Excerpt of The Bounty by Caroline Alexander
(Page 3 of 13)
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Peter Heywood had been one of the last men to take his farewell of Christian, whom he still regarded with affectionate sympathy. Then, when the Bounty had departed for good, he had turned back from the beach to set about the business of building a new life. Now, on this fresh March day, a year and a half after Christian's departure, Peter was setting out for the mountains with friends. He had gone no more than a hundred yards from his home when a man came hurrying after him to announce that there was a ship in sight.
Running to the hill behind his house, with its convenient lookout over the sea, he spotted the ship lying to only a few miles distant. Peter would later claim that he had seen this sight "with the utmost Joy," but it is probable that his emotions were somewhat more complicated. Racing down the hill, he went to the nearby home of his close friend midshipman George Stewart with the news. By the time he and Stewart had splashed their way out to the ship, another man, Joseph Coleman, the Bounty's armorer, was already on board. On introducing themselves as formerly of the Bounty, Heywood and Stewart had been placed under arrest and led away for confinement. 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.
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. The expense and responsibility of sending yet another ship to the Pacific was not appealing: England seemed poised on the verge of a new war with Spain, and all available men and ships were being pressed into service. However, putting a British naval officer overboard in the middle of the Pacific and running away with His Majesty's property were outrages that could not go unpunished. Eventually, a 24-gun frigate named Pandora was dispatched under the command of Captain Edward Edwards to hunt the mutineers.
Departing in early November 1790, the Pandora made a swift and uneventful passage to Tahiti, avoiding the horrendous storms that had afflicted the Bounty three years before. Whereas the Bounty had carried a complement of 46 men, the Pandora bore 140. The Pandora's commander, Captain Edwards, had suffered a near mutiny of his own nine years earlier, when in command of the Narcissus off the northeast coast of America. Eventually, five of the would-be mutineers in this thwarted plot had been hanged, and two more sentenced to floggings of two hundred and five hundred lashes, respectively, while the leader of the mutiny had been hanged in chains. As events would show, Captain Edwards never forgot that he, the near victim of a mutiny, was now in pursuit of actual mutineers.
From The Bounty by Caroline Alexander. Copyright Caroline Alexander 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or stored in an form without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book, Viking Penguin.