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Missed moral of Bounty mutiny

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According to my calendar, today — April 28 — is the anniversary of "The Mutiny on the Bounty," the day a British sailor named Fletcher Christian and his mates grabbed Capt. William Bligh, set him adrift at sea and took over the HMS Bounty.

The sailors were peeved because Bligh was taking them from Tahiti — tugging them out of paradise. And down the years their story has become a "cautionary tale," a warning about the ills of rebellion and reckless living.

But there is a second story about the mutiny, a lesser-known tale about love and redemption. And it grew out of the Bounty debacle like a poppy that blooms on a battlefield.

In the past 212 years, many books have been written about the mutiny on the Bounty, including one by Mark Twain. There have been five movies about it, with actors ranging from Marlon Brando to Mel Gibson playing the role of the rebel Fletcher Christian. And each time the tale is told, we're asked to relive the same grisly details.

After the mutiny, Fletcher Christian and eight fellow mutineers, returned to Tahiti, gathered up a boatload of goods, slaves and young women, and headed for Pitcairn Island, a "volcanic speck" in the South Pacific. British map makers had mischarted the location of the island, so British authorities were never able to find the renegade sailors and send them to prison.

But then the dreamy island of Pitcairn would become prison enough. Violence, drunkenness and disease abounded. Eight of the original mutineers were murdered or committed suicide. Eventually, only one crew member survived — the only adult male on an island of women and children. The sailor's name was John Adams, a roughneck who had joined the British Navy under the alias Alexander Smith.

The Hollywood versions of the mutiny story tend to end there. Screenwriters seem content to let the moral of the story be: Without order and discipline, human beings destroy each other.

But I think there's a better moral to be had; a moral that comes from that lesser-known story I mentioned.

And the moral is this: Good things can blossom from a tragedy. Robert J. Morgan, a pastor in Tennessee, discusses the "other story" in his book, "On This Day."

It seems just when everything was looking grim for the little colony on Pitcairn, John Adams stumbled across the battered Bible from the Bounty.

He began to read it.

Then he began to teach it.

Finally, he and the others on Pitcairn Island began to live it.

When the British Navy finally found Pitcairn 20 years later, they found a Christian community living in peace and tranquility and — as Morgan points out — with no hint of mutiny.

Today, 44 souls inhabit Pitcairn. Except for the pastor and schoolteacher, all are descendents of the original mutineers. All are devout Seventh-day Adventists. Most live in Adamstown, the capital — a village named for a man named Adams who called himself "Smith;" a man who had the courage to change himself and — literally — change his world. A man who had discovered — as another rugged man of God named Smith would declare a few scant years later — that "After much tribulation, come the blessings."

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com

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