(25 September 1764 – 20 September 1793) was master's mate
on board HMS Bounty
during Lieutenant William Bligh
's voyage to Tahiti
during 1787–1789 for breadfruit
plants. In the mutiny on the Bounty
, Christian seized command of the ship from Bligh on 28 April 1789.
Some of the mutineers were left on Tahiti, while Christian, eight other mutineers, six Tahitian men and eleven Tahitian women settled on isolated Pitcairn Island
, and Bounty
was burned. After the settlement was discovered in 1808, the sole surviving mutineer gave conflicting accounts of how Christian died.
Christian was born on 25 September 1764, at his family home of Moorland Close, Eaglesfield
, near Cockermouth
, England. Fletcher's father's side had originated from the Isle of Man
and most of his paternal great-grandfathers were historic Deemsters
, their original family surname McCrystyn.
Fletcher was the brother to Edward
and Humphrey, being the three sons of Charles Christian of Moorland Close and of the large Ewanrigg Hall
estate in Dearham
, Cumberland, an attorney-at-law
descended from Manx
gentry, and his wife Ann Dixon.
Charles's marriage to Ann brought with it the small property of Moorland Close, "a quadrangle pile of buildings ... half castle, half farmstead." The property can be seen to the north of the Cockermouth to Egremont A5086 road.
Charles died in 1768 when Fletcher was not yet four. Ann proved herself grossly irresponsible with money. By 1779, when Fletcher was fifteen, Ann had run up a debt of nearly £6,500 (equal to £880,014 today),
and faced the prospect of debtors' prison
. Moorland Close was lost and Ann and her three younger children were forced to flee to the Isle of Man, to their relative's estate, where English creditors had no power.
The three elder Christian sons managed to arrange a £40 (equal to £5,415 today) per year annuity for their mother, allowing the family to live in genteel poverty. Christian spent seven years at the Cockermouth Free School from the age of nine. One of his younger contemporaries there was Cockermouth native William Wordsworth
. It is commonly suggested that the two were "school friends"; in fact, Christian was six years older than Wordsworth. His mother Ann died on the Isle of Man in 1819.
Fletcher Christian's house
Map showing Bounty's
movements in the Pacific Ocean, 1788–1790
Voyage of Bounty
and to the location of the mutiny, 28 April 1789
Movements of Bounty
after the mutiny, under Christian's command
Course of Bligh's open-boat journey to Coupang
See here for a comparison of assignments to William Bligh
Fletcher Christian began his naval career at a late age, joining the Royal Navy
as a cabin boy when he was already seventeen years old (the average age for this position was between 12 to 15). He served for over a year on a third-rate
frigate along with his future commander, William Bligh, who was posted as the ship's sixth lieutenant. Christian next became a midshipman
on the sixth-rate post ship HMS Eurydice
and was made Master's Mate
six months after the ship put to sea. The muster rolls of HMS Eurydice
indicate Christian was signed on for a 21-month voyage to India. The ship's muster shows Christian's conduct was more than satisfactory because "some seven months out from England, he had been promoted from midshipman to master's mate".
had returned from India
, Christian was reverted to midshipman and paid off from the Royal Navy. Unable to find another midshipman assignment, Christian decided to join the British merchant fleet and applied for a berth on board William Bligh's ship Britannia
. Bligh had himself been discharged from the Royal Navy and was now a merchant captain. Bligh accepted Christian on the ship's books as an able seaman
, but granted him all the rights of a ship's officer including dining and berthing in the officer quarters. On a second voyage to Jamaica
with Bligh, Christian was rated as the ship's Second Mate
Although Bligh had known Christian for only a little over a year, in 1787 he approached him to serve on board HMAV Bounty
for a two-year voyage to transport breadfruit
from Tahiti to the West Indies. Bligh originally had every intention of Christian serving as the ship's Master
, but the Navy Board
turned down this request due to Christian's low seniority in service years and appointed John Fryer
instead. Christian was retained as Master's Mate. The following year, halfway through the Bounty's voyage, Bligh appointed Christian as acting lieutenant, thus making him senior to Fryer.
