Fletcher Christian (Errol Flynn) sends Edward Young (John Warwick) to break out the arms, as his men seize the captain, Lieutenant Bligh (Mayne Lynton) from his bed. In a flash forward, an old fiddler (Victor Gouriet) in an English pub continues telling the story of the mutiny. Flashing back, we hear Mr Christian ask his men for the ship, as he can never return to Tahiti. The men all pledge to follow him as leader.
Some of the dialogue here is taken directly from the transcripts of the trials of the surviving mutineers in London in 1792. Even so, it would have presented a dramatic challenge to a seasoned acting professional, which Flynn was not. He had been cast for his good looks and his educated speaking voice, befitting a British naval officer. Chauvel’s direction of the dialogue is similarly undeveloped, but that may partly be explained by a very lean budget. Nevertheless, there are some nice touches: the ship seems to rock in the scene where the sleeping crew members are awakened, for instance.
This black-and-white clip begins with Fletcher Christian (Errol Flynn) asking Edward Young (John Warwick) if he has Young’s support to mutiny, then asking him to 'break out the arms’ (seize the guns). Captain Bligh (Mayne Lynton) is dragged from his bed and tied up, and another mutineer wakes the crew and urges them to join Christian’s revolt. In the next scene Bligh tells Christian that 'The Admiralty will see you all hang’. The clip cuts to a scene in a pub, many years on, where a survivor of the mutiny, a blind fiddler (Victor Gouriet), describes how Christian cast Bligh and 18 of his men adrift. In the final scene of the clip, which returns to the events of the mutiny, the sailors affirm their allegiance to Lieutenant Christian.
Educational value points
- In the Wake of the Bounty featured Australian actor Errol Flynn (1909–59) in his second film role. While Flynn gives a wooden performance in this film, he went on to become a major star in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s, specialising in playing the role of the swashbuckling hero and romantic lead. He appeared in more than 60 films, including Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gentleman Jim (1942) and Adventures of Don Juan (1948). After moving to Hollywood he never returned to Australia and in 1942 took out US citizenship. Coincidentally, Flynn was a descendant of Edward Young, who was a midshipman on the Bounty.
- Director Charles Chauvel (1897–1959) was a leading figure in Australia’s film industry. He made two silent films, The Moth of Moonbi (1926) and Greenhide (1926), before In the Wake of the Bounty, which was his first sound film. Among his other features are Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), Sons of Matthew (1949) and Jedda (1955), the first Australian film made in colour and the first to feature an Indigenous Australian as a central character. Chauvel went to great lengths to film on location rather than in a studio, and his films are notable for their specifically Australian backdrops. He produced and wrote many of his films in collaboration with his wife, Elsa Chauvel.
- On 28 April 1789 Fletcher Christian, senior master’s mate on HMS Bounty, led 11 men in a mutiny against the ship’s captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. Bligh, with 18 officers and crew members who remained loyal to him, was cast adrift in the ship’s 23-foot (7-m) open boat. They were well provisioned to the tune of 32 pounds (about 14.5 kg) of salted pork, 150 pounds (68 kg) of ship’s biscuit, a cask of water, 6 quarts (6.8 L) of rum, six bottles of wine, canvas, twine and four cutlasses. No charts were provided, but Bligh was given his sextant.
- The Bounty had set out from England for Tahiti in December 1787 with a 44-man crew to collect breadfruit cuttings to take to the West Indies, where they were to be used as a source of food for African slaves working on the sugar plantations. Bad weather delayed the ship and by the time it arrived in Tahiti in October 1788 it was the wrong season for collecting breadfruit, enforcing a 6-month stay on the island while Bligh’s potted plants matured. During the stay the crew enjoyed a carefree life and discipline was lax.
- In Bligh’s account of the mutiny he suggests that the crew were seduced by their idyllic existence in Tahiti and did not want to return to the harsh life at sea. Bligh, who had had a crew member flogged earlier in the voyage, was increasingly frustrated at what he saw as a lack of discipline and when, after setting sail for the West Indies, he offended Christian’s honour by publicly accusing him of stealing some coconuts, Christian considered deserting. However, when Christian became aware of discontent among some of the other crew members he opted to mutiny.
- After the mutiny Christian sailed for Tahiti and from there to Pitcairn Island, which is still inhabited by some descendants of the mutineers and Tahitian women. Most of the descendants found their way to Norfolk Island in 1856.
- After 7 weeks on the open sea and sailing a distance of about 4,800 km without charts, Bligh sailed through Torres Strait to the European outpost in Timor, an extraordinary navigational feat. From there he took passage on a ship for England where, following custom, he was subjected to a court-martial enquiry for losing his ship. He survived the court martial and was later promoted. In 1806 Bligh became governor of New South Wales, and in 1808 he was overthrown by the NSW Corps, during what is known as the Rum Rebellion.
- Contrary to his usual depiction in films such as this, Bligh was in some ways a reformer who introduced a timetable that involved 4 days on watching shifts (generally of 4 hours) with 8 hours off. He also helped ensure the good health of his crew by including in their rations a daily intake of sauerkraut and lime juice (both high in vitamin C) to avoid scurvy, a common disease among sailors of the time. While the blind fiddler who narrates the story of the mutiny may be a fictitious character, Bligh did engage a blind musician to join the Bounty to provide entertainment for the crew.
Two sailors standing face-to-face.
Fletcher Christian Are you with me in this adventure, Edward Young?
Edward Young Yes, sir.
Fletcher Then break out the arms, immediately!
Edward It’s a desperate act, Mr Christian. Are you sure of what you’re doing?
Fletcher Yes, while the starboard watch are asleep and my men are already in Bligh’s cabin. Be gone!
Inside the captain’s cabin, Lieutenant Bligh is pulled from his bed.
Lieutenant Bligh What’s the meaning of this?
Sailor 1 Save it, guv’nor! Come on. Come on.
Bligh Get out of it! Treacherous hounds!
Sailor 1 Come on.
Bligh I’ll have you apprehended for this.
Sailor 1 Put that rope on. Up on deck.
The men take rifles from the captain’s locker.
In the sleeping quarters.
Sailor 2 Mates. Mates! Wake up. Wake up! Damn you, rouse yourselves, fighting Jack. Turn out, man! Turn out! Rise up! Now, listen, all hands on deck. Mr Christian has taken Lieutenant Bligh prisoner!
Sailor 3 Prisoner?
Sailor 2 Aye, prisoner, and he’s now in command of the Bounty!
Sailor 2 Take it up, men. I’ll bust your head. Now get on deck. All of you, get on deck! Go on, go on.
The captain is restrained and brought to face Christian.
Bligh You, Christian! An Englishman and an officer, to have sunk so low. The Admiralty will see you all hang for this treason.
We flash forward into a pub, many years later. A man is retelling the story.
Victor Gouriet Like madmen bewitched by Tahiti’s soft guile, we sent Bligh and 18 of his loyal men adrift to suffer thirst and hunger on that endless sea. Then, as the darkness engulfed them, we turned to our young commander, calling ‘Tahiti! Tahiti!’
Flash back to the mutiny. The sailors rally in support of Christian.
Fletcher Gentlemen, I will carry you and land you wherever you please. I desire none to stay with me. I have only one favour to beg — that you grant me the Bounty, make fast the foresail and leave me to run before the wind. I have done such an act that I cannot stay at Tahiti, and I’ll never live to be carried home a disgrace to my family.
Sailor 4 Go where you will, Mr Christian. We shall never leave you.
All Aye! Aye! Aye!