Excerpt of The Bounty by Caroline Alexander
(Page 9 of 13)
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A week out from Tahiti, Hilbrant, one of the mutineers, volunteered that Christian had spoken to him on the day before his departure of his intention to make for an uninhabited island that he knew from earlier accounts to be "situated to the Westward of the Islands of Danger." This description seemed to refer to Duke of York Island (Atafu) but was to prove to be another dead end. En route, however, Edwards stopped off at Palmerston Island (Avarau) and sent his boats ashore to search that isle's bays and inlets. Two of these returned in the late afternoon full of coconuts, and nothing more. But that night the tender arrived with hopeful news: it had discovered some spars and a yard marked "Bounty's Driver Yard" embossed with the Admiralty's broad arrow mark.
Over the next two days, all the ship's craft--a cutter, two yawls and the mutineers' schooner--were dispatched to examine the island as well as islets and even reefs in the vicinity. The belief that the mutineers might be at large nearby caused everyone to move with great circumspection. One party camping overnight on the island were woken abruptly when a coconut they had placed on their campfire exploded. "[E]xpecting muskets to be fired at them from every bush," Dr. Hamilton explained, "they all jumped up, seized their arms, and were some time before they could undeceive themselves, that they were really not attacked."
As the various small craft tacked to and fro around the island, Edwards remained with Pandora, cruising offshore and making the occasional coconut run. On the afternoon of May 24, one of the midshipmen, John Sival, returned in the yawl with several striking painted canoes; but after these were examined and admired, he was sent back to complete his orders. Shortly after he left, thick weather closed in, obscuring the little craft as she bobbed dutifully back to shore, and was followed by an ugly squall that did not lift for four days. When the weather cleared on the twenty-eighth, the yawl had disappeared. Neither she nor her company of five men was ever seen again.
"It may be difficult to surmise what has been the fate of these unfortunate men," Dr. Hamilton wrote, adding hopefully that they "had a piece of salt-beef thrown into the boat to them on leaving the ship; and it rained a good deal that night and the following day, which might satiate their thirst."
By now, too, it was realized that the tantalizing clues of the Bounty's presence were only flotsam.
"[T]he yard and these things lay upon the beach at high water Mark & were all eaten by the Sea Worm which is a strong presumption they were drifted there by the Waves," Edwards reported. It was concluded that they had drifted from Tubuai, where the mutineers had reported that the Bounty had lost most of her spars. These few odds and ends of worm-eaten wood were all that were ever found by Pandora of His Majesty's Armed Vessel Bounty.
The fruitless search apart, morale on board had been further lowered by the discovery, as Dr. Hamilton put it, "that the ladies of Otaheite had left us many warm tokens of their affection." The men confined within Pandora's Box were also far from well. Their irons chafed them badly, so much so that while they were still at Matavai Bay, Joseph Coleman's legs had swollen alarmingly and the arms of McIntosh and Ellison had become badly "galled." To the complaint that the irons were causing their wrists to swell, Lieutenant John Larkan had replied that "they were not intended to fit like Gloves!" Edwards had an obsessive fear that the mutineers might "taint" his crew and, under threat of severe punishment, had forbidden any communication between the parties whatsoever; but from rough memos he made, it seems he was unsuccessful. "Great difficulty created in keeping the Mutineers from conversing with the crew," Edwards had jotted down, elsewhere noting that one of his lieutenants suspected that the prisoners had "carried on a correspondence with some of our people by Letter."
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.