Mutiny broke out on board HMS Bounty on this date in 1789.
The Royal Navy ship had been on a mission transporting breadfruit plants in the South Pacific. (Philip Larkin: “Boys dream of native girls who bring breadfruit, / Whatever they are …”) The crew spent about five months on Tahiti and in that time several of them fell in love with some of the native women who resided there. Acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian possibly considered himself betrothed to a young native woman whose name he changed from Mauatua to “Isabella.”
(Phrases heavy with words like “probable” and “possible” are necessary in telling the story of the mutiny.)
Lieutenant William Bligh tolerated the frolicsome life, to a point. Bligh pulled back his silent tolerance after one man died and two deserted; he started to rage at the men and especially at his second-in-command, Christian, who secretly plotted a way away from this hell. Bounty set sail to return home and four weeks later, the mutiny took place. Bligh and 18 men loyal to him were set into an open boat, which they successfully navigated west over the next six weeks to what is now Timor, thousands of nautical miles away. Bligh returned to England, retained his naval position, sailed to the South Pacific and back again on more missions for more breadfruit plants (“Whatever they are …”) and died in London in 1817.
Christian and his followers sailed from island to island in the South Pacific, fought with one another and rebelled against authority (once a mutineer, always in mutiny), were under constant attack from natives, and some eventually set up life on Pitcairn Island. Most historians seem to agree that Christian himself was murdered by Tahitians around 1793. By 1800, only one mutineer, John Adams, was still alive, and he spent the years from around 1800 till his own death in 1829 educating the surviving wives and the children born of mutiny.
The population of Pitcairn Island remains about 50 people, most of whom are descended from the mutineers and the wives they married one long ago South Pacific summer.
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Jim Valvano died on this date in 1993. János Starker died three years ago today.
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Jan Oort was born on this date in 1900. Oskar Schindler was born in 1908 on this date. Blossom Dearie was born on this date in 1924. The late Harper Lee was born 90 years ago today. (She died in February.) The late Sir Terry Pratchett would be 68 today. Bruno Kirby would be 67.
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Ann-Margret is 75 today. Alice Waters is 72. Carolyn Forché is 66. “The Visitor” by Carolyn Forché:
In Spanish he whispers there is no time left.
It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat,
the ache of some field song in Salvador.
The wind along the prison, cautious
as Francisco’s hands on the inside, touching
the walls as he walks, it is his wife’s breath
slipping into his cell each night while he
imagines his hand to be hers. It is a small country.
There is nothing one man will not do to another.
Jay Leno is 66. Kim Gordon is 63 today. John Daly is 50. Penélope Cruz is 42 today.
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