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History Mysteries

 
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 07:11 pm
Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall wrote together many novels, mostly considered genre stuff for adolescent boys, about the South Seas--a popular topic in the 1920's and 1930's. Then they immoratalized themselves with the publication of a trilogy, an historical novel about the then little known mutiny. Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn's Island, published in 1932, 1933 and 1934 also immortalized the event, which, occuring as it did 1789, was soon forgotten during the Wars of the French Revlution and the Napoleonic wars.

William Bligh is arguably one of the best seaman in history. When James Cook was killed on "the big island" of Hawaii, his sailing master, Lt. William Bligh, brought the expedition safely home without losing another man (the Hawiians killed several) nor ship. After the Cook expedition, Bligh went on half-pay (a form of temporary retirement) and following the usual practice, went into the merchant service. His skills were highly valued, and he was able to follow the old practice of introducing relations and family connections into the trade. One such person was known by the friends of an old acquaintance in the Isle of Man, Fletcher Christian. He took Christian with him on two voyages to the West Indies, teaching him the math and skills of navigation, and becoming his fast friend.

When a scheme was hatched to feed West Indian slaves with the bread fruit, Bligh was tapped to make the voyage to the Society Islands (Oetahiti--modern Tahiti), because of his deservedly high reputation as a mariner, and his personal knowledge of the islands and of the Tahitian royal family. However, the expedition was done on the cheap by the Admiralty, who did not promote Bligh (he was a Lieutenant, and only Captain by virtue of commanding the ship--he retired as a Vice Admiral), precisely because he could have then demanded other serving officers and a detachment of Royal Marines, for which the Admiralty did not wish to pay. Bligh dutifully consulted with civilian staff, a brig was purchased (brig=vessel with three masts, fore- and main-masts square-rigged and mizzen rigged fore-and-aft), Bounty, and crew were hired. Bligh was the only serving military man on board--the lack of Marines was to prove disasterous. He hired Mr. Fry as sailing master, and took on board a dozen young men as midshipmen, Fletcher Christian among them--once again, a form of nepotism, as it would give them the opportunity to later claim precedence in the receipt of naval commissions.

The proximate cause of the mutinty was Bligh's cupidity in dealing with the crew and the natives. The utlimate cause is likely more complex, and has a good deal to do with Bligh's unstable personality. As a fair-weather sailor (metaphorically speaking) he was a disaster--good times seemed to bring out the worst in him, and his crew considered him abusive, especially after he had let discipline go to hell in Tahiti. As a foul-weather sailor (metaphor again, as well as literally), he has had few equals in history. The single life lost was, i believe, the Boatswain's Mate (that's "Bosun" for you landlubbers), who sold his life to purchase the escape of Bligh when the forlorn band in the ship's launch had tried to camp on one of the islands. A few days before the mutiny, Bligh had allowed everyone in the crew to trade with the natives on their own, long discredited as bad practice by south seas mariners. The following day, he reversed himself, and then accused the natives of theivery, and made a hostage of one of the chieftains. After the mutiny, when he landed his party from the launch, word quickly spread to neighboring islands, and hundreds, if not thousands of natives converged on the white men. Charges of physical cowardice against Bligh leveled by the "Rum Corps" in New South Wales a generation later are undeserved. Bligh not only later served with Nelson at Copenhagen, but in this incident on the island, he calmly walked back to their camp through a crowd of hostile, armed natives, to retreive his log and his navigational instruments. His bravado and obvious contempt for the terror the natives were looking for in their potential victims very likely saved the lives of everyone except the Bosun, and it is understandable why that man would give his life to save Bligh's--he was saving everyone else in the process. They passed Fiji (whose natives at that time had a law that anyone with "the salt sea in their eyes"--i.e., white men with green, gray or blue eyes--were fair game for murder and robbery--which Bligh well knew), and then endured almost constant gales for more than a week. Bligh had few opportunities to "shoot the sun" and headed for the Torres Straits by dead reckoning. He later altered his course for Australia, hoping they could find food on the coast. This was not to be, for the natives were very obviously hostile. The respite probably did the men some physical good, although there was very nearly another mutiny before Bligh ordered everyone back in the launch and headed for Timor. Arrived at Timor, one of the party died, but Bligh's accomplishment is still astounding. Bligh purchased a small sloop in order to sail to Batavia (Djakarta), and just barely avoided another mutiny.

Bligh also suffered another mutiny, but, in fairness this took place at the Nore, then the main English naval base for the Europe, and took place on several ships. In 1805, Bligh was appointed the governor of New South Wales, at that time, effectively the governor of European Australia. The colony, still largely convict in population, was hag-ridden by alcoholism, and the privately contract military force in the colony, now dubbed the "Rum Corps" had a monopoly on alcohol, and a death grip on power in the colony. Bligh eventually came to see the issue in a realistic light, and proceeded to deal with it in his usual high-handed and inept manner. He was made a prisoner of the Rum Corps (who said they found him cowering under a bed, a charge denied by Bligh and his daughter, who had accompanied him--it would also have been completely out of character), and was not freed for almost two years. This eventually had the effect of breaking the power of the Rum Corps, but Bligh was recalled (1811, i believe). I consider him to be one of history's more fascinating characters.

Pitcairn's Island was named for the son of a Major of Royal Marines, John Pitcairn. This Major commanded the light infantry and Marines at Lexington and Concord. He died of wounds sustained in the attempt to outflank the Americansduring the Battle of Bunker's Hill, when he lead the Marines and light infantry up the Mystic River beach, and ran into Colonel John Stark's New Hampshire boys ("By God, you'll stand or Lucy Stark will be a widow by nightfall"--or some such claptrap). In John Trumbull's famous painting of the battle, Pitcairn is shown falling into the arms of his son, and dying as Prescott was dying in the redoubt. Like all such paintings, it is a completely suspect source for history--every reliable account i've read has Pitcairn wounded on the Mystic River beach, and it is likely that his son never saw him alive again. His son gave his name to the notorious island, and dropped beneath the historical horizon.
0 Replies
 
Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Thu 29 May, 2003 09:50 pm
Excellent work Setanta!

Couple of extra points to add there. The 'Rebellion' as such was the second bit of action that the New South Wales Corps saw, the only battle they ever fought on Australian soil was the 'Battle of Vinegar Hill' (1804). The rebellion as such merely involved marching the Corps in full uniform to the Governor's Residence, being soundly abused by Bligh's daughter-in-law and then arresting Bligh who was not under the bed, but in a closet I seem to recall. He was armed with a sword, but didn't have the chance to use it.

Placed under house arrest for a year Bligh was released (1809) and expected to return to England, but taking command of the Porpoise he sailed to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) to persuade the colony their to assist him in regaining his command. When that didn't work, he spent a year sailing up and down the coast in a sort of government-in-exile-on-the-high-sea. In Jan. 1810 the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, arrived and the whole issue was settled with a court-martial that exonorated Bligh. He returned to England with a promotion to rear-admiral, then vice-admiral. He died in 1817.

So, in the very short space of only 4 years, the colony went through an armed uprising and a coup! Not just a phenonomon peculiar to South America!
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 02:15 am
Cheers, Mr. S, thank you . . .

Bligh seems to have been a magnet for High Drama and Low Comedy all his life--as i said, one of history's more interesting characters . . .
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Joe Nation
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 02:39 am
Judge Crater decided to have one last smoke on the aft deck. He stood at the rail watching the sea, enjoying his pipe and the air. "What lovely stars," he said to himself. "What a beautiful night sky." Finishing, he took the pipe from his mouth, tapped it on the rail to empty it, lost his grip on it and reached for it as it fell. He lost his balance and landed in the water at about the same time as the pipe.

He was a good swimmer and tread water while waiting for the ship to stop or turn around to pick him up. He couldn't believe his eyes when the ship's lights faded out of sight. "What lovely stars." he thought laying back.
"What a beautiful night sky."


my guess.

Joe
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 30 May, 2003 09:22 am
Joe, What a poetic way to end the Judge's life whatever the reality.
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Beedlesquoink
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jun, 2003 07:19 pm
Now of course it is a gigantic world, and we folks are such wee folks as it were, so it's not hard to understand how people sometimes just vanish away. But I give you the vanishing of Amelia Earhart as an interesting historical mystery.

