S. Bellipotent from his previous ship the Rights-of-Man, a merchant ship. Billy’s commanding officer, Captain Graveling, doesn’t want to let one of his best men go, but has does not have choice in the face of the superior ship. Billy packs up his gear and follows the officer of the Bellipotent.
After Billy gives a good-bye to his old ship mates, He settles in quickly among the company of the Bellipotent. He is useful and eager in to work, and is assigned to foretopman and gets to know more experienced sailors. Billy is very upset by the sight of a violent wiping given to one of the ship’s crew. Hoping to avoid a this kind of punishment, Billy works harder at his duties, but finds himself not measuring up to certain officers.
So Billy goes to get advice from the Dansker, an older, more experienced sailor. After explaining the situation to him, the Dansker tells Billy that Claggart, the master-at-arms, holds a grudge against Billy. Refusing to accept this, Billy dismisses the Dansker’s opinion but continues to debate his situation. Later, at a lunchtime, Billy accidentally spills his soup pan in the ship’s dining room after a sudden shake of the ship. The soup trickles to the feet of the passing Claggart, who makes an light hearted remark about the spill. The rest of the men laugh, and Billy thinks that this is proof of Claggart’s approval of him.
But Claggart is actually quite offended by the accident, and feels that this is Billys way of not respecting him . He sees this as proof of Billy’s hostility, and for this he makes Billy work harder. One night, an anonymous figure wakes Billy from his sleep on the upper deck and asks him to meet in a remote part of the ship. Confused, Billy agrees. At the strange meeting place, Billy becomes puzzled when the unidentified man flashes two gold coins in front of his face in exchange for a promise of cooperation. Billy recognizes that something is not right, and he raises his voice and threatens the man.
The man quickly goes into the darkness, and Billy finds himself confronted with two curious sailors. Unsure of how to explain the situation, Billy explains that he simply happened upon a fellow sailor who was in the wrong part of the ship, and chased the man back to his proper station. Later on, after a short battle with an enemy ship, Claggart approaches Captain Vere with news of mutiny and names Billy Budd as the ringleader. Vere calls Billy to his cabin and tells Claggart to repeat his last statement. Billy is speechless.
Vere tells Billy to defend himself, but then notices Billy’s tendency to stutter and backs off. Left with nothing else to do Billy punches Claggart in the forehead. Billy hit Claggart hard enough to knock him unconscious, and he lies bleeding from the nose and ears as Billy and Vere try to revive him. Once they stop, Vere dismisses Billy until further notice. The ships doctor pronounces Claggart dead. Captain Vere calls a group of his senior officers to the cabin.
In a quick move, Vere calls a court consisting of the captain of the marines, the first lieutenant, and the sailing master. Vere, being the main witness, gives a testimony of the events to the jury. Billy remains quite during the questioning, he admits to punching Claggard but denies any thought of mutiny. The court dismisses Billy. They discuss the case, and when they seem to be unable to make a decision, Vere steps forward to declare his conviction that consciences. He ends his speech to the jury by insisting that they abide with military law.
After a more discussing, the jury finds Billy Budd guilty as charged and sentences him to death by hanging on the following morning. Captain Vere tells Billy the news of his fate and has a discussion with Billy. Later that evening, Vere calls a meeting of the ship’s crew, and explains the events of the day. Claggart receives an official burial at sea, and all the men prepare to watch Billy’s hanging at dawn. Billy spends his last hours in chains on board an upper gun deck. The ship’s priest attempts to spiritually prepare Billy for his death, but Billy is already in a state of perfect peace and resignation.
As the chaplain leaves Billy, he kisses him gently on the cheek as a token of good will. That morning, shortly after 4 A. M. , Billy is hanged in the main yard of the ship.
As the crew watches him being strung up, preparing to die, they hear him utter his last words: “God bless Captain Vere!” The men echo this unexpected sentiment, and Billy dies quietly. After Billy’s death, the crew begins to talk, but the officers quickly stop, and give them various tasks. Whistles blow and the ship returns to regular business. Later on, the sailors talk about Billy’s fate and the mysterious things that happened before his death. On its return home, the Bellipotent comes across a French warship, the Athee.
Captain Vere gets wounded by the battle, eventually dies in a Gibraltar hospital, and his last words were, “Billy Budd, Billy Budd.”￼