Bligh and the breadfruit: the role of botany in Empire

05 February 1793

IN MY household, nothing speaks more powerfully to nostalgic memories of Jamaica than a freshly roasted breadfruit, its charred exterior peeled away to reveal the firm, sweet, yellow flesh. Eaten in segments doused in black pepper and melted butter, it is the food of the Gods. It’s almost as good the following day, refried, for breakfast. But breadfruit is not native to the Caribbean: like other exotic fruits which have become synonymous with Jamaica such as coconuts and mangos, they arrived as part of the imperial arms race around food security that accompanied the slave trade. When William Bligh, who survived one of the most infamous mutinies in British naval history on his first attempt to transport examples of this super food to the Caribbean, finally landed in Jamaica in 1793 on his second voyage from Tahiti with his cargo of breadfruit saplings, he was fulfilling a key role in the expansion of the British empire.

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