Highgate holds key to Mutiny on the Bounty

12:45 25 October 2011

Richard Fitzwilliams revealed the Highgate connection to the Mutiny on the Bounty. Picture: Polly Hancock

Richard Fitzwilliams revealed the Highgate connection to the Mutiny on the Bounty. Picture: Polly Hancock


In 1789 a group of mutineers, beguiled by the allure of the South Pacific island of Tahiti and fed up with their brutal treatment, overthrew their commander in what became known as the Mutiny on the Bounty.

FACTBOX: Mutiny on the Bounty timeline

1787: HMS Bounty sets sail for Tahiti to pick up breadfruit plants to transport to the West Indies

28 April 1789: Sailors mutiny on HMS Bounty near the Pacific island of Tahiti, after a deterioration of relations between the ship’s commander, Lieutenant Bligh, and Fletcher Christian, the master’s mate.

1791: Edward Edwards arrives to round up the mutineers and transport them back in the horrific Pandora, in which conditions were unspeakably bad.

1792: Heywood is fund guilty of mutiny but granted a Royal pardon.

1793: Fletcher Christian dies, although conflicting accounts say he either died of natural causes, or was murdered.

Lieutenant Bligh and the handful of loyal sailors were left afloat on a small boat in the midst of the harsh Pacific Ocean.

The rebellion sent shockwaves through the English establishment - and the rights and wrongs of Fletcher Christian, leader of the rebellion, whose character was resurrected posthumously, and Lieutenant Bligh, whose early glory later turned to ignoble dishonour, have been much debated.

But according to a Hampstead journalist, the secrets to rebellion lie with a young midshipman named Peter Heywood, who is buried in the crypt beneath Highgate School in North Road, Highgate.

Richard Fitzwilliams, the former editor of The International Who’s Who, said: “Whether Heywood actually participated in the mutiny is a matter of much debate, but on his return Bligh brands him a mutineer.

“Captain Edward Edwards is sent by the admiralty to round up the mutineers, and puts them, including Heywood, in a small box which measures just 18ft by 11ft and keeps them locked up in these filthy conditions for five months.

“Because they had become entangled in a mutiny, they were considered guilty until proven innocent.”

On his return to England, Heywood was found guilty of mutiny but spared the hangman’s noose by a Royal pardon following many months of frantic lobbying and even bribery from his well connected relatives.

Whether emboldened by his pardon, or out of grief for his old friend and rebel leader Fletcher Christian, who was killed by a group of Tahitians in 1793, Heywood wrote a short letter to a newspaper blaming Bligh’s brutality for the mutiny and depicting Christian as a just and honourable brother.

Bligh’s rebuttals could not silence doubts regarding his own conduct, and so began a depiction of the lieutenant as a callous, heartless, seaman that would remain for more than two hundred years.

Mr Fitzwilliams, of North End Road, Golders Green, said: “This letter was what changed everything.

“He had been close to Christian and wanted to help his family. This is what triggered Fletcher’s brother Edward Christian to go on a public relations offensive to resurrect his brother’s character.

“Edward Christian was one of the most distinguished lawyers of his day. He began the war of words, but nothing would have happened without this letter.”

In an added twist to the tale, Mr Fitzwilliams said that some believe Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s masterpiece The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was partially inspired by mutiny.

And the poet’s grave lies just a short walk away from Heywood’s in St Michael’s Church, Highgate.


Latest News Stories

Conker champions from left are Albert 5, Addison 7, Trey 4. Picture: Dieter Perry

Just a few short years ago, the annual Hampstead Heath annual Conker Championships broke the Guinness World Record for the biggest ever knock-out conker tournament, when 395 people turned up.

Yesterday, 17:47
Pubs and clubs in London could face having to contribute to the costs of policing and cleaning the streets

Venues which stay open past midnight in Camden may find themselves charged a levy to cover the costs of policing and cleaning the night-time economy.

Yesterday, 16:30
Theo Seddon-Deane, who has cerebral palsy, with mother Catharine Seddon

Theo Seddon-Deane was born at just 26 weeks, weighing less than a bag of potatoes, and needed a ventilator just to keep him breathing.

Yesterday, 15:34
Christopher Matt

Detectives are hunting a convicted sex attacker who has disappeared while on licence from jail.

Yesterday, 13:57
Tom Franklin, Camden Green Party

The chairman of Camden’s Green Party branch has denied sitting down in front of a tank on its way to an arms fair.

Yesterday, 12:57
Pauline Cafferkey as she was discharged from the Royal Free in January

A Scottish nurse being treated at the Royal Free Hospital for a late complication of the Ebola virus is in a “serious condition”, the team treating her has said.

Yesterday, 12:57
New Wetherspoon pub opening in Muswell Hill

A controversial Wetherspoon pub is opening next week on Muswell Hill Broadway.

Yesterday, 12:26
Breda Athan helped treat three Ebola patients at the Royal Free

A senior nurse who led on the treatment of three Ebola patients at the Royal Free Hospital has been honoured at the Nursing Times Leaders awards 2015.

Most read news

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot


Angharad Baa Stool in Rare Breed.

Great British Life is offering a sheepskin footstool worth £199 to a lucky reader

You'll be stocked up on toiletries  for a while!

Cosmetics, toiletries, vitamins and more.

You could be splashing the cash at Topshop!

Just imagine what you could do with £1,000 to spend at Topshop.

Digital Edition

Read the Hampstead & Highgate Express e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder