HMS Bounty (known to historians as HM Armed Vessel Bounty, popularly as HMAV Bounty, and to many simply as "The Bounty"), famous as the scene of the Mutiny on the Bounty on 28 April 1789, was originally a three-masted cargo ship, the Bethia, purchased by the British Admiralty, then modified and commissioned as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the Bounty for a botanical mission to the Pacific Ocean.Bounty began her career as the collier Bethia, built in 1784 at the Blaydes shipyard in Hull. Later she was purchased by the Royal Navy for £2,600 (roughly £260 thousand / €474 thousand / $613 thousand in modern currency) on 26 May 1787 (JJ Colledge/D Lyon say 23 May), refit, and renamed Bounty. She was a relatively small sailing ship at 215 tons, three-masted and full-rigged. After conversion for the breadfruit expedition, she mounted only four 4-pounders (2 kg cannon) and ten swivel guns. Thus she was very small in comparison to other three-mast colliers used for similar expeditions: Cook's Endeavour displaced 368 tons and Resolution 462 tons.
Some 1,300 miles (2,100 km) west of Tahiti, near Tonga, mutiny broke out on 28 April 1789. Despite strong words and threats heard on both sides, the ship was taken bloodlessly and apparently without struggle by any of the loyalists except Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined Christian in mutiny, two were passive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship's master, two midshipmen, the surgeon's mate (Ledward), and the ship's clerk into Bounty's launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard. Bligh and the others in the launch sailed 30 nautical miles (56 km) to Tofua in search of supplies, but were forced to flee after attacks by hostile natives resulted in the death of one of the men. Bligh then undertook an arduous journey to the Dutch port of Coupang, located over 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) from Tofua. He safely landed there 47 days later, having lost no men during the voyage except the one killed on Tofua.
The mutineers sailed for the island of Tubuai, where they tried to settle. After three months of being terrorized by the cannibalistic natives, however, they returned to Tahiti. Sixteen of the mutineers and the four loyalists who had been unable to accompany Bligh remained there, taking their chances that the Royal Navy would find them and bring them to justice.
Immediately after setting the sixteen men ashore in Tahiti in September 1789, Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 11 women, one with a baby, set sail in Bounty hoping to elude the Royal Navy. According to a journal kept by one of Christian's followers, the Tahitians were actually kidnapped when Christian set sail without warning them, the purpose of this being to acquire the women.
The mutineers passed through the Fiji and Cook Islands, but feared that they would be found there. Continuing their quest for a safe haven, on 15 January 1790 they rediscovered Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy's charts. After the decision was made to settle on Pitcairn, livestock and other provisions were removed from the Bounty. To prevent the ship's detection, and anyone's possible escape, the ship was burned on 23 January 1790 in what is now called Bounty Bay.
Thirty-five years later in 1825, HMS Blossom on a voyage of exploration under Captain Frederick Beechey, arrived on Christmas Day off Pitcairn and spent 19 days there. Captain Beechey later recorded this in his 1831 published account of the voyage, as did one of his crew, John Bechervaise, in his 1839 Thirty-Six years of a Seafaring Life by an Old Quarter Master. Beechey prints a detailed account of the mutiny as recounted to him by the last survivor, Adams. Bechervaise, who gives a detailed account of the life of the islanders, says he found the remains of Bounty and took some pieces of wood from it which were turned into souvenirs such as snuff boxes.
(Beechey's account is rare; there is a copy in the Caird Library in Greenwich. Original copies of John Bechervaise's privately printed book are also rare but has been reprinted in facsimile by Kessinger).
Luis Marden discovered the remains of the Bounty in January 1957. After spotting remains of the rudder,(which had been found in 1933 by Parkin Christian, and is still displayed in the Fiji Museum in Suva), he persuaded his editors and writers to let him dive off Pitcairn Island, where the rudder had been found. Despite the warnings of one islander – "Man, you gwen be dead as a hatchet!" – Marden dived for several days in the dangerous swells near the island, and found the remains of the fabled ship: a rudder pin, nails, a ships boat oarlock, fittings and a Bounty anchor which he raised. He subsequently met with Marlon Brando to counsel him on his role as Fletcher Christian in the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty. Later in life, Marden wore cuff links made of nails from the Bounty. Marden also dived on the wreck of HMS Pandora and left a Bounty nail with the Pandora.
Some of her remains, such as her ballast stones, are still partially visible in the waters of Bounty Bay.
The last of the Bounty's 4-pounders was recovered in 1998 by an archaeological team from James Cook University and was sent to the Queensland Museum in Townsville to be stabilised through lengthy conservation treatment, i.e. nearly 40 months of electrolysis. The gun was subsequently returned to Pitcairn Island where it has been placed on display in a new community hall.