Mutiny on the Bounty - A Manx Family Connection

 

A depiction of the scene at the moment the 19 men loyal to Captain Bligh are abandoned at sea. There were others who were loyal as well but had to remain on board the Bounty because there was no room for them.

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Introduction

This true story of mutiny on the high seas has been made into a Hollywood movie at least three times. It starred Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in 1935, Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard in 1962 and Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in 1984.


The three primary protagonists portrayed in the event were Captain William Bligh, Fletcher Christian and Peter Heywood. All three had a Manx connection. Bligh was married in Douglas prior to the voyage, Fletcher Christian descended from the Christians of Milntown, a famous Manx Family, and Peter Heywood was a born Manxman.


Our 7th Great Grandmother, Catherine Christian, the wife of William Lace of Kerrowdhoo was of this powerful Manx family. Available records do not provide birth details during the period of Catherine’s birth in about 1650 to permit a firm connection. But her marriage to William Lace, who was a significant landowner of the time, suggests that she herself was of reasonably wealthy lineage.

The Story of HMS Bounty

The story briefly was that HMS Bounty was sent to Tahiti to acquire breadfruit plants to be transported to the West Indies as a means of supplying food for the slaves at work on the sugar plantations. The ship was made over into a floating greenhouse to keep the plants alive during the long sea voyage. As a result, conditions on board were overcrowded which led to crew dissatisfaction accompanied by flogging and punishment dealt out by the Captain and officers of the ship. Fletcher Christian who was the first officer of the ship led the mutiny. He had been a friend and favourite of the Captain and had served with Bligh on previous voyages.


19 Men including Bligh were cast off in a small 23 ft. launch and provided with 5 days supplies. In an extraordinary feat of seamanship by Bligh, they survived a 3,500 mile trip to safety in that small open launch.


After the mutiny, 16 of the mutineers including Peter Heyward, got off the ship in Tahiti, where they were subsequently captured and returned to Britain to face court martial. Ultimately only three of the mutineers were hanged, while Peter Heywood although sentenced to hang received a pardon through the efforts of powerful friends.


Fletcher Christian and 8 men sailed the Bounty to Pitcairn Island, along with some Tahitian women and men. Christian was murdered by one of the Tahitian men. Their descendants live there to this day. Only 50 people currently live on the island, virtually all descendants of the mutineers and those Tahitians who sailed with them. They advertise for immigrants offering free land but do not receive many interested despite a very moderate climate.

The Christians of Milntown in the Isle of Man

The first Christian listed in Manx records was John McChrysten, a Deemster mentioned in 1408. Deemsters represented their parish at Tynwald, the seat of Government, then and now. Sort of like our members of parliament now. In fact there were to be many of that Christian family to become Deemsters and to serve that public office over the centuries.


DNA results now show that the Christian family had been on the island from at least 1100 AD, and had found their way there from Scotland. They were of Celtic origins, although prior to DNA sampling the Christians were considered to be of Viking descent.


Two Christians were to serve as Governor Generals of the island, reporting to the Lord of Man. The Lord of Man was usually an English nobleman who seldom visited the island, but who collected rent from land-holders. In the late 18th century the reigning monarch of the British Crown was to become Lord of Man, as is Elizabeth today. The Isle of Man continues to be self-ruling despite being a part of Great Britain, they have no representation in the British Parliament in London.


These early Christians owned land west of Ramsey, cobbed together from several farms and renamed Milntown. They held this land for centuries and in fact, after being driven out by one of the Lords of Man in the late 1600’s, returned to reclaim the property in the 19th Century.


This early Christian family had ties to Lancashire and eventually those of Milntown moved there under pressure from the Lord of Man, including the grandfather of Fletcher Christian of Bounty fame.


The most famous of the Milntown Christians, was William Christian, known in Manx folklore as Illiam Dhone (which means Brown haired William). He became Governor General of the Island, reporting to the then Lord of Man, James Stanley the 7th Earl of Derby.


He is remembered as either a patriot of the island, or as a treasonous terrorist. He was shot to death at Hango Hill at the direction of the then Lord of Man who had sought to claim all Manx land in his own name, and had been opposed by William Christian.


Two famous Manxman suffered the same ending. One, Fletcher Christian, who is judged either to be a hero for standing up for badly treated sailors, or for instigating a mutiny to return to his Tahitian lover. The other. William Christian, for fighting for the rights of the Manx people, or for treason for negotiating with the enemies of the King.

The Milntown Estate

The estate is on land originally owned by the powerful Christian family from early times, 15th or 16th Century. They lost control of it as mentioned above, but members of the family returned to claim it during the 19th Century and rebuilt much of it.


It is now a tourist destination and includes apartments for rent and a cafe, along with visits to a beautiful home, an old motor car and motorcyle collection and beautiful gardens.. It would be an excellent place to stay for a week or so as a jump off point to tour the island, especially the north end where most of our Manx ancestors originated.


Take a peek at their website:

http://www.milntown.org

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