In 1787 Lieutenant William Bligh, a young thirty-three
year old British Naval Officer was commissioned by the
British Admiralty to undertake a voyage to obtain large
numbers of breadfruit plantings. He was then to
take these plantings to the Caribbean, where these fruit
would be used to provide cheap food for the slaves in
William Bligh went to sea at the age of sixteen making
his way through the officer ranks, even serving with
Captain James Cook, who had nothing but praise for the
young William Bligh. In appearance William Bligh was a
heavily built individual somewhat below average height
with black hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion. He
quickly gained a reputation for having a volatile
When Cook was killed in Hawaii, Bligh was the navigator
onboard HMS Resolution, and it was he who navigated the
ship successfully back to England. Bligh's charts and
surveys are still used today because of their high
It was 23rd December 1787 when HMS Bounty sailed from
England with a crew of forty-five young men abroad and
William Bligh in command. The ship had been renamed from
Bethia to Bounty, even though it was generally believed
amongst sailors that it was bad luck to rename a ship.
Of the forty-five crewmembers many were aged just
fourteen, the oldest thirty-nine.
One of these crewmembers weighing in at thirty-four
years of age was John Fryer. John Fryer was born on 15th
August 1753 in the shipping port of Wells-next-the-Sea
and was one of the most experienced men on the Bounty
and appointed to the position of Master on the Bounty by
the Admiralty. During the voyage to the Caribbean he
frequently quarreled with Bligh who had favoured his
friend Fletcher Christian in the role of Master, rather
than John Fryer, who he did not know.
Mr. Fletcher Christian aged twenty-three stood at five
feet nine inches tall, was well muscled with a dark
complexion. He was described as a swashbuckling
individual and was greatly favoured by the ladies. He
was also considered a slack disciplinarian, but had an
open and generous nature both of which made him popular
with the crew. After the mutiny when Bligh gave a
description to the Royal Navy about the mutineers he
described Christian as a man who perspired freely
particularly of his hands and had a tattoo on his
Unable to get Christian appointed Master, Bligh
appointed him as Master's Mate and second in command
over John Fryer. Christians relations with Bligh were
said to be very good and Christian even noted in his
diary that he was 'treated like a brother' by Bligh and
frequently asked to dine with him onboard.
On 26th October 1788 some ten months after leaving
England the Bounty arrived in Tahiti where she remained
for nearly six months. The reason for this is that the
plants had to be collected in the proper season in order
that they would survive the journey. Also that the
ship had to wait for the proper winds that would enable
them to complete their journey. During these six month
the crew found themselves in what could only be
described as Paradise. Plenty of food, subtropical
climate, lush surrounding and the overwhelming warmth
and hospitality of the Tahitians and the Tahitan women.
William Bligh made the mistake of not keeping his men in
check during their time on Tahiti, instead of organising
work details to maintain the condition of the ship or
take it out for short cruises he left the men to their
own devices. Which were effectively to do as little as
possible and enjoy themselves.
Therefore the contrast between their time spent in
Tahiti and the conditions back on ship could not have
been greater. Such were the quantity of breadfruit
picked that the great cabin and all other spaces were
overflowing with them, which resulted in severe
overcrowding in the rest of the ship. Cramped conditions
and the loss of paradise meant that the return voyage
was not easy an easy one.
The crew became increasingly unhappy with the harsh
realities of shipboard life and feelings began to run
high. Mr. Christian was on the receiving end of Captain
Bligh's ranting and raving at work not being
done. Though Bligh continued to invite Mr.
Christian to dine with him each evening.
However, on the morning of the 28th April 1789 Fletcher
Christian had had enough and with some of the
crewmembers he staged the now famous mutiny. Right up to
the moment of the mutiny Bligh never had a clue that he
and Fletcher Christian were no longer friends.
After the mutineers had captured the
ship they put Lieutenant Bligh and his supporters
including John Fryer adrift in the ships 23-foot launch.
During the mutiny John Fryer in the opinion of Bligh was
not sufficiently strong in the defence of his Captain
and ship. Fryer's cabin was located across from Bligh's
stateroom and Bligh believed that Fryer saw the
mutineers enter his room and yet did nothing. Though as
he said Fryer was equipped with a pair of loaded
pistols, which he could have used. In his defence Fryer
said that 'he could find no body to act' and that he was
so flurried and surprised by the mutiny that he forgot
he even had the pistols.
Adrift in the launch Captain Bligh managed to sail the
three thousand miles for the seven weeks it took to get
back to civilization.
Back on the Bounty Mr. Christian Fletcher was now in
command. Not all of the crew who remained on the
Bounty had been involved in the mutiny, some had wanted
no part of it. However, the ships launch measured only
23feet so the number of men who could leave with William
Bligh had by necessity been limited.
Christian Fletcher decided to take the Bounty back to
Tahiti where some of the mutineers decided to remain,
which actually proved to be a mistake. As some three
months later these men were captured and brought back to
trial in England where some of them were hanged. Perhaps
knowing that this may happen Mr. Christian decided to
seek another safe haven, away from Tahiti. He took
the Bounty the remaining mutineers and some of the
Polynesian men and women to an isolated South Pacific
island, which they reached in January 1790.
There they burned the Bounty and established a colony, a
colony that still exists to this day. However, the
initial colony was not a happy one, in part because of
the Polynesian men having to share their women with the
mutineers. During 1793 some of the mutineers including
Christian were killed by the Polynesian men.
Then it seems that the Tahitian women then killed the
Polynesian men, the end result was that very few of the
original mutineers were left.
Today the 1 ¾ square mile Pitcairn Island's current
inhabitants are direct descendents of the mutineers and
their Tahitian wives. The islanders speak a dialect that
is a hybrid of Tahitian and eighteenth-century
To this day it is not known the exact reason for the
mutiny. In the films Bligh is depicted as a ruthless
individual who would stop at nothing to get the job done
even to the detriment of his crew. It is true that Bligh
was involved in yet another mutiny on HMS Nore in 1797
where he was accused of 'oppressive behaviour'.
On the other hand, life in the Royal Navy was known to
have been very harsh. The English author Dr. Samuel
Johnson once wrote "No man will be a sailor who had
contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being
in a ship is being in jail…. with the chance of being
drowned. A man in jail has more room, better food and
commonly better company."
Perhaps the young crew of the Bounty with their few ties
to home, having experienced paradise decided they wanted
no more of 18th century England.
But what of John Fryer of Wells-next-the-Sea? Well
Captian Bligh refused to give John Fryer a reference,
though luckily this did not stop Fryer rising to the top
of his field in 'navigation'. Later he attained the rank
of Post Captain and commanded several ships. He retired
on 6th April 1812 to his home village of
Wells-next-the-sea and died some five years later on
26th May 1817, the same year as William Bligh. William
Bligh attained the rank of Vice-Admiral of the Bluedied
and died at the age of 64 on 7th December 1817.
John Fryer was buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas
in Wells-next-the-Sea. The original gravestone was taken
into the main body of the church in the year 2000, where
it can still be found on the south side of the church.
Outside in the churchyard, in the place of his original
grave is now a plaque to John Fryer the Master of the
Bounty. The words on John Fryer's original gravestone
can still be read when you see it in the church which
unfortunately is not demonstrated by the picture above.