Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bligh and Two Tahitian Visitors, 1792

Thomas Gosse (1765-1844) Transplanting of the breadfruit trees from Otaheite.

Gosse issued his hand-coloured mezzotint in 1796 to celebrate the safe return of Bligh's second and successful breadfruit voyage on the Providence and Assistant.  Bligh is depicted overseeing the loading of plants.  National Library of Australia

Despite the total failure of Bligh’s first breadfruit voyage, which was ended by the Bounty mutiny of 28th April 1789, on his return to England in March 1790 interest still remained in breadfruit as a source of sustenance for the slaves in Britain’s Caribbean Colonies.  As a consequence of the Mutiny in October 1789 Bligh faced a Court Martial, which took place on HMS Royal William at Spithead, and was completely exonerated.

“This court finds that the seizure of His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty was an act of mutiny by Fletcher Christian and others of her crew, and that her Captain Lieutenant William Bligh is, in the opinion of this court, to be exonerated of all blame on this occasion.  Indeed in the matter of his command of the Bounty’s open launch we commend Lieutenant Bligh for his courage and exemplary seamanship.”

Bligh was thus able to continue his career and, due once again to the efforts of Sir Joseph Banks, in March 1791 the King authorised a second breadfruit expedition and the appointment of Bligh to command it.  Gavin Kennedy in his 1978 biography of Bligh writes:

“This time a great deal more notice was taken of Bligh’s views as to what the expedition required.  He had lamented at length to his superiors the inadequate provision of the Bounty expedition, in particular the smallness of the armed vessel, the absence of a party of marines, the thinness of the command structure, the quality of the men sent with him as petty officers, and the delay in the sailing instructions.”

On August 3rd the newly built West Indiaman Providence accompanied by the brig Assistant left Spithead and sailing via the Cape and Tasmania anchored at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, on April 9th 1792.  This was Bligh’s third visit and he was gloomy about the influence of visitors to the Island.  “Paradise was degenerating into an island slum”, he wrote.
George Tobin, Wash Drawing. View in Matavai Bay 1792. Providence and Assistant.
Tobin was third Lieutenant on Providence.
There were several men on the expedition who had sailed before with Bligh.  Commanding Assistant was Nathaniel Portlock who was Master’s Mate on Discovery and, following Cook’s death in February 1779, crossed to Resolution to serve under Bligh.  When Bligh became ill shortly after the expedition left England, Portlock transferred to Providence as second in command and on his Commander's recovery returned to Assistant.

On board Providence were John Smith, Bligh’s servant on Bounty, and Lawrence Lebogue, Bounty’s sailmaker who had both survived the Mutiny and the open boat voyage to Timor to return to England.  Lebogue in fact had also sailed with Bligh in the West Indies prior to the Bounty voyage.  One man who wanted to return to Tahiti was William Peckover.  He had sailed on all three of Cook’s voyages and on Bounty, knew Tahiti well, and was reported to have been fairly fluent in the language.  He was to be disappointed.  On 17th July 1791 Bligh wrote to Joseph Banks:

“Should Peckover my late gunner ever trouble you to render him further services I shall esteem it a favour if you will tell him I informed you he was a vicious and worthless fellow.  He applied to me to render him service & wanted to be appointed Gunner of the Providence but as I had determined never to suffer an officer who was with me in the Bounty to sail with again, it was for that cause I did not apply for him.”

Also sailing With Bligh was the young Matthew Flinders who would later become one of the most successful navigators and cartographers of his age.  Bligh entrusted him with chartmaking, astronomical observations and the care of the precious and incredibly important timekeepers.  It was on Providence that Flinders first saw Australia and throughout his career encouraged the use of that name for the continent, which had previously been known as New Holland.  Bligh mentored Flinders just as fifteen years earlier he had been mentored by Cook.

