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Relics From The Bounty — Where Are They?
Several times a week on television, ordinary people with extraordinary wealth parade before us on the popular “Antique Road Show.” Apparently, the public has an endless supply of collectible furniture, glass, pictures and other curiosities. And every expert appraiser on display wants to know the personal history behind each piece of art, whether it’s a Chippendale chair (c.1774), a Boston hutch (c.1800), an Eskimo hunting helmet (c.1825) or a Babe Ruth baseball card (c.1927). Along with the abundance of valuable pieces that the Americans possess, no one has the remains from the most famous ship of the mutiny – the HMS Bounty. So, where are they?
HMS Bounty, bound for Tahiti from Plymouth England, carried a cargo of trinkets for trade, including 100 pounds of glass beads, 2808 axes, 168 mirrors, 72 shirts, 576 cheap knives, 1,000 pounds of sawn boxes, and several boxes. , drills and files.
In 1789, when America was just a teenager, Lieutenant Fletcher Christian and eight mutineers stole an armed transport ship from the British Royal Navy and spent two months combing the South Pacific Ocean for home. Desperate, he sailed east and found Pitcairn Island on January 15, 1790. And there it was, fearing reprisals from the navy, who were known to never give up any lost ship, who dashed her on the rocks of Bounty Bay, cannibalized her to pieces, and burned her to the waterline.
HMS Bounty was originally a merchant ship purchased by the Royal Navy and fitted with four cannon, 6 swivel guns, a greenhouse, copper plating to her hull and renamed Bounty. In 1805, an American warship discovered rebels on the island, but by then Britain was preoccupied with fighting Napoleon.
Today there are 44 residents on Pitcairn Island and only two remains from the mothership on public display. In the town square, which includes the post office, courthouse, and church, a 12-foot stern anchor is mounted on a cement plinth. It was this anchor that allowed Fletcher to control his fatal dash on the Christian rocks. These days, the Pitcairn kids play at Anchor, with no clear sense of the heritage it holds for them.
The other treasure, the Bounty Bible, is on public display in the island’s only church. In fact, it was not the ship’s Bible, but was given as a present to Fletcher, Mrs. Christian’s son, and was among his belongings brought ashore in his sea-chest. (Where is the chest today?)
In 1839, the Bible was traded to a Massachusetts sailor and eventually came into the hands of the Historical Society of Connecticut. In 1950 it was re-bound in London and returned to its rightful home on the island. Today it is used for special religious ceremonies, and resides in a glass-topped cabinet in the church. (Hope this souvenir never goes missing again)
In 1845, two of the four 1200 pound cannons were hoisted. One of these continued to rust in the front yard of an islander’s home, while the other was shipped to Norfolk Island.
In 1963, Fletcher’s great grandson Christian retrieved from the seabed many copper fittings from the Bounty’s rudder and hull – most of which were missing.
In 1970, a third cannon was recovered and later disappeared. Finally in 1999, an Australian archaeologist named Nigel Erskine lifted the last cannon. When Erskine set out to recover the cannon, he felt he had to ask permission from the British Admiralty because, as he said, “they never give up their rights to their ships”. But the high commissioner of the island told him, “We took the ship in 1789. They had nothing to do with it.”
Very few artifacts remain from the Bounty today; Three cannons, an anchor, some copper, a Bible and Fletcher Christian’s original island home are the only vestiges left of this incredible account of mutiny and survival. In modern times, the economy of Bounty’s descendants is strongly linked to stamp collecting. The island has only one telephone, one fax machine and a single generator that runs four hours a day. One wonders at what value the dealers of the “Antique Road Show” appraise those items. It is fitting that most of the remains have disappeared or been vandalized or stolen like the HMS Bounty. Either way the bounty’s account is rich in history and sparse in artifacts.
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