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munity and aftermath

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M utiny

James Morrison’s Account of
the Mutiny on the BOUNTY
and the Island of Tahiti



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Mutiny and Aftermath



James Morrison’s Account
of the Mutiny on the Bounty
and the Island of Tahiti

Edited by Vanessa Smith
and Nicholas Thomas
with the assistance of Maia Nuku

University of Hawai‘i Press

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© 2013 University of Hawai‘i Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
18 17 16 15 14 13   6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Morrison, James, 1763 or 4‒1807, author.
[ Journal of James Morrison]
Mutiny and aftermath : James Morrison’s account of the mutiny
on the Bounty and the island of Tahiti / edited by Vanessa Smith
and Nicholas Thomas ; with the assistance of Maia Nuku.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8248-3676-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Bounty Mutiny, 1789.  2. Tahiti (French Polynesia : Island)—Discovery
and exploration—English.  3. Morrison, James, 1763 or 4‒1807—Diaries. 
I. Smith, Vanessa (Vanessa Jane), editor.  II. Thomas, Nicholas, editor.  III. Title.
DU20.M676 2013
University of Hawai‘i Press books are printed on acid-free
paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and

durability of the Council on Library Resources.

Designed by Josie Herr
Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc.



List of Illustrations   vii
Preface  xiii
Acknowledgments  xix

Introduction  1

Part I.  The Journal: Mutiny, Mutineers, Islanders
1.  The Voyage and the Mutiny   25
2.  The Occupation of Tubuai   56
Return to Tahiti  88
4.  From Tahiti to England   121
Part II.  The Account: The Island of Tahiti
The Tahitian World  157
6.  Tahitian Society, History, and Culture   185
7.  Arts, Rites, and Customs   220

Appendix I: Morrison’s Polynesian Words and Terms   269
Appendix II: Morrison’s People   275
Appendix III: Morrison’s Place-names   283
Appendix IV: Morrison’s Plants   285
Notes  287
Select Bibliography  321
Index  329


1.Track of the voyage of the Bounty  xi
2.First page of James Morrison’s manuscript   xiv
3.“The Breadfruit of Otahytey,” George Tobin, 1792   2
4.“Matavai Bay, Island Otahytey—Sunset,” George Tobin,
1792  36

Map of Tubuai  58
6.Whalebone and ivory necklace, Austral Islands   64
7.Whale ivory ear ornaments, Austral Islands   65
8.Parae, Tahiti  71
9.Pearlshell necklace, Tubuai, Austral Islands   78
10. Tahiri, flywhisk, Austral Islands   82
11.Tahiri, flywhisk (detail), Austral Islands   83
12.“On Matavai River, Island of Otahytey,” George Tobin,
1792  90
13.“Morai Point, at Oparrey, Island of Otahytey,”
George Tobin, 1792  122
14. Tapa or barkcloth beater, Tahiti   167
15. Matau, fish hooks, and lures, Tahiti   175
16.Map of Tahiti showing political districts, groupings,
and key sites.   186
17. Ti’i, carved double figure, Tahiti   197
18.“The Morai at Oparrey, Island of Otahytey—Looking towards
­Matavai,” George Tobin, 1792   199
19. To’o, god image, Tahiti   201

viii   illustrations

20. Taumi, feather gorget, Tahiti   205

Headrest, Tahiti  221
22.“A double Canoe with the Eotooa (God) and provisions on the
prow—Island of Otahytey,” George Tobin, 1792   224
Breadfruit splitter, Tahiti  234
24. Penu, pounder, Tahiti  235
25. Tamau, braided human hair, Tahiti   245
26. Pahu, drum, Tahiti  252
27.“A Toopapow, with the Corpse on it—Island of Otahytey,”
George Tobin, 1792  259

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Mutiny and Aftermath


Figure 1.  Map tracking the voyage of the Bounty. Courtesy of Nick Keenley­side
at Outline Draughting and Graphics Ltd.



