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Joseph Coleman (1749-?)

 

The principal link between Cook’s voyages and the mutiny on HMS Bounty is William Bligh.  He was master in HMS Resolution on the Third Voyage, and later commander of HMS Bounty.  The presence of two other men on both expeditions has been recognised by many people.  William Peckover, gunner, and David Nelson, gardener, both sailed in HMS Discovery and Bounty

 

In an earlier article in Cook’s Log about these men, Alan Leventhall identified Joseph Coleman as someone that also served in Discovery and Bounty.1  He noted that Beaglehole’s listing of the ship’s company did not include Joseph Coleman, though there was “a James Coleman listed as being an A.B. on the Discovery”.  The clerks on Cook’s ships used various common abbreviated versions of first names, so a man called John was listed as Jno, William as Wm, and Robert as Robt.  Confusion, though, could occur with the use of Jas for James, and Jos for Joseph.  Beaglehole apparently misread Jos Coleman as James Coleman, when he produced his listing of the ships’ companies.2 

 

Joseph Coleman joined Discovery on 21 March, 1776, as an AB.  He was a quartermaster from July, 1776.  He also spent a month in HMS Resolution in May, 1779, helping to repair her.  His entry in the muster shows him as being born in Dorking, Surrey, about 1751.  The only baptism record I have found for a Joseph Coleman in that area about that time is for 4 June, 1749, at Oakwood, Surrey (near Dorking), the son of Richard and Elizabeth Coleman. 

 

Coleman next appears on the record as armourer in Bounty, under Lieutenant Bligh, who left England in 1787, for Tahiti to obtain breadfruit plants.  Coleman completed a seaman’s will before departure.  In it he named Richard Skelton, a Greenwich victualler, as his beneficiary, suggesting that he had no immediate family.  At the time of the mutiny, Coleman was not among the mutineers.  During the event on 28 April, 1789, near Tofua, Tonga, he was forcibly retained aboard the ship, and not allowed to accompany Bligh in the longboat.  Bligh recorded in his journal,

The armourer, Joseph Coleman, and two of the carpenters, McIntosh and Norman, were also kept contrary to their inclination; and they begged of me, after I was astern in the boat, to remember that they declared they had no hand in the transaction.3 

The mutineers had recognised the importance of the metalworking skills that an armourer possessed, so Coleman was crucial to their survival.  He therefore, reluctantly, accompanied them in Bounty back to Tahiti.  However, when the core mutineers decided to leave Tahiti, Coleman did not join them, even hiding so that he could not be forcibly taken again.

 

Following Bligh’s remarkable journey back to England, HMS Pandora, commanded by Captain Edward Edwards, was dispatched to find Bounty, capture the mutineers, and return them to England to face court martial.  The naive Coleman greeted the arrival of Pandora at Tahiti in March, 1791, only to find himself arrested and confined in the cage on the ship’s deck known as Pandora’s Box.  In this state, he began the return voyage to England.  However, Pandora struck the Great Barrier Reef in August, 1791, and sank.  Coleman survived, and with others, eventually reached England.  There, Coleman was tried for the Bounty mutiny at a court-martial, but found not guilty.

 

After the open boat journey had ended at Timor, Bligh wrote out a list of descriptions of the mutineers, including,

Joseph Coleman, armourer, aged 40 years, five feet six inches high, fair complexion, grey hair, strong made; a heart tatowed on one of his arms.  The four last are deserving of mercy, being detained against their inclinations.4 

 

Bligh’s comments assisted Coleman in his defence at his court martial.  After his acquittal, Coleman successfully applied to enter Greenwich Hospital as a pensioner.  Coleman later became caught up amidst the claims and counter claims of Bligh, Edward Christian (Fletcher’s brother), and others following the court martial.  In July, 1794, Coleman swore an affidavit, reproduced below. 

 

No further information about Coleman that can be verified has come to light.  A Joseph Coleman married in Greenwich in 1795.  A Joseph Coleman died in Shere, near Dorking, in 1827.  Whether they are the same as our Joseph Coleman is uncertain.

 

John Robson

 

References

  1. Cook’s Log, page 1910, vol. 25, no. 1 (2002). 
  2. Beaglehole, J.C.  The Journals of Captain James Cook.  Vol. III: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776-1780.  Hakluyt Society.  1967.  Part Two.  Page 1473.
  3. Bligh, Lt. William.  A Voyage to the South Sea,
    Including an Account of the Mutiny On Board the Said Ship
    .  George Nicol.  1790. 
  4. Description of the Pirates remaining on Board his Majesty’s armed Vessel, Bounty, on the 28th April, 1789.  Drawn up at Timor.  Copies of this List were forwarded from Batavia to Lord Cornwallis, then Governor-General of India, at Calcutta; to Governor Philips, at New South Wales; and one was left at Batavia, with the Governor-General of the Dutch Possessions in India

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 4, volume 37, number 4 (2014).

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