In March 1790 Bligh reaches England the same day as his letters describing the Bounty mutiny written five months earlier, Bligh aboard a Dutch vessel from the East Indies, his cannon shot news via France which seethes with its own uprising as does he with his need for vindication.
A new luminary deriving from his account of the miraculous feat of seamanship in the open launch, Bligh both seethes and basks at first. But questions soon arise suggesting all is not quite right with this talk of the town exploit, and Fletcher Christian is better connected than many in England, including Bligh. His clan numbers bishops, MPs, and university alumni, one brother a lawyer, another, a doctor.
Unable to defend himself, Fletcher of the tattooed arse constructs huts of vegetation and yard, cultivating his semi-tropical garden in a mutineers’ allotment on a little known and maddeningly more difficult to find island of the remote Pacific in residence with one of several native women and various scoundrels. Even from that distance he has allies with clout.
Rumour, gossip, abounds. We all love a mystery, each with an opinion. Nobody knows where Fletcher and his makeshift mob are, nor has heard from Bligh’s launch crew. Some scoff at the idea of so many ordered into an open boat, armed and provisioned, allowed to make their way home, however hazardous, without putting up a fight, the shame of this.
Several survivors of the incident-riddled launch odyssey are silenced, dead in the East Indies where tropical diseases scythe Europeans. Others stranded there by Bligh who couldn’t wait to be disencumbered of them are now debauched, drunken, threatening, even mutinous. Bligh writes to families of some of the original crew, expressing his feelings towards these shocked innocent people’s loved ones, whether calumnious or praiseworthy.
Fletcher’s fame, or infamy, puts Cockermouth on the map. Bounty’s voyage was financed to cultivate breadfruit as a profit-skimming basic slave diet. Political radicals sympathise with the French revolutionaries, among these the young Wordsworths in this time of a burgeoning anti-slavery movement. William attended the same school as Fletcher whose brother, Edward, shall later help the Wordsworths receive their rightful inheritance.
By 1808 when news of the discovery of the isolated Pitcairners – a tribe now with their own language – spreads, the South Pacific is well-charted. Illegally deposed as Governor of New South Wales during the Rum Rebellion after rubbing rogues the wrong way again, Bligh has nine years of life left.
In the heat of the mutiny he reminded Fletcher that he had dandled the Bligh children on his knee. His wife remaining in Lambeth where their twin sons are buried, Bligh’s married daughter deputised as his first lady in Australia. Did she captivate Sydney’s fledgling society with her childhood memory of Fletcher Christian?
Theatrical extravaganzas, prequels to future film flimflam, made much of Bligh’s dramatic days during his extraordinary life. Today, some still believe Fletcher found his way home to England, or vanished into America’s melting pot. In Hobart, anxious to clear his name again, did Bligh learn of the mutineers’ island descendants? Were these days of regret, of trembling sorrow?