The Breadfruit Saga

The Breadfruit Saga Mini SheetIn 1787, Lieutenant William Bligh took command of the HMAV Bounty whose mission was to sail to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit saplings to take to the British Colonies in the West Indies and Jamaica in particular. This was an experiment to find an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed the large number of slaves who worked the island’s numerous sugar plantations.
The whole project encountered difficulties beginning with the voyage to Tahiti which was troubled with notoriously stormy weather and forced to take the longer way around Africa. Further delays arose from having to wait over five months for the breadfruit plants to mature sufficiently to be transported. The Bounty departed Tahiti in April 1789 and sailed into history when Fletcher Christian and the mutineers took over the ship. The story that Bligh took drinking water meant for his crew and used it to water the breadfruit plants has never been proved. After casting Bligh and his followers adrift in a small boat Christian and his fellow mutineers threw the breadfruit plants into the sea and went in search of Tubuai and ultimately Pitcairn Island. According to Bligh’s diary, Fletcher Christian shouted at his former commander, "There goes the Bounty bastard, breadfruit Bligh!". Bligh persevered in his small craft with limited food and water and after being adrift for a remarkable 47 days in the Pacific, covering 3,618 nautical miles with only a sextant to guide him and his men, he arrived at Timor. From there he returned to Britain, where he was court-martialed for the loss of the Bounty. After his exoneration Bligh remained in the Royal Navy and was promoted to Captain. From 1791 to 1793, as master and commander of HMS Providence he undertook again to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. Two thousand one hundred twenty-six breadfruit plants were carried from Tahiti, in pots and tubs stored both on deck and in the below-deck nursery. The expedition's gardener described ravages inflicted by "exceedingly troublesome flies, cold, unwholesomeness of sea air, salt spray and rationed water" nonetheless, 678 survived to the West Indies, being delivered in 1793. It was from this shipment that Bligh delivered specimens to the island of St. Vincent and Jamaica’s Bath Botanical Gardens in St. Thomas, and Bluefields in Westmoreland.

The Breadfruit Saga datestampThe operation was deemed successful even though the early slaves in the Caribbean islands did not take to it. It is now an important staple crop in Oceania and can be found in over 145 countries worldwide.

The presence of the breadfruit trees on Pitcairn according to an accurate narrative*, proves that the early settlers came from some volcanic island. The breadfruit is absent in Rapa, so it is assumed that they must have come from the Austral Islands farther to the west or from Mangareva.

There   are   two   types   of   breadfruit on   Pitcairn Island. The smooth- skinned, white-fleshed breadfruit is widespread throughout the island. The other breadfruit was introduced from Fiji and has a yellow flesh, a different, sweeter flavour, and a different texture. The breadfruit trees are propagated by cutting into the root at the base of the tree.  When a gash is made a new shoot will sprout from the gash, it will develop roots, then can be cut off and replanted. Breadfruit trees take two to three years before they produce fruit, have a long life span and grow to a height which makes harvesting difficult. The two main ways to get the fruit are either to have a very long pole with a hook at the end of it or to use a .22 rifle and shoot through the stem where it meets the branch. The thick skin means the fruit is not damaged significantly by falling on the ground. Harvesting season can begin as early as February and continues until the weather cools around June/July. Eating breadfruit is similar to eating a potato. Some favourites are pilhi, or stewing breadfruit with onion, coconut milk and seasoning; making breadfruit salad; eating it mashed or as chips or making breadfruit puff where boiled breadfruit is mashed, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Breadfruit cooked in a gravy made from oxtail to give it flavour is also popular.

The First Day Cover carries an interesting painting by Thomas Gosse entitled "Transplanting of the Bread Fruit Trees from Otaheite" (Tahiti) completed in 1796. No doubt the artist hoped to benefit from the publicity surrounding Bligh after the mutiny on his earlier voyage. Bligh is shown overseeing the operation with the Tahitian King Tu (or Otoo). King Tu had known Cook well and had become his taio or ceremonial friend.  He was apparently enormously tall and of substantial girth.  His dress seems more to resemble the Oriental style used in portraits of Omai, rather than what Tahitians actually wore.

*Vikings of the Sunrise by Sir Peter Buck: Ch16. The Mystery of Pitcairn, P222

The Breadfruit Saga FDC

The Breadfruit Saga
Please Note: All prices are in New Zealand Dollars
Miniature Sheet
First Day Cover with miniature sheet

Technical Details

Sue Wickison, Wellington, New Zealand

Pitcairn Stamps
proudly brought
to you by:
Bounty Post
Printer: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand
Process: Offset Litho
Stamp size: 28.0 mm x  40.0 mm vertical
Mini sheet size: 140mm x 90mm
Perforation Gauge: 14.285 x 13.50
Denominations: $1.00; $2.00 and $3.00
Paper: 103gsm Tullis Russell yellow-green phosphor paper
Period of Sale:
26 August 2015 for a period of 2 years
Acknowledgement:   The PIPB appreciates the assistance provided by the Breadfruit Institute, Hawaii and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby, UK (Thomas Gosse painting on FDC).