On 28 April 1789, Fletcher Christian led a mutiny on board the Bounty
and from this point forward was considered an outlaw. He was formally stripped of his naval rank in March 1790 and discharged after Bligh returned to England and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty Board
Mutiny on the Bounty
A view of Pitcairn's Island, South Seas, 1814, by J. Shillibeer
In 1787, Christian was appointed master's mate
, on Bligh's recommendation, for the ship's breadfruit
expedition to Tahiti
. During the voyage out, Bligh appointed him acting lieutenant. Bounty
arrived at Tahiti on 26 October 1788 and Christian spent the next five months there.
set sail with its cargo of breadfruit plantings on 4 April 1789. Some 1,300 miles west of Tahiti, near Tonga
, mutiny broke out on 28 April 1789, led by Christian. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the "idyllic" life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti
. It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh's allegedly harsh treatment of them. Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him.
Following the mutiny, Christian attempted to build a colony on Tubuai
, but there the mutineers came into conflict with natives. Abandoning the island, he stopped briefly in Tahiti, where he married Maimiti, the daughter of one of the local chiefs, on 16 June 1789.
While on Tahiti, he dropped off sixteen crewmen. These sixteen included four Bligh loyalists who had been left behind on Bounty
and two who had neither participated in, nor resisted, the mutiny. The remaining nine mutineers, six Tahitian men and eleven Tahitian women, then sailed eastward. In time, they landed on Pitcairn Island
, where they stripped Bounty
of all that could be floated ashore before Matthew Quintal
set it on fire, stranding them. The resulting sexual imbalance, combined with the effective enslavement of the Tahitian men by the mutineers, led to insurrection and the deaths of most of the men.
The American seal-hunting ship Topaz
visited Pitcairn in 1808 and found only one mutineer, John Adams
(who had used the alias Alexander Smith while on Bounty
), still alive along with nine Tahitian women. The mutineers who had perished had, however, already had children with their Tahitian wives. Most of these children were still living. Adams and Maimiti claimed Christian had been murdered during the conflict between the Tahitian men and the mutineers. According to an account by a Pitcairn woman named Jenny who left the island in 1817, Christian was shot while working by a pond next to the home of his pregnant wife. Along with Christian, four other mutineers and all six of the Tahitian men who had come to the island were killed in the conflict.William McCoy
, one of the four surviving mutineers, fell off a cliff while intoxicated and was killed. Quintal was later killed by the remaining two mutineers, Adams and Ned Young
, after he attacked them. Young became the new leader of Pitcairn.
John Adams gave conflicting accounts of Christian's death to visitors on ships that subsequently visited Pitcairn. He was variously said to have died of natural causes, committed suicide, become insane or been murdered.
Christian was survived by Maimiti and his son, Thursday October Christian
(born 1790). Besides Thursday October, Fletcher Christian also had a younger son named Charles Christian (born 1792) and a daughter Mary Ann Christian (born 1793). Thursday and Charles are the ancestors of almost everybody with the surname Christian on Pitcairn
Islands, as well as the many descendants who have moved to Australia
, New Zealand
and the United States
There is no portrait or drawing extant of Fletcher Christian that was drawn from life. Bligh described Christian as "5 ft. 9 in. high [175 cm]. blackish or very dark complexion. Hair – Blackish or very dark brown. Make – Strong. A star tatowed [sic
] on his left breast, and tatowed [sic
] on the backside. His knees stand a little out and he may be called a little bow legged. He is subject to violent perspiration, particularly in his hand, so that he soils anything he handles".
