- Education and Science
Fletcher Christian-Did he return to England?
Mutiny on the Bountty
Fletcher Christian was the leader of the mutiny against the tyrant Captain William Bligh on H.M.S. Bounty in the Pacific Ocean, in 1789. Christian took the ship from Bligh, after sailing from Tahiti with a cargo of breadfruit, and set him adrift in the Pacific Ocean with the members of the crew who would not mutiny against their Captain. The Bounty then returned to Tahiti, embarked the mutineers' wives and a few native men who wanted adventure, and sailed for the remote island of Tubuai, in French Polynesia.
Fletcher was born on 25th September 1764 at Moorland Close Farm on the outskirts of Cockermouth, Cumbria. His father, a well to do lawyer died when Fletcher was three years old and his mother, Anne struggled to keep the farm going. She saw to it that Fletcher and his brothers were well educated at Cockermouth Grammar School, where they were friends of another, soon to be famous man, William Wordsworth. It is this connection to Wordsworth that is the hinge to the belief that Fletcher Christian was not killed by the natives on Pitcairn Island, but escaped, wounded, in one of the boats and eventually returned to England.
In 1780 Anne's debts were so huge that the farm was repossessed and she moved her family to the Isle of Man to stay with relatives. Fletcher joined the Royal Navy. He sailed on two voyages to the West Indies under Lieutenant William Bligh and Bligh was so impressed by the young man that he promoted him to Midshipman.
In 1787 the merchant vessel Bethia was purchased by the Admiralty, renamed H.M.S. Bounty and fitted out to take a thousand breadfruit plants from Tahiti, where they were cheap and plentiful, to the West Indies where they would be planted. It was hoped they would flourish in that climate and help to feed the slaves.
The Bounty sailed on 23rd December 1787 with William Bligh as her Captain and John Fryer as her sailing master and first lieutenant. Bligh requested Fletcher Christian to be an officer in his crew. Trying to round Cape Horn into the Pacific, the weather was so horrendous that Bligh turned the ship eastwards and sailed across the Atlantic, rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and headed for Tahiti. Bligh fell out with John Fryer and, castigating him, demoted him and replaced him with Fletcher Christian as first lieutenant.
Captain Bligh was a known tyrant and had made his reputation in the Royal Navy by flogging his men into submission, by cutting their rations when they fell foul of him, which was often, and by threatening them with hanging for their misdemeanors. Fletcher was the opposite, easy going, always protecting the underdog against Bligh's tyranny. At first, Bligh was friendly towards Christian but he had the habit of disagreeing with Christian's decisions and dressing him down in front of the crew, as he had done with Fryer. Nothing was good enough for Bligh and the atmosphere on board the Bounty was extremely tense.
When the ship reached Tahiti they had to wait several months for the breadfruit to mature to a sufficient a stage where they would not die by being transferred. The native Tahitians were very friendly and the crew were allowed to live ashore while tending the plants. It was an idyllic life for the crew members who were used to the hardships and spartan living on board ship. Now they were living in luxury with plenty of food and drink, beautiful weather and gorgeous native women who loved them and gave them everything their hearts desired. The crew were besotted with their girls and some married them. Fletcher married a beautiful daughter of one of the cheiftans. She was named Maimiti but Fletcher called her Isabella after the girl who stole his heart back home.
Bounty set sail with its cargo of breadfruit plants on 4 April 1789, and the crew were not happy. They were used to living in luxury and did not relish the idea of submitting to Bligh and his worsening tantrums. Three weeks later and over a thousand miles west of Tahiti, the bad feeling came to a head and some of the crew, led by Fletcher, mutineed and took the ship. The mutineers forced Bligh and those of the crew who supported him to take to a boat. Christian made sure they had enough provisions and water to last them many weeks, and cast them off. Bounty turned around and headed back to Tahiti.
Bligh was cast adrift
There was much rejoicing when they reached Tahiti, and they decided to take their wives and anyone else who wanted to go with them and find a remote island where they could live out the rest of their lives. They headed for Tubuai in the French Polynesian group of islands. Tubuai proved to be a very inhospitable place and they were not welcomed by the natives.so they turned again to try to find another island. Some of the crew were fed up of roaming around trying to settle somewhere, so they persuaded Fletcher to drop them and their wives back on Tahiti. Fletcher and his remaining nine mutineers, six Tahitian men, and eleven Tahitian women then sailed to Pitcairn Island after Fletcher discovered that it had been misplaced on the Admiralty charts. They nearly missed the island as it had been drawn hundreds of miles off its correct location on the chart. This mistake gave them the hope that they would never be found by the Admiralty ships that would surely come seeking them.
At Pitcairn they stripped the Bounty of everything that they could use and set it on fire, keeping two of the ship's boats for their fishing trips. The mutineers settled down, building houses and growing crops, happy at first with their lot in life. But the native men were not happy with the way they were being treated. Some of the mutineers treated them as slaves. Four of them had no women to keep them warm and there were stirrings of unrest. Children were being born every year, and Fletcher and Isabellas's first boy was named Thursday October Christian, born in 1790 and his second son, Charles Christian was born in 1792. Mary Ann Christian was born in 1793. In the same year that Mary Ann was born the natives finally rebelled against the mutineers and started to murder them.
From here on, facts are few and far between and myth takes over. One fact, narrated by the only surviving mutineer, John Adams, who was discovered still on Pitcairn in 1808 by a vessel seeking seals, was that Fletcher Christian had been shot in the back by a native and killed.
Did he return?
How is it then, that Fletcher Christian had been seen in Portsmouth, and in other ports around 1804-1805?
How is it then that a letter published in the newspaper,'Weekly Entertainer' written by William Wordsworth, rubbished a pamphlet which was going around, supposedly written by Fletcher Christian describing his post - Bounty adventures, in which Wordsworth states he 'has it on good authority' that the pamphlet is fake, and moreover, a tissue of lies? What good authority is that? It can only be from Fletcher's brother, Edward. And it can only be that Edward knew the truth of what happened to Fletcher after Pitcairn. Who told Edward this alleged truth? If Fletcher did return to England, it seems obvious that he would contact Edward from abroad to arrange details of his return.
How is it that a book was published in 1796 under the title: 'Letters from Mr Fletcher Christian Containing a Narrative of the Transactions on Board His Majesty's Ship Bounty Before and After Mutiny, With His Subsequent Voyages and Travels in South America.' Who wrote that book? Could it have been William Wordsworth? Was Fletcher in touch with him and brother Edward around that time. Did they correspond?
There is a strong belief in Cumbria that Fletcher did return. The story of his escape from Pitcairn being that when he was shot, the bullet passed through his shoulder blade and his wife Isabella managed to get him down to the beach, dressed his wound and hid him until he was strong enough to get in one of the boats and make his way to freedom. He was picked up eventually by a whaling ship and after a season in the Antarctic, he was landed in South America. From there he made his way back to England via America.
Did he contact his old school chum, William Wordsworth and ask William to write the truth of his adventures? Was he ever able to contact his beloved wife and family on Pitcairn and let them know he was alive?
One thing is sure. Some of Fletcher Christian's descendants still live on Pitcairn. Others migrated to Australia and New Zealand. Two of his descendants came to England on a visit from Pitcairn Island to trace their ancestors roots. Or were they trying to find his grave?