Three weeks after the trip from Tahiti to the Antilles, the HMS Premium is seized in a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, the master’s companion. Captain William Bligh and 18 of his loyal supporters were drifted into a small open boat, and the Premium set course for Tubuai south of Tahiti.
In December 1787, the Premium left England for Tahiti in the South Pacific, where he was to collect a shipment of young breadfruit trees to transport them to the West Indies. There, the breadfruit would serve as food for the slaves. After a 10 month trip, the Premium arrived in Tahiti in October 1788 and stayed there for more than five months. In Tahiti, the crew lived an idyllic life, reveling in the comfortable climate, lush surroundings and famous Tahitian hospitality. Fletcher Christian fell in love with a Tahitian woman named Mauatua.
On April 4, 1789, the Premium left Tahiti with its store of young bread trees. On April 28, near Tonga Island, Christian and 25 small officers and sailors seized the ship. Bligh, who would eventually fall prey to a total of three mutinies during his career, was an oppressive commander and cursed those under him. By adrift in a crowded 23-foot-long boat in the middle of the Pacific, Christian and his conspirators had apparently sentenced him to death. By remarkable navigation, however, Bligh and his men reached Timor in the East Indies on June 14, 1789, after a journey of about 3,600 miles. Bligh returned to England and soon returned to Tahiti, where he managed to transport breadfruit trees to the West Indies.
Meanwhile, Christian and his men attempted to settle on the island of Tubuai. Without success in their colonization effort, the Premium sailed north to Tahiti, and 16 crew members decided to stay there, despite the risk of capture by British authorities. Christian and eight others, along with six Tahitian men, a dozen Tahitian women and a child, decided to seek safe refuge in the South Pacific. In January 1790, the Premium settled on Pitcairn Island, an isolated and uninhabited volcanic island more than 1,000 miles east of Tahiti. The mutineers who remained in Tahiti were captured and brought back to England where three were hanged. A British ship searched for Christian and the others but did not find them.
In 1808, an American whaling ship was drawn to Pitcairn by the smoke of a kitchen fire. The Americans discovered a community of children and women led by John Adams, the only survivor of the nine original mutineers. According to Adams, after settling in Pitcairn, the settlers had stripped and burnt the Premium, and internal conflicts and illness had led to the deaths of Fletcher and all men except him. In 1825, a British ship arrived and officially granted the Adams amnesty, and he was patriarch of the Pitcairn community until his death in 1829.
In 1831, the Pitcairn Islanders were resettled in Tahiti, but dissatisfied with life there, they quickly returned to their native island. In 1838, the Pitcairn Islands, which include three neighboring uninhabited islands, were incorporated into the British Empire. By 1855, Pitcairn’s population had grown to almost 200, and the two-square-mile island could not support its residents. In 1856, the islanders were moved to Norfolk Island, a former penal colony nearly 4,000 miles to the west. However, less than two years later, 17 of the islanders returned to Pitcairn, followed by more families in 1864. Today, only a few dozen live on Pitcairn Island, and all but a handful are descendants of the Premium mutineers. About one thousand Norfolk Islanders (half of its population) trace their lineage to Fletcher Christian and the other eight Englishmen.