- Papers concerning the discovery of Pitcairn Island and the mutineers of HMS Bounty, 1808–1809, 1813–1815, , document 1 in this series was part of an accession of Banks papers purchased for the Mitchell Library from Sotheby's, London, in May 1929, documents 2–9 purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales and transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910, State Library of New South Wales B 667
- Letter received by Banks from William Bligh, 16 September 1796, purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales and transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910, State Library of New South Wales digitised, SAFE/Banks Papers/Series 58.09
- Diary at Pitcairn Island 12 July 1851–11 June 1853, see entries for 1 October 1852 and 20 November 1851. Fletcher Christian's illness and death 24 March, 5 April 1852 are described, Information transferred from Manuscripts Leaf Catalogue No. 1 (6-63A), State Library of New South Wales B 667
- Glynn Christian research papers relating to Fragile Paradise, ca. 1790-1986, purchased from Glynn Christian, September 1999, State Library of New South Wales MLMSS 8794/Boxes 1–6 , MLMSS 8794/Box 7X
- Drafts of Peter Corris' historical novel, The Journal of Fletcher Christian 2005, purchased from Peter Corris, September 2008, State Library of New South Wales Peter Corris further papers, 1978-2008 MLMSS 9156 , MLOH 731
Portrayals in the arts
Appearances in literature
In Peter F. Hamilton
's Night's Dawn
trilogy, Fletcher Christian's ghost appears, possessing a human body, and helps two non-possessed girls escape.
William Kinsolving's 1996 novel Mister Christian
and Val McDermid
's 2006 thriller The Grave Tattoo
are both based on Christian's rumoured return to the Lake District
and the fact that he was at school with William Wordsworth
. Dan L. Thrapp's 2002 novel Mutiny's Curse
is based on a similar premise. In 1959 Louis MacNeice
produced a BBC Radio play called I Call Me Adam
, written by Laurie Lee
, about the mutineers' lives on Pitcairn.
Christian was portrayed in films by:
The 1935 and 1962 films are based on the 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty
in which Christian is a major character and is generally portrayed positively. The authors of that novel, Charles Nordhoff
and James Norman Hall
, also wrote two sequels, one of which, Pitcairn's Island
, is the story of the tragic events after the mutiny that apparently resulted in Christian's death along with other violent deaths on Pitcairn Island
. (The other sequel, Men Against the Sea
, is the story of Bligh's voyage after the mutiny.) This series of novels uses fictionalised versions of minor crew members as narrators of the stories.
released in 1984, is less sympathetic to Christian than previous treatments were.
- ^ "Mutiny on the HMS Bounty: Bligh, Christian, Pitcairn, Norfolk". Archived from the original on 5 December 2000. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- ^ Glynn Christian, Fragile Paradise: The discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty mutineer; 2nd ed. (US: Bounty Books, 2005), p. 11.
- ^ a b Anderson. The Bounty. p. 60.
- ^ Hough. Captain Bligh and Mister Christian. p. 56.
- ^ Anderson. The Bounty. p. 57.
- ^ "A mutiny and a mystery". Australian National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
- ^ Alexander, C. (2003) pp. 359–360
- ^ The poet Robert Southey reported in correspondence a sighting of Christian in England in about 1803. Curry, K. (ed)(1965) New Letters of Robert Southey, vol. 1, pp 519ff, cited in Alexander, C. (2003), p.405
- ^ Williams; Oakeshott. The Cambridge Journal. p. 190.
- ^ "Bounty's Crew Encyclopedia, Christian, Fletcher". Pitcairn Island Study Center (PISC). The text on the PISC website is used with permission from Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure by Sven Wahlroos.
- ^ Hamilton. The Neutronium Alchemist.
- ^ Lee, Laurie; Mack, Jane (2003). "Introduction". Three Plays. Cheltenham: The Cyder Press. pp. xii–xv. ISBN 978-1861741370.
- Christian, Glynn (2005). Fragile Paradise: the Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer. Classic Travel Books, Long Riders' Guild Press. ISBN 978-1-59048-250-6.
- Conway, Christiane (2005). Letters from the Isle of Man – The Bounty – Correspondence of Nessy and Peter Heywood. The Manx Experience. ISBN 1-873120-77-X.
Genealogical information The following genealogical information about Fletcher Christian and the other Bounty crew members comes from descendants of the Bounty crew, who may not be reliable and from historical archives.
Last edited on 28 April 2021, at 10:30
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