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Fletcher Christian

Fletcher Christian

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Fletcher Christian was a master's mate
Master's mate
Master's mate is an obsolete rating which was used by the Royal Navy, United States Navy and merchant services in both countries for a senior petty officer who assisted the master...

 on board the Bounty
HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty , famous as the scene of the Mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, was originally a three-masted cargo ship, the Bethia, purchased by the British Admiralty, then modified and commissioned as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the...

 during William Bligh
William Bligh
Vice Admiral William Bligh FRS RN was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. A notorious mutiny occurred during his command of HMAV Bounty in 1789; Bligh and his loyal men made a remarkable voyage to Timor, after being set adrift in the Bounty's launch by the mutineers...

's fateful voyage to Tahiti
Tahiti
Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of the Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia. The island was formed from volcanic activity and is high and mountainous...

 for breadfruit
Breadfruit
Breadfruit is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae, growing throughout Southeast Asia and most Pacific Ocean islands...

 plants (see Mutiny on the Bounty
Mutiny on the Bounty
The mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny that occurred aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789, and has been commemorated by several books, films, and popular songs, many of which take considerable liberties with the facts. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against the...

). It was Christian who seized command of the Bounty from Bligh on 28 April 1789.

Early life


Christian was born on 25 September 1764, at his family home of Moorland Close, Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth
Cockermouth
-History:The Romans created a fort at Derventio, now the adjoining village of Papcastle, to protect the river crossing, which had become located on a major route for troops heading towards Hadrian's Wall....

 in Cumberland
Cumberland
Cumberland is a historic county of North West England, on the border with Scotland, from the 12th century until 1974. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 and now forms part of Cumbria....

. Fletcher was the second youngest son of Charles Christian of Moreland Close in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, and of Ewanrigg Hall in Dearham
Dearham
Dearham is a village and civil parish in the Allerdale district of Cumbria, England. It is situated in West Cumbria, about east of Maryport and west of Cockermouth. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 2,028. It is a large, strung-out village...

, Cumberland, an attorney-at-law descended from Manx
Manx people
The Manx are an ethnic group coming from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea in northern Europe. They are often described as a Celtic people, though they have had a mixed background including Norse and English influences....

 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 £ 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
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

 where English creditors had no power. The three elder Christian sons managed to arrange a £40 (equal to £ 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
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

.

He next appears in 1783, now eighteen years old, on the muster rolls of 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
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

 with Bligh.

Mutiny on the Bounty



In 1787, Christian was appointed master's mate
Master's mate
Master's mate is an obsolete rating which was used by the Royal Navy, United States Navy and merchant services in both countries for a senior petty officer who assisted the master...

 on the Bounty, on Bligh's recommendation, for the ship's breadfruit
Breadfruit
Breadfruit is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae, growing throughout Southeast Asia and most Pacific Ocean islands...

 expedition to Tahiti
Tahiti
Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of the Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia. The island was formed from volcanic activity and is high and mountainous...

. 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
Tonga
Tonga, officially the Kingdom of Tonga , is a state and an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 176 islands scattered over of ocean in the South Pacific...

, 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
Matthew Quintal
Matthew Quintal was an Cornish able seaman and mutineer aboard HMS Bounty. His surname was, in all probability, the result of mis-spelling the Cornish surname "Quintrell". He was the last of the mutineers to be murdered on Pitcairn Island...

 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.

Death


The American seal-hunting ship Topaz visited Pitcairn in 1808 and found only one mutineer, John Adams
John Adams (mutineer)
John Adams was the last survivor of the Bounty mutineers who settled on Pitcairn Island in January 1790, the year after the mutiny. His real name was John Adams; He used the name Alexander Smith until he was discovered in 1808 by Captain Mayhew Folger of the ship Topaz...

 (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
Thursday October Christian I
Thursday October Christian was the first son of Fletcher Christian and his Tahitian wife Mauatua. He was conceived on Tahiti, and was the first child born on the Pitcairn Islands after the mutineers took refuge on the island...

