THE BOUNTY BIBLE
Like most people, I was more or less familiar with the story of the Bounty Ship and probably the most infamous mutiny in history. But after reading “The Bounty Bible” from a devotional book called “On This Day” by Robert J. Morgan (reading shown in quotation marks below), I was intrigued to find out more about what happened after the mutiny took place. On obtaining a copy of “The Bounty” by Richard Hough (quoted extensively in this sermon) I was able to piece together more of the complete story and hope it’s retelling will be a relevant and topical message for you today.
For background information, “The English ship Bounty, commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh, journeyed to the South Pacific in 1787 to collect plants of the breadfruit tree.” Some of you may not be surprised to hear that due to British Navy Board meanness the small size of the Bounty was bound to lead to severe overcrowding on a voyage lasting nearly two years. The ship would number no fewer than 47 to work the watches, carry out running repairs, feed the men, man the guns in action and tend the plants. And furthermore to Bligh’s alarm there was no room for any Royal Marines to assist with his authority on board considering the long and hazardous voyage ahead.
However, “Sailors signed on gladly, considering the voyage a trip to paradise. Having no second~in~command, Captain Bligh appointed his young friend Fletcher Christian to the post. The Bounty stayed in Tahiti six months, and the sailors led by happy~go~lucky Fletcher Christian, enjoyed paradise to the full”.
2. The Mutiny
“When the time came for departure, some of the men wanted to stay behind with their island girls. Three men, trying to desert were flogged”. It seems Bligh quite failed to anticipate how his company would react to the severity and austere life at sea again after the hedonistic months at Tahiti. The Bounty was not the same ship that had arrived off Tahiti the previous October and would never be the same ship again. Every crewmember had become affected by the long relaxed sojourn. They had become soft and lazy. And every crewmember suffered from the reaction to seagoing life again with its rigours and discipline. The transition would have been hard under any circumstances. Under Bligh the pressures were powerful indeed. “The mood on ship darkened, and on April 28, 1789 Fletcher Christian staged the most famous mutiny in history”.
“Bligh and his supporters were set adrift in an overloaded lifeboat (which they miraculously navigated 3,700 miles to Timor). The mutineers aboard the Bounty began quarrelling about what to do next. Christian returned to Tahiti where he left some of the mutineers, kidnapped some women, took some slaves, and travelled 1,000 miles to uninhabited Pitcairn Island”.
3. Post Mutiny
Perhaps it would be true to say that events after the mutiny are less well known. At first, things went well on the small island paradise for the Mutineers. But all the ingredients for disaster were present: jealousy, sexual and racial rivalry, too easy a life, too confined an area, a lack of principle and religion and after the construction of a still, far too much alcohol. “There the little group quickly unravelled”. Christian’s rule was weak and he remained consumed by guilt. He was also one of the first to be murdered. Soon, all the native men and all but two of the white men were dead. Only Ned Young and Alexander Smith survived. Was it by God’s providence that before Young died from natural causes he taught Smith to read and write ~ the eventual means of this community surviving?
Alexander Smith, (an assumed name used when he signed on to the voyage ~ after the mutiny he reverted to his own name of John Adams), “found himself the only man on the island, surrounded by an assortment of women and children. Then an amazing change occurred. Smith found the Bounty’s neglected Bible. As he read it, he took its message to heart, then began instructing the little community. He taught the colonists the Scriptures and helped them obey its instructions”.
“The message of Christ so transformed their lives that 20 years later, in 1808, when the Topaz landed on the island, it found a happy society of Christians, living in prosperity and peace, free from crime, disease, murder ~ and mutiny. Later, the Bible fell into the hands of a visiting whaler who brought it to America. In 1950 it was returned to the island. It now resides on display in the church in Pitcairn as a monument to its transforming message”.
Bligh successfully completed one of the most remarkable open boat voyages in history miraculously navigating 3,700 miles to Timor, and whatever conclusions we may draw about the man’s character he does surprisingly seem to be a man of prayer. Maybe you too can testify when it’s just you and a very stormy sea we too become men of prayer. And God in His utmost mercy just loves to answer!
Let us give thanks for our miraculous preservation Bligh began the prayers on that night of the decision to mutiny. Oh Lord, we have faith that you will continue to offer us your gracious support. However in marked contrast after the mutiny there was no reading of prayers on the Bounty Ship, for the first time in seventeen months.
Bligh successfully completed his mission to transport the breadfruit plants on a subsequent trip in 1793. It seems ironic that after all that happened the slaves would not eat the breadfruit finding them distasteful and insipid!
A dictionary compiled by one of the Bounty crew (Heywood) on Tahiti while awaiting ship was eventually published and, it is said, proved of great value to the first missionaries when they began work on the island. God doesn’t waste anything!
I hope it is apparent to us today as it was to the remaining survivors on Pitcairn Island that without God in control our lives could so easily unravel without His loving guidance. Our scripture reading promises that if we turn to the Lord He will have mercy and freely pardon us. His word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it. It did not prove empty for Smith and those he faithfully pastored on Pitcairn. Nor will it for us.
God patiently waits for us to turn to Him. He will not refuse anyone. Jesus having paid the ultimate price on the cross for our sins ensures God will not, indeed cannot, turn away anyone who will seek Him. He simply invites you to come to Him … today. Whatever we have done, or indeed not done, however young or old we are ~ God can make use of lives humbly offered to Him and best of all it won’t be a wasted journey collecting breadfruit that no one wants to eat! Indeed, He promises to make us fishers of men!
Since compiling this message in August 2003 it has been sad to read that a number of the male members of Pitcairn community today have been charged with serious sexual offences. I can only hope and pray that the word of God that so transformed the first community, may once again give hope to those families on this troubled island today. For Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!