitted out, and sailed in command of Lieutenant William Bligh, who had been one of Cook's officers. After the long voyage to Tahiti, the ship tarried there five months while the hold was filled with tropical trees and shrubs. With every prospect of success, the Bounty hove anchor and sheeted topsails to roll out homeward bound.
Every sturdy British sailor was leaving a sweetheart on the beach of Tahiti, where the unspoiled, brown-skinned women were as kind as they were beautiful, and where every dream of happiness was attainable. These were the first white men who had ever lingered to form sentimental attachments in that fortunate isle, and they left it reluctantly to endure the bitter toil and tyranny that were the mariner's lot.
Nor was Lieutenant Bligh a commander to soothe their discontent. His own narrative would lead you to infer that his conduct was blameless, but other evidence convicts him of a harsh and inflexible temper and a lack of tact which helped to bring about the disaster that was brewing in the forecastle and among the groups of seamen who loafed and whispered on deck during the dog-watches. The explosive crises of life are very often touched off by the merest trifles and a few cocoanuts appear to have played a part in the melodramatic upheaval of the Bounty's crew. Boatswain's Mate James Morrison kept a journal in which he set down that Lieutenant Bligh missed some of his own personal cocoanuts, which had been stowed between the guns.
The sailors solemnly denied stealing them, and the irate commander questioned Fletcher Christian, the master's mate, who indignantly protested:
"I do not know who took your cocoanuts, sir, but I hope you do not think me so mean as to be guilty of pilfering them."
Lieutenant Bligh, who was red in the face and hot under the collar, burst out in this most unlucky tirade:
"Yes, you hound, I do; you must have stolen them from me, or you would be able to give a better account of them. You are all thieves, you scoundrels, and the officers combine with the men to rob me. I suppose you will steal my yams next, but I 'll make you sweat for it, you rascals, if I have to make half of you jump overboard before we get through Endeavor Straits."
This is one of the stories told by the boatswain's mate to extenuate the mutiny, and it may be taken for what it is worth, though with so much smoke, there was sure to be flame. At any rate, it was only a day after the cocoanut episode that Fletcher Christian, the master's mate, led the famous rebellion of the Bounty. He was a leader of extraordinary intelligence and character who had always led a godly life. Commander Bligh had provoked him beyond endurance, and he was persuaded that he could lead his comrades to a palm-shaded kingdom where they would be safe against discovery and capture.
No inkling of the conspiracy was conveyed to the quarterdeck, and Bligh wrote, after the event:
The women of Tahiti are handsome, mild, and cheerful in manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The chiefs were so much attached to our people that they rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise and even made them promises of large possessions. Under these circumstances it ought hardly to be the subject of surprise that a set of sailors, most of them without home ties, should be led away where they had the power of fixing themselves in the midst of plenty and where there was no necessity to labor and where the allurements to dissipation are beyond any conception that can be formed of it. The utmost, however, that a commander could have expected was desertions, such as have always happened more or less in the South Seas, and not this act of open mutiny, the secrecy of which was beyond belief.
It was a bloodless uprising and conducted with singular neatness and despatch. At sunrise of April 28, 1789, Fletcher Christian and an armed guard entered the commander's cabin and hauled him out of bed in his night-shirt. His arms were bound, and he was led on deck, where he observed that some of his men were hoisting out a boat. Those of the ship's company who had remained loyal, seventeen officers and men, were already clapped under hatches to await their turn in the very orderly program. A few of the mutineers damned the commander to his face and growled threats at him, but this was by way of squaring personal grudges, and he was not otherwise mistreated.
The boat was lowered and outfitted with twine, canvas, cordage, an eight-and-twenty gallon cask of water, a hundred and fifty pounds of bread, or ship's biscuit, a little rum and wine, some salt pork and beef, a quadrant, a compass, and four cutlasses for arms. The seventeen loyal mariners were bundled overside, but Lieutenant Bligh hung back to argue the matter until Fletcher Christian roughly exclaimed:
"Come, Captain Bligh, your officers and men are now in the boat and you must go with them. If you attempt to make the least resistance, you will be instantly put to death."
