« FöregåendeFortsätt »
coolness,-it was an evening of this sort, when Bligh for the last time came upon deck in the capacity of commander; a gentle breeze scarcely rippled the water, and the moon, then in its first quarter, shed its soft light along the surface of the sea. The short and quiet conversation that took place between Bligh and the master on this evening, after the irritation of the morning had subsided only to burst forth again in all the horrors of mutiny and piracy, recalls to one's recollection that beautiful passage of Shakspeare, where, on the evening of the murder, Duncan, on approaching the castle of Macbeth, observes to Banquo
" The air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses,” &c.
a passage which Sir Joshua Reynolds considers as a striking instance of what in painting is termed repose.
“The subject,” he says, “ of this quiet and easy conversation gives that repose so necessary to the mind after the tumultuous bustle of the preceding scenes, and beautifully contrasts the scene of terror that immediately succeeds.” While on this lovely night Bligh and his master were congratulating themselves on the pleasing prospect of fine weather and a full moon to light them through Endeavour's dangerous straits, the unhappy and deluded Christian was, in all probability, brooding over his wrongs, and meditating on the criminal act he was to perpetrate the following morning; for he has himself stated, that he had just fallen asleep about half after three in the morning, and was much out of order.
The evidence on the court-martial is sufficiently explicit as to the mode in which this act of piracy was committed. By the journal of James Morrison, the following is the account of the transaction as given by Christian himself to the two midshipmen Heywood and Stewart (both of whom had been kept below), the moment they were allowed to come upon deck, after the boat in which were Bligh and his companions had been turned adrift.
He said, that "finding himself much hurt by the treatment he had received from Lieutenant Bligh, he had determined to quit the ship the preceding evening, and had informed the boatswain, carpenter, and two midshipmen (Stewart and Hayward) of his intention to do so; that by them he was supplied with part of a roasted pig, some nails, beads, and other articles of trade, which he put into a bag that was given him by the last-named gentleman; that he put this bag into the clue of Robert Tinkler's hammock, where it was discovered by that young gentleman when going to bed at night, but the business was smothered, and passed off without any further notice. He said he had fastened some staves to a stout plank, with which he intended to make his escape ; but finding he could not effect it during the first and middle watches, as the ship had no way through the water and the people were all moving about, he laid down to rest about half past three in the morning; that when Mr. Stewart called him to relieve the deck at four o'clock, he had but just fallen asleep, and was much out of order; upon observing which Mr. Stewart strenuously advised him to abandon his intention; that as soon as he had taken charge of the deck, he saw Mr. Hayward, the mate of his watch, lie down on the arm-chest to take a nap; and finding that Mr. Hallet, the other midshipman, did not make his appearance, he suddenly formed the resolution of seizing the ship. Disclosing his intention to Matthew Quintal and Isaac Martin, both of whom had been fogged by Lieutenant Bligh, they called up Charles Churchill, who had also tasted the cat, and Matthew Thompson, both of whom readily joined in the plot. That Alexander Smith (alias John Adams), John Williams, and William M'Koy evinced equal willingness, and went with Churchill to the arniourer, of whom they obtained the keys of the arm-chest, under pretence of wanting a musket to fire at a shark then alongside; that finding Mr. Hallet asleep on an arm-chest in the main-hatchway, they roused and sent him on deck. Charles Norman, unconscious of their proceedings, had in the mean time awaked Mr. Hayward and directed his attention to the shark, whose movements he was watching at the moment that Mr. Christian and his confederates came up the forehatchway, after having placed arms in the hands of several men who were not aware of their design. One man, Matthew Thompson, was left in charge of the chest, and he served out arms to Thomas Burkitt and Robert Lamb. Mr. Christian said he then proceeded to secure Lieutenant Bligh, the master, gunner, and botanist.”
“When Mr. Christian,” observes Morrison, in his journal,“ related the above circumstances, I recollected having seen him fasten some staves to a plank lying on the larboard gangway, as also having heard the boatswain say to the carpenter, 'It will not do to-night.' I likewise remembered that Mr. Chris. tian had visited the fore-cockpit several times that evening, although he had very seldom, if ever, frequented the warrant-officers' cabins before.”
If this be a correct statement (and the greater part of it is borne out by evidence on the courtmartial), it removes every doubt of Christian being the sole instigator of the mutiny, and that no conspiracy nor preconcerted measures had any existence, but that it was suddenly conceived by a hotheaded young man, in a state of great excitement of mind, amounting to a temporary aberration of intellect, caused by the frequent abusive and insulting language of his commanding officer. Waking out of a short half-hour's disturbed sleep to take the command of the deck,-finding the two mates of the
watch, Hayward and Hallet, asleep (for which they ought to have been dismissed the service instead of being, as they were, promoted),--the opportunity tempting, and the ship completely in his power, with a momentary impulse he darted down the forehatchway, got possession of the keys of the armchest, and made the hazardous experiment of arm. ing such of the men as he thought he could trust, and effected his purpose.
There is a passage in Captain Beechey's account of Pitcairn's Island, which, if correct, would cast a stain on the memory of the unfortunate Stewart, he who, if there was one innocent man in the ship, was that man. Captain Beechey says, speaking of Christian, “His plan, strange as it must appear for a young officer to adopt who was fairly advanced in an honourable profession, was to set himself adrift upon a raft, and make his way to the island (Tofoa) then in sight. As quick in the execution as in the design, the raft was soon constructed, various use. ful articles were got together, and he was on the point of launching it, when a young officer who aftere ward perished in the Pandora, to whom Christian communicated his intention, recommended him, rather than risk his life on so hazardous an expedition, to endeavour to take possession of the ship, which he thought would not be very difficult, as many of the ship's company were not well disposed towards the commander, and would all be very glad to return to Otaheite, and reside among their friends in that island. This daring proposition is even more extraordinary than the premeditated scheme of his companion, and, if true, certainly relieves Christian from part of the odium which has hitherto attached to him as the sole instigator of the mutiny.” Relieve him ?-nut a jot! But on the best authority it may boldly be stated that it is not true ;-the authority of Stewart's friend and messmate, the late Captain Heywood.
Captain Beechey, desirous of being correct in his statement, very properly sent his chapter on Pitcairn's Island for any observations Captain Heywood might have to make on what was said therein regarding the mutiny; observing in his note which accompanied it, that this account received from Adams differed materially from a foot-note in “Marshall's Naval Biography;" to which Captain Heywood returned the following reply :
“ 5th April, 1830. “Dear Sir, I have perused the account you received from Adams of the mutiny in the Bounty, which does indeed differ very materially from a footnote in Marshall's Naval Biography by the editor, to whom I verbally detailed the facts, which are strictly true.
“ That Christian informed the boatswain and the carpenter, Messrs. Hayward and Stewart, of his determination to leave the ship upon a raft on the night preceding the mutiny is certain; but that any one of them (Stewart in particular) should have recommended, rather than risk his life on so hazardous an expedition, that he should try the expedient of taking the ship from the captain,' &c., is entirely at variance with the whole character and conduct of the latter, both before and after the mutiny; as well as with the assurance of Christian himself the very night he quitted Taheité, that the idea of attempting to take the ship had never entered his distracted mind until the moment he relieved the deck, and found his mate and midshipman asleep.*
" At that last interview with Christian he also communicated to me, for the satisfaction of his relations, other circumstances connected with that unfortunate disaster, which, after their deaths, may or may not be laid before the public. And although
* Hayward and Hallet, who may thus be considered as the passive cause of the mutiny.