November 27, 2009 / 2:59 PM / in 8 years

Bounty's ghosts boost bids for old naval logbook

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Bidders for a naval logbook detailing the first contact with a surviving mutineer from the HMS Bounty on his Pitcairn Island hideaway, drove the price up to 40 times its estimated value at an auction this week.

The logbook sold for 40,000 pounds ($65,520) by Cheffin’s Auction House features illustrations and voyage data compiled by 18-year-old Midshipman John Bolton Woodthorp aboard the HMS Briton 25 years after the Bounty mutiny.

The crew of the Bounty, led by acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian mutinied against Captain William Bligh in 1789 and set him adrift in an open boat along with 18 others 24 days after setting sail from a long stay in Tahiti. Bligh survived by navigating to Timor.

In an entry dated Saturday September 17 1814, Woodthorp records the first sightings of the Bounty’s descendants.

“Several canoes came onboard,” Woodthorp writes in curling script. “Found the island inhabited by the descendants of Mr F Christian...Nine Englishmen, 11 Tahitian women and some men first settled here, burned the Bounty. They speak good English, likewise Tahitian language, at present are 48 inhabitants.”

The navy had unsuccessfully scoured the seas searching for the mutineers and the mutiny remains a popular part of history that has been portrayed in films and television shows, including a 1984 film “The Bounty,” which starred Mel Gibson as Christian.

By the time of the Briton’s arrival, the only surviving mutineer was John Adams, who was spared arrest.

A spokesman for Cheffin’s in Cambridge, England said that a family had accidentally stumbled across the logbook in their home, but it was a mystery as to how they had acquired it.

The auctioneers have not scientifically tested the age of the paper, but auctioneer Charles Ashton is convinced of its authenticity.

Although the log would have been bound into a book some time after the original sighting of the mutineers, Mr Ashton said the paper on which the account was written, was original.

“It showed signs of being at sea,” he said. “The leaves were suitably marked with a bit of damp here and there, some slight wear and tear. I would have thought all the note-taking and the water color illustrations would have been done on the spot.”

National Maritime Museum curator John Mcaleer confirmed the identity of midshipman John Bolton Woodthorp, saying that he would have been in training to become a ship’s officer. Making written and pictorial reports of his voyages would have been part of his duties.

“It’s interesting that Woodthorp references the Bounty, it shows how far the mutiny had percolated society,” Mcaleer said.

Aston said bidders at the auction from around world drove up the price of the log, originally estimated at 1,000 pounds.

“What makes this important is the period of history, this magical link to the bounty survivors,” Aston said.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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