Viewing HMAS Bounty Artifacts on a Day Trip from London to Greenwich, England, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in January 2004


Maritime buffs can enjoy an interesting day trip from London to the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, which offers a number of attractions.  Greenwich, literally the "green village," contains crooked lanes, bric-a-brac shops and bustling antique and flea markets.  HMAS (Her Majesty's Armed Ship) Bounty and Pitcairn Island enthusiasts will be drawn in particular to the National Maritime Museum (NMM) and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG).

The NMM (http:\\ is a state-of-the-art facility with fascinating displays on Britain's maritime past, present and future.  Founded in 1934, this is the world's largest nautical museum, with a collection of over two million items.  Its 20 galleries display some of the finest objects, covering many aspects of ships, seafaring and marine affairs.  The museum is housed in historic buildings which were formerly a school for the sons of seamen.

A number of artifacts from the Bounty are showcased in the Trade and Empire gallery, including a coconut shell, a horn cup and a small weight used to measure out portions of food.  Presumably these instruments were used by William Bligh and his loyalists on their lengthy longboat voyage.  A worm-eaten piece of wood from the Bounty's rudder is displayed as are a corkscrew and a pipe said to have belonged to Bligh.  A braided grey lock of mutineer John Adams' hair several inches long is also exhibited.  Adjacent to that is John Adams' original grave marker from Pitcairn Island.  John Adams was the last of the mutineers to die on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.

Although one of the museum's most fascinating Bounty-related items is not on display, it can be viewed easily upon application to the NMM's Caird Library.  This library contains a copy of "The Log of HMS Bounty 1787-1789" by William Bligh.  The volume in the museum is number 236 of a limited edition of 500 copies published in 1975 by Genesis Publications of Surrey, England.  The book is a photographic reproduction of the original handwritten document which is held at the Public Records Office in Kew, England.  Upon opening the Bounty log to page 248, visitors can read Bligh's own longhand account of the events of the mutiny on 28 April 1989. 

Just across the park and up a small hill is the ROG (,
which was founded in 1675 by King Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  The original purpose of the ROG was to provide accurate charts of the stars in order to improve navigation.  Today this institution is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the prime meridian (longitude 0 degrees). 

GMT, of course, is the basis of standard time throughout the world.  The Shepherd gate clock at the ROG, installed in 1852 and still functioning, was the first public clock to display GMT.  The ROG's red rooftop ball has dropped daily at precisely 1 p.m. since 1833.  This used to assist mariners on the Thames to set their chronometers. 

The prime meridian is the zero point which has been used in the calculation of terrestrial longitudes since 1884.  Visitors may have their photographs taken at the meridian line while straddling two hemispheres. 

On exhibit at the ROG are the four well-known marine timekeepers completed by John Harrison between 1735 and 1759.  In addition, Larcum Kendall's second timekeeper is on display.  This chronometer, known as K2, was built in 1771.  A simplified and cheaper version of Harrison's H4 timekeeper, which itself dates to 1759, K2 was used by Captain Phipps on his Arctic voyage of discovery in 1773 and was later issued to William Bligh for use on the Bounty

The Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site also includes some other places of general interest.  The seventeenth-century Palladian Queen's House was England's first purely classical building.  Designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 as a retreat for Anne of Denmark, queen to James I, the building was refurbished in 2001 and now provides well-lit galleries.  The Queen's House contains the Tulip Stairs which date to 1635.  This was Britain's first centrally unsupported spiral stairway.

The outstanding painted hall and chapel of the nearby Old Royal Naval College, originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695 to house naval pensioners, are also open to the public.  The buildings, which became the Royal Naval College in 1873, are said to be a Baroque masterpiece.

The hauntingly beautiful and much-visited Cutty Sark, launched in 1869 and the last of the China tea clipper ships, has been in dry dock at Greenwich Pier since 1954.  Nearby, also in dry dock is Gipsy Moth IV, in which Sir Francis Chichester circumnavigated the world in 119 days in 1967.

Those who collect maritime history books will appreciate the existence of a nautical bookstore in Greenwich.  Those not tempted by nautical books may enjoy browsing instead in one of Greenwich's four interesting bargain bookstores where every title is marked down to only Sterling 2.00. 

Greenwich can be reached easily by riverboat in about an hour from Embankment Pier, Tower Millennium Pier, Waterloo Millennium Pier or Westminster Millennium Pier, all in central London.  This has been called the best boat ride in London.  Even Henry VIII arrived in Greenwich by boat on one of his hunting expeditions.  Today visitors ride by the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the recently-developed Docklands area.  Three miles downstream the Thames erupts into one of the most sublime sights of English architecture.  Minutes later the masts and rigging of the Cutty Sark finally come into view.

And yet a day trip from London to Greenwich can be quite inexpensive.  A round trip boat ticket is about Sterling 6.00 ($10.25).  Or, for only Sterling 4.10 ($7.00), visitors to London may purchase a Day Travelcard valid for unlimited travel on the underground, buses and the modern Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in zones one and two.  This pass may be purchased at certain main underground stations only after 9:30 a.m., and it is valid until 4:30 a.m. the following day. 

More expensive versions of the Day Travelcard exist for those requiring travel in additional zones and/or travel on multiple days.  The Travelcard is also sold at Heathrow Airport's tube stations after 9:30 a.m.  Incidentally, holders of a Travelcard are entitled to one-third off the price of most riverboat services.

Visitors will find it convenient to change from the Jubilee Line of the underground to the DLR at Canary Wharf where only a short walk is required.  It is best to alight from the DLR at the "Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich" station.  Signs are posted to the various attractions in Greenwich.  Admission is free to both the NMM and the ROG.  Restaurants and sandwich shops in the compact area of maritime Greenwich enable visitors to spend an entire day there, including a lovely indoor lunch or a picnic outdoors in the park or near the pier. 


For nearly 40 years I have been fascinated by the Mutiny on the Bounty saga and by Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific where the mutineers fled.  In the early 1960's as a young teenager I read the Nordhoff and Hall Bounty Trilogy and then began collecting Pitcairn Island postage stamps.  Recently I realized that it would be very easy for me to view some of the original artifacts relating to the Bounty saga.  After visiting Greenwich, England in July 2003 I wrote the short article above. 

I realize that most other people will not have the same level of interest as I have in the Bounty and in Pitcairn Island.  Nevertheless I hope that this article may stimulate others to realize that, similarly, it might not be so difficult for them to visit locations or museums which may hold original artifacts relating to a topic which may be of interest to them.   

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:


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