G88 Mutiny on the Bounty

"I have now reason to curse the day I ever knew a Christian, a Heywood or any Manxman"

Captain Bligh

The links between the Mutiny on the Bounty and the Isle of Man are strong - Bligh had previously been based on the Island in a Revenue Cutter intercepting smugglers and had married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of Richard Betham collector of customs, at Onchan.

Richard Betham, described by Robertson as "a gentleman, whose erudition was truly respectable; and to whose politeness and friendship I am highly indebted" was well connected, counting as friends such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Joseph Black. He lived at the Hague in Onchan later occupied by the Bullocks. He had been appointed Collector (for Douglas) and water bailiff following the 1765 Act of Revestment - two of the Revenue posts for which London did not keep on the pre-revestment appointees by the Duke of Atholl. He died in 1789 (31 May).

Genealogical details re Richard Betham seem difficult to find - the family name Betham appears most common in the Westmoreland region; a verifiable reference to his marriage to Mary Campbell does not appear to be in the IGI (though entries for this name are littered with relative supplied data of the 'about' veracity - however a marriage on 13 September 1748 at Glasgow occurs in several and is consistent with the facts). A parish baptismal record for his second daughter Elizabeth is found under Glasgow for 7th March 1754.

Betham's wife, Mary, was the sister of Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) - a wealthy ship owner in the West Indian trade, from reported research in the PRO his ships were not in the slave trade though he was not in favour of of protests against this trade as they would hurt his sugar importation; he was also a provider of the various prison hulks used to house convicts on their way to transportation in Australia. Mary died in 1766, aged 42, and is buried in Onchan. A Margaret Betham is also noted as being buried in Onchan in 1783 - possibly his sister come over to keep house as he had two young daughters Elizabeth and Anne. Mary's father was Neil Campbell, Principal (1728-1761) of Glasgow College whose uncle had become involved in Jamaca Plantations, and into which family Duncan married, before moving into the tobacco business as well as the transportation of convicts to work the American plantations (this appointment as overseer of the prison hulks was in conjuction with his brother Neil [i] On 10 June 1789, the 'Morning Star' reported a detail in the government's annual budget of £48,417 being paid to Duncan Campbell 'for convicts'. Duncan Cambell only became a Jamaican plantation owner in 1787, when his late brother-in-law, John Campbell [d.1782] who had owned Salt Spring plantation in Hanover parish and shipped his produce to Duncan Campbell in London who had accepted a mortgage on the estate in 1774 - John also owed trading debts to Duncan Campbell. In 1787, the Court of Chancery in Jamaica ordered the sale of Salt Spring to allow Campbell to recover debts totalling £11,700[ii] but Campbell decided to take the plantation in lieu and it was managed by his eldest son. Subsequent letters from Campbell to his son reveal that the plantation struggled to make money [iii]. After Duncan Campbell's death, his son Dugald raised more money by mortgaging the plantation to his late father's clerk.

Harriot, another Betham daughter (?eldest) married Richard Nicholls Colden of the Colden family of New York at Onchan on 5 August 1771, after which they returned to New York where he was the Loyalist Postmaster of New York during the War of Independence. His sudden death in 1777 left her a widow with two infant sons, Alexander & Cadwallader Robert, as well as New York property now in revolutionary hands, she returned to her father's house in Onchan from where she solicited Benjamin Franklin's protection for her infant sons and recovery of the property.

Much has been made of Campbell's connection, much of which according to Watkin has been inaccurate. Post the American war of independence the West Indian plantation owners, deprived of a nearby source of cheap food, reconsidered an earlier suggestion that the breadfruit tree, found in the South Pacific, could be made to grow in the West Indies. Hence the Admiralty were 'lent upon' to man an expeditionary vessel to gather such fruit and transport them to the West Indies . It was felt that a naval vessel would be inappropriate and thus a relatively small commercial vessel, the Bethia (215 tons, 100 ft long and 24 ft 3 in in beam) was bought from Wellbank, Sharpe and Brown of London (not from Campbell is is often stated), fitted out and renamed the 'Bounty' - the special storage space needed for the fruit removed much of the already tight space - the psychological aspects of which overcrowding are well discussed by Dening.

Bligh, though born in Plymouth on 9 September 1754 to a well educated landowning family, considered himself a Cornishman and had been Master on the Resolution on Cook's third and final voyage to the South Pacific, and had actually been with Cook when he was attacked and killed. In October 1780 he was granted leave, during which he visited Betham, an old friend of the family, where he met Betham's 27 year old daughter (he was 33) whom he married at Onchan on the 4th Feb 1781; they lived in Douglas with Bligh becoming master of the Belle Poule in February 1781 (a daughter Mary was baptised at St Matthews on 7 July 1784 shortly before their move to Wapping, London). After the American War many ships were laid off (and promotion hopes dashed) hence Bligh, now on half-pay, commanded some ships for his uncle Duncan Campbell who already employed two sons of his eldest sister Ann Somerville as captains. Thus when the Breadfruit expedition was planned, Bligh, who had already sailed the region, was a good choice as captain - and his own personal connection with many Manx families led to the Manx pair who saw the expedition as one of the few opportunities for promotion in a peace time navy. William Bligh always appreciated the influence of Duncan Campbell, especially in giving him the command of the Britannia from 1783-1787 on the Jamaica run. A letter written by him to Campbell, aboard Britannia at Jamaica on 11 June 1787, concluded, "I remain Dear Sir your ever grateful affectionate and humble servant"[iv]. Campbell's eldest son, Dugald, and William Bligh remained close friends for the remainder of their lives: Bligh visited him at Salt Spring in 1793 on his return to Jamaica on Providence; Bligh was the principal witness to Dugald Campbell's will, written in London in 1813, and Dugald Campbell was made an executor of Bligh's will.

One of Bligh's midshipmen was Peter Heywood who was saved from execution by an excellent defence - Heywood, a young midshipman, being recommended to him by his father in law.

The leader of the mutineers was Fletcher Christian, a descendant of the Milntown Christians via Illiam Dhone's eldest brother. Though the family had been settled in Cumberland for three generations, his father being a lawyer and coroner of Cumberland, they had kept strong Manx links. Fletcher (named after his maternal grandmother) was born 25 September 1764 the sixth child; he was educated at Cockermouth Grammar school, also attended by William Wordsworth. His elder brother Edward became a lawyer and his first cousin, Edward Law, was to become Lord Ellenborough, Lord Chief Justice of England.

Christian had sailed before with Bligh — on the HMS Cambridge aged 18, William Blyth was Lieutanant. It was apparently Captain Taubman who suggested that Christian then sail with Bligh on Campbell's ship the Britannia (actually as a foremast hand as the officer contingent was full, though Bligh invited him to mess with the officers). Bligh seemed very happy with him as he appointed Christian 2nd mate on the next voyage, during which Bligh learnt of his selection to captain the Bounty - Bligh seemed to take Christian under his wing, giving him lessons in navigation.


Online Pages:

Offline References:

 [Return to Manx Note Book] 

[subject catalogue]  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  J  K  L 

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001