Monday, December 7, 2009

The Bounty

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
by Caroline Alexander
Hardcover, 512 pages (including sources/notes, bibliography, index)
Viking, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780670031337
highly recommended


More than two centuries after Master's Mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty, the true story of this enthralling adventure has become obscured by the legend. Combining vivid characterization and deft storytelling, Caroline Alexander shatters the centuries-old myths surrounding this story. She brilliantly shows how, in a desperate attempt to save one man from the gallows and another from ignominy, two powerful families came together and began to create the version of history we know today. The true story of the mutiny on the Bounty is an epic of duty and heroism, pride and power, and the assassination of a brave man's honor at the dawn of the Romantic age.

My Thoughts:

Alexander's The Bounty is a well researched account of the Bounty, her mission, and the crew. The hardcover book includes many maps showing routes and where events took place as well as pictures (paintings) of many of the people involved. This is a very thorough examination of the mutiny, especially what happened after the event to many of the people involved. In some ways it was exhaustingly thorough. There is also some speculation about events, but it is based on Alexander's research. I picked up this book used several years ago when I was reading a lot of historical accounts of piracy but then I just never got around to reading it and it's been on my TBR list for several years. My interest in maritime mutiny had diminished since I originally picked the book up, so it was a bit of a chore to finish, however it is most certainly a well researched account and will be enjoyed by history buffs. Highly Recommended - especially if you have an interest in the subject


His small vessel pitching in the squally winter sea, a young British naval lieutenant waited restlessly to embark upon the most important and daunting voyage of his still young but highly promising career. William Bligh, aged thirty-three, had been selected by His Majesty’s government to collect breadfruit plants from the South Pacific island of Tahiti and to transport them to the plantations of the West Indies. Like most of the Pacific, Tahiti—Otaheite—was little known; in all the centuries of maritime travel, fewer than a dozen European ships had anchored in her waters. Bligh himself had been on one of these early voyages, ten years previously, when he had sailed under the command of the great Captain Cook. Now he was to lead his own expedition in a single small vessel called Bounty. opening

The ship, Pandora, had been specifically commissioned to apprehend the mutineers and bring them to justice in England. These morning hours of March 23, 1791, were the last Peter Heywood would spend on Tahiti.
The news of the mutiny on board His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty had reached England almost exactly a year before. How the news arrived was even more extraordinary than the mutiny—for the messenger had been none other than Lieutenant William Bligh himself. After Fletcher Christian had put him and the loyalists into the Bounty’s launch off the island of Tofua, Bligh, against all imaginable odds, had navigated the little 23-foot-long craft 3,618 miles over a period of forty-eight days to Timor, in the Dutch East Indies. Here, his starving and distressed company had been humanely received by the incredulous Dutch authorities. Eventually, passages had been found home for him and his men, and Bligh had arrived in England in a blaze of triumph and white-hot anger on March 13, 1790. pg 6-7

Notice of the mutiny and a description of the mutineers were swiftly dispatched to British and Dutch ports. In Botany Bay the news inspired seventeen convicts to escape in an attempt to join the "pirates” in Tahiti. Although it was at first supposed that two Spanish men-of-war already in the Pacific might have apprehended the Bounty, the Admiralty took no chances and began to mobilize an expedition to hunt down the mutineers. pg. 7

Among the possessions confiscated from the mutineers were journals kept by Stewart and Heywood in their sea chests, and from these Edwards was able to piece together the history of the Bounty following the mutiny, up to her final return to Tahiti. Two days after Bligh and his loyalists had been left in the Pacific, Fletcher Christian and his men had cut up the ship’s topsails to make jackets for the entire company—they were well aware of the impression made by a uniformed 12

"On the evening of the 29th August the Pandora went on a Reef," Morrison wrote bluntly, adding meaningfully, "I might say how, but it would be to no purpose”; Morrison had prefaced his report with a classical flourish, "Vidi et Scio"—I saw and I know. In short, despite soundings, despite advance reconnaissance, despite both his fear and his precautions, Edwards had run his ship aground. pg. 23

Peter Heywood had brought away a single possession from his long ordeal, a Book of Common Prayer, which he had carried in his teeth as he swam from the wreck of the Pandora. On the flyleaves, he had made some notations of events and dates important to him: "Sept. 22 1789, Mya TOOBOOAI mye; Mar. 25 1791, We ta Pahee Pandora...We tow te Vredenberg tea...Pahee HECTOR"—the most striking thing about Peter’s entries is that he had written them in Tahitian. pg. 35

Back in Tahiti, the Bounty men who had cast their lot in with the islanders were remembered largely with affection. Less than eight months after the Pandora left Matavai Bay, Captain George Vancouver arrived with his two ships, Discovery and Chatham. Through conversations with the Tahitians, he and his men learned a great deal about the mutineers’ lives on the island: they had built a schooner; they had each taken a wife and treated their women well; Stewart and Heywood had laid out gardens that were still in a flourishing state; these two had conformed to Tahitian manners to such an extent that they ceremonially uncovered their upper bodies when in the presence of King Tynah, as was local custom. pg 35-36

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