The commander of the Bounty was in no mood to carry it off with a high hand. He implored the master's mate to forego the mad enterprise, and pledged his honor that if the men would return to duty he would make no report of it in England, He spoke of his own wife and children and the mercy due on their account, but Fletcher Christian cut him short and cried:
"I say no, no. Captain Bligh. If you had any honor or manly feeling in your breast, things had not come to this. Your wife and family! Had you any regard for them, you would have thought of them before now and not behaved so like a villain. I have been used like a dog all this voyage and am determined to bear it no longer. On you must rest the consequences."
This ended the argument, and the boat was soon cast adrift, while the mutineers shouted a cheery farewell, and then roared out "Huzza for Tahiti!" while the Bounty swung off and filled away with a pleasant breeze. Lieutenant Bligh assumed that it was the deliberate intent to leave him to perish, because dead men tell no tales; but if this were true, the mutineers would not have been so careful to stock the boat with food and water and stores to last the party at least a fortnight without severe hardship.
They were within easy sailing distance of peopled islands, on some of which they might hope to find a friendly reception. By drowning them, Fletcher Christian could have obliterated all traces of the mutiny, and the Bounty would have vanished from human ken, gone to the port of missing ships. So infrequented were the islands of the South Seas that the mutineers might have lived and died there unmolested and unsought. Fletcher Christian was too humane a man for such a deed, the most upright and pious outlaw that ever risked the gallows.
The tale of the Bounty and of the tragic fate which overtook these rash and childlike wanderers in search of Elysium had been familiar to later generations, but the wonderful voyage of Lieutenant Bligh and his exiles in the open boat has been forgotten and unsung. Even to this day it deserves to be called one of the prodigious adventures of seafaring history. A man disgraced and humiliated beyond expression by the ridiculously easy manner in which his ship had been taken from him, Bligh superbly redeemed himself and wiped the stain from his record by keeping his open boat afloat and his men alive through a voyage and an experience unequaled before or since.
The boat was a small, undecked ship's yawl only twenty-three feet long, such as one may see hanging from a schooner's davits. Eighteen men were crowded upon the thwarts, and their weight sank her almost to the gunwale. They were adrift in an unknown ocean which teemed with uncharted reefs and perils, there was only a few days' supply of food and water, and four cutlasses were the weapons against hostile attack. In the boat, besides Commander Bligh, were the master, the acting surgeon, botanist, gunner, boatswain, carpenter, three mates, two quartermasters, the sail-maker, two cooks, the ship's clerk, the butcher, and a boy.
After watching the faithless Bounty until she gleamed like a bit of cloud, the refugees shoved out their oars and pulled in the direction of the nearest island, Tofa, about forty miles distant. A slant of wind presently favored them, and they hoisted sail, bowling along until they were able to drop anchor outside the barrier of surf soon after nightfall of the same day.
Next morning they landed in a cove and found natives who seemed amiable enough and who supplied them with cocoanuts, plantains, breadfruit, and water. The humor of these temperamental islanders changed without warning, however, and in a sudden attack with stones and spears they killed one of the quartermasters. This dissuaded Bligh from his plan of cruising from one island to another and so making his way to civilization. He told his men that he purposed to attempt to make no more landings, but to steer for the Dutch East Indies and the port of Timor, almost four thousand miles away. In those wild seas there was no nearer haven where they might hope to find Europeans and a ship to carry them home to England.
In the confusion of escaping from Tofa, they lost most of the fruit which had been taken on there, and so they set sail with just about the amount of stores with which they had been set adrift from the Bounty, but with one less man to feed. They were so cramped for space in the yawl that Bligh divided them into watches, and half the men sat upon the cross-seats while the others lay down in the bottom, and every two hours they exchanged places. The bread was stowed in the carpenter's tool-chest, and all the provisions were scrupulously guarded by sentries.