As Bligh was arriving at Tahiti the ten surviving captured Bounty mutineers who had chosen not to sail to Pitcairn with Fletcher Christian but stayed behind on Tahiti, were embarking at Cape Town on HMS Gorgon for transport to England, for trial, and for three of them death by hanging from the yard arms of HMS Brunswick at Spithead on the 29th October 1792.  Gorgon was returning from the Third Fleet voyage to New South Wales to where she had carried six months provisions for the 900 people in the starving colony and thirty convicts.

Bligh’s stay at Tahiti was less problematic, and shorter, than his previous visit and by 16th July he was able to write in his log:  “Employed bringing the remainder of the Plants on board and various duties in completing for Sea, which kept us at Work the whole day without intermission.  By Night the Ship was truly well fitted and stowed.  Besides the Cabbin I appropriated the Quarter Deck abaft the Mizen Mast and other places to the use of the Plants, which enabled me to take 756 Plants more than could be expected – a Vast advantage.  The plants amounting to 2,126 Bread Fruit, 859 other Plants & 36 Curiosity Plants.”
Providence and Assistant finally departed on 20th July.  On Providence were some of the crew of the Third Fleet convict ship, turned whaler, Matilda, wrecked in February off Mururoa en route to Peru twenty-nine survivors of which had eventually returned to Tahiti.  Providence took thirteen, Assistant two and one convict stowaway and five others stayed on Tahiti.  The second mate and two sailors had sailed from Tahiti on 31st March in one of Matilda's whaleboats, never to be heard of again and the same day the Matilda’s Captain, Matthew Weatherhead, two men and two boys left on the brig Jenny.
Also on board Providence were two Tahitians, Mydiddee and Pappo.  A Tahitian chief, Tynah, had asked to make the journey himself but Bligh offered to take his servant instead.  This Man's name is Mydiddee, he is a fine Active Person about 22 Years of Age at most, and is considered above the common run of Men in all the exercises of this Country.  He exceeds most of them in quickness of apprehension, which is the first excellence next to their natural good disposition that we could chuse a Man for.  He is a Servant, and therefore a more eligible person for the purpose of learning than if he had been a Chief, admitting his intellects equal.  The School is common to all in this Country.  There is no knowledge to be gained in the History of the Country but by tradition, and the only education being the Company of the Chiefs and old People of distinction; wherever nature has planted good sense and a quick conception, the Individual whether Chief or Towtow,(servant) becomes informed and well educated.  Such a Towtow is more likely to benefit his Country than a Chief who would be only led into Idleness and Dissipation as soon as he arrived in Europe, as was the Case with Omai.”  Providence log 9th July 1792.
Tynah was not alone in wishing to leave Tahiti: “Many of the Natives are desirous of going with us, and have asked their Friends to shut them up in their Chests, and in Casks.”  Providence log 14th July.

It was only after sailing that one successful stowaway, Pappo, was found, Bligh writing in his log for 19th July: “To my astonishment I found a Man (who had always been with the Botanists in collecting and taking care of the Plants) secreted between Decks.  The Gale was too strong for me to beat back and land him, without much loss of time, when every moment is of the greatest consequence to me, and I had not a heart to make him jump over board.  While I was debating in my mind what was best to be done, the Botanists told me he had been a valuable Man to them, & would be of great use if I kept him.  As this was an act of the Man's own, I conceived he might be useful to our Friends in Jamaica in attending the Plants, about which he knew a great deal; and as he was an active fellow & a Towtow, I knew the People on Shore would be satisfied with the loss of him expecting to benefit by it in the end.  I thought it no worth delaying a moments time to land him, which might have delayed me another day, & therefore directed that he should be under the care of the Botanists to look after the Plants.”

Bligh’s astonishment must have come as a surprise to Matthew Flinders who had written in his log of 14th to 16th June: “One of the Men who used to attend the Botanists in their Excursions, and whom they named Jacketts is to go with us, and a Towtow of Adea's called Midedde the Captain intends taking to England and make him learn some Handicraft that when he returns he may be of some Service to his Country – Jacketts or Pappo as his Oteheitean Name is, will most probably be left at Jamaica with the Plants, with whichever of the Botanists stay, and it is intended that one of them should”

According to James Wiles, Providence’s principal botanist, Pappo had met Bligh during Bounty’s visit four years previously and “distinguished himself by his activity in supplying them with provisions and curiosities.”  When Fletcher Christian returned to Tahiti after the Mutiny Pappo accompanied him to Tubuai but when Christian returned for the last time prior to sailing to Pitcairn, Pappo remained on Tahiti.