This book publishes a primary historical source of foundational importance for Pacific history. The manuscript that has been commonly referred
to among Pacific historians as James Morrison’s “Journal” was in fact a
retrospective account rather than a diary. It provides a remarkable and
wide-ranging description of Tahitian life that was informed by Morrison’s
observations and experiences over three years that embraced the French
revolution of 1789 and almost equally famous events in the Pacific.
The Bounty under the captaincy of William Bligh arrived at Tahiti on
25 October 1788 with the purpose of collecting breadfruit cuttings that
were to be transported to the West Indies and cultivated there to provide
cheap food for slaves. Having obtained the plants, the ship departed on
4 April 1789. After the mutiny, which took place in Tongan waters on 28
April, Fletcher Christian took the ship back to Tahiti, where it arrived on
6 June. He had resolved to settle on the island of Tubuai, which he hoped
would be sufficiently remote to preclude the mutineers’ capture by any
vessel that might be dispatched in pursuit of them. Having to that end
obtained a stock of pigs and other provisions, the Bounty departed for that
island on 16 June.1
The effort to colonize Tubuai was resisted and abandoned after three
months. The ship returned to Tahiti on 22 September, though Christian
and eight other mutineers departed again almost immediately to seek
another island home. Only decades later did their settlement of Pitcairn
and subsequent history come to light. The sixteen remaining members of
the Bounty’s crew sought to establish themselves in twos and threes with
the Tahitians they knew best and lived on the island until HMS Pandora
arrived on 23 March 1791. This ship, commanded by Captain Edward
Edwards, had been sent in search of the Bounty and the mutineers; Morrison was one of those who quickly gave himself up; the rest surrendered
or were rounded up within a few days. Morrison and his companions had

preface   xv

therefore had some twenty-three months’ exposure to Tahitian life, as well
as three months’ experience living on Tubuai.
As we explore more fully here, Morrison was virtually the first “participant observer,” the first European to inhabit Tahitian society, who
went on to compose a rich and extended account of his time there. (Máximo Rodríguez, who lived with Spanish missionaries at Vaitepiha from
November 1774 to November 1775, left a diary, an important source in
its own right but one that is ethnographically very shallow in comparison
to Morrison’s). In addition to what it tells us about the Tahitian people,
political developments, social relations, and culture, Morrison’s text is also
highly significant as an account of the Bounty voyage and mutiny, events
that were bitterly debated in their immediate aftermath and that have
remained controversial ever since.
The account was known to nineteenth-century historians of the
mutiny, such as Sir John Barrow and Lady Diana Belcher, but became
available to a wider audience only after the British soldier, travel writer,
and Bounty enthusiast Owen Rutter (1889–1944) found out that the manuscript had been bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales by
one A. G. K. L’Estrange, who, it transpired, had been a friend of Lady
Belcher and had received it from her. Rutter was associated with a private
publishing venture, the Golden Cockerel Press, famous for finely designed
handmade limited editions, and it was in this list that Morrison’s text first
appeared in 1935 as The Journal of James Morrison, Boatswain’s Mate of
the Bounty, describing the mutiny & subsequent fortunes of the mutineers,
together with an account of the Island of Tahiti. This edition has since been
much sought after by bibliophiles. The publication has been of great value
to scholars for its relatively accurate transcription of the original, although,
as Rutter admitted in his introduction, the final text had been twice transcribed (Rutter himself never viewed the original manuscript), and regular, though minor, inaccuracies can be found throughout the published
version.2 However, the work was not “edited” in the modern sense of the

