Seduced by tales of endurance, villainy and adventure, one man attempts to re-trace the romantic voyages of the most infamous fugitives in British naval history. However, reaching the most remote islands in the world, and filming the journey, are not as straightforward as originally expected.
Ever since Julian McDonnell saw the film “Mutiny on the Bounty” as a boy he had been fascinated by the romance and adventure of this story and the extraordinary feat of survival achieved by Captain Bligh who, after a mutiny of his ship the Bounty, was set adrift in the middle of the South Pacific with meagre food rations and no charts. He was being sent to almost certain death, but managed to save the lives of his companions after a record-breaking, open boat voyage lasting forty-eight days.
The mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, knew this was a hanging offence and sailed off into the unknown, in search of a remote deserted island where they would never be discovered. Christian and 8 mutineers picked up six Tahitian men, and eleven women and sailed on in search of an island so remote (and undiscoverable) that they would be safe from the British Navy.
On January 15, 1790, Christian re-discovered the uninhabited Pitcairn Island which had been misplaced on British charts.
To reduce their chances of discovery, they their ship. Relations between the Britons and Tahitians soon collapsed leading to fighting until eventually only John Adams remained with 10 women and 23 children.
Royal Navy ships relocated Pitcairn Island in 1814. Making contact with those ashore, they reported the final details of Bounty to Britain. In 1825, Adams, the lone surviving mutineer, was granted amnesty……to this day his descendants remain on Pitcairn Island, numbering only fifty. With no airport, and only a couple of supply ships every year, it is surely one of the most enigmatic communities in the world.
Julian McDonnell’s fascination with this story, and the Pitcairn islands in particular, brought him to travel to this remotest of islands and make a documentary of the trip along the way.
The idea for the ‘Take Me To Pitcairn’ documentary was to make a historical documentary about The Mutiny on the Bounty in which McDonnell would visit all the actual places involved.
Filming the remaining inhabitants of Pitcairn would prove to be a great challenge as they hadn’t been too keen on journalists since receiving some bad publicity a few years ago, even turning Ben Fogle and the BBC away.
But how to reach this most remote island in the world?
“The boat journey to Pitcairn was way above my budget but, having been impressed by my previous documentary “My Evil Trade – A Pedlar’s Life” the owner of the boat charter company said he’d take me for free if I made an environmental film for him first. He was a scientist and it entailed 4 weeks sailing around the uninhabited Phoenix Islands saving the endangered bird population.
Unfortunately no one told the captain of the boat and he resented having a “free-loader” on board, and by the time we were due to pick up the paying passengers for Pitcairn, tension was at a high due to bad organisation, delays, and an un-seaworthy boat. It seemed that 200 years after the mutiny, history was repeating itself as anxiety soon gave rise to anger and despair.
It soon became evident that the film wasn’t purely about the Bounty; it was about the remarkable characters I met who shared the same obsession as me, and were willing to go through anything to carry out their life-long dreams and get to Pitcairn. This would be my story. This would be my documentary. My discreet filming would allow me to capture the natural reactions of those involved.
So ‘Get me to Pitcairn’ became the story of an emotional journey of a group of dreamers thrown together in a tropical paradise where things do not go according to plan.
With virtually no budget or film crew, I am proud to say that three years after setting out for Pitcairn I have a gritty, reality-style documentary which visits all the principal “Bounty” locations and demonstrates how this part of the world still has some magical hold over people and causes tension even today. It also proves what one man can achieve if he puts his heart into something.”
McDonnell surely delivered an extraordinary travelogue covering a voyage to one of the world’s most remote places with both its peculiar inhabitants and visitors.
For the full History of the Bounty shipt and the habitation of the Pitcairn islands have a look below.
The Bounty’s original mission
In December of 1787 a small ship set sail from Spithead on the south coast of England for the south seas. Its mission was to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti and transport them to Jamaica. It was captained by Lieutenant William Bligh who was an expert sailor, having served under Captain Cook. The voyage lasted 10 months after adverse weather conditions meant they failed to round Cape Horn and had to go the long way round Africa.The delay meant that they ended up staying in Tahiti for 6 months, during which time the officers and crew grew more enamoured with the local customs and especially the liberal sexual attitudes of the native women. Some, like Fletcher Christian, even took wives as they grew reluctant to leave. Attempting to control the situation, Bligh was increasingly forced to punish his men and floggings became more routine as Bligh and Christian’s relationship continued to break down.
Mutiny on the Bounty
On April 4, 1789, Bounty departed Tahiti, much to the crew’s displeasure and on the night of April 28, Christian and 18 of the crew surprised and bound Bligh in his cabin. Dragging him on deck, Christian bloodlessly took control of the ship despite the fact that the most of the crew (22) sided with the captain. Bligh and 18 loyalists were forced over the side into a small life-boat and given a sextant, four cutlasses, and several days food and water. Bligh was being sent to almost certain death, dangerously overloaded and lacking charts, and he even lost one man to hostile savages on a nearby island. But against all the odds Bligh succeeded in sailing the life-boat 3,618 miles to Timor in the Dutch East Indies after a 47-day voyage. It was a feat of skill, leadership and endurance without equal even to this day.
Meanwhile the Bounty sailed back to Tahiti where, twelve of the mutineers and the four loyalists were put ashore. Knowing they would be hanged if ever found, Christian and 8 mutineers picked up six Tahitian men, and eleven women and sailed on in search of an island so remote that they would be safe from the British Navy.
On January 15, 1790, Christian re-discovered uninhabited Pitcairn Island which had been misplaced on British charts. To reduce their chances of discovery, they burned Bounty on January 23. Relations between the Britons and Tahitians soon collapsed leading to fighting until eventually only John Adams remained with 10 women and 23 children.
Aftermath of the Mutiny on the Bounty
The Royal Navy actively sought to capture and punish the mutineers. In November 1790, HMS Pandora was sent to search for Bounty. Reaching Tahiti on March 23, 1791, Captain Edward Edwards found fourteen men, a mix of mutineers and loyalists, who were placed in a cell on the ship’s deck known as “Pandora’s Box.” While passing through the Torres Strait on August 29, Pandora ran aground and sank the next day. Of those on board, 31 crew and four of the prisoners were lost. The ten surviving prisoners were court-martialed. Four of the ten were found innocent with Bligh’s backing while the other six were found guilty. Two, Heywood and James Morrison, were pardoned, while another escaped on a technicality. The remaining three were hung aboard HMS Brunswick (74) on October 29, 1792.
A second breadfruit expedition departed Britain in August 1791. Again led by Bligh, this group successfully delivered breadfruit to the Caribbean but the experiment proved a failure when the slaves refused to eat it. On the far side of the world, Royal Navy ships relocated Pitcairn Island in 1814. Making contact with those ashore, they reported the final details of Bounty to the Admiralty. In 1825, Adams, the lone surviving mutineer, was granted amnesty…and their descendants remain there today.