Mydiddee and Pappo were not, of course, the first Tahitians to leave the Island with explorers.  The first Tahitian, Ahutoro or Aotourou, to visit Europe was taken on board the Boudeuse by Bougainville during his 1766 to 1769 circumnavigation.  Quick to acquire some French the young Ahutoro was able to tell Bougainville of Wallis' visit several months before.  Bougainville agreed to take him to visit France and soon found him a valuable source of information and a useful interpreter.  After eleven months in Paris Ahutoro set out to return to Tahiti but died of smallpox off Madagascar on 4th November 1771.

Arriving in July 1774 on Adventure, which had until the previous October, accompanied Cook’s Resolution on his second voyage was the first Pacific Islander to reach British shores and who became widely known as Omai.  In his early twenties, within days of arriving he was presented to the King and Queen at Kew and was lionised by Polite Society.  In the two years he stayed in Britain he met the "best people", dined at the Royal Society and botanised with Joseph Banks. He returned to Tahiti on Cook's third Voyage.
Not all Islanders survived the journey.  On Cook’s first voyage Joseph Banks decided to take back to Europe "a curiosity” of this newly discovered society.  Unfortunately his choice, the priest Tupaia, predeceased by his servant Taiata, died of disease contracted at Batavia, along with numerous members of Endeavour's crew.  Banks’ Journal July 12th 1769 reads: “The Captn refuses to take him on his own account......I therefore have resolvd to take him.  Thank heaven I have a sufficiency and I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity, as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tygers.....”  In fact Tupaia was a not only a priest but a warrior, navigator and artist and Banks admitted that "What makes him more than anything else desirable is his experience in the navigation of these people and knowledge of the islands in these seas" Tupaia more than fulfilled expectations and in the eighteen months before he died he acted as guide, interpreter and mediator.
Passing through the Torres Strait from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean Bligh arrived at Coupang and was delighted to meet the new Governor who, as the previous Governor’s assistant had been such a help to him when he had arrived in 1789 in the Bounty’s boat.  Through well-charted seas via the Cape of Good Hope on December 17th in thirteen fathoms of water half a mile from shore at Jamestown, Providence, dropped anchor with her cargo of breadfruit, the Matilda survivors and two Tahitians with Assistant in company.

Bligh informed Governor Brooke of his orders “to give into his care 10 breadfruit plants, and one of every kind (of which I had five), as would secure to the island a lasting supply of this valuable fruit which our most gracious King had ordered to be planted there”.  Mydiddee and Pappo, “were delighted with what they saw here, as Colonel Brooke showed them kind attention, had them to stay at his house, and gave them each a suit of red clothes.  . We are very much obliged to this Gentleman for his polite and kind attention.  St. Helena has derived great benefit under his Government, his improvements are remarkable, but not yet completed.”  In turn they demonstrated the use of Sago, Bligh writing that “The Peeah (Sago) was the only plant that required a particular description.  I therefore took our Otahetian friends to the Governor's House where they made a pudding of the prepared part of its root, some of which I had brought from Otahitee.”  The Governor was more appreciative of Bligh’s efforts than some others, Bligh writing: “Among the St. Helena people in general there was not that satisfaction expressed at receiving the Plants I expected.  They did not consider our visit to them was to render an essential good to the Island....”
Mydiddee, in particular, seems to have enjoyed the delights of Jamestown.  James Tobin, third lieutenant on Providence, wrote in his journal:  “Both the Otahyteans were frequently on shore and highly delighted with the buildings and fortifications, but the military band at the relief of Guard, afforded them more gratification than anything they had yet seen.  The mistaken hospitality of someone was the means of Mideedee getting much intoxicated, of which he was so much ashamed as for several weeks to be continually expressing his sorrow at it.
Flinders wrote:  December 18th:  Captain Bligh & several of the Officers, with the two Otaheiteans on shore in their Native dress, much pleased with the Band and our European military Parade; particularly with the little Drummers, which they laughed heartily at.