Figure 2. (Facing page)  First page of manuscript: “James Morrison—journal on
HMS Bounty and at Tahiti, 9 Sept 1787–1791, written in 1792” [Call no. Safe 1/42
p. 337]. Reproduced with permission of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

xvi   preface

word: the endnotes ran to just three pages, and the introduction included
little in the way of contextualization or interpretation.
Both of us had been independently interested in Morrison for many
years—Vanessa Smith from the perspective of a study of beachcomber
writing in the context of broader work on literary culture in the Pacific,
and Nicholas Thomas from the angles of early contact history and social
and cultural change in Polynesia. We had informal discussions about
the desirability of a new edition and began serious work in 2007–2008,
which we carried on over a number years in the interstices of other projects and commitments. In our view, so fundamentally important a text as
this demanded presentation with fuller commentary, as well as annotation
that would give readers some access to broader perspectives on the Tahitian practices, institutions, and political events to which Morrison refers.
These lay beyond Rutter’s primary interests, but the explanatory notes
and comments that we provide here have benefited from two generations
of historical and anthropological research that gained momentum only
twenty years after his edition appeared. The important work of Douglas
L. Oliver has done much to clarify the complex shifts that marked Tahitian politics and history over the course of the eighteenth century; more
recent studies by Alfred Gell, Anne Salmond, and Jennifer Newell, among
others, have brought fresh perspectives to understandings of cosmology,
contact history, and environmental exchanges that we draw upon here.
Our Introduction maps out some of the issues present in Morrison’s
narrative journal and descriptive account and aims to give readers ways of
assessing the text as a more-or-less reliable description of Polynesian society
undergoing great change. The annotations comment on points of interest
and are intended to make descriptions of events on Tubuai and Tahiti intelligible to those who lack specialist knowledge. It is always difficult to know
where to stop with explication and commentary of this nature. We have
tried to strike a balance, clarifying important matters that may be obscure
and commenting on major points without succumbing to the temptation
to write about every issue of interest. A range of studies, many listed in the
Bibliography, will enable readers to follow up on particular questions and
explore early Polynesian life, and the mutiny, in greater depth.
The main text is an edited transcription of James Morrison’s manuscript in the State Library of New South Wales. His manuscript consists of

preface   xvii

382 neatly written folio pages, each twenty-six lines long. Sections of the
manuscript have been scored through, and substitute phrasing inserted
above the line in ink or pencil. A note on the manuscript suggests that
the emendations were made by Peter Heywood, who would certainly have
had political motivations for toning down the account, and possibly also
by Lady Belcher.3 In all but one area we have adhered closely to Morrison’s
original, leaving his idiosyncratic spelling, contractions, capitalization,
and punctuation (or lack thereof ) as they stand. This is in the interest,
not of antiquarianism or purism, but of giving readers as direct as possible
a sense of the style and level of literacy present in this historic text. In a
small number of instances we have rendered abbreviated words in full, or
added punctuation, in order to make the sense intelligible.
We have, however, treated Morrison’s Polynesian orthography differently. This is in considered response to the changing audiences for books of
this kind. Had such an edition been prepared and published in the 1970s,
its readers would have been primarily historians and students of European descent in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Europe.
But now the discipline has changed, and many more people of Islander
descent are reading, studying, or writing in the field. To them, and indeed
to non-Islander students and scholars, Polynesian names and words are
increasingly familiar in their standard modern spellings. It seemed undesirable to diminish the accessibility of this engagingly written text by
reproducing unfamiliar and awkward eighteenth-century spellings. In any
case, Tahitian politics amounted to a shifting and confusing kaleidoscope.
To aid the reader further, Maia Nuku has prepared appendices decoding
Morrison’s Polynesian words, people, places, and plants that we trust will
be valuable in themselves as guides to the language, dramatis personae,
geography, and ethnobotany of the period. The division of the manuscript
into chapters was done by the editors; with the exception of the significant
division between the first and second parts, the breaks are somewhat arbitrary and have been given somewhat arbitrary titles.
In order to give readers a visual sense of the Tahitian environment and
of the features of the island’s ritual architecture, we have included a number of watercolors by George Tobin (1768–1838), who sailed with William
Bligh on the second breadfruit voyage on the Providence—there was no
artist on the Bounty itself. Along with Morrison’s account, Tobin’s works
are now held by the State Library of New South Wales.

