The Bounty — A tale of two ships

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED</p><p>Filmmaker Geoff D&#8217;Eon has followed up on the documentary he wrote and directed, <em>Bounty: Into The Hurricane</em>, with a new book: <em>Bounty: The Greatest Sea Story of Them All</em>, published by Lorimer.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>In his 25 year career with the CBC, Geoff D&#8217;Eon&#8217;s work was recognized with twelve Gemini wins, an International Emmy nomination, three Atlantic Journalism Awards, and dozens of regional and national news awards.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED</p><p>Poster for the 1962 film, <em>Mutiny On the Bounty,</em>starring Marlin Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The original HMS Bounty was a small merchant vessel that the Royal Navy purchased to collect breadfruit.</p>

With its dramatic conflict, exotic locations and adventure on the high sees, the spell-binding historical event of the mutiny on the Royal Navy's HMS Bounty has captured imaginations around the world since it occurred in 1789.

The story of how the acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian and other disgruntled crew set the vessel's captain lieutenant, William Bligh, adrift in a small launch with 18 loyalists spurred Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall to write their famous novel, Mutiny on the Bounty.

And Hollywood produced two films about the tale featuring headline actors - Charles Laughton and Clark Gable in 1935, and Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris in 1962.

But if the events that saw Bligh go on to survive a 3,500 nautical-mile journey, leading to the court martial trial of the mutineers seem long ago and far away, Geoff D'Eon of Halifax was determined to bring them closer to home.

The award-winning veteran of television productions, former journalist and avid sailor has been fascinated with the saga of the ship, which only ended in 2012, and in particular its connection to Lunenburg, where a replica of the ship was built in 1960.

"They built it on time. They built it on budget. They did an incredible job. Lunenburg has so much to be proud of in the building of The Bounty," he told LighthouseNOW.

D'Eon wrote and directed the documentary, Bounty: Into The Hurricane, which was produced by Halifax's Tell Tale Productions Inc. for the CBC in 2014.

And he has just released a book on the subject - Bounty: The Greatest Sea Story of Them All, published by Lorimer.

He says he and Tell Tale's founder, Edward Peill, were both "riveted" by the story of the sinking of The Bounty in Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

"It was just such a shocking occurrence, for so many reasons. Not the least of which was what on earth was Bounty doing out in Hurricane Sandy?" he recalls.

But D'Eon's interest in Bounty goes back well beyond that, to when he was 11 years old and his father took him to see Mutiny on the Bounty with Brando.

"Even at a young, tender age I recognized what an incredible story it was, and all the ingredients that it had in it - exotic travel, power struggle and great locations.

"And there was a theme of it that I identified with, even as a young kid, which was rebellion against authority. The fact that a group of men could actually take over a navy ship really captured my imagination," he says.

He had the opportunity to be moved by the replica of the ship directly in the summer of 2012, when it was among famous tall ships that docked in Lunenburg.

"I stood gawking at her from the dock, just really admiring her form and her shape. She was different from the other tall ships," says D'Eon.

"It had sort of a piratical air to it. Just a rebelliousness about it, even in her lines, which I really enjoyed."

The day that the tall ships left, he was in a boat in Halifax Harbour taking pictures of all the vessels as they went by.

"And I got some pretty good shots of The Bounty," he remembers.

It would be the last time he would see the replica; Bounty was swallowed by Hurricane Sandy just a few months later.

He later found all the photos he had taken of it and noticed he'd taken "10 times more" of The Bounty than any of the other ships.

"So that just told me that I had, even sub-consciously, just a real fascination with this ship."

Some time after seeing his documentary, Lorimer's founder, James Lorimer, approached D'Eon and personally asked him to write a book about the story.

D'Eon says there are "many things" in the book for readers that were not in the documentary.

It includes descriptions of the original vessel built by the British Navy for the expedition to Tahiti to gather breadfruit, and its demise when the mutineers set it ablaze off the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.

There's also a section describing how researchers are re-writing the book on Captain Bligh.

"He wasn't a sadistic tyrant - a whipping, flogging, captain without a shred of humanity in him.

"Not true at all."

The book also describes the making of the $10-million, MGM movie with Brando, and how, having become attached to the replica ship, the actor insisted the film company spare it from its historical fiery end.

D'Eon explains how ship builders around the world competed for the $500,000 contract to build the replica ship for the movie.

"And Lunenburg won out. Smith and Rhuland's bid was the most competitive and it had the most credibility," notes D'Eon, explaining that the company had "a long, established history of building wooden ships."

Although when Bounty's replica was constructed most ships were made of steel, he says "the ability to turn wood into ships was in the DNA of Lunenburg, still, in 1960. And a lot of the old timers were still there.

"Guys, you know, who had helped build the original Bluenose in 1920 were still around. And so Lunenburg got the job. "And it was a big deal at the time."

With just six months to complete the job, the company hired 120 workers who operated two shifts, day and night.

"They hired every carpenter in the County ... Guys came out of retirement ... put their overalls on and went back to work."

The whole community got involved, including block makers, blacksmiths, sail makers, electricians and air conditioning installers for the galleys below.

"The whole town was hopping," says D'Eon.

"The boat was superbly built using all the materials that were required to build a boat that was going to be set on fire by a film studio," he notes. And MGM was "thrilled."

The vessel was launched amid a lot of fanfare in August, 1960.

"Ten thousand people gathered on any piece of shore that they could see in Lunenburg Harbour to watch The Bounty get launched."

Fred Rhuland's wife, Margaret, smashed a bottle of Tahitian salt water over its bow, sent by MGM.

Lunenburg's Bounty tale has a touch of romance as well, since one of the crew members from Nova Scotia who helped sail the ship to Tahiti for the filming fell in love with a woman on the island and brought her back to live with him in Nova Scotia.

D'Eon's book describes the life journey of the ship post-Brando.

Fifty-eight years later, the iconic Bounty would be sunk off the coast of North Carolina, amid one of the most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history - Hurricane Sandy - and following what was deemed a reckless decision to sail into its path by the ship's captain, Robin Walbridge.

While the majority of its crew were saved in a dramatic rescue operation, Bounty, Walbridge and one of the crew were lost forever to the Atlantic Ocean.

As D'Eon points out, the construction of HMS Bounty's replica had served to enhance Lunenburg's reputation as a ship-building community.

"It was already good, but now they were on fire," he says.

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