- Fletcher Christian
Fletcher Christian Born 25 September 1764
Moreland Close, Brigham, Cumbria, England
Died 20 September 1793(aged 28)
Occupation Master's Mate Spouse Mauatua 'Isabella' Children Thursday October, Charles and Mary Ann Christian Parents Charles Christian, Ann Dixon
Fletcher Christian (25 September 1764 – 20 September 1793) was a master's mate on board the Bounty during William Bligh's fateful voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit plants (see Mutiny on the Bounty). It was Christian who seized command of the Bounty from Bligh on 28 April 1789.
Christian was born on 25 September 1764, at his family home of Moorland Close, Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth in Cumberland. Fletcher was the second youngest son of Charles Christian of Moreland Close in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, and of Ewanrigg Hall 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 but respectable property of Moorland Close, "a quadrangle pile of buildings ... half castle, half farmstead." 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 staggering debt of nearly £6,500 (equal to £697,277 today), and faced the very real prospect of debtors' prison. Ultimately Moorland Close was lost, and Ann and her three younger children were forced to flee to the Isle of Man where English creditors had no power. The three elder Christian sons managed to arrange a £40 (equal to £4,291 today) per year annuity for their mother, allowing the family to live in genteel poverty. In the meantime, Christian had spent seven years at the Cockermouth Free School from the age of nine. While there, one of his younger contemporaries was Cockermouth native William Wordsworth.
He next appears in 1783, now eighteen years old, on the muster rolls of HMS Eurydice outward bound 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". Christian twice sailed to Jamaica with Bligh.
Mutiny on the Bounty
In 1787, Christian was appointed master's mate on the Bounty, on Bligh's recommendation, for the ship's breadfruit expedition to Tahiti. During the voyage out, Bligh appointed him acting lieutenant. The Bounty arrived at Tahiti on 26 October 1788, and Christian spent the next five months there.
The Bounty 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.
Following the mutiny, Christian attempted to build a colony on Tubuai, but there the mutineers met with 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 the Bounty and two who had neither participated in, nor resisted, the mutiny. The remaining nine mutineers, six Tahitian men, and eleven Tahitian women then settled on Pitcairn Island where they stripped the Bounty of all that could be floated ashore before Matthew Quintal set it on fire. This 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 the 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 Pitcairnian 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. One of the four surviving mutineers fell off a cliff while intoxicated and was killed, and Quintal was later killed by the remaining two mutineers after he attacked them.
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, gone insane, and 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 and Norfolk Islands, as well as the many descendants who have moved to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Rumours have persisted for more than two hundred years that Christian's murder may have been faked, that he had left the island, and that he made his way back to England. Many scholars believe that the rumours of Christian returning to England helped to inspire Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
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 tattooed [sic] on his left breast, and tattooed 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".
Appearances in literature
Christian's principal literary appearances are in the treatments of the Bounty story, including Mutiny on the Bounty. In Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, Fletcher Christian appears as a possessed who helps two living girls escape.
Christian was portrayed in films by:
- Wilton Power in The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916)
- Errol Flynn in In the Wake of the Bounty (1933)
- Clark Gable in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
- Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
- Mel Gibson in The Bounty (1984)
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. This series of novels uses fictionalized versions of minor crew members as narrators of the stories.
- Garth Christian - a relative.
- ^ Mutiny on the HMS Bounty: Bligh, Christian, Pitcairn, Norfolk
- ^ Glynn Christian, Fragile Paradise: The discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty mutineer, 2nd ed. (U.S.A.: Bounty Books, 2005), page 11.
- ^ Charles Christian at thepeerage.com, accessed 28 May 2010
- ^ a b Anderson. The Bounty. pp. 60.
- ^ Hough. Captain Bligh and Mister Christian. pp. 56.
- ^ Anderson. The Bounty. pp. 57.
- ^ thePeerage.com - Person Page 11908
- ^ 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. pp. 190.
- ^ "Bounty's Crew Encyclopedia, Christian, Fletcher". Pitcairn Island Study Center (PISC). http://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/bounty/crew.shtml. "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.
- Hamilton. The Neutronium Alchemist.
- Alexander, Caroline (2003). The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. New York: Viking. ISBN 067003133X.
- Hough, Richard (1973). Captain Bligh and Mister Christian: The Men and the Mutiny. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.. ISBN 0525073108.
- Williams, T.F.D.; Oakeshott, M. (1954). The Cambridge Journal. London: Bowes and Bowes.
- Christian, Glynn (2005). Fragile Paradise: the Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer. Classic Travel Books, Long Riders' Guild Press. ISBN 1590482506.
- 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.
- History of Pitcairn Island
- Moorland Close
- Fletcher Christian at Find a Grave
- Fletcher Christian at Find a Grave
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.
- HMS Bounty Ancestors and Cousins
- George Snell's HMS Bounty Descendants Page
- Norfolk Island Research and Genealogy Centre
Political offices Preceded by
Leader of the Pitcairn Islands
23 January 1790 – 3 October 1793
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