Statement and Defense Witnesses for Thomas Burkett (9/17/1792)
THOMAS BURKETT, being called on for his Defence, delivered to the Court a Paper Writing containing his Defence, which was read by the Judge Advocate and is hereto annexed.
On the Morning of the 28th of April 1789, I went upon deck at 4 o'Clock to keep my Watch with Mr. Christian; he had the Command of it. I walk'd between the Fore hatchway and the Windlass till there was Orders given to coil the ropes up for washing the decks. Charles Norman and Henry Heildbrant, the Cooper, went off to coil them up and I went upon the Fore Castle and Clear'd it ready for washing. While I was about it I heard from the Quarterdeck that there was a Shark alongside. Mr. Hayward and Mr. Hallett came forward, Mr. Hayward had a Shark hook in his hand and said to me, "Do you see the Shark, Burkett?" I said, " No, Sir, I have not seen it forward." Chas. Norman call'd out that it was coming up on the larboard Quarter. It did not come alongside; then Mr. Hallett said to me, "Burkett, it is my catering week and you must draw those three Fowls for me which are hanging to the Main Stay." I said I did not know how to draw them, but I would draw them as well as I could. When I came from the Wheel, as it was my next trick, he said it was not 6 o'Clock and I had time enough before. I went, upon which I got them down. Mr. Hayward and Norman were then with us. At that time Mr. Christian came forward and Order'd Norman to go Aft and unship the Gangway ready for drawing water j then He (Mr. Christian) went down the fore hatchway and I heard him say, " Coleman, give me a Musquet to shoot a Shark with." I was busy drawing the Fouls on the Windlass with my back aft when I heard Mr. Hayward say, "What are you about, are you going to Exercise already?" Somebody made answer (I believe it was Churchill), "Yes, I don't know the Captain's reason for it, he has order'd to Exercise at day light." I then heard Churchill say, " Hayward is gone to tell the Captain." I then turned round and saw Mr. Hayward and Mr. Hallett going aft on the larboard side and Churchill with four others Came upon the fore hatchway Arm'd with Musquets and Bayonets, and run aft on the larboard side and went down the after hatchway, Churchill looking in a threatening manner at Mr. Hayward and Mr. Hallett, and appearing to me to Speak to them, but I could not hear what He said. Willm. McCoy came up close after them and took his post at the Fore hatch way, striking the but of his Musquet against the Coamings, saying, "Bear a hand up." In. Williams took possession of the Fore Castle, Arm'd in the same Manner j then Came up Mr. Christian with a Musquet and fix'd bayonet and a Cartouch box in his left hand and a pistol and Cutlass in his right, with Fury in his looks; he said, " Here, Burkett, lay hold of this," holding out the Musquet I ask'd him what I must do with it in a refusing Manner, when he presented the pistol at me, saying, " Damn your blood, lay hold of it and go aft." McCoy said, " Why don't you lay hold of it and go aft as Mr. Christian desires you ? " in a surly tone, at the same time loading his piece. I then laid hold of it and went aft on the larboard side, and Mr. Christian went aft to the Starboard, [and] shaking the Cutlass at Mr. Hayward said, "Damn your blood, Hayward, Mamoo," which word in the Otaheite language signifies hold your tongue. He then went down the after hatch way and as I went Aft I heard a door broke open and Mr. Christian said, "Bligh, you are my Prisoner." Then I heard the Captain say, " What's the Matter What's the Matter? Murther!" Then I heard some Glass break and somebody say, "Mr. Fryer, stay in your Cabin." Another said, "Mr. Nelson, stay below." Mr. Hayward and Mr. Hallett were then standing between the two Guns on the Starboard side of the Quarter Deck, seemingly much Confused. Jn. Mills was at the Conn and Thos Ellison at the wheel on the same side and Chas Norman Standing by me. Churchill then