Between 1780 and 1786 Jamaica suffered from alternating hurricanes and long periods of drought that destroyed crops. “Slave” provision grounds were hard hit and there was a major food shortage. The planters were concerned because they knew that without a reliable food source, slaves would die of starvation.
There was talk about a tree in the Pacific Islands that provided a source of ‘bread’ all year round. The planters offered large rewards to any captain who would bring back such a miraculous plant. Captain William Bligh, an experienced 33-year-old seaman, sailed from Portsmouth, England for Tahiti and Timor to collect seedless breadfruit plants and deliver them to Jamaica.
Five months and over 1000 plants later, Bligh set sail for the Caribbean nut two weeks into the voyage, the crew mutinied. They set Bligh and 18 crew members adrift an open boat and threw the breadfruit plants overboard. Some were even used to stone Bligh. The mutineers set a course for Tahiti, leaving Bligh with very little food, dependent on his pocket watch, sextant and his navigational skills for survival. Luckily for him they were outstanding.
Bligh was exonerated and sent on a second voyage to collect the breadfruit. This time, he managed to deliver more than 2,000 plants representing five different varieties to the Caribbean. On February 5, 1793, his ship, The HMS Providence, landed in Jamaica, stopping first at Port Royal and moving on to Port Morant where some of the trees were unloaded and planted at the Bath Botanic Garden where some of the trees remain today. Plants were also distributed to other parishes.
Bligh was awarded 1500 guineas by the Jamaican Assembly. The breadfruit grew naturally on Jamaican soil. Today, the breadfruit tree can be found all over Jamaica and enjoys strong ties to Caribbean cuisine. On that 1793 voyage, Capt. Bligh also introduced what we now call otaheite apples. Their name comes from their island of origin,iti, which in the 16th and 17th centuries was widely known as Otaheite.