I am now so ill that it is with the utmost difficulty I can write to you, but as I hope to be in England before you can receive it, the necessary information which perhaps may be omitted in this letter, will be of no consequence.
I have however for your satisfaction enclosed to you a short account of my Voyage, it is nearly a copy of what I have given to the Governor of Coupang, & the Governor General here, because my weak habit of body at present will not allow me to do more.
You will now Sir with all your generous endeavors for the Publick Good see an unfortunate end to the undertaking, and I feel very sensibly how you will receive the news of the failure of an expedition that promised so much. The anxious and miserable hours I have past is beyond my description, but while I have health, the strange vissicitude of human affairs can never upset me. Unhappily I have lost it at present for on my arrival here I was seized with a Fever, which fixing in my head it made me almost distracted, but I am now better, and am to sail in the Packet on Thurs'y. next which will save my life.
You will find that the Ship was taken from me in a most extraordinary manner, and I presume to say it could not have been done in any other way. I can however Sir promise to you that my honor and character is without blemish, & I shall appear as soon as I possibly can before the Admiralty that my conduct may [be] enquired into, and where I shall convince the World I stand as an officer despising mercy & forgiveness if my conduct is at all blamable.
Had I been accidentally appointed to the Command, the loss of the Ship would give me no material concern, but when I reflect that it was through you Sir who undertook to assert I was fully capable, and the Eyes of every one regarding the progress of the Voyage, and perhaps more with envy, than with delight; I cannot say but if[it] affects me considerably. To those however who may be disposed to blame let them see I had in fact completed my undertaking. What Man's situation could be so peculiarly flattering as mine 12 Hours before the loss of the Ship. Every thing was in the most perfect order and we were well stored with every necessary both for service & health, by early attention to those particulars I acted against the power of chance in case I could not get through Endeavour Straights, as well as against any accident that might befall me in them, and to add to this, I had most successfully got my Plants in a most flourishing & fine order, so that upon the whole the Voyage was ¾ over, and the remaining part no way doubtfull. Every person was in the most perfect health, to establish which I had taken the greatest pains, and bore a most anxious care through the whole course of the Voyage.
I even rejected carrying stock for my own use, & throwing away the Hencoops & every convenience I roofed a place over the Quarter Deck & filled it with Plants which I looked at with delight every day of my life.
I can only conjecture that the Pirates (among whom is poor Nelson's assistant) have Ideally assured themselves of a more happy life among the Otaheiteans than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some female connections, has most likely been the leading cause of the whole busyness.
If I Had been equipped with more Officers & Marines the piracy could never have happened.
I arrived here on the 1st. Instant & sollicited the Governor General to be allowed a passage in the first Ship that sailed for Europe, but he has told me that he could not possibly send us all in one ship, & has consented, as granting me a favor, to be allowed to go in the Packet, for the Physician General has represented my life in danger if I remained here.
I am Dear Sir, with great respect Your most obliged Hmble Servant Wm Bligh
[The following is not in Bligh's hand, it is probably John Samuel's, Bligh's clerk.]
The Burthen of this ship was nearly, Two Hundred & fifteen Tons, Her extreme length on Deck 90F:10In and Breadth from outside to outside of the Bends 24F:3In. A Flush Deck and a pretty Figure Head of a Woman in a Riding Habit.
The Complement of Men and Officers 1 Lieutenant & Commander 1 Quarter Masters Mate 1 Master 1 Boatswains Mate 1 Boatswain 1 Gunners Mate 1 Gunner 1 Carpenters Mate 1 Carpenter 1 Sailmaker 1 Surgeon 1 Armourer 2 Masters Mates 1 Corporal 2 Midshipmen 1 Carpenters Crew 1 Clerk 24 Able Seaman 2 Quarter Masters 45 Total
Out of the Number 45 is One Borne not actually on board, his Pay going to the support of Widows, so that the real number on board were 44 Seamen & Officers, likewise one Botanist and an Assistant, the whole being 46.