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First and foremost, we are grateful to the State Library of New South
Wales for permission to publish Morrison’s manuscript and to the University of Hawai‘i Press, in particular to our editorial team, Masako Ikeda,
Cheri Dunn, and Barbara Folsom, for their interest in and support for
our project.
In 2007 we were awarded a University of Sydney Collaborative Short
Term Visiting Fellowship to begin work on the project. Research assistance
from James Drown, of the Department of History, University of Sydney,
who prepared an immaculate typescript from the Mitchell Library manuscript, and other project costs were supported during the early stages by a
Leverhulme Major Fellowship awarded to Nicholas Thomas (over 2006–
2009). Maia Nuku’s help with completing the edition has been facilitated
by a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, “Artefacts of Encounter: 1765–1840.”
For advice and responses to various queries we are grateful to Mark
Eddowes, Tara Hiquily of the Musée de Tahiti et ses Îles, Lawrence Miller,
Jennifer Newell, Tahiari‘i Yoram Pariente, Anne Salmond, and Don
We also thank Nick Keenleyside at Outline Draughting and Graphics
Ltd. for providing us with maps, Elena Govor and Raphael Kabo for their
preparation of the index, and Jocelyne Dudding for further photography of artifacts at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and





he two central protagonists of the story of the Bounty—William
Bligh and Fletcher Christian—hold an enduring place in the
popular imagination. Both film and scholarship have portrayed one or
the other as hero or villain of the mutiny, speculating on the biographical
and historical factors that impelled their contest of authority. But a figure
equally significant to the historiography of the mutiny remains much less
well known.
James Morrison (1761–1807) entered the British Navy in 1779, aged
eighteen, and signed on as boatswain’s mate of the Bounty on 9 September
1787, having previously served as midshipman on the sloop Termagant.
Berths on the Bounty were highly sought after—hence Morrison’s willingness to take a demotion to petty officer in order to join the crew—as the
ship was known to be voyaging, in the wake of England’s most famous
navigator, James Cook, to the already mythologized island of Tahiti. Its
subsequent destination was to be the Caribbean islands. West Indian
planters had petitioned Joseph Banks, the most energetic and powerful
scientific entrepreneur of the epoch,1 to mandate transportation of breadfruit plants from the Pacific to the Caribbean, believing, from descriptions
of the fruit’s loaf-like qualities, that it might offer a cheap substitute for
wheaten bread in the diet of plantation slaves.2
The Bounty’s passage to Tahiti was not a smooth one: it took the ship
almost ten months to arrive at its destination. After battling trade winds at
Cape Horn for close to a month, it was eventually forced to turn back from
the Cape Horn route and enter the Pacific via the Cape of Good Hope. This
in turn resulted in further impediments when the crew members reached
Tahiti: they had missed the appropriate season to take breadfruit cuttings
and were required to make an extended sojourn of five months on the
island before the plants could be established. The cuttings, for which Bligh
had negotiated with Tina, the head of the powerful Pomare family, were
cultivated in special transport boxes. When the Bounty finally left Tahiti
on 4 April 1789, these were packed on board at great inconvenience to the

Figure 3.  “The Breadfruit of Otahytey,” George Tobin, 1792 [Call no. PXA 563
no. 2]. Reproduced with permission of the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

