From The Mad Monarchist (1 May 2017)
Whether from the popular novels or numerous major Hollywood motion pictures, most people have at least heard of “The Mutiny on the Bounty”. The story told in most of these books and films is of a kind-hearted, fun-loving, proper English gentleman named Fletcher Christian who is driven to righteous rebellion by his dishonest, cruel and tyrannical captain, William Bligh. However, the story most know from the movies, while highly entertaining, is an almost totally false one and tends to lead people in the wrong direction. There is a great lesson to be learned from the most famous mutiny in naval history but it is not the one that the most famous film version (1935) stressed so heavily. In fact, of the major motion pictures made about the mutiny in 1935, 1962 and 1984, only the 1984 version, titled simply as “The Bounty” and starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Mel Gibson, is anywhere close to being even-handed in its approach to history. Though not perfect, it was the most accurate and yet it was the classic 1935 version (starring Clark Gable and Charles Loughton), the least accurate and most heavy-handed, which won the most awards, made the most money and became most cemented in the popular imagination.
|Lt. William Bligh|
For years, the popular perception has been that Bligh was a vicious monster, who cheated his sailors of food, starved them of water, flogged them half to death over even the slightest infraction and that the noble, young Christian finally could stand no more of this mistreatment and rebelled. The truth, however, is completely different. In fact, Bligh rarely had anyone flogged at all as historical records clearly show. The accounts of his alleged dishonesty stem from one version of events, told years after the fact, by the Boatswain’s Mate who had himself been a mutineer, only narrowly escaped execution, and who was writing a version of events that would mitigate his guilt. In fact, Bligh was obsessive in his care for his crew, adamant about cleanliness and exercise, disapproving of strong drink and licentious behavior. Actual historians have had to admit that Bligh was not cruel but that he was given to outbursts of anger in his speech and so criticize the insulting and demeaning way he verbally abused his underlings when he found them unsatisfactory.
The idea that Bligh was cruel and barbaric is utter nonsense. He had hoped to complete his voyage without any acts of corporal punishment and, as it happened, only ever had four men flogged during his entire time as captain. The propaganda campaign launched by Edward Christian was obviously fairly effective and he enlisted the help of very powerful people in this, notably the abolitionists of the anti-slavery societies. Obviously, slavery had nothing to do with the issue at hand but Bligh, a naval officer simply following the orders given to him, was portrayed as complicit in the guilt of the slavers by importing a new food crop specifically for slaves and the tales of his, entirely false, constant flogging of his crew, could easily be compared with the harsh task master whipping his slaves. Of course, Bligh did no such thing and the sailors of the Bounty were not slaves but were entirely volunteers but facts such as those were left out as inconvenient to the narrative being sold that Bligh was of a kind with a brutal, West Indies slave owner, driving his men forward with constant beatings. Hollywood took this version of events and ran with it, cementing it in the popular imagination as well as claiming a moral victory for the mutineers by stating that the Royal Navy was so appalled by the distasteful actions of Bligh that they shunned him and Royal Navy sailors were never treated badly again.
After the mutiny, the two sides which parted company faced grossly uneven odds. Bligh had 18 loyalists crammed into a 23-foot long open boat, abandoned in the middle of the South Pacific with barely enough food and water for about a week. The nearest islands were inhabited by cannibals and the only outposts of western civilization were months away and they had not a single chart. On the other hand, Christian and the mutineers had a ship full of provisions and the means to go anywhere they pleased. By any measure, it was the loyal men who faced all but certain death. The mutineers, after stopping in at Tahiti to pick up some women and a few Tahitian men to work for them and help sail the ship, eventually settled on Pitcairn Island, remote from any fear of discovery by the authorities, with a pleasant enough climate and plenty of food and water. Nonetheless, in spite of all this, Bligh and his miserable little boat had one vital strength that Christian and his mutineers lacked which was discipline. They had an officer with the King’s commission to lead them, an authority they respected and rules they were bound to follow. The mutineers, on the other hand, had broken this bond and this would have an impact on them.
|Arrival in Coupang, Timor|
What happened to this small group of individuals is no different, in principle, to what has happened to many countries around the world and illustrates why so many revolutions end up eating their own tail. Even in the religious sphere you can see something similar. When Martin Luther started the Protestant movement, he assumed that his teachings would be the only alternative to the Catholic establishment. However, after rejecting the authority of the Pope, no one could regard Luther himself as having any special authority and what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. Protestantism divided further and continued to divide because of what Luther did in rejecting the authority of the Pope and embracing private judgment and a personal, individual interpretation of the Bible. If he could reject the Pope, others could reject him in the same way. It is no coincidence that monarchies, even if one only looks at particular dynasties, tended to last for centuries but once the authority of those dynasties was overthrown, the republican regimes that replaced them tended to last for mere decades or even less before being overthrown and replaced themselves again and again.
|Bl. Emperor Charles of Austria|
Peoples can, and have, endured oppressive and incompetent government for great periods of time. Human beings are remarkable in their ability to adapt to their situation provided there is stability which gives them the time to adapt as they need to. Good order, proper discipline or, for countries, stability is a precious thing and once it is lost, it is extremely hard to put back. Whether it is mutineers in the Royal Navy or French revolutionaries, that is a lesson that history has taught us time and time again.