There were no symptoms of mutiny in this company. Bligh had found himself, and he ruled them with a rod of iron. They were willing and obedient, realizing that this imperious, unshaken commander was their only hope of winning against the odds which loomed black against them. Timor was merely a name to them. Some of them did not even know where it was, but they had implicit faith in Lieutenant William Bligh.
The carpenter whittled for him a pair of scales and some musket-balls were found in the boat. These were known to weigh twenty-five to the pound of sixteen ounces. In order to make the provisions last as long as possible, three meals a day were served, and each consisted of a musket-ball's weight of bread, an ounce of pork, and a teaspoonful of rum in a quarter of a pint of water. If you should be curious enough to measure out such a repast for yourself and try living on it for a few days only, I have no doubt that your weight would be reduced more rapidly than any high-priced specialist in dietetics could possibly achieve for you. A twenty-fifth of a pound of hard bread would not much more than satisfy the appetite of a vigorous canary bird. Yet these seventeen men lived on it and stayed alive for weeks and weeks. Heavy rains came to give them more water, but thirst was a continual torment, so sparingly and prudently did Lieutenant Bligh dole out the precious fluid.
They passed within sight of many islands, green and smiling, and smoke wreathed skyward from native camps and villages, but Bligh sternly checked his men when they yearned to seek the land and a respite from the merciless sea. With him it was Timor or die, and in the lonely watches he recalled that previous voyage with Captain Cook, when the great navigator was lured to his death by the soft-voiced, garlanded people of Oahu. And so the open boat flitted past the mysterious beaches and lagoons of the New Hebrides and veered farther seaward to give a wide berth to the savage coast of New Guinea. After one of the numerous storms which almost swamped them, Bligh noted in his diary:
This was on May 22, or eighteen days after they had left the island of Tofa, during most of which time there had been drenching rains and somber skies and heavy seas, which broke into the boat and almost swamped her time and again. The seventeen men were still existing on the morsels of bread and pork carefully weighed out with the musket-ball, which they said was "little better than starving," but Bligh held them in hand, and there was no rebellion even when he explained that the system of rationing would permit them to exist for twenty-nine days longer, though he was not at all certain that they could fetch Timor in that time, and he purposed to make the stores hold out for six weeks.
In order to do that they would have to omit their supper and get along on two meals of a twenty-fifth of a pound of bread. "I was apprehensive that a proposal on this head would be ill received," Lieutenant Bligh commented, "and that it would require my utmost resolution to enforce it. However, on representing to the people the necessity of guarding against casual delays, from adverse winds, and other causes, they all cheerfully assented."
There was never a more methodical man than this Lieutenant William Bligh. When they caught a couple of boobies, sea-fowl as large as a duck, the bodies were divided into seventeen portions, and one man was detailed to turn his back while another pointed at the pieces and asked, "Who is to have this?" The first sailor named a companion at random, and drew the fragment designated. In this manner a fair distribution was assured, and the man who drew the feet of the bird to chew could have no quarrel with the lucky sailor who got a bit of the breast.
Bligh was a capable navigator with the quadrant and compass which the mutineers had given him and he was driving for a passage to the southward of Endeavor Straits and an offing on the coast of New Holland, as Australia was then called. His crew was exceedingly low-spirited, but he diverted them with the hope of finding smoother water inside the far-flung reefs and a landing where they might eat fresh fruits and ease their weary bones for a little while.
After three weeks of misery, this speck of an open boat in a trackless waste of ocean descried the wooded headlands of New Holland and a surf which beat against the outer ramparts of coral. They found an opening and rowed into a lagoon, where they hauled the boat out upon the white sand and feasted luxuriously on oysters. These they roasted in a fire which Lieutenant Bligh kindled with a lens of his spy-glass. Then they cooked a stew, and were so mightily refreshed that "all retained strength and fortitude sufficient to resist what might be expected in our voyage to Timor."
Two or three days of assiduous attention to the oysters, and they were ready to put to sea again, with water-breakers filled. Before they shoved off, Bligh directed all hands to attend prayers; so they knelt on the beach with bared heads while he read service from the Church of England prayer-book. A group of natives, black and naked, came scampering out of the forest just as the boat took the water, but there was no clash with them.