introduction   3

crew. The ship was only ninety-one feet long and twenty-three feet wide,
and the great cabin and quarterdeck—the sections of the ship reserved for
its commander and officers—were almost completely given over to the
plants. This meant that different ranks of sailors had to berth together,
creating an unusual degree of fraternity between officers and men.
The mutiny occurred on 28 April, not far from Tofua in the Tonga
group. Bligh and eighteen crew members were put to sea in the Bounty’s
launch. Twenty-five men remained on board the Bounty. Arguments were
later to ensue over how willingly various individuals remained on board or
entered the launch with Bligh, the nuances of which were to become lifeand-death matters at the mutineers’ court martial. The launch made its
way to Tofoa, where they encountered local hostility and one crew member, John Norton, sacrificed his life. Bligh decided to navigate to Kupang
on the island of Timor rather than risk further violence in unknown territories. He divided the launch’s rations, suited to five days at sea, to serve
a fifty-day passage. The launch reached Kupang in forty-eight days, with
all the crew alive, though weakened (three soon perished at Kupang).
James Morrison was among those who stayed on the Bounty and joined
Christian in his attempt to establish a settlement on the island of Tubuai.
This failed due to local resistance, and the Bounty returned to Tahiti on
20 September 1789. Knowing that British efforts to capture the mutineers
would inevitably first be directed toward Tahiti, Christian and a party of
eight men remained there for only twenty-four hours before departing
again in the Bounty, accompanied by nineteen women, a female child,
and six men—three from Tahiti, two from Tubuai, and one from Ra‘iatea.
Their destination was unknown to Morrison and the fifteen other crewmen who decided to stay on at Tahiti despite the insecurity their position
entailed.3 They remained there for approximately a year and a half. On
23 March 1791, the ship Pandora, sent out by the British Admiralty under
the captaincy of Edward Edwards to recapture the mutineers, caught up
with them. All were rounded up or turned themselves in and were brutally
imprisoned in a cell on the quarterdeck, nicknamed “Pandora’s Box,” to be
taken back to England for trial.
On the evening of 28 August, the Pandora struck the Great Barrier
Reef at the entrance to Endeavour Straits. Morrison survived the wreck
that killed four of the prisoners as well as thirty-one crew members and
the ensuing open-boat journey of its survivors to Timor. He thus took

4   introduction

his place among ten men who were tried on board HMS Duke at Portsmouth Harbour for alleged participation in the mutiny. The others were
Peter Heywood, midshipman; Joseph Coleman, armorer; Charles Norman, carpenter’s mate; Thomas McIntosh, carpenter’s crew; and the seamen Thomas Ellison, Thomas Burkitt, John Millward, William Muspratt,
and Michael Byrn.

Bearing Witness
Morrison’s text is not only an eyewitness account of the events of the
mutiny and life on Tahiti; it is also regarded as having played a direct role
in the outcome of the court martial. It was apparently written up in 1792,
first as its author awaited trial and then as he recuperated after receiving
the king’s pardon.4 Some form of day-to-day notebook probably formed
the basis of the final composition. Lady Belcher, in her Mutineers of the
“Bounty,” mentions that Morrison kept notes of “daily occurrences from
the period of the departure of the Bounty from England to his return as
a prisoner.”5 While some scholars have questioned how this primary text
could have survived the wreck of the Pandora on Morrison’s return voyage to London,6 a couple of explanations suggest themselves. The most
obvious is that Morrison carefully secreted away or even memorized the
basic text prior to his recapture, fearing that it would be appropriated or
destroyed. Another is that this ur-text, even if it was lost, made Morrison’s eventual process of writing one of a particular type of recuperation,
involving the recollection of a form of words or a set of images rather than
the composition of an account. As Owen Rutter pointed out when first
publishing Morrison’s work, there is internal evidence of both note taking
and revision in the final document.7
Whatever the relative degrees of on-the-spot and delayed composition, Morrison’s text has the impact and authority of an eyewitness report.
Moreover, it is the only text with the heft to offer a real counterweight to
Bligh’s two versions of the mutiny story, the brief Narrative of the Mutiny,
on board his Britannic Majesty’s ship Bounty: and the subsequent voyage of
part of the crew, in the ship’s boat, from Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, to
Timor, a Dutch Settlement in the East-Indies, published in 1790; and the
more extensive A Voyage to the South Sea, undertaken by command of His
Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit tree to the West Indies, in

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