 (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
Pitcairn Islands
The Pitcairn Islands , officially named the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, form a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The islands are a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union in the Pacific...

 and Norfolk
Norfolk Island
Norfolk Island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance...

 Islands, as well as the many descendants who have moved to Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

.

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
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Many scholars believe that the rumours of Christian returning to England helped to inspire Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...

's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and was published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Modern editions use a later revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss...

.

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
Mutiny on the Bounty (novel)
For the actual event described in this book, see Mutiny on the Bounty.Mutiny on the Bounty is the title of the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, based on the mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh, commanding officer of the Bounty in 1789. It has been made into several films...

. In Peter F. Hamilton's
Peter F. Hamilton
Peter F. Hamilton is a British author. He is best known for writing space opera. As of the publication of his tenth novel in 2004, his works had sold over two million copies worldwide.- Biography :...

 Night's Dawn
The Night's Dawn Trilogy
British author Peter F. Hamilton's The Night's Dawn Trilogy consists of three science fiction novels: The Reality Dysfunction , The Neutronium Alchemist , and The Naked God...

trilogy, Fletcher Christian appears as a possessed who helps two living girls escape.

Movie portrayals


Christian was portrayed in films by:
  • Wilton Power in The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916)
  • Errol Flynn
    Errol Flynn
    Errol Leslie Flynn was an Australian-born actor. He was known for his romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films, being a legend and his flamboyant lifestyle.-Early life:...

     in In the Wake of the Bounty
    In the Wake of the Bounty
    In the Wake of the Bounty was an Australian film exploring the story of the Bounty. It preceded MGM's more famous Mutiny on the Bounty by two years and featured the screen debut of Errol Flynn, playing Fletcher Christian. Mayne Lynton portrayed Captain Bligh and Charles Chauvel directed the film. ...

    (1933)
  • Clark Gable
    Clark Gable
    William Clark Gable , known as Clark Gable, was an American film actor most famous for his role as Rhett Butler in the 1939 Civil War epic film Gone with the Wind, in which he starred with Vivien Leigh...

     in Mutiny on the Bounty
    Mutiny on the Bounty (1935 film)
    Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1935 film starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, and directed by Frank Lloyd based on the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel Mutiny on the Bounty.The film was one of the biggest hits of its time...

    (1935)
  • Marlon Brando
    Marlon Brando
    Marlon Brando, Jr. was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St...

     in Mutiny on the Bounty
    Mutiny on the Bounty (1962 film)
    Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1962 film starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard based on the novel Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. The film retells the 1789 real-life mutiny aboard HMAV Bounty led by Fletcher Christian against the ship's captain, William Bligh...

    (1962)
  • Mel Gibson
    Mel Gibson
    Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson, AO is an American actor, film director, producer and screenwriter. Born in Peekskill, New York, Gibson moved with his parents to Sydney, Australia when he was 12 years old and later studied acting at the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art.After appearing in...

     in The Bounty
    The Bounty
    The Bounty is a 1984 British historical film directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, and produced by Bernard Williams with Dino De Laurentiis as executive producer. It is the fifth film version of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. The screenplay was by Robert Bolt...

    (1984)


The 1935 and 1962 films are based on the 1932 novel Mutiny on the Bounty
Mutiny on the Bounty (novel)
For the actual event described in this book, see Mutiny on the Bounty.Mutiny on the Bounty is the title of the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, based on the mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh, commanding officer of the Bounty in 1789. It has been made into several films...

in which Christian is a major character and is generally portrayed positively. The authors of that novel, Charles Nordhoff
Charles Nordhoff
Charles Bernard Nordhoff was an English-born American novelist and traveler.-Early life:Charles Nordhoff was born in London, England, on February 1, 1887, to American parents. His father was Walter Nordhoff, a wealthy businessman and author of The Journey of the Flame penned under the name...

 and James Norman Hall
James Norman Hall
James Norman Hall was an American author best known for the novel Mutiny on the Bounty with co-author Charles Nordhoff.-Biography:Hall was born in Colfax, Iowa, where he attended the local schools...

, 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.

Further reading

  • 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.

General information


Genealogical information


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.

Other related information