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HMS Bounty (known to historians as HM Armed Vessel Bounty, popularly as HMAV Bounty, and to many simply as "The Bounty"), famous as the scene of the Mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, was originally a three-masted cargo ship, the Bethia, purchased by the British Admiralty, then modified and commissioned as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the Bounty for a botanical mission to the Pacific Oceanmarker.

Bounty began her career as the collier Bethia, built in 1784 at the Blaydesmarker shipyard near Hullmarker. Later she was purchased by the Royal Navy for £2,600 on 26 May 1787 (JJ Colledge/D Lyon say 23 May), refit, and renamed Bounty. She was a relatively small sailing ship at 215 tons, three-masted and full-rigged. After conversion for the breadfruit expedition, she mounted only four four pounders (2 kg cannon) and ten swivel guns. Thus she was very small in comparison to other three-mast colliers used for similar expeditions: Cook's Endeavour displaced 368 tons and 462 tons.

The 1787 breadfruit expedition


The ship had been purchased by the Royal Navy for a single mission in support of an experiment: she was to travel to Tahitimarker, pick up breadfruit plants, and transport them to the West Indiesmarker in hopes that they would grow well there and become a cheap source of food for slaves. The experiment was proposed by Sir Joseph Banks, who recommended William Bligh as commander, and was promoted through a prize offered by the Royal Society of Artsmarker.

In June 1787, Bounty was refitted at Deptfordmarker. The great cabin was converted to house the potted breadfruit plants, and gratings fitted to the upper deck. Her complement was 46 officers and men.

Bligh described the ship thus:

"The Burthen of the Ship was nearly 215 Tons; Her extreme length on deck 90Ft..10In. & breadth from outside to outside of the bends 24Ft..3 in. A Flush deck & a pretty Figure Head of a Woman in Riding habit; She mounted 4 four pounders & 10 Swivels & her Complement was,
1. Lieut & Commander 2. Masters Mates 1. Gunners Mate

1. Master 2. Midshipmen 1. Carpenters Mate

1. Boatswain 1. Clerk 1. Sailmaker

1. Gunner 2. Qr. Masters 1. Armourer

1. Carpenter 1. Qr.Masr.Mate 1. Carpenters Crew

1. Surgeon 1. Boatswains Mate 1. Corporal

24 Able Seamen

Total. 45 One of which is a Widow's man. There was likewise a Botanist & his Assistant."

William Bligh was appointed Commanding Lieutenant of Bounty on 16 August 1787, at the age of 33, after a career that included a tour as sailing master of James Cook's during Cook's third and final voyage (1776-1779).

The voyage out

On 23 December 1787, Bounty sailed from Spitheadmarker for Tahitimarker. For a full month, she attempted to round Cape Hornmarker, but adverse weather blocked her. Bligh ordered her turned about, and proceeded east, rounding the Cape of Good Hopemarker and crossing the width of the Indian Oceanmarker. During the outward voyage, Bligh demoted Sailing Master John Fryer, replacing him with Fletcher Christian. This act seriously damaged the relationship between Bligh and Fryer, and Fryer would later claim Bligh's act was entirely personal.
"The Bounty", painting by Yasmina (2009)
Though commonly portrayed as the epitome of abusive sailing captains, this portrayal has recently come into dispute. Caroline Alexander, in her book The Bounty, points out that Bligh was relatively lenient compared with other British naval officers. Bligh received the appointment because he was considered an exceptionally capable naval officer—an evaluation that would prove to be correct. He enjoyed the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks, a wealthy botanist and influential figure in Britain at the time. That, and his experience sailing with Cook and familiarity with navigation in the area and local customs, were probably prime factors in his appointment.

Bounty reached Tahiti on 26 October 1788, after ten months at sea.

Bligh and his crew spent five months in Tahiti, then called "Otaheite", collecting and preparing a total of 1015 breadfruit plants. Bligh allowed the crew to live ashore and care for the potted breadfruit plants, and they became socialized to the customs and culture of the Tahitians. Many of the seamen and some of the "young gentlemen" had themselves tattooed in native fashion. Master's Mate and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian married Maimiti, a Tahitian woman. Other warrant officers and seamen of the Bounty were also said to have formed "connections" with native women.

After five months in Tahiti, the Bounty set sail with its breadfruit cargo on 4 April 1789.

Mutiny and destruction of the ship

Some west of Tahiti, near Tongamarker, mutiny broke out on 28 April 1789. Despite strong words and threats heard on both sides, the ship was taken bloodlessly and apparently without struggle by any of the loyalists except Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined Christian in mutiny, two were passive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship's master, two midshipmen, the surgeon's mate (Ledward), and the ship's clerk into Bounty's launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard.

The mutineers sailed for the island of Tubuaimarker, where they tried to settle. After three months of being terrorized by the cannibalistic natives, however, they returned to Tahiti. Sixteen of the mutineers and the four loyalists who had been unable to accompany Bligh remained there, taking their chances that the Royal Navy would find them and bring them to justice.

