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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 512 pages
    May 2004, 512 pages

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Also on the Pandora, newly promoted to third lieutenant, was Thomas Hayward, a Bounty midshipman who had accompanied Bligh on his epic open-boat journey. With memories of the thirst, near starvation, exposure and sheer horror of that voyage still fresh in his mind, Hayward was eager to assist in running to ground those responsible for his ordeal. His familiarity with Tahitian waters and people would assist navigation and island diplomacy; his familiarity with his old shipmates would identify the mutineers.

So it was that in March 1791, under cloudless skies and mild breezes, the Pandora sighted the lush, dramatic peaks of Tahiti. Closer in, and the mountain cascades, the graceful palms, and the sparkling volcanic black beaches could be seen beyond thundering breakers and surf. The few ships that had anchored here had all attempted to describe the vision-like beauty of the first sight of this island rising into view from the blue Pacific. Bligh had called Tahiti "the Paradise of the World."

Now, as the Pandora cruised serenely through the clear blue waters, bearing justice and vengeance, she was greeted by men canoeing or swimming toward her.

"Before we Anchored," wrote Edwards in his official report to the Admiralty, "Joseph Coleman Armourer of the Bounty and several of the Natives came on board." Coleman was one of four men whom Bligh had specifically identified as being innocent of the mutiny and detained against his will. Once on board, Coleman immediately volunteered what had become of the different factions. Of the sixteen men left by Christian on Tahiti, two had already been responsible for each other's deaths. Charles Churchill, the master-at-arms and the man described as "the most murderous" of the mutineers, had in fact been murdered by his messmate Mathew Thompson, an able seaman from the Isle of Wight. Churchill's death had in turn been avenged by his Tahitian friends, who had murdered Thompson and then offered him "as a Sacrifice to their Gods," as Edwards dispassionately reported.

Meanwhile, on his way to the anchored ship, Peter Heywood had learned from another Tahitian friend that his former shipmate Thomas Hayward was on board. The result of this friendly inquiry, as Peter reported in a long letter he wrote to his mother, was not what he had ingenuously expected.

"[W]e ask'd for him, supposing he might prove our Assertions," Peter wrote; "but he like all other Worldlings when raised a little in Life received us very coolly & pretended Ignorance of our Affairs....So that Appearances being so much against us, we were order'd in Irons & look'd upon--infernal Words!--as piratical Villains."

As the Pandora's company moved in, inexorably bent upon their mission, it became clear that no distinction would be made among the captured men. Coleman, noted as innocent by Bligh himself and the first man to surrender voluntarily, was clapped in irons along with the indignant midshipman. Edwards had determined that his job was simply to take hold of everyone he could, indiscriminately, and let the court-martial sort them out once back in England.

From the Tahitians who crowded curiously on board, Edwards quickly ascertained the likely whereabouts of the other eleven fugitives. Some were still around Matavai, others had by coincidence sailed only the day before, in a thirty-foot-long decked schooner they themselves had built, with much effort and ingenuity, for Papara, a region on the south coast where the remainder of the Bounty men had settled. With the zealous assistance of the local authorities, the roundup began and by three o'clock of the second day, Richard Skinner, able seaman of the Bounty, was on board Pandora.

A party under the command of Lieutenants Robert Corner and Hayward was now dispatched to intercept the remaining men. Aiding them in their search was one John Brown, an Englishman deposited on Tahiti the year before by another ship, the Mercury, on account of his troublesome ways, which had included carving up the face of a shipmate with a knife. The Mercury had departed Tahiti only weeks before Christian's final return with the boat--she had even seen fires burning on the island of Tubuai, where the mutineers had first settled, but decided not to investigate. Brown, it became clear, had not been on terms of friendship with his compatriots.

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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