Call'd out" Hand down a seizing to tye the Captain's hands." Nobody offedng to get anything, he again Call'd out, "You Infernal buggars, hand down a seizing or I'll Come up and play hell with you all." Then jElls took his Knife out and Cut a piece off one of the lead lines which hung on the Mizen Mast and going to the Starboard side of the Companion handed it down. Soon after I saw the Captain Come up with his hands tied behind him, in his Shirt and with him Mr. Christian, Chas. Churchill, Isaac Martin and Alexr. Smith. I was then at the Gangway and seeing the Captain without Breeches and with his Shirt tail tyed up with the seizing that secured his hands I laid down the Musquet by the dripstone; when Mr. Christian ask'd me what I was going to do I told him, " let down the Captain's shirt," which I did by hauling it out of the lashing. When I had done, Mr. Christian said to me, " Take up your Arms." I took no Notice, but went to the Companion and said to In. Sumner, "Hand me up the Captain's Cloaths." In the meantime In. Smith, the Captain's Servant, Came aft and I said to him, "Jack, go fetch the Captain's Cloaths it is a Shame to see him stand Naked." Then Mr. Christian said, "Why don't you take up your Arms, Burkett," and putting his hand into his pocket drew a Small pistol out, and I said, " I would have you take care." I took the musquet, being afraid to refuse; I then went to the Gangway and staid there till the Small Cutter was hoisted out, then Mr. Christian ordered Mr. Hayward and Mr. Hallett to go into the Boat, at which they seem'd very much Surprised. Mr. Hayward said, " I hope not, what harm did I ever do you, Mr. Christian, that you should send me in the Boat?" Mr. Hallett said (with tears in his Eyes), "I hope you will not insist up an it, Mr. Christian." Christian reply'd, "GO' into the Boat," and Calld Mr. Samuel and Ordered him to go in the boat. He then Call'd In. Smith and Ordered him to' bring a Case battle and give the people a Glass of Rum each. Chas. Norman, who was then in the boat, called out that she was sinking having a large hole in her. Mr. Christian then ordered the large Cutter out. While this was doing I heard the Captain say, " Consider what you are about, Mr. Christian, for God’s sake drop it and there shall be no' mare came of It." He reply'd, "'Tis to late, Captain Bligh," the Captain said, " No, Mr. Christian, it is not to late yet, I'll forfeit my Honour if ever I speak of it; I'll give you my band that there shall never be any mare Came of It." Mr. Christian then said, "You know, Captain Bligh, you have treated me like a dog all the voyage. I have been In Hell this fortnight past and I am determin'd to suffer it no longer." Mr. Cole and Mr. Purcell came and begg'd Mr. Christian to' drop it, but he seem'd Inflexible, and said" You know, Mr. Cole, haw I have been Used." Mr. Cole said, " I know it very well Mr. Christian, we all knew it, but drop it, far God’s sake." Mr. Hayward then said, " Consider, Mr. Christian, What a dangerous Step you have taken." The Captain said, " Can there be no' other Method taken I " When Churchill, who stood by, said, " NO', this is the best and only Method." I then went aft and stand by the Water Cask an the Starboard side, abaft the Wheel, to keep out of Mr. Christian's sight as much as possible, as I Observ'd him Continually Eyeing me. I put dawn the arms behind the Cask and stood there while the large Cutter was gat Out and the Small one in. I then Went forward to' the Fare Hatchway where, seeing Michl. Byrn graping about far something in the Fare Rigging, I ask'd what he wanted. He told me a Sheer rape far the Cutter, upon which I Cut a piece off a Cail which lay there and gave it to' him and he Went into' the Boat. Churchill then Came and in a surly Manner ask'd me what I was about and where were my Arms. I told him aft. He then told me to go' aft and get them and take care of myself, saying, " I have seen you shifting about, but I have my Eye upon you."