Immediately after setting the sixteen men ashore in Tahiti in September 1789, Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women, one with a baby, set sail in Bounty hoping to elude the Royal Navy. According to a journal kept by one of Christian's followers, the Tahitians were actually kidnapped when Christian set sail without warning them, the purpose of this being to acquire the women.

The mutineers passed through the Fijimarker and Cook Islandsmarker, but feared that they would be found there. Continuing their quest for a safe haven, on 15 January 1790 they rediscovered Pitcairn Islandmarker, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy's charts. After the decision was made to settle on Pitcairn, livestock and other provisions were removed from the Bounty. To prevent the ship's detection, and anyone's possible escape, the ship was burned on 23 January 1790 in what is now called Bounty Baymarker.

However in 1825 HMS Blossom on a voyage of exploration under Captain Frederick Beechey arrived on Christmas Day off Pitcairn and spent 19 days there. Capatin Beechey later recorded this in his 1831 published account of the voyage as did one of his crew John Bechervaise in his 1839 Thirty-Six years of a Seafaring Life by an Old Quarter Master. Beechey prints a detailed account of the mutiny as recounted to him by the last survivor, Adams. Bechervaise, who gives a detailed account of the life of the islanders, says he found the remains of Bounty and took some pieces of wood from it which were turned into souvenirs such as snuff boxes.

(Beecher's account is rare; there is a copy in the Caird Library in Greenwich. Original copies of John Bechervaise's privately printed book are also rare but has been reprinted in facsimile by Kessinger).

Discovery of the wreck of the Bounty

Luis Marden discovered the remains of the Bounty in January 1957. After spotting a rudder from this ship in a museum on Fiji, he persuaded his editors and writers to let him dive off Pitcairn Island, where the rudder had been found. Despite the warnings of one islander – "Man, you gwen be dead as a hatchet!" – Marden dived for several days in the dangerous swells near the island, and found the remains of the fabled ship-a rudder pin; nails; a ships boat oarlock; fittings; and a "Bounty" anchor which he raised. He subsequently met with Marlon Brando to counsel him on his role as Fletcher Christian in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Later in life, Marden wore cuff links made of nails from the Bounty. Marden also dived on the wreck of HMS Pandora and left a "Bounty" nail with the "Pandora".

Some of her remains, such as her ballast stones, are still partially visible in the waters of Bounty Bay. Her rudder —which had been found in 1933 by Parkin Christian—is still displayed in the Fiji Museum in Suva.

Modern Bounty reconstructions

When the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty was made, sailing vessels were still in wide use: existing vessels were adapted to play Bounty and Pandora.

For the 1962 film, a new vessel was constructed, the Bounty II.

A second replica of Bounty, named H.M.A.V. Bounty, and informally known as "Bounty III", was built in New Zealand in 1979 and used in the 1984 Dino De Laurentiis film The Bounty. The hull is constructed of welded steel oversheathed with timber. For many years she served the tourist excursion market from Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, before being sold to HKR International Limited in October 2007. She is now a tourist attraction based in Discovery Bay, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, and has an additional Chinese name Chi Ming. She is also available for charter, excursions, sail training and team building events.

Ship prefix controversy

The Bounty was never referred to by the prefixes HMS or HMAV while in service.

The abbreviation HMS came into common use only around the 1790s, transforming into the initialism HMS in the twentieth century.

Although she was ship-rigged, and commonly referred to as a ship, in the formal vocabulary of the Admiralty the Bounty was not called a ship because she was unrated. Equally, there was no organisation formally called the Admiralty - that name is a colloquialism for "The Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, etc.".

In the transcript of the 1792 trial of the ten crewmen returned on the Bounty is referred to as His Majesty's Ship "Bounty" or His Majesty's Armed Vessel "Bounty" three times each, and twice as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the "Bounty".

In the drawings for the 1787 conversion she is referred to as the "Bounty Armed Transport".

The contents page of the Bounty s medical book is inscribed "His Britannic Majesty's Ship Bounty: Spithead 29th December 1787"

The title of William Bligh's 1792 account of the mutiny refers to "His Majesty's Ship the Bounty".

Sir John Barrow's 1831 publication refers to "H.M.S. Bounty".

Academic institutions such as Britain's National Archivesmarker,National Maritime Museummarker, Royal Naval Museummarker, and Australia's State Library of New South Walesmarker generally use "HMS".


  1. See picture of cannon at; for the disposition of the 4 ships cannon see
  2. Alexander, C. (2003) The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty ISBN 0006532462
  3. Alexander (2003), p.48
  4. .p.39-40] For a recent picture of anchor see "Bounty" anchor was lost off Tubai by the mutineers and recovered by the "Pandora". See
  5. .p.41

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