Our man on the mutinous Bounty

As far as I know, no one from Northamptonshire has been to the moon yet, but we do have a real hero who, in historical terms, did the next best thing.

There was a time when the greatest thing man could reasonably achieve was to circumnavigate the world. Many men did it before Captain James Cook, but he did it twice and took a chap from Northamptonshire with him.

William Peckover was born in Aynho on June 18, 1748. He was one of the most experienced sailors of his time. Between 1768 and 1801 he sailed on at least 17 ships including, with Captain Cook, the Endeavour, Resolution and Adventure.

But then later Peckover was to make his most momentous voyage. On December 23, 1787, he sailed out of Spithead on board a ship that was to secure a place in naval history, The Bounty, bound for Tahiti. The commander of the ship was Captain William Bligh. Bligh had also sailed with Captain Cook on his last great voyage and so had first-hand experience of Peckover's ability and loyalty.

When Bligh assembled his crew for the Bounty, he naturally chose some of his former shipmates. Among them was Fletcher Christian and to say that it was a bad choice turned out to be something of an understatement! He also took Lawrence LeBogue, the ship's sailmaker, John Norton, quartermaster, David Nelson, the botanist, and William Peckover, all of whom remained loyal when things turned a trifle nasty later on.

William Peckover had been chosen because of his proven value not only as a sailor (he was senior warrant officer) but also as the gunner. Bounty was officially designated His Majesty's Armed Vessel and Captain Bligh was, in all probability, expecting trouble, though not the sort he experienced 220 years ago on April 18, 1789.

Bligh and the Bounty had been commissioned by the Government to source breadfruit as cheap food for slaves on plantations. Peckover, thanks to his earlier voyages to the South Seas, was fluent in Tahitian and he also understood the culture and people of the island. Captain Bligh put him in charge of trading with the Tahitians, eventually securing 1,015 breadfruit plants.

The cinema has often romanticised the mutiny (four times, in fact, once with our own adopted Errol Flynn as Fletcher Christian) and David Essex attempted to revive the story, and his flagging career, with Mutiny!, a West End musical flop. But in truth the real events were less dramatic.

Peckover was called to the Bounty court martial on August 13, 1792, on board HMS Duke in Portsmouth. "A little before sunrise I was awaked out of my sleep by a confused noise," he said, "directly after, I thought I heard the fixing of bayonets. I jumped out and put my trousers on; at the door I met Mr Nelson, the botanist, who told me that the ship was taken from us by our own people and Mr Christian at their head."

During the following two-and-a-half hours there was very little struggle and no bloodshed.

Only Bligh put up a fight.

The crew of 42 was almost equally divided in loyalty. Eighteen sided with Christian and 22 with Bligh. Two were passive.

Bligh and 17 loyalists, including Peckover, were ordered into the Bounty’s launch. They sailed to Timor and subsequently to England.

The last we know of William Peckover from Aynho is that sometime after 1801 he was living in Wapping, East London.