The King upon a representation from His subjects in the West Indies, that the introduction of the Bread Fruit Tree among them would be of Universal good to constitute an Article of food, and that such having been signified to be His Majestys Pleasure unto the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by Lord Sydney: one of His Principal Secretaries of State. I was therefore directed to sail forthwith round Cape Horn for the Society Islands in Latitude about 18° So. and Longitude 210 East of Greenwich. And there with the necessary Articles I was furnished with, to procure of the Natives as many Plants as I could stow on board the Ship.
Having completed this I was to proceed through Endeavor Streights (which seperate New Guinea from New Holland.) and from thence to Princes Island in the Streights of Sunda. leaving to my discretion to touch at Java or any other Island for refreshmenbt & water as I might think most proper.
From Princes Island I was to proceed discretionally to St. Vincents one of the Windward Islands, and depositing One Half of my Plants there, I was to go immediately to Jamaica, and having given the remainder there to Persons appointed to received them, I was then with such Plants as were directed by His Majesty to be put on board, to return to England.
On the 23d March 1788 I doubled Staten Land and attempted to make my Passage round Cape Horn between the Latitude of 59° So. and 61° So, but I met with such dreadfull tempestuous Weather and mountainous Seas, with Hail and Snow Storms, that altho I tryed it for 30 Days I could not accomplish it.
I therefore (as my people were getting ill, and I had the Honor to have the most discretionary Orders to do as I thought best for the good of the Voyage) determined to bear away for the Cape of Good Hope on the 22d of April, and repassed Staten Land the next day.
On the 24th. May, Anchored at the Cape of Good Hope, and having refitted and completed my Stores and Provisions I sailed on the 1st. July 1788. Arrived at Van Diemens Land on the 20th. August, and having completed wooding and watering I sailed from thence the 4th September.
On the 19th. September after having past the South Part of New Zealand, I discovered very dangerous Rocky Islets never known before, they extend 3½ miles East and West, and 1½ North and South. They lie from the Traps off the south end of New Zealand So. 89 East, distant 146 Leagues, Their Latitude is 47°.44′.30″ So. Longitude 179°:09′ East.
On the 26th. October I anchored in Matavai Bay Otaheite
sailed the 25 December and Anchored in Toahroah Harbour
3 miles distance from the Bay.
I remained here untill the 4th. April,
when I sailed with 1015 Bread Fruit Plants and
many Fruit Kind, in all 774 Pots, 39 Tubs, & 24 Boxes.
Latitude of this Harbour....17°:31′:26″ So
Longitude p'r. Observ'n. Sun & Moon and Stars
each side of the Moon.....210:31:37 Et
Variation Compass.....5:31 Et.
I left these happy Islanders in much distress, for the utmost affection, regard, and good fellowship remained among us during my Stay. The King and all the Royal Family were allways my Guests, and their good sense and Observations, joined with the most engaging disposition in World, will ever make them beloved by all who become acquainted with them as Freinds.
On the 12th. April I discover'd an Island called by the Natives Whytootackee whose Cheif was named Comackaiah, as I was informed by People in a Cannoe that came off to me. Their language seemed to prove them nearly the same People as at Otaheite. This Island is about 10 miles in Circuit in Latitude 18:52 So. It has Eight small Keys lying joined by a Reef to the SSE of it, and One to the SW. The Southermost Key lies in Latitude 18:58 So. the Longitude by Observation is 200°:19′ East of Greenwich. Variation Compass 8°:14′ Et.
On the 21st. of April I made the Freindly Islands
and on the 23d following I anchored in Annamoca Road,
(called by Tasman Rotterdam)
on the 26th. having conmpleted my Water
and got on board some Wood, I sailed.
This Island lies in Latitude 20°:16′ So 185°:30′ Et.
On the 28th. of April in the Morning the NW'r most of the Freindly Islands called Tofoa bore NE 10 Leagues and I had directed my Course to the WNW with a Ship in most perfect order and all my Plants in a most flourishing condition all my men and officers in good health and in short every thing to flatter and insure my most sanguine expectations and Success.