As they steered through the mazes of the Malay Archipelago, many small islands swam in the seas of azure and emerald, and they ventured to land again. Here Bligh had the first trouble with the tempers of his sick and weary men. "When ordered to go scouting for food, one of them went so far as to tell me, with a mutinous look, that he was as good a man as myself," relates this inflexible commander who had made such a sorry mess of things in the Bounty. He added:
"It was impossible for me to judge where this might end, therefore to prevent such disputes in future I determined either to preserve my authority or die in the attempt. Seizing a cutlass I ordered him to take hold of another and defend himself; on which he cried out that I was going to kill him and immediately made concessions. I did not allow this to interfere further with the harmony of the boat's crew and everything soon became quiet."
For a week they coasted along New Holland in this manner before risking the open sea again. They caught some turtle and went ashore at night to hunt the noddies, or sea-birds, and knock them over on their nests. One of the sailors, Robert Lamb, stole away from his companions, contrary to orders, and blundered into the birds, which fled away. Much provoked, Bligh gave the culprit a drubbing and made him confess that he had eaten nine noddies raw. It goes without saying that greedy Robert Lamb promised not to do it again.
Much more sanguine of some day reaching the destination of Timor, the argonauts endured another long stretch of the voyage, almost two thousand miles more, but it was fast breaking the strength which they had so amazingly displayed. Surgeon Ledward and Lawrence Lebogue, a hardy old salt, seemed to have come to the end, and Bligh nursed them with teaspoonfuls of wine and crumbs of bread that he had been saving for such emergencies. He now began to fear that the party could not survive to finish the voyage, and mentioned that
extreme weakness, swelled legs, hollow and ghastly countenances, with an apparent debility of understanding, seemed to me the melancholy presages of approaching dissolution. The boatswain very innocently told me that he really thought I looked worse than any one in the boat. I was amused by the simplicity with which he uttered such an opinion and returned him a better compliment.
It was not decreed by destiny that courage and endurance so heroic should be thwarted in the last gasp. Forty-one days after they had so boldly set out from Tofa in the South Seas they made a landfall on the dim and misty shore of the island of Timor. The log recorded a total distance sailed of 3618 nautical miles, which in round numbers amounts to four thousand land, or statute, miles. No wonder that the feat appeared scarcely credible to these castaways themselves whom the mutineers of the Bounty had turned adrift with no more than a fortnight's provisions in a fearfully overcrowded open boat. And every man of the seventeen was alive and ready to be patched up and set on his feet again.
Bligh had no idea where the Dutch settlements were, so he held on along the coast, past very lovely landscapes of mountain, woodland, and park-like spaces. Coming to a large bay, he tacked in and saw a little village of thatched huts. Natives paddled out to meet the boat and told the party where to find the Dutch governor of Timor. In the next harbor they discovered two square-rigged vessels, so they hoisted the union jack as a distress-signal, and anchored off the fort and town of Coupang. This was the end of their troubles. Bligh bought a small schooner from the courteous Dutch governor, and so carried his men to Samarang, where they found passage to Batavia, and were sent home in a Dutch East Indiaman.
It was Conmiander Bligh himself who took to England the first tidings of the mutiny of the Bounty, which aroused great popular interest and indignation. In 1790 he published an account of his sufferings and the heroic voyage to Timor, and in response to the public clamor the Admiralty speedily fitted out the frigate Pandora to hunt down Fletcher Christian and his fellow-criminals and fetch them home for trial and punishment. The voyage of the Pandora resulted in tragic shipwreck and another sensational episode of open boats. As a sequel it is inseparable from the strange and unhappy romance of the Bounty and her people.
Captain Edwards of the Pandora frigate was a martinet of a naval officer, without sympathy or imagination, and the witchery of the South Seas held no lure for him. His errand was to run down the mutineers as outlaws who deserved no mercy and to take them home to be hanged.
