On this day in 1789 things got a bit out of hand on a ship called The Bounty and the next thing you know there’s a big old mutiny.
You may have seen one or several of the films about this event – although probably not all of them, as I’m guessing most, if not all of us, have failed to see the 1916 Australian film of the story – but the films are mostly very, very wrong about what happened. Here is a rough outline of what went down.
Captain Bligh was sent off on an expedition to collect breadfruit from Tahiti. The reason for getting this breadfruit was to take it to the West Indies and use it as cheap food for the slaves out there. We’ll come back to that towards the end of this mini narrative. So, off they sailed, had huge problems around Cape Horn, they gave it up as a bad job after a month and headed to the Cape of Good Hope instead where they finally managed to get around and into the Indian ocean. They got to their destination after ten months at sea and had a lovely reception on the island. The Tahitians were happy to see them, gave them a warm welcome and the crew spent five months living on the island. This had not been the initial plan, but they needed to stay longer so that the breadfruit were at the right period of their growth cycle to transport back on the long journey. It’s at this point that things went a bit tits up. Before this, tough as the voyage had been, the captain and crew got along well. There was tight discipline, but not floggings and things
were no worse than on any other Royal Navy ship. Relations started to deteriorate in Tahiti. This was mostly down to the crew living it large, marrying or getting it on with women of the island, enjoying the laid-back life style and getting a bit lax on their Royal Navy duties. Floggings became more commonplace and things started to fall apart a little. Still, on 5th April, when they finally set sail from the island, things were just about okay. However, just over three weeks later, in the middle of the night, the mutiny happened. Christian and others went into Bligh’s cabin and forced him to the deck. He was put in the Bounty’s launch and along with 18 crew members, who remained loyal to him, he was set adrift. Now, generally when you hear about the mutiny you get the idea that everyone hated Bligh and no one wanted anything to do with him. Not so. There were 44 men on board. Excluding Bligh and Christian, 22 remained loyal to Bligh, 18 supported Christian and two were a bit “yeah, I dunno” about it. There was not enough room for all those loyal to Bligh on the launch, so four had to remain with the mutineers.
Next up, Bligh managed to get to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, which was a pretty epic voyage. From there he got back to England and reported the mutiny. The mutineers went back to Tahiti. Most of them stayed there, but Christian and others loaded up some provisions, livestock and Tahitians and set sail for another island, eventually settling on Pitcairn which was incorrectly placed on Royal Navy maps, thus lessening their chance of detection. Some of the mutineers were captured and taken home, the Pitcairn Islanders remained free, but after lots of trouble on the island, the majority of them, including Christian (well probably at least) were killed in 1793. And that, dear friends, is what went down.
Of the three best known films about the events, The Bounty, starring Mel “sugartits” Gibson and Anthony Hopkins is deemed the one that plays least fast and loose with actual events. That said, it’s Gibson and Hopkins who are both hugely annoying. Hopkins is all ham and Gibson is all “oh look at me all lovely looking and I can show you my arse too, yeah, I have an arse” and so, it is the film I like least. The 1962 version with Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian is the least accurate, but Brando is still well handsome and so, on any level that really matters – bar historical accuracy – it is better than anything with Mel Gibson in it. My favourite is the 1935 version starring Charles Laughton as Bligh and – be still my beating heart – Clark Gable as Christian. It’s an unusual performance from Gable, lacking as it does his moustache, but it is a wonderful film and the best of all of them as far as I’m concerned which, given my exquisite taste, is more important than any other critical assessment. If you want to see any of these films, watch Laughton and Gable. Do not watch Gibson and Hopkins; it only encourages them. Just be aware, that whichever film you watch, it will mostly be a pile of awful tosh. Not a one of them gets Bligh anywhere near right, not least because he was 34 years old at the time of the voyage and not a knackered old thing like he is in much of the films. And that, my loves, is that.
Oh! I said I’d tell you about the breadfruit. Well, obviously the Bounty failed to bring any back, what with being stolen by the mutineers (and eventually scuttled off Pitcairn), but another ship went and got a load and it got transported off to the West Indies and fed to the slaves. The slaves said it was “fucking minging, I ain’t eating this shit!” and, er, didn’t. So the whole thing was one great big waste of time anyway. It’s a funny old world.
Today is the birthday of Take That member, Howard Donald. Donald was born in 1968 and is, to date, the only wookiee to find pop stardom. His vocal cord limitations have not stopped him from giving a fine approximation of singing and most of his hirsuteness has been tackled with a mixture of waxing, electrolysis and judicious use of Bic razors.
During the Take that Hiatus from 1996-2005, Howard took up DJ-ing and became popular in Germany. Such was his acceptance there
that he felt able to grow back a lot of his hair and kick back and chill with his German pals. In 2007, while being a bit gymnastic on stage – the group were touring, Howard wasn’t just showing off – one of is lungs collapsed and he had to go to hospital to have it blown up again.
He still DJs when he’s not touring with the band, but he’s less hairy again as the British and international audiences find his wookiee nature slightly off-putting, which just goes to show that prejudice is alive and well and ruining the lives of non-human bipeds the world over. Personally, I like wookiees. They’re really nice, once you start to understand their language (apparently it is called Shyriiwook, which given it’s just glorified howling seems like a bit of a fancy name to me) and very gentle and loyal. Yes, they’re strong and could pull your arm out of its socket without breaking sweat, but mostly they don’t do that sort of thing.
So happy birthday, Howard. I hope that your inability to speak hasn’t hampered your ability to read and that you can appreciate this genuine greeting from the heart.