But I am now to relate one of the most atrocious and consumate acts of Piracy ever committed.
At Dawn of Day Fletcher Christian, Officer of the Watch, Charles Churchill, ships Corporal, Thomas Burkett, Seaman, and several others came into my Cabbin and while I was asleep seized and tyed my hands behind my back with a Strong Cord, and with Cutlasses and a Bayonet fixed at my breast threatned instant death if I spoke or made the least noise. I nevertheless called out so loud that every one heard me and were flying to my assistance, but all my Officers except those concerned were kept in their Cabbins by Armed Centinels and the Armed Chest was in their possession. I was now hauled upon Deck in my shirt and Hands tyed behind me held by Fletcher Christian and Charles Churchill with a Bayonet at my breast, and two men Alex'r. Smith and Thomas Burkitt behind me with Loaded Musquets Cocked and Bayonets fixed, under this Guard I was kept abaft the Mizen Mast. The different Hatchways were all guarded by Armed Men in the same manner, and those who were to be sent out of the ship and some of the mutineers who could be spared hoisted the Boats out, among these was the Boatswain who with some others got Sails, Twine, Rope, Grapnel and a small Cask of Water into the Boat, about which there were many Altercations among the Mutinous Crew, and exerting myself in speaking loud to try if I could rally any with a sense of duty in them, I was saluted with Damn his Eyes blow his brains out.
Being confined and kept apart from every one, Mr Samuel my Clerk secured to me a Quadrant & Compass, some Cloaths, my Journals, and a few Material Ships Papers, but all my Valuable Instruments with a Time peice of Three hundred and fifty Guineas Value, a Valuable collection of Books, Maps, and Drawings, with all my remarks and observations for Fifteen years past, were kept from me, he also secured about one hundred & fifty pounds of Bread.
The Officers and Men being now drove into the Boat One by One. I was told by Christian, Sir, your officers are now in the Boat and you must go with them. I was then taken hold of under a Guard, and forced over the Gangway into the Boat, which waited only for me, and untying my Hands I was veer'd astern by a Rope. A few Pounds of Pork were now thrown to us being nineteen in number and each began to sollicit some of their little Valuables that were left behind them. I desired only some Fire Arms and even at last sollicited two but we received insolence and were told I should have none, Four Cutlasses were however thrown into the Boat and we were cast adrift and Rowed with all our strength for the land.
The Size of the Boat was 23 feet from Stem to Stern and Rowed Six Oars, and was so deeply lumberd that they beleived we could never reach the Shore and some of them made their Jokes of it, However by 7 oClock in the Evening I got safe under Tofoa, but could find no landing, and therefore kept the Boat under the land all night paddling with Two Oars to preserve our station.
30th. Found landing at the NW part of the Island, in a Cove, Latitude 19°:41 So. as I observed it. Went in search of Water, but found only a few Quarts in holes of the Rocks, suffered much fatigue and distress. I should now have proceeded as I intended for some of the Islands where I had a knowledge of the Cheifs for I was well acquainted here, but the Wind and Sea was too Stormy to Venture out. Part of us slept in the Boat and others with myself on Shore and as we saw no Natives we felt our distress the more because we wanted not to use any of our own Stock.
1st May Party out as yesterday and found out the residence of the Natives, who brought Supplies of Cocoa Nuts and Bread Fruit, besides shells of Water, all of which I bought for Buttons, which we cut of our Cloaths. They all left us at Sun Down. Wr. so windy could not proceed to Sea.
2nd. In the morning Two Cheifs Eegyeefow, and the other Maccaaccabou, came down, also two Cannoes came in and another Cheif called Nageete, and having enquired our Situation, and my determination to proceed to Paulehou their King, Eegyeefow agreed as soon as it moderated to go with me. This readiness gave me pleasure, but in a few hours I had as much uneasyness. The Natives began to be very troublesome and shewed signs of hostilities towards us. We however thought they would go off at Sun down as they had done before, and that then I could leave the place without any risk, but it proved to the contrary for three Cannoes were now come in, and places were fixed on for their residence during the night, and fires made.