First touching at Tahiti, the Pandora found that a number of the sentimental sinners still remained on that island, but that Fletcher Christian and the rest had sailed away in the Bounty to search for a retreat elsewhere. With a hundred and fifty bluejackets to rake the valleys and beaches of Tahiti, Captain Edwards soon rounded up fourteen fugitives, who were marched aboard the Pandora and clapped into irons.A small house was knocked together on deck to serve as a jail for them, and was rightly enough dubbed "Pandora's Box" by the sailors. It was only eleven feet long, without windows or doors, and was entered by a scuttle in the roof. In this inhuman little den the fourteen mutineers were kept with their arms and legs in irons, which, were never removed to permit exercise. Sweltering in a tropical climate, the wonder is that they did not perish to a man.
There was suffering far worse to endure, however—the anguish of broken hearts. All of these men were torn from the native wives to whom they had been faithful and true, and their infants were left fatherless. Pitiful was the story of "Peggy," the beautiful Tahitian girl who was beloved by Midshipman Stewart of the mutineers and to whom she had borne a child. She was allowed to visit him in the wretched deck-house of the Pandora, but her grief was so violent that she had to be taken ashore by force, and the young husband begged the officers not to let her see him again.
The light of her life had gone out, and she died of sorrow a few months later, leaving her infant son as the first half-caste born in Tahiti. Six years after this, a band of pioneering English missionaries visited Tahiti and heard of the boy and his story. They took this orphan of British blood under their own care and brought him up and educated him.
It is quite evident that Captain Edwards isolated his prisoners and treated them so harshly because of his fear that the bluejackets of his frigate might be stirred to a sympathetic mutiny of their own. It must have wrung the hearts of these honest British tars, who had sweethearts waiting at the end of the long road home, when, as the story runs:
The families of the captives were allowed to visit them, a permission which gave rise to the most affecting scenes. Every day the wives came down with their infants in their arms, the fathers weeping over their babes who were soon to be bereft of paternal care and protection, and husband and wife mingling cries and tears at the prospect of so calamitous a separation.
The fourteen mutineers had built a little schooner only thirty-five feet long, in which they were hoping to flee to an island more remote, but the Pandora swooped down before they were quite ready to embark. Captain Edwards seized this vessel to use as a tender, and manned her with two petty officers and seven sailors, who sailed away on a cruise of their own to assist in the search for the rest of the pirates, as they were called. The voyage of this tiny cock-boat of a schooner is one of the most remarkable tales in the history of South Sea discovery, but not even a diary or log remains to relate it in detail.
These adventurers were the first white men to set foot on the great group of the Fiji Islands, which Tasman and Cook had passed by. The exploit is sung to this day in one of the poems of the Fijian language which have handed down the traditions of the race from father to son. The little schooner was never seen again by the Pandora after they parted at Tahiti to go their separate ways; but after many months the master's mate, the bold midshipman, and the seven handy seamen who comprised the crew came sailing into the Dutch East Indies.
The Pandora ransacked the South Seas in vain for Fletcher Christian and his party, and turned homeward after nine months of cruising on this quest. Having cleared the coast of New Guinea, the frigate crashed into the Great Barrier Reef while trying to find a passage through, and foundered after eleven hours of endeavor to keep her afloat by pumping. The discipline was admirable, and in the ship's dying flurry four boats were filled and sent away, besides some rafts and canoes.
During those long hours, however, while the sailors were trying to save themselves and the frigate, the hapless mutineers were left in the "Pandora's Box," in leg-irons and manacles and utterly helpless. Three of them were finally allowed to work at the pumps, still wearing their chains, but Captain Edwards paid no heed to the prayers of the others, who foresaw they were to drown like rats in a trap. It was inhumanity almost beyond belief, for these prisoners could not have escaped if they had been released and allowed to swim for it with the rest of the crew.
His own officers and men interceded and begged permission to knock the shackles off the mutineers before the ship went down, but Captain Edwards threatened to shoot the first man who interfered with his orders, and to kill any of the captives who attempted to free themselves. He was the type of officer who is blindly, densely zealous and regards the letter of the law as to be obeyed under all circumstances. The Admiralty had told him to bring these fugitives back to England in chains. This settled the matter for him.
