BLIGH, William (1754-1817) and Fletcher CHRISTIAN (fl. 1789). Manuscript fragment signed ("Wm Bligh" and Fler Christian"), also signed by other members of the crew of H.M.S. Bounty, Matavai Bay, Otaheite (Tahiti), 1 December 1788. 2 pages, the lower half of a quarto sheet, probably from a ledger, light dampstain along bottom edge, a tear repaired.
A VERY FINE FRAGMENT FROM THE H.M.S. BOUNTY, SIGNED BY CAPT. BLIGH AND THE LEADER OF THE MUTINY AGAINST HIM, FLETCHER CHRISTIAN
On one side the ship's officers attest: "...we are ready to make oath to the Impartiality of our proceedings. In witness thereof... on board the said ship..." Beneath are the signatures of the ship's Master, John Fryer, Botswain William Cole and Masters Mates Fletcher Christian and William Elphinstone. On the verso is Captain Bligh's subscription: "Given under my hand on board His Majesty's Arm'd vessel Bounty in Matavai Bay Otaheite..."
The Bounty had been anchored at Matavai Bay since October while obtaining bread-fruit seedlings for transport to the West Indies. On 28 April 1789 the mutineers rallied under the leadership of Fletcher Christian to take control of the ship and cast Bligh and 18 other members of the crew adrift in a longboat. Christian, who was acting lieutenant and second-in-command, was especially the victim of Bligh's renowned temper, which in distant seas was uncontrolled, and on 27 April Christian had been the object of the most abusive insults. He at first concluded that he would leave the Bounty on a small raft, but unable to carry out his plan overnight, he seized the opportunity the following morning of taking charge of the ship and sending Bligh adrift instead. Other sailors joined the mutiny and within minutes Christian's plan was executed. As Bligh was hurried into the boat he attempted to speak but was ordered to remain silent. The Boatswain Cole, a co-signer of this fragment, tried to reason with Christian. Christian responded: "No, tis too late; I've been in hell for this fortnight past, and am determined to bear it no longer. You know, Mr. Cole, that I've been treated like a dog all the voyage." Boatswain Cole, along with Bligh, made the 3,000 mile voyage to safety in Timor. On his return to England, Bligh published an account favorable to himself, but evidence suggests that the mutiny was caused by his own tyrannical conduct.
It is possible that the present document was among the papers and logs which Bligh and his party took with them in the launch. According to American Book Prices Current, this is the only document bearing the signatures of both Bligh and Christian to appear at auction in the last thirty years. Provenance: Calvin Bullock, sold Christie's New York, 19 December 1986, lot 10.