I then went aft and stood by the Wheel, but did not take up the Arms, when I saw Mr. Fryer come up and speak to Mr. Christian and the Captain, but did not hear what he said; he then went on the booms and spoke to Jas. Morrison and Jn. Millward, who were on the larboard quarter of the Launch. While he was there Mathw Quintrell came running up with a Pistol in his hand, took him by the Collar and led him down below; a little after, In. Millward came to me and ask'd me if I had any hand in the Affair, I told him No, no more than I was forced to have, he then told me that Mr. Fryer intended to make a push, and try to retake the Ship, I told him I was very glad of it, and that I was ready to give him all the Assistance in my power-and that I should Watch his Motions. He then left me and went forward. I then took up my Arms with a good heart, to be ready to Assist in recovering the Ship if any Attempt was made. The Launch was now got out, and I expected to see some attempt made to recover the Ship. I then saw Churchill go and speak to Mr. Christian, and then to all the rest that were under Arms and talk with them, but did not come to me. The things were getting into the Boat, and the Officers Came up, when Mr. Cole came aft and was taking a Compass out of the Binnacle, when he was observ'd by Quintrell, who Came aft to stop him, saying He should not have it and ask'd what he wanted with a Compass when Land was in Sight. Mr. Cole told him there were more in the Store room and looking at me said, " It was very hard that he could not have one out of so many." I then said to him, " Take it." Quintrell then said, " Damn my Eyes, we may as well give him the Ship" and went forward, and Mr. Cole took the Compass and put it in the Boat. The Officers being now all up, I look'd for some attempt to be made but, to my utter surprize and astonishment, saw None. I observed the Captain and Mr. Fryer speaking to Mr. Christian to let Mr. Fryer and some of the people Stay in the Ship as the boat would be overloaded, when Mr. Christian said, "The people may Stay, but Mr. Fryer Must go in the boat." He then Calld out to Churchill to see the Officers into the boat and to take care that Norman, McIntosh, and Coleman were kept in the Ship. Mr. Fryer then said, " You! Had better let me stay, Mr. Christian, for you'll not Know what to do with the Ship"; to which he reply'd, "We can do very well without you, Mr. Fryer." Churchill then hurry'd him into the boat. When Mr. Fryer was in the boat Churchill then went and Spoke to Mr. Christian, who then brought the Captain to the Gangway and untied him; when he was going over the Side he said, "Never fear, my lads, I'll do you Justice if ever I reach England." I then put down the Musquet, seeing it was of no use, and went to the Gangway, which was surrounded by Mr. Christian and his party, when Captain Begh said, "Don't Come any more into the Boat, she is overloaded already." Every body in her said the same. I was afraid to call out and could not get near enough to Speak, as the Boat was then dropping astern. I then went aft to the Taffrel and Call'd to the Officers to know if I could get them any thing. Mr. Peckover told me to get him some Cloaths and his pocket book. I went to his Cabin and brought up the book and In. Mills brought up an Armful of his Cloaths and put them into the Boat. The Captain then desired me to get him a Musquet or two upon which I went to Mr. Christian and ask'd him to let me give a Couple of Musquets into the boat, when Churchill said, "I'll be dam'd if you do," and taking up three or four Cutlasses Carried them Aft and sent them into the boat. I then went Aft to see if I could be of any further service, when Mr. Christian Ordred the boat to be cast off and Call'd me to come and trim the sails. I could do no more but give them my hearty blessing and my prayers to God for their Welfare and bid them farewell.
The foregoing is a copy of a narrative that was written soon after I left the" Bounty," and had got clear of Christian and his Party-foreseeing, that either, sooner or later, myself, as well as every other person on board, would be obliged to render an account of our Conduct and the Motives by which we were actuated.
If the Court will please by my interception that the to consider that it was solely Boatswain was allowed to take the Compass in the Boat, without which, it would have been impossible for those who left the Ship ever to have reached Timor, and, consequently, this Country, and that by consequence, no Evidence under Heaven, even allowing me to be Guilty, could have proved me so-would it not, I say, be a cruel reflection for a generous mind to consider, that Compassion for the distress of my fellow Creatures should eventually be the Cause of my Sufferings.
My enquiring if any thing was wanted in the Boat that I could assist them with either by Stealth or Intreaty, and my procuring Mr. Peckover his Pocket Book-more especially the first Circumstance-will, I hope and trust, be of some weight in the Scale of Mercy, and pave the way to my acquittal and forgiveness.
The circumstance of Christian making choice of me for one of those who were to remain in the Ship, contrary both to my Knowledge and inclination, certainly argues greatly in favour of my general good, and peaceable character: for Captain Bligh himself expressly asserts, that the reason Christian chose to detain the Carpenter's Mates in preference to the Carpenter himself (whom I wish not by any means to reflect on) was, that he (the Carpenter) was a turbulent troublesome fellow!
I have little doubt but that the before mentioned simple narration will convince the Court of the reason of my being found under Arms, which I do not, nor never did deny. Threats of immediate Death upon my refusal of the Arms, and attempting to remonstrate upon the folly and wickedness of such a measure were always and constantly repeated to me-and had it not been for my former inoffensive and peaceable behaviour, I should not, perhaps, as I now do, stand in the most unfortunate and deplorable situation that ever man stood.
