One of the most famous science research ships in history was the British Royal Navy vessel the HMS Endeavor. It sailed under the famous Captain James Cook and made voyages to the South Pacific that resulted in huge advances in European scientific knowledge. This knowledge became an important milestone in what came to be known as the “Age of Reason.”
From 1768-1771, it sailed around the world mapping and exploring new areas. The ship carried up-to-date scientific instruments as well as a number of naturalists who recorded hundreds of then unknown plant and animal species. The ships first scientific mission brought it to Tahiti in 1769 in order to observe and record the astronomical event of the passing of the planet Venus across the sun.
While there, one of the naturalists, Sir Joseph Banks, became intrigued with the breadfruit tree and its very nutritious and plentiful fruit. He recognized the potential of breadfruit as a cheap and abundant food crop for other tropical areas. He encouraged King George III to commission a special expedition to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the Caribbean as a food source for slaves being utilized there. Thus started the saga of the HMS Bounty and the now infamous story of the “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
The HMS Bounty was a small merchant vessel that the British Royal Navy sent in 1787 to islands in the Pacific. The ship was under the command of Captain William Bligh who some considered to be a somewhat oppressive commander. Its mission was to acquire breadfruit plants and transport them to British possessions in the West Indies.
In those days, conditions on board sailing ships were very harsh even under the best of conditions. After a 10-month journey, the ship arrived in Tahiti. For reasons that are not fully understood, the crew had become increasingly mutinous over the course of the journey. The expedition had missed the proper season for transplanting and five months passed before the gardeners were able to collect a full cargo of trees. During that time, many of the crew had acquired mistresses and had become so enchanted with island life they were reluctant to leave.
However, the ship left Tahiti in April of 1789 with its cargo of breadfruit saplings. Three weeks into the journey to the West Indies, chief mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny that resulted in Captain Bligh and 18 of his loyal crew being set adrift in a 23-foot open boat with some water and a few provisions.
The mutinous crew sailed back to Tahiti where some stayed. Others sailed with some Tahitians to Pitcarin Island, an isolated and uninhabited volcanic island more that 1,000 miles east of Tahiti. Captain Bligh made a miraculous voyage back to safety, but from here the true stories of what happened to everyone else is somewhat tainted by legend.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.