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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"My Officers and Young Gentlemen are all tractable and well disposed," he continued in the same vein to Campbell, "and we now understand each other so well that we shall remain so the whole voyage...."

Bligh fully expected these to be his last communications on the outward voyage. But monstrous weather off Cape Horn surpassed even his worst expectations. After battling contrary storms and gales for a full month, he conceded defeat and reversed his course for the Cape of Good Hope. He would approach Tahiti by way of the Indian Ocean and Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), a detour that would add well over ten thousand miles to his original voyage.

"I arrived here yesterday," he wrote to Campbell on May 25 from the southernmost tip of Africa, "after experiencing the worst of weather off Cape Horn for 30 Days....I thought I had seen the worst of every thing that could be met with at Sea, yet I have never seen such violent winds or such mountainous Seas." A Dutch ship, he could not resist adding, had also arrived at the Cape with thirty men having died on board and many more gravely ill; Bligh had brought his entire company through, safe and sound.

The Bounty passed a month at the Cape recovering, and was ready to sail at the end of June. A still arduous journey lay ahead but Bligh's confidence was now much greater than when he had embarked; indeed, in this respect he had shown himself to be the ideal commander, one whose courage, spirits and enthusiasm were rallied, not daunted, by difficulties and delays. Along with his ship and men, he had weathered the worst travails he could reasonably expect to face.

The long-anticipated silence followed; but when over a year later it was suddenly broken, Bligh's correspondence came not from the Cape, nor any other port of call on the expected route home, but from Coupang (Kupang) in the Dutch East Indies. The news he reported in letters to Duncan Campbell, to Joseph Banks and above all to his wife, Elizabeth, was so wholly unexpected, so unconnected to the stream of determined and complacent letters of the year before as to be almost incomprehensible.

"My Dear Dear Betsy," Bligh wrote with palpable exhaustion to his wife on August 19, 1789, "I am now in a part of the world that I never expected, it is however a place that has afforded me relief and saved my life....

"Know then my own Dear Betsy, I have lost the Bounty...."

Tahiti, 1791

At daylight on a fine, fair, breezy day in March, a young man in his late teens said good-bye to his wife and stepped out of his neat cottage picturesquely set amid citrus trees at the foot of a hill for an excursion to the mountains. Darkly tanned and heavily tattooed with the traditional patterns of manhood across his backside, the youth could have passed for one of the Tahitians who met him outside. Peter Heywood, however, was an Englishman, not an "Indian," and close observation would have revealed that one of the tattoos inked on his leg was not native, but the symbol of the Isle of Man. Young Heywood had been living here, in his idyllic garden home just beyond Matavai Bay, since September 1789, when the Bounty, under the command of Master's Mate Fletcher Christian, had deposited him and fifteen other shipmates at Tahiti--and then vanished in the night, never to be seen again.

Peter Heywood, former midshipman on the Bounty, had been only a few weeks shy of seventeen on the morning the mutiny had broken out and his close friend and distant relative Fletcher Christian had taken the ship. At Christian's command, Lieutenant Bligh and eighteen loyalists had been compelled to go overboard into one of the Bounty's small boats, where they had been left, bobbing in the wide Pacific, to certain death.

Fletcher Christian's control of the mutineers was to last no more than five months. When he eventually directed the Bounty back to Tahiti for what would be her final visit, he had done so because his company had disintegrated into factions. The majority of his people wished to bail out and take their chances at Tahiti even though, as they knew, a British naval ship would eventually come looking for them; some of these men had been loyal to Bligh, but had been held against their will on board the Bounty.

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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