James Wiles' letter to Sir Joseph Banks from St. Helena informing him of the successful arrival of the breadfruit Plants.
The 27th December to a thirteen gun salute from the Battery on Ladder Hill, Providence sailed for the West Indies leaving behind Gunners Mate Thomas Mathers, “a stout and able man supposed to have been enticed away by the Towns People”.  Flinders opined that “being in an embarrassed situation in England he preferred staying here”

Arriving at St Vincent on January 23rd 1793 they received a civic welcome and left about 500 plants in the care of the botanical gardens.  Tobin wrote that: “The small pox was prevailing in the Island, which induced Captain Bligh to have Baubo (Pappo) and Mideedee inoculated.  The confidence they placed in him quieted any apprehensions they otherwise might have entertained, yet could they not well reconcile the idea of voluntarily inflicting disease, when told that it was commonly practiced.  They received the infection favourably, but afterwards at Jamaica suffered much from illness; indeed Mideedee's health and cheerfulness had been on the decline a long while, nor can it be said that he ever enjoyed the former except for three or four months from his first becoming our shipmate.”
Sailing on to Jamaica to deposit the remainder of the plants, on 10th February Bligh wrote: “A Committee during the Afternoon determined on dividing the Plants among the Counties, & to have two general deposits, one at East Garden, & the other at Bath.  They agreed with Mr. James Wiles one of our Gardeners to pay him 200 pounds Sterling a Year to remain at Bath, & promised to give such things as were necessary to his Board and Dwelling.  Bobbo (Pappo) our Otaheite Friend had no fixed sum allowed him, he was however to live with Mr. Wiles & to be found in everything until further provision could be made.”  However both Pappo and Mydiddee were sick, Bligh writing on 3rd March:
“Being returned from Bath, & the residence of the Gardener James Wiles & the Otaheitean Bobbo fixed on; I had to borrow a Kitterreen [carriage] to carry the latter to Bath, for both him and his Companion (poor fellows,) were but barely fit to remove out of the House.  He was a little low spirited when he took his leave of me and cried, "I am sorry to part from you, he said, but as I agreed, I will remain here with Wild (sic) to take care of the Plants"  With his Companion he felt no pain at parting; the farewell was like that for an hour.  Bobbo is a very chearfull Man, and I am confident will be happy and well taken care of. I really think he will be the means of the Breadfruit being brought early into use, & on that account his life is valuable to Jamaica. Mydiddee was sent on Board extremely ill, and I likewise embarked in a bad state of health.

Pappo didn’t survive long on Jamaica. The Postscript to the Kingston Jamaica Royal Gazette October 26th to November 2nd 1793 reported the death of Pappo.  “On Sunday last, the 27th ult, died at Bath, in St Thomas in the East, Pappo, the Otaheitean who was left on this island to assist in cultivating the Bread Fruit and other Otaheite plants.”  James Wiles commenting in print that “He was an exceeding good natured harmless creature, had no ambition, learnt very little English and appeared to be about 34 years old.”  Faint praise indeed for someone who abandoned the relative security of his island home to sail half way round the world.

