Fletcher Christian

Fletcher Christian

Cockermouth, Allerdale Borough, Cumbria, England
Death 20 Sep 1793 (aged 28)
Burial Body lost or destroyed, Specifically: Unmarked grave on Pitcairn Island, location unknown to historians
Memorial ID 9301908 · View Source
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British Navy Mutineer. He was a Master's Mate and Acting Lieutenant on the HMS Bounty. His ancestors came from the Isle of Man and it appears that rebellion ran in the family. Christian's great-great-grandfather, the Manxman Illiam Dhone, led an uprising against the English on the island and was executed in 1663. He was also related to the poet William Wordsworth and both men were born in Cockermouth, Cumberland. His father was a gentleman farmer who died when Christian was three, plunging the family into financial straits. Christian's mother saw to it that he and his older brother received good educations, but in 1780 they lost their ancestral farm at Moorland Close and had to go live with relatives. Christian's decision to join the Royal Navy at age 17 was probably motivated by monetary concerns; he enlisted as a common seaman, which was unusual (not to mention demeaning) for someone with a gentleman's background. In a strange coincidence, the Lieutenant on Christian's first ship, the HMS Cambridge, was William Bligh, though the two had very little contact. Returning home in 1782, he fell in love with a young heiress named Isabella Curwen. She liked the tall, handsome and muscular Christian but chose to marry one of his cousins instead. The heartbroken young seaman returned to the Navy. In April 1783 Christian was on the HMS Eurydice as Midshipman on a voyage to India; during that time he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant, showing that he was a naturally skilled officer. Through family connections Christian then joined the crew of the merchant ship Britannia in 1785; the Commander was William Bligh. They sailed together twice to the West Indies and on the second trip Bligh promoted Christian to Second Mate. In 1787 Bligh was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, for a voyage to the South Seas; its purpose was to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies in order to grow cheap food for slaves. The ship Bligh was given was a former merchant vessel, the Bethia, refitted and renamed the HMS Bounty by Banks. Bligh chose Christian as Master's Mate---and the rest is history....Christian's motives for eventually taking the Bounty have intrigued people for over 200 years and have invited endless speculation about his character. The romantic view (effectively pushed by Hollywood) portrays him as a champion of the underdog rebelling against tyranny, while many historians (especially those partial to the British Navy) have dismissed Christian as a selfish neurotic who couldn't hack naval discipline, or even as a bloodthirsty pirate. The known facts are less clear cut. As an officer he was uniformly praised as extremely able, fair-minded, and compassionate towards the crew, never so much as cursing at a sailor; not a man aboard the Bounty, loyalist or mutineer, ever had a bad word to say about him. Even Bligh seemed to have liked Christian and promoted him to Acting Lieutenant (third-in-command of that small crew) not long after setting sail. But beneath this ideal officer was a deeply conflicted man, wracked with self-doubt and prone to profuse bouts of nervous sweating. The mildest criticism would depress him for days. The ship's senior officers accused Bligh of giving Christian preferential treatment---meaning that he wasn't verbally abused by the Commander as much as his colleagues---but Christian himself felt unfairly singled out for grief. The Bounty's stay in Tahiti (1788-89) was the turning point. Although there was much work to be done gathering the breadfruit plants and reconditioning the vessel, life on the island was a comparative paradise. After nearly six months of swimming, feasting, and polygamous sex with the natives, many of the crew were reluctant to face the difficult voyage home under an increasingly hot-tempered Bligh. (Three of the men attempted to desert and Bligh had them flogged). Christian certainly felt this way; he'd fallen in love with a Tahitian woman named Maimiti, calling her "Isabella" after his unrequited flame back in England. When the Bounty finally embarked for the West Indies in April 1789, the mood of the crew was incendiary. Even so, the mutiny that occurred three weeks later, on April 28, was an improvised, spur-of-the-moment fluke. On the night of April 27 Christian told some of the younger officers that he intended to jump ship aboard a raft and head back for Tahiti. According to one story, Midshipman Ned Young persuaded Christian to drop this scheme and commandeer the ship instead; but this is based more on Young's later ruthless behavior than any real evidence. The seed was probably planted---inadvertently---by another young Midshipman, George Stewart. Attempting to convince Christian that his steadfast presence was vital to the morale of the crew, Stewart warned him, "The men are ready for anything". Christian was left to chew on this remark during his early morning watch. Around 7:00 AM on April 28, Carpenter's Mate Charles Norman spotted a shark following the Bounty and requested a musket to shoot it. This gave Christian a perfect excuse to gain access to the ship's arms chest, the key to which was kept by Armorer Joseph Coleman. Motive, willing accomplices, and now opportunity---the elements all fell into place. While seaman Matthew Quintal was sent to pass the word, Christian and seaman John Adams went to Coleman for the key; once the arms chest was opened, Christian and Adams seized Coleman and the hastily gathered mutineers rushed in to arm themselves. Within moments a group led by Christian had stormed into Bligh's cabin (he had just woken up and was half naked) and arrested him. The mutiny lasted about an hour; despite the chaos, Christian saw to it that no one was killed or seriously injured. For a time there was indecision over what to do next. Christian only wanted to get rid of the four most hated men aboard: Bligh, Midshipmen Thomas Hayward and John Hallett, and the Ship's Clerk John Samuel; but more than half the crew remained loyal to Bligh, so 18 of them were put into the Bounty's launch with the deposed Commander and set adrift. (The remaining seven loyalists were kept against their will, mainly because there was no room for them in the launch). For the next nine months the Bounty was almost continuously at sea, with Christian growing hardened and desperate in his behavior. They sailed first to Tahiti; then to the island of Tubai; then back to Tahiti.
