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
    Paperback:
    May 2004, 512 pages

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At Papara, Edwards's men discovered that the mutineers, hearing of their approach, had abandoned their schooner and fled to the mountain forest.

"[U]nder cover of night they had taken shelter in a hut in the woods," wrote the Pandora's surgeon, George Hamilton, in his account of this adventure, "but were discovered by Brown, who creeping up to the place where they were asleep, distinguished them from the natives by feeling their toes." British toes apparently lacked the telltale spread of unshod Tahitians'.

"Tuesday, March 29th," Edwards recorded in the Pandora's log. "At 9 the Launch returned with James Morrison, Charles Norman and Thomas Ellison belonging to His Majesty's Ship Bounty--prisoners." Also taken in tow was the mutineers' schooner, the Resolution, an object for them of great pride and now requisitioned by the Pandora as a tender, or service vessel.

The three newcomers were at first housed under the half deck, and kept under around-the-clock sentry. Meanwhile, the ship's carpenters were busy constructing a proper prison, a kind of low hut to the rear of the quarterdeck, where the prisoners would be placed, as Edwards reported to the Admiralty, "for their more effectual security airy & healthy situation." The prisoners in their turn assessed their circumstances somewhat differently, referring sardonically to the shallow, cramped structure, with its narrow scuttle, as "Pandora's Box."

At some point during the pursuit of James Morrison and the men on the Resolution, Michael Byrn, the almost blind fiddler of the Bounty, either was captured or came on board of his own accord. Insignificant at every juncture of the Bounty saga, Byrn, alone of the fugitives, arrived on the Pandora unrecorded. Eight men had now been apprehended and were firmly held in irons; six men remained at large, reported to have taken flight in the hill country around Papara.

Over the next week and a half, while searches were made for the fugitives under the guidance of the ever helpful Brown, Captain Edwards and his officers got a taste of life in Tahiti. Their immediate host was Tynah, the stately king, whose girth was proportionate to his outstanding nearly six-foot-four-inch height. Around forty years of age, he could remember William Bligh from his visit to the island in 1777, with Captain Cook, as well as his return eleven years later with the Bounty. Upon the Pandora's arrival, Edwards and his men had been greeted by the islanders with their characteristic generosity, with streams of gifts, food, feasts, dances and offers of their women.

"The English are allowed by the rest of the world...to be a generous, charitable people," observed Dr. Hamilton. "[B]ut the Otaheiteans could not help bestowing the most contemptuous word in their language upon us, which is, Peery, Peery, or Stingy."

Generous, loyal, sensual, uninhibited--the handsome people of Tahiti had won over most who visited them. By now the Bounty men were no longer strangers, but had lived among them, taken wives, had children....

"Sure Friendship's there, & Gratitude, & Love," young Peter Heywood would later write, exhibiting a poetic bent:

Sure Friendship's there, & Gratitude, & Love,
Such as ne'er reigns in European Blood
In these degen'rate Days; tho' from above
We Precepts have, & know what's right and good...

Now, sitting shackled in the sweltering heat of Pandora's Box, Heywood and his shipmates had more than usual cause, and time, to contemplate this disparity of cultures.

On Saturday, the last fugitives began to trickle in. Henry Hilbrant, an able seaman from Hanover, Germany, and Thomas McIntosh, a young carpenter's mate from the north of England, were delivered on board; as predicted, they had been captured in the hill country above Papara. By the following evening, the roundup was complete. Able seamen Thomas Burkett, John Millward and John Sumner, and William Muspratt, the cook's assistant, were brought in, also from Papara.

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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