The Pitcairn Islands celebrated the 250th birth anniversary of Fletcher Christian by issuing five stamps Sept. 25 featuring actors who portrayed him in film versions of the tale of the mutiny on the HMS Bounty.
Christian was born Sept. 25, 1764, in Eaglesfield, England. In 1787, at age 23, he sailed on his second voyage with Capt. William Bligh, as master’s mate on the Bounty. The story of Christian’s mutiny two years later has become legendary.
Several previous stamps from Pitcairn Islands stamps have honored Fletcher, who, along with eight of his fellow mutineers, six Tahitian men and 11 Tahitian women, settled on the remote, isolated and uninhabited island Pitcairn to avoid being captured and taken back to England for trial.
In fact, he is shown on three designs in Pitcairn’s first stamp set of 1941-51, the 1-penny, 1 shilling and 2sh 6d denominations (Scott 2, 7 and 8).
The denominations of the new stamps range from 20¢ to $3.
The 20¢ stamp shows two scenes from the earliest film version of Mutiny on the Bounty, a 1916 Australian-New Zealand silent movie starring Wilton Power as Christian.
The website of New Zealand Film Archive says of the movie: “Filmed partly in Rotorua by Australian film maker Raymond Longford and based on Bligh’s log book, this was the first of at least five versions of the famous story. The film is lost.”
The next stamp, a $1 denomination, shows Errol Flynn making his big screen debut in the 1933 Australian film In the Wake of the Bounty. The Tasmanian-born actor was a descendent of Bounty mutineer Edward “Ned” Young, who accompanied Christian to Pitcairn.
Clark Gable’s portrayal of Christian is highlighted on the $2.10 stamp. This 1935 MGM production of Mutiny on the Bounty won the Oscar for best picture. Three of its stars — Gable, Charles Laughton as Bligh, and Franchot Tone as Roger Byam (based on mutineer Peter Heywood) —were all nominated in the best actor category, but lost to Victor McLaglen in The Informer.
Marlon Brando starred in the 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, which is featured on the $2.80 stamp.
The TCM (Turner Classic Movies) website said: “Filmed on location in beautiful Tahiti, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) was shot in glorious color and Ultra Panavision 70, boasted exciting special effects by A. Arnold Gillespie and his team, a top-notch cast and a rousing musical score by Bronislau Kaper. It was also touted as a ‘spectacle’ which was one incentive to lure audiences away from their television sets in 1962 … ”
Despite receiving seven Oscar nominations, it was considered a box office failure.
Mel Gibson is pictured on the $3 stamp in his role as Christian in the 1984 film The Bounty. Unlike the 1935 and 1962 films, it was based on the 1972 nonfiction book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian by Richard Hough, not the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.
Denise Durkin designed the stamps. Each follows the same format with film sprockets at the top and bottom, the actor in the character on the left, a scene related to the mutineers on the right and small portrait of Christian in an oval in the upper right.
No contemporary portraits of Christian exist. This one was drawn by Larry Learmonth for the aforementioned book by Hough.
Bligh described Christian: “5 ft. 9 in. high, blackish or of very dark complexion. Hair — blackish or very dark brown. Make — strong. A star tatowed (sic) on his left breast, and tatowed on the backside. His knees stand a little out and he may be called a little bow legged. He is subject to violent perspiration, particularly in his hand, so that he soils anything he handles.”
The press release announcing the stamps adds to this description: “All others who knew Christian agreed that he was handsome and of an athletic build. He seems to have been an honest and forthright man, normally with a happy and friendly disposition, very charming and liked by most on board the Bounty.”
In addition to the portrait by Learmonth, photographs by Thad Koza and Tony Probst are shown on the stamps, as well as images from the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia and the movie studios that produced the films.
Southern Colour Print printed the stamps by offset.