A book from the Bounty

The world's greatest maritime archive is full of fascinating objects with amazing stories to tell. Today we're looking at a book that was taken by the Bounty Mutineers in 1789. 

Medical book taken by Mutineers on the Bounty Medical book taken by Mutineers on the Bounty

The story of the mutiny aboard HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789, led by Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian, and the subsequent epic sea voyage by Lieutenant William Bligh and his men is well-known. This book is bound in sail cloth and was taken by the mutineers to their retreat on Pitcairn Island, where they hid for nearly 20 years before discovery in February 1808. This is an important medical book in it's own right, made all the more interesting by it's fascinating history.

The bullet used by Captain William Bligh to measure out rations once they were cast from the Bounty The bullet used by Captain William Bligh to measure out rations once they were cast from the Bounty ZBA2702

The title page carries the signature of Tho[ma]s Huggan, the ship’s surgeon, whose name has been crossed through – presumably after his death which occurred during the voyage. The contents page gives an indication of the ailments covered by its text and also has a hand-written note of 29 December 1787 when the ship was moored at Spithead at the start of the voyage.

Inscribed Inscribed 'The cup I eat my miserable allowance out.' This cup was used by Bligh during the boat voyage in the Bounty's launch ZBA2701

The first chapter deals with children and notes that in 1779, almost half of children were dying before the age of 12. It continues to consider such diseases as small pox, ‘involuntary discharges’, gout, asthma, ‘low spirits’, poisonous animals and ‘of drowned persons’. It has been obviously well-used, but is in fine condition considering its heritage.

The descendants of the mutineers who populated Pitcairn Island would sell or exchange belongings with passing ships and this is how the book came to leave the Pacific island. A letter inside states:

I, John Charles Blackett of Thorpe Lea in the County of Surrey do declare that I was a midshipman on board HMS [Actaeon] in the year 1837 – and did whilst [….] employed perchase at Pitcairn Island the [?] book on which this is written and which [?] book [?] ppty [property] of Capt Bligh and was with him on board the Bounty at the time of the Mutiny

I further declare that the said book was in the possession of Fletcher Christian one of the mutineers until the time of his death
Charles Blackett
Aug 1884

This is confirmed in a second hand that states:

The statement made on the opposite page was made in the hand writing of my Father the late John Charles Blackett (late RN) Born 1813 Died 1896
Signed by his son
Henry Blackett
Admiral Dec 12th /48 [1948]

It is a treasured item of the Rare Book collection that can be searched through the Museum's Library and Manuscripts Catalogue. You can see the book as we share some of our amazing objects at our Caird Library Open Day on 27 June.