Excerpt from The Bounty by Caroline Alexander, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Bounty

The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander

The Bounty
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2003,
    512 pages.
    Paperback: May 2004,
    512 pages.

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Consequently, only a week after landing at Tubuai, the Bounty sailed back to Tahiti, where they had lived and loved for five memorable months while gathering Bligh's breadfruit. Here, as the men knew, their loyal friends would give them all they required. The story they prepared was that they had fallen in with the great Captain Cook (in reality long dead), who was planning to make settlement on the island of Whytootackee (Aitutaki), and that Bligh had remained with his old commander and delegated Christian to sail with the Bounty for supplies. The Tahitians, ever generous and overjoyed at the news that Cook, whom they regarded with worshipful esteem, would be so close to them, gave freely of hogs, goats, chickens, a variety of plants, cats and dogs. More important, nine women, eight men, seven boys and one young girl left with the Bounty when she returned to Tubuai.

For three months the mutineers struggled to make a settlement on the tiny island. Construction was begun on a defensive fort that measured some fifty yards square, surrounded by a kind of dry moat or ditch. A drawbridge was planned for the entrance facing the beach, while the walls were surmounted by the Bounty's four-pounder cannons and swivel guns. Patriotically, the mutineers had christened their for-tress Fort George, after their king.

Again, there were early signs that this would not be a successful experiment.

"On 5th July Some of the people began to be mutinous," according to an extract made by Edwards from Peter Heywood's journal. "& on 6th 2 of the Men were put in Irons by a Majority of Votes--& drunkenness, fighting & threatening each other's life was so common that those abaft were obliged to arm themselves with Pistols." The following day, an attempt was made to heal the growing breach and "Articles were drawn up by Christian and Churchill specifying a mutual forgiveness of all past grievances which every Man was obliged to swear to & sign," according to an extract from Stewart's journal. "Mathew Thompson excepted who refused to comply." Despite this gesture, an inner circle evolved around Christian. When John Sumner and Matthew Quintal spent the night onshore without leave, declaring that they were now their own masters and would do as they pleased, Christian clapped the pistol he now always carried to the head of one, and had both placed in leg irons.

Violence also escalated without as well as within this fractious company, erupting as the Bounty men fought with the Tubuaians over property and women. In one particularly bloody encounter, Thomas Burkett was stabbed in the side by a spear and Christian wounded himself on his own bayonet. When the dust settled, sixty-six Tubuaians were dead, including six women, and the Bounty men were masters of the field. One of the gentle Tahitian youths who had journeyed to Tubuai with his English friends, according to James Morrison, "desired leave to cut out the jaw bones of the kill'd to hang round the quarters of the Ship as Trophies," and was much displeased when this request was denied.

In September, in recognition that the different factions could not coexist, a collective decision was made to return once more to Tahiti. Here, the ship's company would divide. Those who chose to remain on the island could do so; the rest would depart with Christian, taking to sea once again in the Bounty. Each man remaining onshore was given a musket, a pistol, a cutlass, a bayonet, a box of cartridges and seventeen pounds of powder from the ship's arms and lead for ball--everyone save Michael Byrn, that is, who, as Morrison stated, "being blind and of a very troublesome disposition it was thought that arms put into his hands would be only helping him to do some mischief."

On anchoring for the third and final time in Matavai Bay, Christian and many of the eight men who had cast their lots with him did not even bother to go ashore. Arriving on September 21, 1789, they departed secretly the same night, quietly cutting the Bounty's anchor cable. Joseph Coleman, the most relentless loyalist, had been once again held against his will for his skills as an armorer; but as the ship slipped away, he dived overboard and swam to land. At dawn, the sixteen men deposited onshore saw their ship hovering off Point Venus; by midmorning she was gone.

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.

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