The breadfruit voyage in HMS Bounty

On 5th May 1787 the British Government framed instructions for an expedition to collect and convey commercial plant species, the breadfruit of Tahiti, from the Pacific Islands. These were to be transported to the Dutch East Indies under the direction of Sir Joseph Banks. The Admiralty purchased a suitable ship to be refitted for the voyage, the merchant ship Bethia, which was later renamed HMS Bounty. On 16th August 1787, Lieutenant William Bligh was commissioned for the journey; his experience made him the ideal candidate (Walters 1989).

The Bounty had an absence of marines to act as ship's police, a situation of considerable risk when Bligh was the only commissioned commander on board. These factors, combined with the small size of the Bounty (which led to overcrowding) and inadequate manning, contributed to some tension on the part of Lieutenant Bligh as well as a general lack of social stability on board the Bounty (Walters 1989).

HMS Bounty left Spithead for the English channel on 23rd December 1787. Bligh's orders were to approach Tahiti from Cape Horn and return to England via the Cape of Good Hope and the British West Indies. The weather during this period proved to be extremely harsh (Bligh 1790). After several unsuccessful attempts to sail around Cape Horn whilst negotiating snow storms, constant rain, cold gales and high seas, Bligh finally retreated from this route and on 22nd April 1788 turned the Bounty towards the Cape of Good Hope and Tahiti. The Bounty arrived in Matavai Bay, Tahiti, on 26th October 1788 (Bligh 1790).

A further five months were taken to collect the breadfruit plants. After such a treacherous voyage the ship's company welcomed the chance to remain in a tropical paradise, with its beautiful and welcoming women, exotic customs and a plentiful supply of fresh food.


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Last updated: Thu Mar 28 2002