All the Evidences agree that prior to the morning of the 28th of April they never had the least cause to suspect my integrity, or to suppose from my behaviour, that I could ever be concerned in so base a transaction as the Mutinous seizure of the" Bounty "-but on the Contrary, my Character stood fair, and unimpeached-I had done my duty as became an attentive good Seaman. And no one Evidence has ever asserted that I was in the least degree active in obeying any Orders of the leading Mutineers, 9 or that I committed any outrage, or made use of any Language, that would lead them to believe I was a party concerned, but that I was simply armed with a Musquet, which I have endeavoured to prove how I came into possession of.
Lieut. Hayward, tho' he says he saw me come up the Fore hatchway, yet he had before asserted, that he was looking over the Stern at a Shark, when he was roused from that situation by armed people coming aft. I am far from desiring to invalidate the testimony of any Witness otherwise than to shew, in the great confusion and hurry naturally attending such a business and the personal fear that might confuse the Mind on such an occasion, might magnify objects, that, if received in cooler moments, might in reality, appear to be not even the shadow of a shade.
The Boatswain's Evidence particularly states that the Launch's gunwale when she was veered astern was not above (j or 7 inches clear of the water-it would have been impossible therefore, however good the intentions and principles of those who remained behind might have been, for any more to have escaped, and as to what relates to myself-it will not bear the smallest degree of probability that Christian would have suffered me to have left the Ship whom (as I trust I have made appear to the Court, and which it was impossible for me to corroborate by any present existing Evidence, or even by any absent, but such, as, while their Testimony tended to exculpate me, would bring disgrace and Infamy on themselves) he had singled me out as one that he was determined at all Events to detain, and for the reasons before specified.
Lieut. Hayward, in his Evidence, acknowledges that I was one of those who voluntarily came down from the Mountains and surrendered myself immediately on his requisition -and that he had before remained a Night at the place, and found, that any endeavour to take us by force would have been ineffectual-which certainly argues a consciousness on my part, if not of perfect innocence, yet innocence in such a degree as not totally to exclude every hope of acquittal and forgiveness.
Surely, all these circumstances considered, there is a great presumption of my being innocent of the Charge alleged against me, and I trust this Honorable Court, which is called together to administer Justice in Mercy ,and to whom, at a future, and still more awful Tribunal than that before which I now stand, Justice in Mercy will be administered, where there is no much room to doubt, will incline to the side of an unfortunate Being, who has undergone much long, painful, and close confinement.
If the Court will please to reflect on the State of Mind I must have been in, ever since my first going on board the " Pandora" to the present hour, will be possible for them to form any conception of the disquietude and pain I must have felt, and the Hopes and Fears, Doubt, and Anxiety with which my mind has been constantly agitated?
Consider, Gentlemen that prior to the morning of The 28th of April there never was, in anyone instance, the smallest reflection upon either my Character or Conduct. If from the want of Evidence I have failed in making my innocence so clear and satisfactory as I could wish, I hope the several favorable circumstances I have before related in my defence, will plead something in my favour. If I have been wanting in fortitude sufficient to resist the acceptance of the Arms forced on me by Christian, instant Death would have been the consequence of that resistance; and I appeal to my Judges whether Life, in all its various concomitant Misfortunes, is so very easy to resign upon every sudden demand.
Alas! I have erred, I should have resisted, and died! -but error is the Lot of .Mortals-forgiveness the noblest attribute of the Divinity-in full hopes and confidence of which, I resign my cause to the hands of this Honorable and impartial Court.
Mr. FRYER called in again.
Examined by THOMAS BURKETT
Q. You have said that at the
Time of the Mutiny you saw me armed with a Musquet; can you positively
swear that I armed myself voluntarily and that it was not in
Consequence of the fear of Immediate Death with which I was threatened
by Christian that I became Armed in the Manner you have related?
Q. Be so good as to speak to
my Character I
The Witness withdrew.
Mr. COLE called in again.
Examined by THOMAS BURKETT
Q. You have said that at the
Time of the Mutiny you saw me Armed with a Musquet; can you positively
swear that I armed myself voluntarily and that it was not in
Consequence of the Fear of immediate Death with which I was threatened
by Christian, that I became Armed in the Manner you have related?
Q. Be so good as to speak to
Lieutenant HALLET called in again.
Q. Do you remember ordering
me to do any thing a few Minutes before the Mutiny happened?
The Witness withdrew.
THE BOUNTY MUTINEERS TRIAL HOMEPAGE