I therefore determined to do our best while it was light and directed some provisions we had Bought to be put into the Boat. The Cheifs desired I would Stay notwithstanding they perceived that I saw all their people were Arming with Clubs & Stones. We were now all on the go, and taking one of the Cheifs by the Hand, with a Cutlass in the other, and my people with Sticks, we proceeded down to the Boat, when we were attacked by a multitude of Indians in the course of which I lost a very worthy good Man and the rest of us more or less bruized and Wounded.
As I hauled out to our Grapnel I hoped they could no longer annoy us, but here I was mistaken for they launched their Cannoes and gave Battle to us, or rather stoned us untill I got a League from the Land. I could not return their Salute but with such Stones as lodged in the Boat. I therefore as the only thing left for to save our lives, exhorted every one to persevere in rowing, and throwing overboard some Cloaths which beguiled them, and they lost time in taking up, together with the Night coming on, We very miraculously excaped.
Taking this as a real sample of their natural dispositions, there were little hopes to expect much where I was going, for I considered their good behaviour hitherto owing to a dread of our Fire Arms which now knowing us to have none, would not be the case, and that supposing our lives were safe, our Boat, Compass, and Quadrant, would all be taken from me, and thereby I should not be able to return to my King and Country, to give an Account of the transaction.
I was now sollicited by every Person to take them towards home, and when I told them no hopes of releif remained for us, but what I might find at New Holland, untill I came to Timor a distance of 1200 leagues, where there was a Governor, but that I had no idea at what part of the Island the Settlement was. They all agreed to live on One Ounce of Bread per day and One Jill of Water.
I therefore after reccommending this promise forever to their memory, I bore away for New Holland and from thence to Timor a Distance of 1200 leagues across a Sea where the Navigation is dangerous and not known, and in a small Boat deep loaded with 18 Souls, without a Single Map, and nothing but my own recollection and general knowledge of the situation of Places, assisted by a Table in an Old Book of Latitude & Longitude to guide me.
Out Stock of Provisions at first consisted of 150 pounds of Bread (Part of which afterwards got damaged and lost) 28 Gallons of Water, 20 pounds of Pork 3 Bottles of Wine, and 5 Quarts of Rum.
It may be asked what could be the cause for such a Revolution. In Answer to which I have only to give a description of Otaheite, which has every allurement both to luxury and ease, and is the Paradise of the World.
The Women are handsome and Mild in their manners and conversation, with sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved, and the Cheifs have acquired such a liking to our People, that they rather have encouraged their Stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions to them.
Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desireable, is it to be now wonder'd at, that a set of Sailors void of connections (or if they have any, not possessed of natural feelings sufficient to wish themselves never to be seperated from them;) should be led by such powerful lyes.
But equal to this, what a temptation is it to such Wretches when they find it in their power (however illegally it can be got at,) to fix themselves in the Midst of Plenty in the finest Island in the World, where they need not labour, and where the allurements of disipation are more than equal to any thing that can be conceived.
Desertions have happened more or less in every ship that has been at the Society Isles, but it has ever been in the Commanders power to make the Cheif return their people. They therefore knew such a plan could never succeed; and perhaps suggested that never so small a Ship and so elligible an opportunity would offer to them again.
Christian was the Officer on Deck, and the whole Watch being concerned except two Midshipmen who knew not what their Officer was about, it is not surprising that the business was speedily done, all the able Men being concerned and also the Greatest Number, as may be seen by the following List.
To return now to my proceedings in the Boat. I steered to the WNW, as I formerly had heard from the Freindly Island People that Land lay in that Quarter.
The Weather very boisterous and obliged to keep right before the Sea which at time run into us and nearly filled the Boat, and were obliged to throw all spare Cloaths overboard, and every Article we could possibly do without.