When the Pandora was about to plunge under, a council of officers formally decided "that nothing more could be done for the preservation of His Majesty's ship." The command was then given to quit her before she carried the crew to the bottom, but even then two sentries of the Royal Marines guarded the scuttle of "Pandora's Box" with instructions to shoot if the mutineers tried to smash their irons.
The master-at-arms was a man with a heart, as well as a ready wit, and as he scrambled over the roof of the deck-house with the sea racing at his heels, he dropped his bunch of keys through the open scuttle. The frantic prisoners heard the keys fall and knew what they meant. In semi-darkness, with the water gurgling over the floor of their pen, they strove to fit the keys to the heavy handcuffs and the chains that were locked about their legs. It is a scene that requires no more words to appeal to the emotions a hundred and thirty years after these unhappy British sailors fought their last fight for life.
Ten of them succeeded in releasing themselves and were washed off into the sea, where the boats were kind enough to pick them up, but four of the mutineers were drowned with the ship, still wearing the irons from which Captain Edwards had refused to free them. It is probable that with the bunch of keys which the master-at-arms had dropped among them these four men had died while doing unto others as they would have been done by. It was almost impossible for a prisoner so heavily manacled to fit a key in the padlock that bound his own wrists together. One comrade helped another, perhaps, and so those who awaited their turn were doomed to die. And thus they redeemed the folly and the crime of that fantastic adventure in the Bounty.
Thirty men of the Pandora's company were also drowned, but the survivors made a successful voyage of it in their open boats, across a thousand miles of the Indian Ocean, and reached the same Dutch port of Coupang where Lieutenant William Bligh had found refuge. Here they met the actors in still another thrilling drama of an open boat. A party of British convicts, including a woman and two small children, had stolen away from the penal settlement of Port Jackson on the coast of Australia in a ship's gig, and had fled by sea all the way to Timor, living on shell-fish and seabirds and surviving ten weeks of exposure and peril.
They told the Dutch governor at Coupang that they were castaways from an English ship, and he believed the tale until the people of the Pandora came into port. Assuming they were survivors of the same wreck, a Dutch officer remarked to one of the convicts that the captain of their ship had reached Coupang. Caught off his guard, the fellow blurted:
"Dam' me! We have no captain."
The cat was out of the bag, and the slip proved fatal. Haled before the governor, the runaways confessed who they really were. The tale they told was interwoven with a romance. The leader of the party, William Bryant, had been transported to Botany Bay for the crime of smuggling, and with him went his sweetheart, Mary Broad, who was convicted of helping him to escape from Winchester Gaol. They were married by the chaplain of Botany Bay, and Bryant was detailed to catch fish for the table of the governor and other officials of that distressful colony. It was while employed as a fisherman that he was able to steal a boat and plan the escape, and they carried their two children with them.
His Excellency, the Dutch governor of Timor, admired their courage, but he could not be turned from his duty, and the runaway convicts were therefore sent to England. During the voyage William Bryant, the two children, and three men of the party died, but the woman lived, and so rapidly regained her bloom and beauty that before the Gorgon, East Indiaman, sighted the forelands of England, an officer of the Royal Marines had fallen in love with her. Through his efforts she was granted a full pardon, and they were wedded and lived happily ever after, so far as we know. Many a novel has paraded a heroine less worthy than this smuggler's sweetheart, Mary Broad of Devonshire and Botany Bay.
Of the ten Bounty mutineers who survived the wreck of the Pandora, five were acquitted, two received the king's pardon, and three were hanged from a yard-arm of H. M. S. Brunswick in Portsmouth Harbor on October 29, 1792. Of Fletcher Christian and his companions who had vanished in the Bounty nothing whatever was heard or known, and England forgot all about them. Twenty-five years passed, and they had become almost legendary, one of those mysteries which inspire the conjectures and gossip of idle hours in ship's forecastles.
