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Series 46: 'Correspondence Bounty', being letters received by Banks from William Bligh concerning the breadfruit voyage on HMS Bounty, 1787-1790. Includes copy of a letter written by Joseph Coleman, 1788; and newscuttings, 1790, 1792.

Number of documents

36

Provenance note

Most of these letters were previously located at ML A78-4, were part of the largest accession of the papers of Sir Joseph Banks held in the collection of the Mitchell Library. These papers, purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales, were transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910. They were part of the accession which became known as the Brabourne collection.

The enclosure to document 27 was previously located at ML Safe 1/36. Documents 31 and 32 were previously located at ML C218. These items were bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales by David Scott Mitchell in July 1907 and formed part of the Mitchell Library collection. They include small folio numbers written in ink in the top right hand corner, possibly in the hand of Banks, and larger folio numbers written in ink in the hand of a previous owner.

Some of these documents were used by the compilers of Historical records of New South Wales, vol 1, part 2 (1892), and include annotations made by the compilers.

It is now not possible to reconstruct Banks' original arrangement, the series has therefore been arranged chronologically.

Background note

In August 1787, Lieutenant William Bligh, at Banks' recommendation, received a commission to command a small expedition to the South Seas on board HMS Bounty. Although promised promotion on his return from the voyage by First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Howe, Bligh remained anxious about his chances. The purpose of the voyage, the result of lobbying by West Indian plantation owners, was to transport the breadfruit tree and other potentially useful plants from the South Seas islands to His Majesty's West Indian possessions. The breadfruit was intended as a cheap source of food for the plantation slaves.

The Bounty's crew of 45 largely inexperienced men included a gardener, David Nelson, and his assistant, William Brown. Few officers were enlisted and there were no marines to maintain discipline.

Bligh received his final orders, from Philip Stephens, Secretary of the Admiralty, on 20 November 1787, late in the season to be embarking on such a voyage. Adverse weather conditions prevented him leaving Spithead until 23 December. Through Banks, Bligh had obtained discretionary orders to alter his course and sail the longer route via the Cape of Good Hope should conditions prevent a rounding of Cape Horn. After many attempts to round Cape Horn over a period of 30 days, mostly in very high seas, Bligh exercised the option of his discretionary orders and proceeded towards the Cape of Good Hope on 22 April, arriving on 24 May 1788.

Sailing via Adventure Bay, Tasmania, the Bounty arrived at Tahiti in October 1788 where the expedition remained until April the following year gathering breadfruit and other useful plants. Several weeks after leaving Tahiti, on the morning of 28 April 1789, a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, Master's Mate, lost Bligh the Bounty. Bligh and eighteen of the crew were turned out in the ship's long boat off Tofua. After six weeks at sea they arrived at Kupang [Coupang], Timor on 17 June 1789 with only one loss of life. Jonathon Norton had been killed at Tofua.

During the long boat voyage, Bligh had covered a distance of 3,700 nautical miles and accurately charted numerous islands and the north west coast of Australia equipped with a quadrant and compass. With the assistance of his clerk, John Samuel, he had secured his journal and some ship's papers from the Bounty, and been supplied by the mutineers with only 150 pounds of ship's bread, a few pounds of pork and four cutlasses.

From Timor Bligh made his way to Batavia [Jakarta] and thence to England where he arrived on 14 March 1790. While at Batavia he wrote an account of the mutiny and what followed for the Admiralty, and a fuller account for Banks suggesting possible reasons for the mutiny and naming the mutineers and the loyalists.

On 22 October 1790, Bligh was tried by court martial for the loss of the Bounty and honourably acquitted. In November he was promoted to Post Captain.

Subjects: Bounty (ship)
Breadfruit - Pacific Ocean - transportation
Breadfruit - West Indies