Text from Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure by Sven Wahlroos.
Bligh and his seventeen loyalists were safely inside Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Reading Bligh’s account of the open-boat voyage from Tofua to Timor, one gets the impression that there had been little dissension on board, even though the men had undergone incredible hardships. But Bligh was always careful to omit any references to incidents where he may not have appeared in the best possible light.
According to John Fryer, the sailing master, Bligh “was as Tryannical in his temper in the Boat as in the Ship, and . . . his chief thought was his own comfort . . .” Be that as it may, now when the immediate perils of the voyage were over (at least for the time being), trouble broke out. In fact, Bligh was faced with another mutiny!
On an islet which Bligh had named Sunday Island, Purcell, the carpenter, had been gathering clams under the impression that it was “every man for himself.” When he returned to camp with his catch, Bligh proclaimed that all victuals were to be considered common property and demanded that Purcell hand over his clams. The latter refused, whereupon Bligh called him a scoundrel, adding: “If I had not brought you here, you would all have perished.” Purcell replied: “Yes, sir, if it had not been for you, we should not have been here.” At this, Bligh again called him a scoundrel. Purcell: “I am not a scoundrel, sir, I am as good a man as you.”
This enraged Bligh who considered the statement mutinous. He grabbed a cutlass and told Purcell to take another and defend himself. At this point Fryer, the sailing master, gave an order to the boatswain: “Mr. Cole, please arrest both these men!”
The situation was critical for Bligh; he could have lost his command right then and there. Eventually, however, both Fryer and Purcell backed off when they saw that the captain was determined to preserve his authority or die in the attempt. If they had not given up, Bligh would have been in a weak position; there was a strong anti-Bligh faction among the loyalists consisting not only of Fryer and Purcell, but including quartermaster Linkletter and able seamen Hall, Lamb, and Tinkler as well. In fact, Bligh was so unpopular that the could not have counted on support from any of the loyalists, except possibly for botanist Nelson and sailmaker Lebogue, and they were in the weakest condition of them all.
Again, Fryer’s recollection of the affair was quite different. In the words of his daughter, Mary Ann:
. . . the fact is Purcel [sic] had in some way offended Bligh and he as usual gave way to his ungovernable passions, and drew his Cutless swearing at the same time he would kill him. My father wrested the weapon from him to prevent blood-shed and for this he was for ever after both hated and feared by Bligh.
Fryer told Bligh after this incident: “There are other methods in making people do as they are ordered, without fighting them, Sir. And you may rest assured that I will support you in that as far as lays in my power.” Bligh’s answer has not been recorded, but it can well be imagined.
After another two weeks of extreme suffering Bligh and his crew finally reached Coupang, a Dutch settlement on Timor, on Sunday, June 14. It is characteristic of Bligh’s pedantry and compulsive insistence on protocol that, even though several of his men were dangerously close to dying, he insisted on hoisting a distress flag and waiting for permission to land. And when the boat finally docked, Bligh’s petty vindictiveness again showed itself: he commanded Fryer to stay in the boat to “guard it,” as if there had been anything to guard! . . .
Bligh and his seventeen loyalists spent the month of July 1789 regaining their strength in the Dutch settlement of Coupang on Timor. And now when the perils and privations of the journey in the open boat were over, the same troubles surfaced as earlier on Tahiti and also on the islands within the Great Barrier Reef. Discipline disintegrated to the extent that Bligh again found it necessary to issue written orders, as he had during the last months on Tahiti.
According to Alexander McKee in H.M.S. Bounty (1962):
Purcell, the carpenter, told Bligh to his face that, during the boat voyage, he had seen him frequently drop a piece of bread, while serving out the rations, and afterwards, when he thought no one was looking, pick it up and pop it into his mouth. Linkletter, one of the quartermasters, backed Purcell up: he, too, had seen Bligh conjuring an extra piece for himself. Bligh retaliated in the customary Service way: within twenty-four hours he had “picked on” Purcell and Linkletter, and had them imprisoned on board Captain Spikerman’s ship.
Fryer, the sailing master, was again “insolent and neglectful” and, according to Bligh, had even told his brother-in-law, able seaman Robert Tinkler, to stick his knife into Cole, the boatswain!
Being anxious to get to Batavia (now Djakarta), 1,800 miles distant, in time for the departure of the Dutch October fleet for Europe, Bligh bought a 34-foot schooner for 1,000 Rix Dollars and named it HMS Resource. Because of the prevalence of pirates in the Java Sea, the vessel was armed with four swivel guns, and the crew with 14 stand of small arms.
