The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
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.
Surely this exhaustingly-researched, enthralling and enthusiastically-written tome is the last word on the most famous of all seafaring mutinies, that of shipmate Fletcher Christian and against Lieutenant Bligh on the Bounty. More than 200 years have gone by since the ship left England after dreadful weather kept it harbored for months, on its mission to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. The mutiny in Tahiti left the mutineers scattered about the paradisiacal islands and found Bligh and 18 of his loyal crew members set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. Bligh, who’d served as Capt. James Cook’s sailing master, fantastically maneuvered the crew on a 48-day, 3,600-mile journey to safety. Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance, is never in over her head even when weaving together densely twisting narratives, or explaining the unwritten rules of the Royal Navy, of the complexities of class and hierarchy that impelled much of what happened aboard the Bounty. The book centers far more on the effort to round up the mutineers than the actual mutiny itself. The book is enlivened by the colorful commentary of the crew members themselves, gleaned from letters and court documents. Alexander does us all the favor of presenting Bligh the way he was understood and received in his day—as a brilliant navigator who, when placed in context, was not a brutal task-master at all. She roots the tyrannical figure we know so well from the movies on the last-ditch efforts of one well-connected crew member to save his own hide from hanging. —Mike McGonigal