George Stewart

George Stewart (GS) (1766-1791) –Midshipman on HMAV Bounty.

Born: 1766, South Ronaldsay, Orkney. He came from one of Orkney’s ‘landed’ families; his father was Alexander Stewart of Masseter and his mother Margaret Rican. Masseter (Massater?) is an estate on South Ronaldsay. GS’s father claimed descent from Mary Queen of Scots’ half-brother Robert Stewart. Apparently the family moved to Stromness while GS was a boy; ostensibly to give GS and his siblings better educational opportunities. George had at least five siblings, among them two brothers – Walter and Robert.

“Whitehouse Lane” in Stromness (Doug Allan 2005)

Referred to as the ‘Whitehouse’, the house the family lived in after their move from Massater is still standing. (In Whitehouse lane, Stromness)

 “Stewart was a young man of creditable parents, in the Orkneys; at which place, on the return of the Resolution from the South Seas, in 1780, we received so many civilities that, on that account only, I should gladly have taken him with me: but, independent of this recommendation, he was a seaman, and had always borne a good character.” (William Bligh writing about GS after the mutiny)

This was high praise from someone who was himself a formidable seaman; clearly Bligh had held a good opinion of GS’s manner and seafaring abilities and was pleased to add him to the Bounty’s crew as a junior officer.

GS allegedly persuaded Fletcher Christian not to jump ship –as Christian, being at the extreme end of his tether as far as dealing with Capt. Bligh was concerned, apparently had intended initially- but GS may have suggested instead that he should take over command, because “the men were ripe for anything.” This has been interpreted as inflammatory, spurring on Christian to take the action he did on the morning the mutiny started. And placing GS under suspicion that he was one of the main instigators of the mutiny.

Yet, GS’ words -if indeed he uttered them- could also have been said imploringly, inferring that Christian should remain on board because he was the only person whose standing among the crew could persuade the many disaffected men among the Bounty’s crew not to indulge in hot-headed behaviour, for instance by killing Bligh.

During the Bounty’s sojourn at Tahiti in 1788 (and after September 1789) GS cohabited with a local woman, whom he called “Peggy”. She was the daughter of Tippaoo, a Tahitian ‘grandee’ who had befriended GS according to traditional custom whereby names were exchanged, each man taking on reciprocal obligations toward the other, according to the rules of ‘taio’-ship.

GS was apparently content to live a quiet life with his Tahitian family; but he andfellow midshipman Peter Heywood gave themself up immediately upon the Pandora’s arrival in Tahiti in March 1791. They were locked up with 12 others in ‘Pandora’s Box’ – a small wooden cell built for the prisoners on the quarter-deck to keep them segregated from the rest of the ship’s company.

4 months later, GS perished in the wreck of the Pandora; with 3 of his former Bounty shipmates –Richard Skinner, John Sumner and Henry Hillbrant.

Not having managed to escape from the cell, Hillbrandt drowned in the ‘box’ but GS managed to jump clear. However, he was brained by a gangway when it crashed down on him while he was in the water.

This may have been a fortuitous outcome for GS whose alleged refusal to have his chains removed by Hodges the armourer, acting on the captain’s orders (Tagart, 1832:47) perhaps indicates that he had been deeply fearful – to the point of hopelessness- about the prospect and likely outcome of the court martial he was being taken home to face. Perhaps he had forebodings about the inevitable sentence which would see him dangling ignominiously from a yardarm, suffering death by strangulation. His refusal to have his leg irons and manacles removed may indicate that his mind-set may have been suicidal –extremely maudlin at the very least! Quite conceivably he was feeling bereft and deeply dejected about having been taken from his idyllic island existence with his Tahitian wife Peggy and their beautiful baby daughter Charlotte! He would never see them again.

No longer allowed on board to visit GS during the final days before the Pandora’s departure, Charlotte was taken out to the ship in a canoe and  held up by her mother so GS could get one last look at his beloved daughter. Indeed, as the Pandora‘s surgeon Hamilton put it in his journal, these were “scenes too moving for a feeling heart!” (Hamilton 1793)

 Charlotte Stewart

Peggy holding up baby Charlotte ((Original in a Private Collection)

GS and Peggy’s daughter was born in Tahiti sometime after September 1789. As a child she was known as ‘Little Peggy’ (and later as Charlotte) and was looked after by London Missionary Society missionaries upon the death of her grandfather Tippaoo (ca. 1796) in whose care she was living after she had been orphaned upon her mother’s death –allegedly Peggy died of a broken heart after hearing about GS’s demise in HMS Pandora.

Both George Vancouver, in December 1791, and William Bligh (during his second breadfruit voyage) mention seeing Peggy and ‘Little Peggy’. She is also described in Edward Bell’s journal – kept during Bell’s voyage as clerk on HMS Chatham, one of Vancouver’s vessels (1791-92) Bligh described Charlotte as a “pretty child” but her brown-skinned appearance as a result of exposure to the sun made her indistinguishable from native children.

Ca. 1807 -then approximately 18 years old- Charlotte left Tahiti with the American sea captain George Washington Eayrs, spending nearly 5 years with him in his ship the Mercury; Eayrs appears to have been an opportunistic (sometime) smuggler who eventually fell foul of Mexican authorities which impounded his ship.

Charlotte and their infant daughter (Maria Josefa de los Remedios Eayrs) were left in Alta California, where both were eventually baptised in the Catholic faith in San Diego; Charlotte took the name Maria Carlotta de la Ascencion Stewart.

In 1817 Charlotte married one Secundino Olivera in Santa Barbara and bore him 6 children.

Charlotte remarried twice more in California, being widowed in 1832. She bore each of her two following husbands (Benjamin Foxen and George Rice) a child and died in Sta. Barbara in 1871, the matriarch of a large Californian family of GS’s grandchildren.