The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
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More than two centuries have passed since Master's Mate Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lieutenant Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty. Why the details of this obscure adventure at the end of the world remain vivid and enthralling is as intriguing as the truth behind the legend.
In giving the Bounty mutiny its historical due, Caroline Alexander has chosen to frame her narrative by focusing on the court-martial of the ten mutineers who were captured in Tahiti and brought to justice in England. This fresh perspective wonderfully revivifies the entire saga, and the salty, colorful language of the captured men themselves conjures the events of that April morning in 1789, when Christian's breakdown impelled every man on a fateful course: Bligh and his loyalists on the historic open boat voyage that revealed him to be one of history's great navigators; Christian on his restless exile; and the captured mutineers toward their day in court. As the book unfolds, each figure emerges as a full-blown character caught up in a drama that may well end on the gallows. And as Alexander shows, it was in a desperate fight to escape hanging that one of the accused defendants deliberately spun the mutiny into the myth we know today-of the tyrannical Lieutenant Bligh of the Bounty.
Ultimately, Alexander concludes that the Bounty mutiny was sparked by that most unpredictable, combustible, and human of situations-the chemistry between strong personalities living in close quarters. Her account of the voyage, the trial, and the surprising fates of Bligh, Christian, and the mutineers is an epic of ambition, passion, pride, and duty at the dawn of the Romantic era.
the event of a landing being effected by any ship sent in pursuit of him, and where he resolved to sell his life as dearly as he could.” In this cave, Adams told other ships, Christian was wont to retreat and brood. And what of Adams’s earlier statements to Captains Staines and Pipon that Christian had “by many acts of cruelty and inhumanity, brought on himself the hatred and detestation of his companions”? Despite the heartfelt pronouncements of almost every visitor that “for good morals,
splendid silver frogging, stolen, along with his shoes and pistol, while he lay sleeping with his “old Freind Oberea” in her canoe: Didst thou not, crafty, subtle sunburnt strum Steal the silk breeches from his tawny bum? Calls’t thouself a Queen? and thus couldst use And rob thy Swain of breeches and his shoes? The romance of Banks and Queen Oberea, broadcast in facetious verse and “letters,” helped ensure that the most-talked-about phenomenon to emerge from Cook’s long, exotic voyage was
sauerkraut. Once again, it is evident that in Bligh’s eyes, his small ship and forty-six-member company were embarked upon a historic enterprise. “Seamen will seldom attend to themselves in any particular and simply to give directions . . . is of little avail,” Bligh added, echoing the sentiments of many a captain. “[T]hey must be watched like Children.” Bligh was not the only man to take advantage of the layover to send reports to England. Thomas Ledward, the assistant surgeon who had joined
and inquired in turn how this was done in Tahiti. Queen Iddeeah replied by mimicking a woman in labor, squatting comfortably on her heels between the protective arms of a male attendant who stroked her belly. Iddeeah was vastly amused on learning of the difficulties of Pretanee’s women. “[L]et them do this & not fear,” she told Bligh, who appears to have been persuaded by this tender pantomime. In the evenings, Bligh entertained his hosts on board the Bounty, which none seemed to tire of
officers and men were thereby honorably acquitted. William Purcell alone was made to face the music. On the same day that Bligh and the other loyalists were acquitted, Purcell was brought onto the Royal William to face six charges that ranged from his insolence at Adventure Bay to an astonishing mutinous episode that had occurred toward the end of the boat voyage. Unusually, Bligh had not edited this last event out of his published narration, which in itself indicates its seriousness—and how