Whitehaven home page

Our man in the Mutiny on the Bounty

Bounty “mutineer’’, one Peter Heywood, who was granted a Royal pardon and escaped the hangman’s rope, once lived in Whitehaven.

He was the son of a Whitehaven woman whose family home was 30 Roper Street – the house with a carved acorn over the door.

Heywood (1772-1831), who hailed from the Isle of Man, and spent his early childhood in Whitehaven, had entered the Royal Navy as a boy of 14 in 1786. The following year he made his first voyage as a midshipman aboard the Bounty, commanded by Captain Bligh.

Heywood’s mother was Elizabeth Spedding, the daughter of James and Mary Spedding who built the “Acorn House’’ and lived there in 18th century Whitehaven.Reconstruction of Bounty on visit to Maryport

The house was constructed in 1743 by James, the son of Whitehaven’s famous mining engineer Carlisle Spedding, and intended it to be used as both a dwelling and offices for the family business. The acorn finial above the doorway is a reference to the Spedding coat of arms, which bears three acorns. James Spedding & Co, among other things, carried on a large business as timber merchants at home and abroad.

Mary (née Todd of St Bees) was James’s first wife and it was their daughter, Elizabeth, who married Peter John Heywood of the Isle of Man with whom she had several children, including Peter.

The Heywoods moved to Whitehaven in 1773 and lived here for around seven years before returning to the island. James Spedding died in August 1788 and a monument to his memory was erected across the road in Trinity Church (James’s elder brother, Thomas Spedding, was the first minister of St James’s Church).

When Peter joined the Bounty it was bound for the South Sea Islands to make scientific observations. Captain Bligh was a strict disciplinarian and as a result there was much discontent among the crew. On arrival at the Friendly Islands, this culminated in open mutiny headed by Fletcher Christian, the Master’s Mate, who was born at Eaglesfield but was also of a Manx family.

The mutineers put Captain Bligh, together with 19 of the crew who remained faithful to him, on a launch. Cast at sea they suffered the most extraordinary dangers and privations, but ultimately reached home, and, as soon as the English government heard of the mutiny, it sent out the frigate Pandora, to retrieve the mutineers and bring them to justice. In March 1791 the Pandora arrived at Tahiti, where Heywood and 13 others were found. On the way home, the Pandora was wrecked, and some of the crew and prisoners were drowned. The remainder, including Heywood, arrived in England in June 1792 and Heywood was at once brought to trial and, though he stated that he had been confined below while the mutiny was going on and did not learn what had happened until after Captain Bligh had been cut adrift, he was found guilty, not of mutiny but of not having endeavoured to suppress it.

He was sentenced to hang, appealed and, eventually, was granted a free pardon.( A reader from Yuma in the Staes adds the following the tael: "the Court-Martial did convict him and condemn him to hanging, however, at the same time.but the Court, in Consideration of various Circumstances, did humbly and most earnestly recommend the said Peter Heywood and James Morrison to His Majesty's Royal Mercy...," which was granted.

For more information visit : http://www.fatefulvoyage.com/trial/trialTVerdict.html

He did not appeal. Another defendant, William Muspratt, and his counsel, Stephen Barney, objected that the Court had not allowed him to call a witness, which he would have been able to call in a civilian court, and he was pardoned as a result. Thanks for extra information to Jim, from Yuma, AZ, USA)

He maintained his youth and inexperience had been “interpreted as villainy’’. He went on to serve with distinction in the Royal Navy for more than 27 years. On the recommendation of Lord Hood, who had presided at his court martial, Heywood was permitted to re-enter the Royal Navy, going on board the Bellerophen. He took part in several actions against the French, and in 1797 Earl Spencer, who had closely looked at the evidence given at Heywood’s trial, wrote to his captain, Sir Thomas Pasley (Heywood’s uncle) to say there was nothing in it to stand in the way of his promotion.

Heywood became a post-captain in 1803, and after a career of important and responsible service, including two diplomatic missions to South America, he was, in 1813, appointed to the command of the Montagu in which he served in the North Sea and afterwards in the Mediterranean, under Lord Exmouth. He returned to England in 1816, when the Montagu was paid off. He was greatly beloved by his officers and crew, and one of them wrote the following lines:

Farewell to thee, Heywood! a truer one never
Hath exercised rule o'er the sons of the sea
The seamen who served thee would see forever,
Who sway'd but ne'er fettered, the hearts of the brave.

In the same year Heywood married but was in a weak state of health, having never really recovered from his sufferings and brutal treatment as a prisoner. He declined a commodore’s command in the Canadian Lakes which had been offered to him in 1818.

Peter Heywood’s own account of the mutiny in a letter to his mother, Elizabeth, from his prison cell gives the full story: “The morning the ship was taken, it being my watch below, happening to awake just after day-light, and looking out of my hammock, I saw a man sitting upon the arm-chest in the main hatchway, with a drawn sword in his hand, the reason of which I could not divine; so I got out of bed and inquired of him what was the cause of it.

