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Revised 2010-03-24

Royal Naval Biography, Peter Heywood
The Mutiny, At Tahiti

Royal naval biography

Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains, and commanders,
whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers at the commencement of the year 1823,
or who have since been promoted;
illustrated by a series of historical and explanatory notes.

John Marshall.




Jun 6, 1773

THIS officer is a son of the late Peter John Heywood, Esq. a Deemster of the Isle of Man, and Seneschal to his Grace the Duke of Athol, by Elizabeth, daughter of James Spedding, of Whitehaven, co. Cumberland, Esq.; and was born at his fathers residence, the Nunnery, near Douglas, June 6, 1773.

Oct 11, 1786

He entered the naval service as a Midshipman, Oct. 11, 1786; and made his first voyage in the Bounty, a ship of about two hundred and fifteen tons, which had been purchased by government and fitted up for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit and other plants from Otaheite to the West India islands, in consequence of the merchants and planters having represented that essential benefit would be derived from the introduction of the former as an article of food for the inhabitants of those colonies.

Apr 28, 1789

The deplorable result of this undertaking is well-known to the public, though the extraordinary circumstances that occurred on board the Bounty, previous to the fatal morning of April 28, 1789, have either escaped the notice, or not been deemed worthy the attention of other writers on naval subjects. To her commander's "Narrative of the Mutiny" which broke out on that day, it would be folly to look for any statement having a tendency to implicate his own conduct: Captain Schomberg, when compiling his "Naval Chronology," appears to have placed implicit reliance on Lieutanant Bligh's assertions; and in fact we have met with only one publication intended for professional use, in which the least hint is given of the unjust and harsh proceedings which gave rise to that unhappy transaction. A private journal, long in our possession, the publication of which was only prevented by the death of its original owner, the late Mr. James Morrison, Gunner of H. M. S. Blenheim, who had the misfortune to witness all that he has related, enables us at length to withdraw the veil by which the world has been so long blinded.

[There follows the author's paraphrase of, and direct quotes from, Morrison's Journal from the sailing from Spithead to the departure of the Bounty from Tahiti for the final time, which I have omitted.]

We now return to Mr. Peter Heywood, who had not completed his 16th year, at the time when the fatal mutiny took place; previous to which, says Lieutenant Bligh, when writing to Colonel Holwell, an uncle of the unfortunate youth, "his conduct had always given me much pleasure and satisfaction*."

* Lieutenant Bligh, although he thought proper to brand Mr. Peter Heywood with the vile appellation of mutineer, did not dare to charge him with any specific act that would have justified the use of such an epithet. On the contrary, he declared in writing that he had the highest esteem for him till the moment of the mutiny, and that his conduct during the whole course of the voyage was truly commendable. He even went so far as to say to Mr. Wilson, the Deputy Receiver General of the Isle of Man, that his greatest hopes of assistance in suppressing the mutiny were from his dependence on Mr. Heywood, whom he expected would form a party in his favor. We must here observe, that his confidence in the other officers could not have been very great, or he would have made some effort more powerful than mere words, when his hands were at liberty, instead of confiding in the exertions and ability of a boy, and looking to him for the recovery of his authority. This reflection, if he ever had any feeling, must have distressed him in the subsequent part of his life but tyrants are generally as insensible of remorse, as they are deficient in true courage. His conduct when deposed at Now South Wales, is sufficient to convince us that he did not possess too great a share of personal intrepidity.

Compelled by circumstances over which he had no control, to associate for a time with the misguided men who had so grossly offended against the laws of their country, Mr. Heywood felt great pleasure at the prospect which their return from Toobouai, to procure stock at Matavia, afforded him, of being able to make his escape, and secrete himself until their final departure. Mr. Christian, however, suspecting that such a course would be adopted, if possible, by some of those who had taken no part in the mutiny, directed an oath to be administered, by which the others were bound to demand from the natives the restoration of any person who might run away, and then to shoot the deserter as an example to the rest. Independent of this precaution, he caused so good a look out to be kept by those upon whom he could rely, as to render the attempt almost impracticable.

His design being thus frustrated, Mr. Heywood saw no other alternative but to return with the mutineers, and remain as contented as possible at Toobouai till the masts should be taken out, according to Christian's intention; and then, by seizing the largest boat, and privately destroying the purchase blocks, at once effect his purpose, and render it impossible for the ship ever to come in quest of him. In this enterprise he was to have been joined by Mr. Stewart, James Morrison, and John Millward; but, providentially, the hostility of the natives, and the want of unanimity amongst his own countrymen, rendered it unnecessary for him to try his fortune at such a hazard.

Released at length from the authority of Christian, Messrs. Heywood and Stewart claimed the protection of an old chief, possessing considerable landed property at Matavia, whose friendship they had previously enjoyed, and under whose roof they now resolved to live as quietly as possible, until a ship should arrive from Europe in search of the Bounty, and thereby afford them an opportunity of returning to their native land. The other 14 persons whose names appear in the third part of the foregoing list, also went to reside with their former tayos in the northern districts, and the whole were treated with the same hospitality as during their first visit to the island.

About seven weeks after their return, the construction of a schooner was undertaken by the two carpenters, armourer, cooper, and others, at the suggestion of James Morrison, who being conscious of his innocence, and extremely desirous of returning to civilized society, entertained hopes of reaching Batavia time enough to secure a passage home in the next fleet bound to Holland. To this measure Messrs. Heywood and Stewart offered no opposition, although it was their own fixed determination not to leave Otaheite before the arrival of a King's ship, as they very naturally concluded that one would be sent out to search for them, whatever might have been the fate of Lieutenant Bligh and his companions.

Nov 12, 1789
Jul 6, 1790

In pursuance of their plan, Morrison and his assistants built houses at Point Venus, where land and bread-fruit trees were assigned for their support; the natives being led to believe that nothing more was intended than to construct a vessel for the purpose of cruising about the island. To this little band of architects, Morrison, who was himself a tolerable mechanic, acted both as director and chaplain, distinguishing the sabbath-day by reading to them the Church Liturgy, and hoisting the British colours on a flag-staff erected near the scene of their operations. To be brief, the schooner's keel was laid Nov. 12, 1789; and after encountering numerous obstacles, occasioned by the want of proper materials, and submitting with patience to the failure of several experiments, they at length succeeded in completing a vessel fully adequate to the intended purpose, which was launched amidst the acclamations of the islanders, and the benedictions of their priests, on the 6th July, 1790.

Unfortunately for those persevering men, serious discords respecting the sovereignty of Otaheite then prevailed among the most powerful chiefs; and those of Oparre being unwilling to lose the military services of their English friends, took care to prevent them from obtaining a sufficient quantity of matting to serve as sails for so long a voyage; supplying them only with enough to equip their vessel for cruising about the island. Their object was consequently defeated; but they nevertheless, felt obliged from motives of policy, as well as of gratitude for former hospitality, to take part against the hostile districts, which, by means of their fire-arms, were speedily reduced to submission.

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