After Norton’s death on Tofua there had been no further casualties on the long voyage. But now the tropical fevers of Indonesia started taking their toll. David Nelson, the botanist, succumbed to an “inflammatory fever” on July 20. Others were to follow. . . .
In early August 1789 Bligh and his loyalist crew were still in Coupang occupied with fitting out the 34-foot schooner Bligh had bought and named HMS Resource. They sailed for Java on August 20, having had a good two months to recuperate from the extreme privations of the open-boat voyage from Tofua to Timor. Because of the danger of attacks by pirates, they were escorted by two armed proas (Indonesian sailboats).
Bligh and his loyalist crew were sailing westward on the schooner Resource on their way from Coupang to Batavia. The term “loyalist” may be a euphemism, because Bligh again faced a mutiny, albeit a minor one. Having reached Surabaya, a Dutch settlement on the north coast of Java, Bligh ordered Fryer, the sailing master and Bligh’s nemesis, to take the Resource and meet him in the harbor at a point to which the governor of the district was going to take Bligh in the official launch. However, when the captain and the governor reached the place at the appointed time, the Resource was nowhere to be seen. Bligh, livid with rage over the embarrassment, finally found her snugly moored at the quay. He demanded to see Mr. Fryer.
When Fryer appeared, Bligh heaped even more than his usual abuse on him. Fryer: “You not only use me ill, but every man in the vessel will say the same.” And the seamen who were standing around agreed: “Yes, by God, we are used damn ill, nor have we any right to be used so.” At which point Bligh grabbed a bayonet and arrested Fryer and also Purcell (who had been the most vocal of the complainers) and had them put in irons.
In Surabaya Fryer had also accused Bligh of fraudulent dealings at Coupang, but he later retracted his allegations. After apologizing, Fryer was released when the party reached Samarang on September 22, but Purcell, who refused to apologize, was kept prisoner until the ship arrived in Batavia on October 1.
On October 1, 1789, Bligh and his men arrived in Batavia in the Resource. Purcell, who had been in irons ever since the stop-over at Surabaya was now let free.
On the following day Bligh fell ill with malaria, an ailment which was to haunt him for the the next few years and from which he suffered especially during the second breadfruit expedition.
The Resource was sold at auction on October 10, as was the launch, with which Bligh, for sentimental reasons, found it difficult to part.
On October 16, accompanied by his clerk Samuel and his servant John Smith, Bligh left for South Africa on the Dutch packet Vlydte. Before their departure, seaman Thomas Hall died from a tropical disease. The other crew members were left in Batavia to arrange for passage home in various Dutch ships. Many of them were ill; a few were dying. If Bligh had cared for his crew for any other reason than to keep them in effective working order on board, he would have seen to it that the sick were sent home first.
Bligh spent the month of November 1789 on the Indian Ocean on his way from Batavia to Cape Town. He certainly did not like being a passenger and least of all on a Dutch ship; his journal is full of contemptuous and sarcastic remarks Dutch methods of navigation.
Meanwhile, the tropical diseases in the Dutch East Indies were wreaking havoc with the loyalists he had left behind to wait for transportation home. David Nelson, the botanist, had died in Coupang. Seaman Thomas Hall had died in Batavia before Bligh left. Now it was quartermaster Peter Linkletter’s and master’s mate William Elphinstone’s turn to succumb to the “violent fevers.” Seaman Robert Lamb died on the passage home and the acting ship’s surgeon, Thomas Ledward*, was never heard of again. The likelihood is that he was on board the ship Welfare which was lost without a trace. Some Bounty scholars, however, think he died in Batavia, others that he survived and is identical with a surgeon, also named Ledward, who allegedly was on George Vancouver’s ship Discovery from 1791 to 1795 (Kennedy: Bligh, 1978).
One of Ledward’s letters from Batavia has been preserved and it gives an excellent insight into Bligh’s pettiness and meanness (the word “mean” was equivalent to stingy or ungenerous in the 1700s):
The captain denied me, as well as the rest of the gentlemen who had not agents, any money unless I would give him my power of attorney and also my will, in which I was to bequeath to him all my property, this he called by the proper name of security . . . In case of my death I hope this matter will be clearly pointed out to my relations.
Eventually, only twelve of the nineteen men set adrift by the mutineers ever reached England (quartermaster John Norton having been killed by natives on Tofua).
* After posting this part of the story, I was contacted by someone claiming to be a descendant of Ledward. According to him, Ledward did indeed survive and was a staunch Bligh supporter throughout the entire ordeal.
Courtesy of Pacific Union College.