On the 4th. May Latitude 18°:58′ So Long'd. 182°:16Et I discover'd Land an Island WSW 4 or 5 Leagues.
On the 7th. discovered other Islands. At noon Latitude 16°:33′ So. 178°:34 Et. were chased by Two large Cannoes but got clear of them by Rowing. At night torrents of Rain with Thunder & Lightning. Caught 6 Gallons Water.
On the 15th. discovered an Island Latitude at noon 13°:4′ So. Long'd. 167°:34 Et. Very fresh Gale & high Sea with Rain, constantly wet, and constantly Bailing. distress'd for Want of Light to see to Steer by the Wr. being Stormy with Thunder, Lightning, Rain and a high Sea, keeping the Boat before it to the 21st. when we had most dreadfull Weather and the Rain fell so heavy that we could scarce keep the Boat from filling.
To the 24th. The Weather and Sea continued very bad, and we now dreaded the Nights for we were all benumbed with Cold, and what added to our distress in the weak Situation we were in, one of us in turns was obliged to be constantly bailing the Boat in all this dreadfull Weather, being continually Wet and never having a Dry Rag about us. The resource I directed to be taken, was in the intervals when the Rain ceased, to Strip Naked, and Wash and Wring all our Cloaths in the Sea, which was a great refreshment.
To the 28th the Weather better, when at Midnight I fell in with most dreadfull Breakers, but I was able to stand away clear of them. As I knew I was near the Coast of New Holland, I considered this to be the Reef off that Coast, and I therefore stood to the West again in the morning to search for a Passage within it. At 9 in the morning I saw the Reef again, and soon after standing along it to the northward I discovered an opening which I safely entered and got into Smooth Water.
At Noon Latitude 12°:46′ So 145°:02 Et. the entrance I came in at, SE about 2 leagues.
At ¼ past 5 in the Afternoon I got into a Bay on an Island about ¼ Mile from the Main and finding it uninhabited I determined on searching for Supplies. Night came on, we however got a few Oysters from the Rocks which gave us a tolerable good Meal.
As our Boat was only large enough to admitt One half of us to rest at a time, I consented that one party should Sleep on shore, but unfortunately having no materials we could not light a Fire.
29th May — At Dawn of day we went in search of Water and what else we could get, and happily by digging found fine fresh Water and plenty of it. Oysters were the only supply besides, of which with our allowance of Bread we made very good Stew. When the Sun came out strong I was enabled to kindle a fire by a small magnifying Glass, and we then made Tinder and Matches to supply our wants in future.
All hands were very weak which with dizzyness in the Head, and a dreadfull Tenesmus, were the only complaints. At night part of us slept on shore.
30th May — I now determined as the People were a little refreshed, to proceed on, I therefore by Noon got our small water Casks filled, and having found some Fern Root, that I thought wholesome and very conducive to prevent thirst, I ordered a parcel into the Boat. Birds could have easily have been got here If I had had Arms, on that account every one we Saw recalled to us our miserable situation, but providence has been graciously kind to us, for we frequently caught by hand Sea Fowls, which made great additions to our Dinners of Bread. The Frequent supply of Water was also a great Blessing but I had not Vessels to contain a Sufficient allowance, it therefore happen'd that nearly half a pint of water was what each person received in the course of the day. Issued at 8 in the morning, at noon, and Sun set, with 1/24 of a pound of Bread at Breakfast, and the same at Dinner.
I found the Latitude of this place 12°:39′ So 144°:44′ E the main appeared with a Variety of high and low land interspersed with wood, and the more interior parts mountainous.
31st — At 4 in the afternoon after having performed Divine Service I sailed, saw Twenty Natives Armed with Spears, come down on the shore opposite to us. They were Black and waved to us to come to them.
I steered along shore to the NNW and NWBN, in the direcction of the Coast. Saw several Islands, and at 8 in the morning passed throught a cluster and saw more Natives armed in the same manner, and made the same Signs, I however did not land.
