Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bread-fruit bounty

Drawing by Sydney Parkinson, an artist, sailing on board the Endeavor with Captain Cook, who made meticulous botanical drawings of new discoveries.

Bread growing on trees that can be baked, or sliced and eaten with fish, and spiced to your liking---this was a discovery made for the Europeans by Captain James Cook when encountering the breadfruit tree in Tahiti during his first excursion to the South Pacific. His sailing-master on a later voyage was William Bligh. Bligh later became captain of his own ship, bound again for Tahiti, with the promise of obtaining and then transporting the wondrous fruit to islands in the Caribbean where there were plantations of sugar and pineapple and other exotic crops grown for European taste. Breadfruit became a staple food of the slave laborers. Bligh, having survived mutiny on his ship the BOUNTY, commandeered a lifeboat and with 18 crew members rowed to safety in Timor, a 3600 mile journey, that, “… is still regarded as perhaps the most outstanding feat of seamanship and navigation ever conducted in a small boat.” Caroline Alexander, Smithsonian magazine, September 2009, p. 58. In the article, Alexander describes Bligh’s 2nd voyage on the PROVIDENCE, to the island of Tahiti to acquire botanical specimens and whole plants which were to be shipped east to the West Indies. The breadfruit was at the time considered, by Captain Cook and botanist Joseph Banks, a practical food for slave laborers on the Caribbean Islands since it was easier to prepare and eat than grains, etc. These islands had been absorbing new vegetation, fruit and coffee since Columbus, in 1494, and the Spanish, as early as 1513.

Explanation of terms:
Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779) sailed on three voyages for Britain's Royal Society. He died in Hawaii before completing his third voyage.
William Bligh (1754-1815) sailed for Britain’s Admiralty and died in England after a life at sea.
BOUNTY: Bligh’s first ship to the Pacific Ocean.
PROVIDENCE: Bligh’s second ship bound for Tahiti and the West Indies
Timor: located in the Indonesian archipelago.

Books in the Maritime Research Library on William Bligh:

The Bligh notebook : rough account, Lieutenant Wm. Bligh's voyage in the Bounty's launch from the ship to Tofua & from thence to Timor, 28 April to 14 June 1789 : with a draft list of the Bounty mutineers. / transcription and facsimile edited by John Bach.

Captain Bligh & Mr. Christian; the men and the mutiny. / by Richard Hough.

Web sites of interest:
Wikipedia's articles on breadfruit and the botanical description of breadfruit.

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