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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As the "pirates" were led into Pandora's Box, ship activities bustled around them. Carpenters and sailmakers were busy making repairs for the next stage of their long voyage and routine disciplinary activities continued. On Sunday, the ship's company was assembled for the weekly reading of the Articles of War: "Article XIX: If any Person in or belonging to the Fleet shall make or endeavour to make any mutinous Assembly upon any Pretence whatsoever, every Person offending herein, and being convicted thereof by the Sentence of the Court-martial, shall suffer Death." After the reading, three seamen were punished with a dozen lashes each "for theft and drunkenness." It was a cloudy evening and had rained the day before. This was the last the Bounty men would see of Pacific skies for several months.

Fourteen men were now crowded into the eleven-by-eighteen-foot space that was their prison. Onshore, they had kept themselves in different factions and were by no means all on good terms with one another. Strikingly, both Thomas McIntosh and Charles Norman, who had been among those who fled from the Pandora's men, had been exonerated by Bligh. Perhaps family attachments on the island had made them think twice about leaving; or it may be, less trusting than Coleman who had so quickly surrendered, they did not believe that innocence would count for much in the Admiralty's eyes.

Within the box, the prisoners wallowed in their own sweat and vermin.

"What I have suffer'd I have not power to describe," wrote Heywood to his mother; he had characterized himself to her as one "long inured to the Frowns of Fortune" and now waxed philosophical about his situation.

"I am young in years, but old in what the World calls Adversity," he wrote; Peter Heywood was not quite nineteen. "It has made me acquainted with three Things, which are little known," he continued, doggedly. "[F]irst, the Villainy & Censoriousness of Mankind--second, the Futility of all human Hopes,-- & third, the Enjoyment of being content in whatever station it pleases Providence to place me in."

***

Among the possessions confiscated from the mutineers were journals kept by Stewart and Heywood in their sea chests, and from these Edwards was able to piece together the history of the Bounty following the mutiny, up to her final return to Tahiti. Two days after Bligh and his loyalists had been left in the Pacific, Fletcher Christian and his men had cut up the ship's topsails to make jackets for the entire company--they were well aware of the impression made by a uniformed crew.

Soon all the breadfruit--1,015 little pots and tubs of carefully nurtured seedlings, all, as Bligh had wistfully reported, "in the most flourishing state"--were thrown overboard. More sails were cut up for uniform jackets, and the possessions of those who had been forced into the boat with Bligh were divided by lot among the ship company. But in a telling report made by James Morrison, the Bounty boatswain's mate and the mastermind behind the ambitious Resolution, "it always happend that Mr. Christians party were always better served than these who were thought to be disaffected."

Tensions among the men already threatened to undermine Christian's tenuous control. In this state of affairs, the Bounty made for Tubuai, an island lying some 350 miles south of Tahiti, and anchored there on May 24, nearly a month after the mutiny.

"Notwithstanding they met with some opposition from the Natives they intended to settle on this Island," Edwards wrote in his official report, gleaning the diaries of Heywood and Stewart. "[B]ut after some time they perceived they were in want of several things Necessary for a settlement & which was the cause of disagreements & quarrels amongst themselves." One of the things they most quarreled about was women.

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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