In September 1789 Christian realized that his only chance to remain free was to settle on whatever uncharted South Seas island he could find. Of the 22 Bounty men on Tahiti, only eight (all mutineers) agreed to go along, taking with them 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men. (Christian was accompanied by Maimiti, now his wife, and she would bear him three children). On January 15, 1790, the Bounty arrived at Pitcairn Island, a 1.3-mile hunk of volcanic rock isolated in the South Pacific. First sighted by westerners in 1767, it was named for its discoverer, Robert Pitcairn. Although it was charted, Christian was delighted to learn that Pitcairn's position on the nautical maps had been mistakenly placed 188 miles west of its actual location, making it difficult to find---and an excellent refuge. After determining that the island had sufficient natural resources for survival, the mutineers burned and sank the Bounty on January 23. (The event is commemorated on Pitcairn as "Bounty Day"). If Christian had hoped to build a peaceful, thriving community with everyone pitching in for the common good, he was soon disabused of that notion. The mutineers fell prey to a "Lord of the Flies" mentality and there was constant squabbling over duties, land, provisions, and especially over the women. Mutineer Ned Young, aided by Adams, exploited each situation to his advantage and became de facto ruler of Pitcairn; Christian grew increasingly depressed, and island tradition has it that he would often retreat into a nearby cave to brood. (The cave, naturally, is now named for him). The biggest dilemma was the growing hostility of the Tahitian men. Kidnapped into virtual slavery by Christian, they were abused by some of the white men and had to share three women between them. The tension reached breaking point in 1793 with the accidental death of mutineer John Williams' consort. Williams demanded a replacement and was given one of the natives' women, sparking a killing spree that came to be known on the island as "Massacre Day". Early on September 20, 1793, the Tahitians, armed with stolen muskets and clubs, began slaughtering the mutineers at their homes. Five Bounty men were killed; Christian was the second to go, shot at least twice and finished off with a club and a rock. He may have eluded British justice, but he could not escape Darwin's law of survival of the fittest. He was probably buried close to where he fell. Today there are many of his descendants living on Pitcairn, on Norfolk Island, and throughout the Pacific....After two centuries Fletcher Christian remains a vivid figure in popular culture. Almost from the beginning there were those who refused to believe he actually died, at least not in the grisly manner recorded by history. Shortly before his death in 1831, Bounty survivor Peter Heywood swore that he saw a man who looked exactly like Christian on a Plymouth street in 1808. This gave rise to the legend that Christian somehow returned undetected to England---a legend bolstered by mutineer John Adams. The mutineers had scuttled the Bounty but not its sloop, which they kept for fishing expeditions and, if needed, a quick getaway from the island. When British sailors visited Pitcairn in 1814, they noticed that the sloop was nowhere to be seen. The enigmatic Adams would not explain its disappearance, and he refused to show his visitors where Christian was buried. There are probably sensible explanations for both. Moored along Pitcairn's rocky coastline---the island has no beach or natural harbor---the sloop was probably dashed to pieces in a storm. As for the gravesite, Adams may not have wanted anyone to see how carelessly Christian had been buried, his resting place unmarked and grown over with tropical foliage. (Guilt may have played a role as well, since there is evidence that Ned Young, with Adams' knowledge, helped provoke the events which led to Christian's murder). And it is hard to dismiss the testimony of Maimiti, who described her husband's death in great detail. But the idea of Christian truly beating the law and returning home to live happily ever after is too tantalizing for some to relinquish. It adds to the enduring mystery and attraction of the world's most famous mutineer.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 10 Aug 2004
  • Find a Grave Memorial 9301908
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Fletcher Christian (25 Sep 1764–20 Sep 1793), Find a Grave Memorial no. 9301908, ; Maintained by Find A Grave Body lost or destroyed, who reports a Unmarked grave on Pitcairn Island, location unknown to historians.