Burning the Bounty

by Norfolk Island Escapes

Burning the Bounty” is one of the holidays celebrated on Norfolk Island and Pitcairn Island. This holiday is named after the ship named Bounty, even though that ship never actually made it to Norfolk Island to begin with. This holiday commemorates the burning of the ship by the mutineers back in 1790 when Norfolk Island, a former penal colony, was granted to the Pitcairner’s by Queen Victoria as a home in 1856.

The story of Burning the Bounty is actually quite popular and has been incorporated into various movies, songs, and books. In a nutshell, the HMS Bounty refers to a fully rigged three masted sailing ship that was small and relatively unknown until the aforementioned mutiny.

The ship was built in England back in 1784 under the name Bethia. It was rebuilt in 1787 to ensure that it could carry breadfruit trees. Water and heat were added into the ship’s cabins, for instance, so that the breadfruit trees would survive any type of weather. These breadfruit trees were being carried because the British government hoped that the trees would be able to grow in Jamaica the way they did in Tahiti and give slaves cheap food as they worked on sugar farms.

The HMS Bounty was only 27.7m long and 7.4m wide with its tallest mast being 16.1m high. Lieutenant William Bligh was the captain when the ship set off for Haiti near the end of 1787. During this time, Captain Bligh tried to lead the ship around Cape Horn for a month until bad winds and weather stopped their journey completely and forced them to go around the longer way through the Cape of Good Hope.

The Bounty eventually made it to Tahiti in October 1788 after ten months of being at sea. The crew lived there for five months happily collecting breadfruit plants with no definite plans of going back to England.

In April 1789, the Bounty made its way to Jamaica and upon reaching the Friendly Islands, Fletcher Christian decided to lead a mutiny and leave Bligh on a boat with 18 other sailors. Once they reached Pitcairn Island, they took everything on the ship and destroyed and burned the Bounty. This happened in January 1790. In today’s day and age, the islanders make model replicas of the Bounty to burn on this holiday.

Burning the Bounty is considered to be Norfolk Island’s national holiday and begins with a re-enactment of the arrival of the Pitcairners at Kingston Pier. Here, the Administrator and the wife of the Administrator will then greet them before taking them to the cenotaph, where wreaths are laid down in remembrance. After that, they make their way to the cemetery to sing hymns.

“Family of the Year” awards are then given out at the Government House after that for families with surnames of the mutineers’ descendants. Children then roll down the Government House’s hill before the procession moves to the Compound for a celebratory feast and games for the children. At the end of the day, everybody goes back home to get ready for the Bounty Ball and more Burning the Bounty celebrations and competitions.

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