“He told me that Mr Christian, assisted by some of the ship’s company, had seized the captain and put him in confinement; had taken the command of the ship, and meant to carry Bligh home a prisoner, in order to try him by court-martial for his long tyrannical and oppressive conduct to his people.

“I was quite thunder-struck and, hurrying into my berth again, told one of my mess-mates, whom I awakened out of his sleep, what had happened. Then dressing myself I went up the fore hatchway and saw what he told me was but too true; and again I asked some of the people, who were under arms, what was going to be done with the captain, who was then on the larboard side of the quarter-deck, with his hands tied behind his back, and Mr Christian alongside of him with a pistol and drawn sword.

“I now heard a very different story, that the captain was to be sent ashore to Tofoa in the launch, and that those who would not join Mr Christian might either accompany the captain, or would be taken in irons to Otaheite (Tahiti), and left there.

“The relation of two stories so different left me unable to judge which could be the true one; but, seeing them hoisting the boats out, it seemed to prove the latter. In this trying situation, young and inexperienced as I was, and without an adviser... I remained for a while a silent spectator of what was going on; and after revolving the matter in my mind, I determined to choose, what I thought, the lesser of two evils, and stay by the ship; for I knew that those who went ashore in the launch would be put to death by the savage natives... two experienced officers, when ordered into the boat by Mr Christian desired his permission to remain in the ship (one of whom my own mess-mate, Mr Hayward), and I being assisting to clear the launch, he asked me what I intended to do I told him, to remain in the ship. Now, this answer, I imagine, he has told Mr Bligh I made to him; from which, together with my not speaking to him that morning, his suspicions of me have arisen...

“Thus, my dearest mother, it was all owing to my youth and unadvised inexperience, but it has been interpreted into villainy and disregard for my country’s laws, the ill effects of which I am at present, and still am to labour under for some months longer. However, to continue my relation: I was not undeceived in my erroneous decision till too late, this was after the Captain was in the launch; for, while I was talking to the Master-at-Arms, one of the ring-leaders in the affair, my other mess-mate (Mr Stewart) whom I had left in his hammock in the berth, came up to me and asked me if I was going in the launch? I replied: ‘No,’ upon which he told me not to think of such a thing as remaining behind, but take his advice and go down below with him to get a few necessary things, and make haste to go with him into the launch; adding, that by remaining in the ship, I should incur an equal share of guilt with the mutineers themselves...

“I reluctantly followed his advice – I say reluctantly, because I knew no better, and was foolish; and the boat swimming very deep in the water – the land being far distant – the thoughts of being sacrificed by the natives – and the self-consciousness of my first intentions being just – all these considerations almost staggered my resolution; however, I preferred my companion’s judgement to my own, and we both jumped down the main hatchway to prepare ourselves for the boat, but no sooner were we in the berth than the Master-at-Arms ordered the sentry to keep us both in the berth till he should receive orders to release us. We desired the Master-at-Arms to acquaint Mr Bligh of our detention, which we had reason to think he never did...’’

It was the determined pleading for leniency by Heywood’s sister, Hester, in the Isle of Man that secured his pardon.

After the mutiny, it was to Heywood that Christian is known to have given a message for his family which exonerated him from his crime.

Heywood only made it public that he had been given this message after he had retired from his successful naval career but he took the details of the message with him to the grave.

Little is known of the life of Fletcher Christian. He was born on September 25, 1764 to Charles and Ann Christian at Moorland Close Farm, Eaglesfield. He attended St Bees School and went to sea at the age of 18, serving under Bligh for four years before joining the Bounty as Master’s Mate.

The Bounty sailed from Spithead in December 1787 under the command of Lieutenant William Bligh, its mission to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies where they were to supply cheap food for the slaves who worked on the plantations. The ship arrived at Tahiti in October 1788 where the crew remained for six months, setting sail once more on April 4, 1789.

On April 28, after the crew had been subjected to weeks of their Captain’s vicious insults, Christian seized the ship and Bligh was set adrift in the Bounty’s launch along with 18 members of his crew. The open boat was just 23ft long and Bligh and his companions faced a journey of more than 3,000 miles in order to reach civilisation. They were allowed enough food and water for just five days.

After suffering terrible hardships, Bligh navigated them to safety and the little vessel arrived at Coupang in South East Asia after 48 days at sea. On his return to England Bligh reported the mutiny to the Admiralty. He faced a court-martial and was exonerated for the loss of the ship.

HMS Pandora, under the command of Captain Edwards, was sent to search for the mutineers and 14 of the Bounty’s crew, including Heywood, were apprehended at Tahiti and taken prisoner, held captive in an iron cage. When, on the voyage back to England, the Pandora struck a reef in the Torres Strait, four of the prisoners went down with the ship. The rest were tried for mutiny and three, Ellison, Burkitt and Millward were found guilty and hanged.

Meanwhile Bligh had once more embarked on another breadfruit mission to Tahiti and successfully transported the plants to the West Indies – but ironically, the slaves found the taste objectionable and refused to eat them.
By Margaret Crosby.

More on Cockermouth's links with Fletcher Christian.