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In Portsmouth Harbour, England, in December of 1787, preparations are made to sail the H.M.S. Bounty to Tahiti, where her crew will collect breadfruit trees and import them as a cheap source of food for slave camps in the West Indies. Before sailing, a press gang headed by Fletcher Christian, the ship's lieutenant, strongarms Thomas Ellison, William Muspratt, Quintal and others into the King's Navy for the two-year voyage. Roger Byam, a descendent of a long line of decorated naval officers, is made a midshipman on the Bounty and is commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks to help him research his Tahitian dictionary. As the ship is about to set sail, Ellison, who does not want to leave his wife and child, is caught trying to break ship. When Christian learns of Ellison's attempted desertion, he reasons with Ellison and gently persuades him to return and serve his country. Soon after boarding his ship, William Bligh, the Bounty's sadistic captain, orders his crew to witness a "flogging through the fleet," a brutal form of punishment in which court-martialed seamen are flogged in view of every ship in the fleet. Although the master-at-arms pronounces the court-martialed seaman dead as he approaches the Bounty , Bligh insists that he proceed with the flogging. Later, Bligh, who respects only one law, the "law of fear," and tolerates no dissent among his crew, upbraids Christian when he complains about the ship's indecent food supply. Once at sea, Byam is severly punished by Bligh after he and another seaman are caught engaging in a minor fistfight, and is ordered to stand perched on top of the masthead during a storm. Christian tries to end Byam's cruel punishment by calling him down, but Bligh immediately sends him back. Later, Bligh keel-hauls a sailor because he asked for water to treat a wound. When Bligh accuses his crew of stealing cheese from the ship, seaman McCoy informs him that he witnessed Maggs, Bligh's clerk, remove the cheese in Portsmouth under his superior's orders. McCoy is soon punished for exposing the captain's scheme. Desperate for food, seaman Thomas Burkitt and others decide to risk their rationed dinner and use it as bait for shark fishing. They succeed in capturing a shark, but when Maggs insists on a share of the catch, a quarrel ensues and Bligh intercedes. Christian accuses Bligh of starving his crew, and Bligh calls Christian a "mutinous dog." Just as Christian is about to strike Bligh, land is spotted on the horizon and the crew makes preparations for landing. Once in Tahiti, Bligh is greeted by island chief Hitihiti, an old friend of the King's Navy who greeted Captain Cook's ship when Bligh was a sailing master on it ten years earlier. Following the polite exchange of salutations, Bligh puts his crew to work harvesting the breadfruit trees. When Bligh denies Christian shore leave, the kind-hearted Hitihiti manages to secure his freedom and then introduces the lieutenant to his granddaughter Maimiti. Christian falls in love with Maimiti, and before he leaves Tahiti, he instructs Byam to tell her that he will come back for her someday. At sea once again, Bligh orders the flogging of four seamen who attempted to desert and insists that the ship's ailing surgeon witness the punishment. The brutality proves too much for the physician, and he collapses and dies. Christian blames Bligh for the doctor's death and decides to put an end to Bligh's ruthless tyranny by leading the crew in a mutiny. Christian takes over control of the ship by forcing Bligh and his allies into the ship's launch and casting them out to sea. He then turns the ship around and sails it back to Tahiti, where he marries Maimiti. Christian then abandons Byam and other seamen who were loyal to Bligh and were not loaded onto the ship's launch with the captain. As Christian leaves Tahiti to sail the Bounty to a new island, another British ship, the Pandora , is seen approaching on the horizon. The Pandora lands in Tahiti carrying the rescued Bligh, who quicky arrests Byam and the others for mutiny, despite their sworn loyalty to him. Determined to find Christian and see him "hanging from a yardarm," Bligh navigates the Pandora into heavy seas and breaks the ship on a reef. Bligh, Byam and other survivors are rescued and then taken to England. Meanwhile, Christian sails the Bounty to Pitcairn Island, where he sets the ship ablaze and settles his men to begin life anew. Five years pass and Byam, who has been convicted of high treason, receives a pardon when the King learns of Bligh's cruel disciplinary practices. Byam is soon restored to the Royal Navy, and is assigned to its flagship, which is set to fight the French in the battle of Trafalgar and "sweep the seas for England."