John Fryer of the Bounty born in Wells-next-the-Sea Norfolk

                    (c) by John Ashley Photography

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 the colonies.

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 temper. 

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 accuracy. 

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 backside!

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 English. 

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.

 Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography