Captain Bligh: Myth, Man, Mutiny

17 March 2017 – 7 January 2018

Step into the sights and sounds of one the greatest survival feats in British history.

Captain Bligh: Myth, Man, + Mutiny brings to life one of the greatest small boat survival stories in maritime history.
Captain Bligh: Myth, Man, + Mutiny brings to life one of the greatest small boat survival stories in maritime history. Photo: Luke Hayes

Mutiny

230 years ago, British navy ship HMS Bounty was sailing from Tahiti to the West Indies. During its 17 month voyage, in the middle of the South Pacific the famous mutiny broke out, led by Bligh’s acting lieutenant, Fletcher Christian. Bligh and his loyal men were cast adrift, mid-ocean in the Bounty’s 23-foot launch in the expectation they would die.

The exhibition features faithful reproduction of the Bounty launch in which Bligh was cast adrift. Photo: Paul Abbitt.

A triumph of endurance, navigation and leadership against extraordinary odds…

Cast adrift in the South Pacific, Bligh and his men seemed to face certain death. 19 men packed into the launch, which was only 23ft long and little more than 6ft wide. Supplies were only enough to last that many people, on normal rations, for five days. The journey would take over 48 days.

In a remarkable feat of seamanship, Bligh sailed the heavily overloaded launch to safety across 3600 nautical miles of open sea from Tonga to Timor, in the East Indies. This journey has been described as one of the greatest small-boat survival voyages, a triumph of endurance, navigation and leadership against extraordinary odds.

Experience the reality of this gruelling journey through some of the world’s most remote and unforgiving seas. Uncover the secrets of survival and get a closer understanding of Bligh’s epic feat.

The exhibition features faithful reproduction of the Bounty launch. Photo: Paul Abbitt.
The exhibition features faithful reproduction of the Bounty launch. Photo: Paul Abbitt.

Bringing this journey to life

The exhibition brings this gruelling journey to life through a faithful reproduction of the Bounty launch and with original relics from the voyage – Bligh’s coconut bowl, bullet-weight (used for measuring the meagre rations), horn beaker and the magnifying glass he used to light cooking fires once they reached the Great Barrier Reef, all on loan from The National Maritime Museum Greenwich. A fine model of the Bounty has also come from The National Maritime Museum Greenwich and one of William Hodges’s magnificent paintings of Tahiti, from Cook’s second voyage.

The exhibition also features original relics from the voyage. Photo: Paul Abbitt.
The exhibition also features original relics from the voyage. Photo: Paul Abbitt.

You can also listen to Bligh’s own words…

Challenging myths and common perceptions

The exhibition challenges the myths and stereotypical perceptions created by the various Hollywood depictions. There have been three popular and successful films: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton as Christian and Bligh; in 1962 Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard reprised these roles, while The Bounty (1984) had Mel Gibson confronting Anthony Hopkins. Each presents a fairly straightforward tale of Bligh as  ‘villain’ versus Fletcher Christian as romantic hero. The exhibition, by contrast, outlines the historical facts to challenge these portrayals.

Exploring the Cornwall Connection

The museum takes a globally important story, and explores the Cornwall context, in this case Bligh’s Cornish roots.

The exhibition challenges myths and common perceptions and explores Bligh’s Cornish roots. Photo: Paul Abbitt

Guest curator

Captain Bligh: Myth, Man and Mutiny has been guest curated for the National Maritime Museum Cornwall by Dr Pieter van der Merwe, General Editor and Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich.

The boat build

The in-house build of the Bounty launch is part of a programme of reconstructions of historical craft in the museum’s boatbuilding workshop. This build was being led by professional and accomplished local boat builder Andrew Nancarrow supported by the Museum’s new trainee Boat Curator Ollie Crediton and Advanced Apprentice in Boat Conservation Reuben Thompson and a small team of museum volunteers and students from Falmouth Marine School. Read more about the boat build project in this blog.

See more exhibition photos

We’ve just posted some great new images of the Captain Bligh: Myth, Man + Mutiny exhibition in a Facebook album https://goo.gl/G9Trtd

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Captain Bligh: Myth, Man and Mutiny was created in close collaboration with Royal Museums Greenwich.

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall is also indebted to:


FUNDERS

Arts Council England

Garfield Weston Foundation

Sir John Fisher Foundation

Tanner Trust

Gosling Foundation

INSTITUTIONAL LENDERS

Royal Museums Greenwich

The Royal Collection

Eyemouth International Sailing Craft Association