The appearance of the Country all changed being very low and mostly Sand Hills.
Landed on an Island and gathered Shell fish, Oysters, and Clams, also Water in the hollow of a rock which enabled us to fill up our Sea Store.
From the heights of this Island, I saw a small Key to the NWBN. As my present situation was therefore too near the main, having discovered at this place the Natives to have Cannoes. I again prepared to Sail so as to reach the Key before Night. At noon dined on Stewed Oysters and Clams. Found the Latitude of the Isl'd. 11°:58′ So. 144:29 Et
1st. June — With a continuance of fine Wr. this evening I landed and spent the night at the Key abovementioned, could get no supplies of any kind. some of my people were taken ill with Vomitings and dizziness besides a most dreadful Tenesmus afflicted many of them who had not been at Stool for Three Weeks and some more. At noon I found the Latitude of this Key 11°:47 So. Long'd 144:24 Et
2nd. June — This Afternoon it came on Strong Gales and my people being still ill I prefered giving them a good nights rest to going to Sea. At Dawn of day I sailed. People much better, passed several Islands. The Coast Sandy and Barren. At Noon Lat'd. 11°:18′ So 144°:20′ Et I saw what I considered to be Cape York bearing W½N 3 Leagues
3d — At Night I again stopt on an Island whose Latitude is 10°:52 So. 141:05 Et. by corrected Longitude from Cape York whose true Situation is 141°:15′ Et. my Account therefore yesterday was 3°:05′ Wrong
4th — At Dawn of day I again sailed and followed the direction of the Coast to the NW. saw many Islands and Breakers. At noon I was in 10°:30′ So. and 140:40 Et. I now found I had doubled the north part of New Holland.
At 5 oClock this Evening I left New Holland and Steered accordingly for Timor, the Latitude of which I was not very certain of, however I determined to make it in the Latitude of about 9°:30′ So.
At Day Light finding I was on the SE end of it, I went to the South'd. of the Island, laying too at night lest I might pass any Settlement, for I was not certain where the Governor resided.
On the 14th in the Afternoon after having passed through a very heavy breaking Sea, and Shoal Water, I discovered an opening into which I entered and anchored at 3 oClock which I since find to be a Bay on Timor opposite to Pulo Samow in the South Entrance, the Island Rotty being in sight to the SWBS.
Saw some Malays on the Shore sent two Men after them, and they brought several Men to me. One of them agreed to be my Pilot and I agreed to give Ten half Ducatoons to conduct me to the Governor. This being settled we rowed along shore conducted by him, and on the Morning at Dawn of day, I anchored off Coupang, and waited for leave to come on shore. At Sun rise I was desired by a Soldier to come on shore, and I was conducted to a Gentlemans House (Captn. Spykerman) who upon my application Ordered Breakfast and Victuals for all hands. The Governor from severe indisposition not being able to see me just at that time. The Surgeon a Mr Max gave us every kind assistance in dressing our sores, and all who saw us were ready to contribute to the comfort of such poor distressed creatures, one half of whom could not have Survived a Week longer and some perhaps not a few days.
The Governor with much goodness became anxious about us and altho his illness was very Severe, I had it in my power to see him by 11 oClock and was received in a most affectionate and peculiar manner of kindness which will ever endear him to my memory. Orders were instantly given for our accomodation and Supplies and I had full power to see my people taken care of.
Thus happily ended through the blessing of divine providence, without accident a Voyage of the most extraordinary nature that ever happend in the World, let it be taken either in its extent, duration or so much want of the necessaries of life.
I remained at Coupang untill the 20th. August 1789 during which time I had the misfortune to lose Mr David Nelson (Botanist) whose good conduct in the Course of the whole Voyage, and manly fortitude in our late disastrous Circumstances deserves this tribute to his memory. He died of a Fever on the 20th of July.
[In Bligh's hand.]
I have not given so full an account to the Admiralty you will please therefore to attend to it in that particular.