Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Fletcher Christian, 1785


Previous blog posts have described Captain William Bligh’s two visits to St Helena in 1792 and 1799. It was only on preparing for our recent trip to Pitcairn that I read of the visit to the island, in the spring of 1785, of Fletcher Christian, inextricably linked to Bligh by the events at sunrise on April 28th 1789; The Mutiny on The Bounty.
There is no portrait or drawing extant of Christian that was drawn from life.  This picture is from Richard Hough “Captain Bligh and Mr Christian: The Men and The Mutiny, 1988” and is described as an artist’s impression based on contemporary descriptions.  This description is the one Bligh wrote down for various port authorities after the mutiny:
Fletcher Christian, Master’s mate, age 24 years, 5 feet 9 inches high, blackish or very dark complexion, dark brown hair, strong made; a star tatowed on his left breast, tatowed on his backside; his knees stand a little out, and he may be called rather bow legged.  He is subject to violent perspirations, and particularly in his hands, so that he soils anything he handles.

Born on September 25, 1764 near Cockermouth in Cumberland, in April1783, Fletcher signed on as midshipman on board HMS Eurydice, a 6th rater with 24 9-pound guns commanded by Captain George Courtney.  For almost six months the ship lay at anchor in Spithead but finally, on October 11, Eurydice sailed for India via Madeira and Table Bay.  In Madras, on May 24, 1784, Christian was made acting lieutenant after only one year’s service.  Joining Sir Edward Hughes’ Squadron they sailed to Bombay in November 1784 and then back to England spending three weeks at St. Helena and a night at Ascension.  By June 1785, the Eurydice was back home and Christian was paid off and looking for employment.  His family was on friendly terms with the Bethams, the family of Elizabeth Bligh, and Christian applied for a berth on the merchant ship Britannia, owned by Elizabeth’s uncle Duncan Campbell and commanded by William Bligh.  Bligh took him on board and they sailed together on two voyages to the West Indies.  In August 1787, Bligh’s command of HMAV Bounty was confirmed, Christian was again signed on to sail with him and the rest, as they say, is history.

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