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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When here with Bligh, each man had acquired a taio, or special protector and friend, and to these each now turned. Soon, the fugitives had settled down, either with their taios' families or, like Heywood and Stewart, in cottages of their own. They took wives and some had children, and so a year and a half had passed, until the day the Pandora loomed out of the early morning to drag them back to England.

***

Now captured and pinned inside Pandora's Box, the Bounty prisoners listened in anguish as their wives and friends wailed and grieved under the Pandora's stern. Standing in canoes around the ship, the women enacted their terrible rites of mourning, hammering at their heads with sharp shells until the blood ran. As the day of departure approached, more canoes came from across the island, filling the harbor around the ship. Men and women stripped their clothes and cut their heads in grief, and as the blood fell, cut again and cried aloud. Tynah came on board and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, begged to be remembered to his friend, the King of England.

"This I believe was the first time that an Englishman got up his anchor, at the remotest part of the globe, with a heavy heart, to go home to his own country," wrote Dr. Hamilton--an astonishing admission from a naval official who had come in search of deserting mutineers.

On May 8, 1791, under pleasant breezes, the Pandora, recaulked and overhauled, left Tahiti with the mutineers' schooner, Resolution, in tow. Edwards's commission was far from fulfilled. Still missing was His Majesty's stolen ship as well as the ringleader of the mutiny and his most hard-core followers.

"Christian had been frequently heard to declare that he would search for an unknown or an uninhabited Island in which there was no harbour for Shipping, would run the Ship ashore, and get from her such things as would be useful to him and settle there," Edwards recorded in his official report to the Admiralty, continuing with admirable understatement, "but this information was too vague to be follow'd in an immense Ocean strew'd with an almost innumerable number of known and unknown Islands." Specifically, the Pacific contains more than twenty thousand islands scattered over some 64 million square miles. Christian and the Bounty had departed Tahiti in September 1789--a twenty-month head start, long enough to have taken the Bounty not only as far as North or South America, but, in theory, around the globe.

Edwards's instructions from the Admiralty offered some guidance: If no knowledge of the mutineers had been gained at Tahiti, he was to venture west to Whytootackee (Aitutaki), "calling, in your way, at Huaheine and Uliatea." If nothing was found here, he was to make a circuit of the neighboring islands. If nothing here, he was to continue west to the Friendly Islands (Tonga), "and, having succeeded, or failed," to return to England, through the Endeavour Strait (Torres Strait) separating New Guinea from New Holland (Australia). Be mindful of prevailing winds, the Admiralty admonished, "there being no dependence (of which we have any certain knowledge) of passing the Strait after the month of September...."

For roughly the next three months Edwards doggedly followed the Admiralty's prescribed itinerary in a desultory chase from island to island. At each landfall, a uniformed officer was disembarked and in the cloying heat tramped along the beach, offering presents and seeking information. Anchored offshore, the Pandora received the now customary canoe loads of eager visitors. Spears, clubs and other curios were collected, differences among the islanders, who appeared "ruder" and less civilized as the Pandora progressed, were duly noted, but no hint of the Bounty's whereabouts emerged.

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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