Saturday, 29 September 2012

Edward Young, "Bounty" mutineer.

Midshipman Edward (Ned) Young is in many ways the enigma of the Bounty mutineers.  Although educated and well-connected enough to receive a letter-of-recommendation from Admiral Sir George Young, literally nothing is known of his family or upbringing.  Indeed, the only documented reference to Ned’s genealogy is from the Bounty muster, which lists his birthplace as St. Kitts, West Indies, in 1764.  Yet correspondence in 2009 with St. Kitts National Archivist, Victoria O’Flaherty, and St. Kitts-based genealogists, Hazel Brookes and Lindon Williams, reveals there is no record of an Edward Young in St. Kitts in that time period.  Their various explanations for this lack of data include the loss of historical records over time to natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes and fires), as well as the possibility Ned may have been born out-of-wedlock.  In any event, this complete absence of information reduces any discussion of Ned’s pedigree  – that he was the nephew of Admiral Sir George Young; was mulatto – to hearsay.  The hearsay, however, can be quite helpful.

Mutiny on the HMAV Bounty
The literature records several of the Bounty’s crew recalling Ned’s statements and actions. This comes mostly from both Bligh’s and the accused mutineers’ court-martial hearings.  But only two people offer insights into Ned’s actual personage: Bligh and fellow mutineer, John Adams.  John Adams holds a singular significance in Pitcairn history.  Not only is he after Ned’s death in 1800 and for the next 24 years the sole English person and patriarch of the emerging society, but virtually all published Pitcairn history until the arrival of Buffett and Evans is told through him.  (The exception is Teehuteatuaonoa, or “Jenny”, one of the original Tahitian women who was interviewed after leaving  Pitcairn Island in 1817.)  Adams and Young are early compatriots on Pitcairn and by 1798 the two surviving Englishmen.  From Adams we get a sense of Ned, but nothing of his personal history prior to the Bounty.  Capt. Beechey of the HMS Blossom, calling at Pitcairn in 1825, transcribed excerpts from the journal (now lost) Ned began shortly after landing on the island.  From that, we know, for example, that Ned was instrumental in educating the first generation of Pitcairners.  But nothing was written of his background.  It is Bligh who offers the most clues.

Bligh provides the only physical descriptions of Ned.  Notably, they all occur after the mutiny, so he’s not too keen to flatter.  This is where we read Ned was stout, dark-complexioned, with few remaining, rotting teeth.  Interestingly, Bligh never attributes African features to him.  Nor does he mention Ned’s West Indies connection, even though Bligh would have known and that was their destination.
Similarly, the literature will still occasionally cite Bligh as referring to Ned being Admiral Sir George Young’s nephew.  Bligh’s only mention, however, in his log, is of Ned being “recommended” by the Admiral.  Given the common surnames, it is easy to imagine how that could drift to the latter assumption, and it’s rife with potential, but not yet established.

What we know is this:  Admiral Sir George’s genealogy was developed in 1927 by his great-grandson, Sir George Young, 3rd Baronet, under the title, “Young of Formosa”, Formosa being the name of the Admiral’s home in Devon, England.  His great-grandson disputes the notion that Ned was the Admiral’s nephew.  But in an appendix, he includes the research of a Young relation, Rev. Charles Russell Cooke, who postulates in 1882 that Ned could have descended from the Admiral’s first-cousin, James Young.  Based on Ned’s age, Cooke tentatively allocates him a place on that branch of the family tree.  We get into a wild set of coincidences, but in this extended family of Youngs, it is tradition that the firstborn of a family be named, “George”.   This happens to be the name Ned gives his firstborn, and is the name given the firstborn for the first three generations.  More remarkably, the five names listed on this family tree as possibly being Ned’s father, aunts and uncles are to a person the very names Ned gives his children on Pitcairn.  The one omission is Ned’s first daughter, Polly, which presumably was his mother’s name and thus excluded from the Young genealogy. 

It’s been suggested that if Ned were related to the Admiral or anyone in this nautical family, a possible explanation of why there is no account of him is his being expunged from family records after committing a treasonous act.  Correspondence with the present Baronet, Sir George Young, 6th Bt., supports this proposition.  This then begs the question, on what information did Cooke base his speculation of Ned’s place in the Young family.  Unfortunately, Cooke dies in 1892 without offspring and his estate is subsequently sold.  Locating his personal papers has so far proven difficult and his work may need to be recreated. 
So that’s all, in fact, we know of Edward Young.  The Bounty muster lists his birthplace as St. Kitts in 1764, and Bligh notes he was recommended to him by the Admiral.  We know he spoke the King’s English from extracts from his journal.  Beyond that, we simply don’t know.  When someone says Ned was related to Admiral Sir George Young or that he was bi-racial, the son of a plantation owner father and slave mother, we don’t know.  We don’t know how old he was when he left for England, only that he was 21 when he signed-on to the Bounty.  In fact, we can’t even be certain Ned spoke anything but English.  Hopefully, if linguists presently combing the Pitcairn and Norfolk languages for St. Kittian-derived words can determine a significant number, more than might have been contributed by Fletcher, who had made two voyages to the West Indies himself and from court testimony “mixed well” with the locals, we can more confidently infer Ned at least lived long enough in St. Kitts to learn the local creole and that those words likely came from him.  If this bears out, biographers can start to look to his arriving in England at an older age, rather than younger.  I think we have a ways to go.

Rick Kleiner
Norfolk Island
July 8, 2012

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Very interesting, Rick Kleiner

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  3. I am a descendant of Edward Young! My grandmother on my mum's side was Winifred Young! Thank you for your findings 👍😊

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  4. I am a descendant of Edward Young! My grandmother on my mum's side was Winifred Young! Thank you for your findings 👍😊

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. I also am a descendant of Edward Young on my mother's side. My maternal grandmother's father was Joseph Allen McCleave Buffett, whose mother was Elizabeth Young - whose grandfather was Edward Young. Elizabeth's parents were George Young and Hannah Adams. George's parents were Edward Young and Toofaiti.

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  7. I also am a descendant of Edward Young on my mother's side. My maternal grandmother's father was Joseph Allen McCleave Buffett, whose mother was Elizabeth Young - whose grandfather was Edward Young. Elizabeth's parents were George Young and Hannah Adams. George's parents were Edward Young and Toofaiti.

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