PITCAIRN ISLANDS STUDY CENTER, Pacific Union College, Angwin, California USA.
Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.
WHO SHOT HMS BOUNTY’s MAST WITH THIS
SMALL LEAD BALL? WHY? WHEN? WHERE?
Angwin, California USA, January 23, 2021 - It is the smallest and probably the most intriguing gift that has ever been received by Pacific Union College’s Pitcairn Islands Study Center in Northern California USA: a battered, half-inch-size lead ball.
The tiny metal gift was found in underwater wreckage of the famous ship HMS Bounty in Bounty Bay off Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean. It was embedded in a broken portion of the Bounty’s main mast, and extracted by British Royal Navy Warrant Officer David Goldie, a member of a combined forces military expedition doing studies of the seas surrounding Pitcairn.
“During the expedition, we dived on what remains of the wreck of the Bounty,” wrote Goldie, “but as it is close to shore amongst rocks it was like diving in a washing machine. All that remained of the ship’s wreckage were sections of the main mast and some lead ballast. I used my diver’s knife and extracted a lead shot from the mast. . . .”
The ship HMS Bounty was sent from England to Tahiti in 1878 to gather breadfruit seedlings, and take them to British plantation owners in the West Indies as a cheap source of food for their slaves.
On her voyage from Tahiti to the West Indies, Bounty’s crew mutinied against their captain, William Bligh. The mutinous sailors then searched the Pacific Ocean in Bounty for a safe hiding place from British justice. They finally settled on tiny, remote Pitcairn Island, and burned the ship to her water line to avoid detection.
In the 1930s and thereafter, widely circulated books and Hollywood-type motion pictures about the mutiny received world-wide attention. Accounts or mentions of the mutiny are today found in hundreds of books. Five major motion pictures of the incident were produced. Some are still shown on television.
“This gift by Officer Goldie poses numerous questions,” said Herbert Ford, director of the Study Center. “Among them are: who fired this ball at Bounty?; why was it fired?; where was the ship when it was fired?; what other circumstances surrounded the discharge of this ball into Bounty’s mast? . . .”
Most historians who have researched the incident, believe that no shots were fired during the famed 1789 mutiny, even though it is well known that some of the ship’s crew were able to arm themselves during the uprising.