Amelia and Ambrose Bierce come immediately to me... can you folks provide the names of some other public figures that went missing?

And if their first names begin with a and m perhaps we have the beginning of a positively Fortean meta conspiracy on our hands... :wink:
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Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jun, 2003 08:46 pm
There's Amy Johnson, missing in 1941 (well sort of, they just never recovered a body). Fits the A-M' hypothesis tho!
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Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jun, 2003 08:55 pm
And (not fitting in):
-Agatha Christie
-Antione de Saint-Expury
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Beedlesquoink
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 07:49 am
Well, someone must be collecting A's...
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 07:56 am
Beedle, I really think that Ambrose Bierce was hanged, a victim of revolution. Crying or Very sad

I know something of Agatha Christie, but she didn't stay missing. Don't know Antione or Amy. Smile

I wonder if Schliemann really discovered Troy by pinpointing Turkey as the most likely location.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 08:01 am
There is conjecture that Schliemann "salted" part of the Trojan dig, and that his self-promoting contentions about his discoveries actually covered his opportunism in exploiting the discoveries of others--but even if that were so, he still recognized the significance of what others had failed to exploit . . .
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 08:19 am
I didn't realize that, Setanta. I do know that his feats were never recognized officially by the academia. Most of my information came from a book that I read a looooogggggg time ago: Vanished Civilizations and Lost Cities by Robert Silverberg. (think that was the title)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 08:24 am
There's a recent biography of Schleimann which i read with great information. A good deal of it was interpretation of things about Schleimann which are already known--but it did introduce a significant amount of material about Schleimann's Greek and other European contacts in Greece and Turkey. Either this information was previously unknown, or was overlooked or ignored. Quite an interesting biography--most biographies are either panegyrics, and you have to be able to wade through the dubious or the bullshit; or they are comdemnatory, with once again the necessity to sift the material in your mind--this biography was very nicely balanced.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 09:05 am
Thanks, Setanta. Yes, one never knows what has been sensationalized and what has been pulled right out of the ether. It seems that I recall Schleimann having found cities even older than Troy. Well, I choose to believe that Priam's great city and it's crumbled walls are in fact reality. Just a hopeless romantic at heart. Smile
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 09:10 am
I read an article in "Science Times"--a weekly feature of the New York Times--that reported that satellite photographic evidence (including infrared and ultraviolet imaging) showed that there might be a much larger "ring wall" at a distance of about one mile from the walls of Schliemann's Homeric Troy. This would suggest that Schliemann had dug up the citadel, and that the actual city was much larger than the number of those who might have resided in the space encompassed by the walls he found. This removes the last major objection to his claim, which was that the area he had opened was not sufficiently large to be the properous city implied by the Illiad. He was a strange character, but then, that doesn't disqualify anyone from making a major contribution to human knowledge or understanding.
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Beedlesquoink
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 10:29 am
Letty, isn't it a strange irony that author of Occurance at Owlcreek bridge should end up hanged?
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 10:37 am
Oh, WOW, Beedle Shocked I just got a shiver. What an understatement the title of that short story was. Yes, very odd indeed.
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Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 04:02 pm
The Incident at Owl Creek Bridge was written by Ambrose Bierce. Ambrose Bierce disappeared somewhere in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. What happened to the world famous author is another of History's little mysterys. He probably wasn't hung though. More likely he was killed and dismissed as just another gringo who wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 04:13 pm
er, Asherman, I think we know who wrote "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", the same man who wrote "Horseman in the Sky". Don't mean to be flip, but we're only surmising what happened in Mexico.
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oldandknew
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2003 04:26 pm
Funny old business is history. How much of is true and authenticated. How certain are we of the translations from ancient scripts and records. So called learned men will argue a minor point up hill and down dale over who did or said what.
History is interesting and can be fun. Looking back at one's own family tree for example can be both educational and entertaining.
When it comes to the bigger picture, ie: the politics and the killing fields, both education and entertainment go down the toilet, unless your name is Attila The Hun or Joeseph Stalin.
I tend to think of historians as retroman, kindly & perrenial nostalgia addicts. Untill they get a bee in their bonnet about who killed the Little Princes in The Tower or get hired by Tinsel Town and write their own version of Gullivers Travels and walk off with a large check stuck to their bosom.
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