In 1813 a fleet of British merchantmen sailed for India convoyed by the frigate Briton, Captain Sir Thomas Staines. While passing the Marquesas group he discovered a fertile island on which were cultivated fields and a village and people who eagerly paddled out in their canoes to hail the frigate. The captain was trying to shout a few words of the Marquesan language to them when a stalwart youth called out in perfectly good English:
"What is the ship's name? And who is the commander, if you please?"
Dumfounded, the bluejackets swarmed to the bulwark to haul the visitors aboard, and while they wondered, the same young man asked of the quarter-deck:
"Do you know Captain William Bligh in England, and is he still alive?"
The riddle was solved. Captain Staines replied to the courteous, fair-skinned stranger:
"Do you know one Fletcher Christian and where is he?"
"Yes, sir. He is dead, but there is his son, Friday Fletcher October Christian, just coming aboard from the next boat."
These interesting dwellers on Pitcairn Island were invited to breakfast in the ward-room, "but before sitting down to table they fell on their knees and with uplifted hands implored the blessing of Heaven on the meal of which they were about to partake. At the close of the repast they resumed the same attitude and breathed a fervent prayer of thanksgiving for the bounty which they had just experienced."
Captain Staines went ashore with his guests and found a very beautiful village, the houses set around a small park, the streets immaculately clean, the whole aspect of it extraordinarily attractive. There were forty-eight of these islanders, including seven of the Tahitian wives who had been brought in the Bounty. The others were children, and fine young men and girls. Of the fathers of the flock only one was left alive, John Adams, a sturdy, dignified man of sixty, who welcomed Captain Staines and frankly revealed the whole story of the Bounty, "admitting that by following the fortunes of Fletcher Christian he had lost every right to his country and that his life was even forfeited to the laws. He was now at the head of a little community by whom he was adored and whom he carefully instructed in the duties of religion, industry, and friendship."
It was explained by John Adams that the native women had preferred the British sailors to their own suitors, which inspired a fatal jealousy, and Fletcher Christian and most of his comrades had been killed in quarrels and uprisings against them. The few survivors had founded a new race in this dreamy island of the South Seas, and, as Captain Staines perceived, "a society bearing no stamp of the guilty origin from which it sprung."
John Adams, the admirable counselor and ruler, had taught them to use the English tongue and to cherish all that was good in the institutions of their mother country. He had even taught the children to read and write by means of a slate and a stone pencil. They were a vigorous, wholesome stock, sheltered from disease and vice, and with a sailor's eye for a pretty girl Captain Staines noted that "the young women had invariable beautiful teeth, fine eyes, and an open expression of countenance, with an engaging air of simple innocence and sweet sensibility."
The captain gave John Adams what books and writing-materials he could spare, and the crew of the frigate added many a gift of clothing and useful trinkets from their ditty-boxes. Twelve years passed before any other word was heard from Pitcairn Island, and then the ship Blossom made a call. It was found that a wandering whaler had left a seaman named John Buffet, who felt called to serve as schoolmaster and clergyman to the grateful islanders. England now became interested in this idyllic colony, and there was no desire to recall or avenge the mutiny of the Bounty. John Adams had long since atoned for the misdeeds of himself and his misguided shipmates, and his good works were to live after him.
In 1830, H. M. S. Seringapatam was sent out by the British Government to carry a cargo of agricultural implements, tools, live-stock, and many other things which might increase the happiness and well-being of the people of Pitcairn Island. John Adams had passed away a little while before that, full of years and honor, and it may be safely assumed that he was not logged on the books of the recording angel as a mutineer. The mantle of his leadership fell upon the broad shoulders of Friday Fletcher October Christian.
It was only a year or so ago that the generous captain of a freight steamer bound out across the South Pacific wrote a letter to a New York newspaper to inform the public that he would be glad to go out of his course to touch at Pitcairn Island and leave any books or other gifts which might be sent in his care. It was near the Christmas season, and the spirit moved him to play Santa Claus to the people of that happy island whose forefathers were the mutineers of the Bounty in the year of 1789.