Wiles remained in Jamaica, being appointed Island Botanist in 1803 and acquired two small coffee estates.  In 1823 he made his only return visit to England but, having been absent 32 years, he found "men and things so much changed - for the better no doubt", but he wrote, "that I am but a foreigner here". He died in Jamaica on 9th October 1851, aged 83.
Held in port by the outbreak of war with France, it wasn’t until 15th June that Providence and Assistant were able to set sail for England and the two ships arrived home on 7th August 1793 with a cargo of 1,283 plants from the West Indies for Kew Gardens.  Mydiddee’s time in England, however, was to be even shorter than Pappo’s had been on Jamaica, Bligh recording his decline and death;
9th August.  Our Otaheite Friend became so ill I was obliged to send him to Lodgings & Sick Quarters at Deptford.
4th September.  Our Otaheite Friend died at Deptford.  On Thursday I sent a surgeon from Town to see him opened.  His Lungs were found decayed.
6th September.  The Commissioners attended and payed the Ship off, and in the Evening our Otaheite Friend was buried in Deptford New Church Yard in the Parish of St. Pauls. I shall ever remember him with esteem & regard.
Tobin’s journal noted Mydiddee’s death and his revulsion at the gibbets on the Thames.
“The ship being cleared of stores and provisions was this day put out of commission. And, as has been before mentioned, poor Mideedee also this day struck his pendant.  One of the last objects which called forth the feelings of this gentle islander was the number of our countrymen suspended on gibbets in chains on the banks of the Thames as we sailed by.  His soul sickened and revolted at so sad a spectacle, nor perhaps, did he ever so much wish to be again among his countrymen, where such sights are unknown, as at the moment these victims to civilized law first caught his eye.”
The Annual Register for 1793 also recorded his passing:
September 4.  Yesterday died, at his lodgings at Deptford, a native of Otaheite, who was lately brought over by Captain Bligh, in the Providence frigate.  He was subject to pulmonary affections, had been frequently ill during the voyage and twice recovered from imminent death, by the unremitting attentions of his friends, who were ever ready to contribute whatever had a tendency to promote his health and comfort, particularly his patron captain Bligh.  This unfortunate young man was seized, shortly after his arrival, with intestine complaints, and became much better, when a violent recurrence of his symptoms on Friday morning tended to accelerate his dissolution: his native suavity of manners had endeared him to all who knew him, and his death is sincerely lamented by every individual engaged in the expedition.

Bligh arranged Mydiddee’s funeral and for a headstone but the latter was never done until 2nd August 1998 when the memorial stone below was placed in St Paul's Churchyard Deptford and dedicated by the bishop of Polynesia Jabeb Bryce.  Instrumental in giving this fitting tribute to this young and adventurous Tahitian were Father Peter Fellows and Timothy Waters, a member of the Pitcairn Island Study Group.
The epitaph was written by Edward Harwood, Surgeon on Providence
Positive to the last, Bligh’s last entry in his log reads: This Voyage has terminated with success, without accident, or a moments separation of the two Ships. It gives the first & only satisfactory account of the pass between New Guinea & New Holland, if I except some Vague accounts of Tores in 1606. Other interesting Discoveries will be found in it.
Gavin Kennedy’s assessment of the voyage was not so positive.  “By the time of his return Bligh was out of favour both with the public and with the Admiralty.  The trial of the mutineers (which had taken place during his expedition), and the subsequent spreading of rumour and gossip by the Heywood and Christian families, had tarnished his reputation.  Even his success in transplanting the breadfruit was regarded by the scientific world as a triumph for Sir Joseph Banks, who had sponsored the expedition, rather than for Bligh.  The honour went to the botanists, not to the crew of the ship.”

Postscript:  Even as Bligh was on his Bounty voyage in 1787 the French were ahead of the British in recognising the value of breadfruit as a food supplement especially for the climate of their Caribbean possessions and for the hundreds of thousands of captive mouths they had to feed there.  On July 15th 1788 aboard the slave ship Alexandre a botanical shipment arrived from the Ile-de-France (Mauritius) gardens accompanied by a government botanist.  The shipment included pepper plants, cinnamon tress, mango trees mangosteen fruit and a few breadfruit trees from Tahiti.  Kept in the ship’s hold, nearly all the plants died before arriving at Saint Domingue (Haiti).  But seventeen different types of tree and plant and sixteen different types of seed did survive including the breadfruit tree.

Log Books of the Providence Voyage, and much, much more, are available on line at the most comprehesive Bligh and Bounty related site on the internet which does exactly what it says with "The original source documents all in one place". A  fantastic work of scholarship and coding.

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