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The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on…

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (2003)

by Caroline Alexander

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59. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

I do believe the basic story of "The Mutiny on the Bounty" is widely known: A British ship named Bounty, commanded by Lt. William Bligh, was seized by mutineers led by Fletcher Christian. Bligh and a group of loyalists journeyed thousands of miles in an overloaded open boat and eventually returned to England. Several of the mutineers were captured on Tahiti, returned to England, and tried, with all being convicted. Three were pardoned by King George III, three others were hanged. Years later, one surviving mutineer was discovered living on Pitcairn Island with a few Tahitian natives and some children fathered by mutineers. But by that time, relatively few cared. The End.

Thanks to high-level family connections, shrewd counsel, bogus investigations, and trash journalism, the tale, even before it had played out, was manipulated and twisted. In the popular mind, Bligh was a despicable villain with Christian becoming a folk hero. Novels and films have been spawned by the tale, and most of them have simply entrenched that idea: Bligh was a villain, Christian a misunderstood, introverted loner-hero.

Caroline Alexander may not be the first historian to research the records for the truth, but her book is the only one on the topic that I've read. She's done a thorough and commendable job. I think she does a good job of marshaling and dispensing the facts to maintain the mystery and our interest. What dialogue there is is taken from letters, trial testimony, written reports, and the like; no fictionalizing. I wouldn't call it a page-turner, and some readers will judge it plodding. I think it's interesting, methodical, thorough. Alexander presents facts, then asks questions and roots for more information and answers.

Having reached the end, I am satisfied. The feats of navigation and seafaring are simply incredible, the mutiny itself not really surprising, the intrigue and shenanigans before, during, and after the court-martial worthy of Trollope or Dickens
1 vote weird_O | Jul 20, 2015 |
Read on a whim after stumbling across Pitcarin Islands in some other reading. A fantastic story, and I appreciated the academic flavor, as I imagined other writings sensationalizing the story. Alexander bears this out towards the end of the novel. It was easy to read, and ultimately a good book about a very fascinating topic.

The reading is a bit dry, however, and the work drags as it goes into the known details of every crew member and their various influential friends and family members. On one hand, I have a hard time begrudging it this, as they did provide sometimes essential information. On the other, I cared little about the individual fates of most men. But each person's story (both during the mutiny, their testimony at the mutineer's trial, and their testimony in public afterwards) paints an amusing whole picture, and it would've been hard to edit that information out and still be readable.

Still. At one point, I got career summaries for each of the captains at the mutineer's trial. Important to show that they were all experienced and more likely to agree with Bligh's version of events and not have much of a sympathetic ear for mutineers, but it felt excessive. The part with the trial and convictions also felt interminable. ( )
  ConnieJo | Jun 30, 2014 |
A researched history of the true story of "The Mutiny on the Bounty" which reads like a novel. Besides including short biographies of the persons involved in this nautical affair in the late 1700's, Caroline Alexander gives the reader the flavor of what being a man in the English navy at that time was like. She explores the different levels of the persons on board, and speaks of other ships and crews that were sailing at same time.
There is no "good guy" or "bad guy" here; rather, we have an even account of what occurred, or it is believed occurred before, during and after, the mutiny. Alexander uses official documents of the time: letters, journals, written interviews, ship logs, the proceedings of the courts-marshals, etc.
I believe anyone who has an interest in English history, nautical history, or just history in general will love this book. It took me away on the voyages, I met some interesting people and was a "fly on the wall" during closed English nautical courts-marshals. This is definitely not your typical ocean cruises to the South Seas. ( )
  PallanDavid | May 10, 2014 |
Clearly, a meticulously researched book. Unfortunately, I found that the research drove the book rather than the reader's curiosity. Alexander labors over details where evidence can support it, but often this, combined with the structure, only serves to stifle any momentum created. Disappointing. ( )
  kenno82 | Apr 14, 2014 |
In December of 1787, the HMS Bounty, under the leadership of commanding lieutenant William Bligh, set out for the island of Tahiti to obtain breadfruit plants to grow in the West Indies. It was a routine trade mission. But Bligh’s return trip to England was far from routine. On the morning of April 28, 1789, ship’s mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Bligh and took the ship. Bligh and 14 crewmen were placed on a small 23-foot launch and sent to go back home while the mutineers steered towards Tahiti. Without charts or a chronometer, Bligh still made it over 4,000 miles to Australian shores and eventually got home. The story of the infamous mutiny and aftermath are the subject for Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty, a complex and nuanced tale of leadership, loyalty, and love.

While the details about the mutiny are still unclear, the core issue was that many among the crew wanted to stay on Tahiti with those whom they were enamored, and Commander Bligh ordered them back to the ship. The mission was a moderate success—over 1,000 plants had been secured for transport—and the crew had spent a wonderful five months on the island. It was quite possibly the easiest mission there could be. But, several men of the Bounty, including the master’s mate grew attached to local women and didn’t want to leave. Bligh, being a man of dogmatic intensity and fierce devotion to his job, ordered them back or face severe consequences.

Alexander’s history tries to give a less heavy-handed version of the events than previous writers. Bligh is traditionally seen as a taskmaster with no real heart or humanity. Fletcher is the idealized image of every person finding happiness in a far-off land. But, the historical documents at hand tell a slightly different tale. True, there was a mutiny and, true, the men did disobey orders. Bligh was the only real officer on board and had to be the sole administrator of discipline and justice, but the extent to which his orders become tyrannical is up for debate. The author does an interesting job of countermanding previous assumptions and laying out a more balanced view of the story. A lively and entertaining book. ( )
  NielsenGW | Feb 24, 2014 |
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His small vessel pitching in the squally winter sea, a young British naval lieutenant waited restlessly to embark upon the most important and daunting voyage of his still young but highly promising career.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0142004693, Paperback)

Surely this exhaustingly-researched, enthralling and enthusiastically-written tome is the last word on the most famous of all seafaring mutinies, that of shipmate Fletcher Christian and against Lieutenant Bligh on the Bounty. More than 200 years have gone by since the ship left England after dreadful weather kept it harbored for months, on its mission to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. The mutiny in Tahiti left the mutineers scattered about the paradisiacal islands and found Bligh and 18 of his loyal crew members set adrift in a 23-foot open boat. Bligh, who'd served as Capt. James Cook's sailing master, fantastically maneuvered the crew on a 48-day, 3,600-mile journey to safety. Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance, is never in over her head even when weaving together densely twisting narratives, or explaining the unwritten rules of the Royal Navy, of the complexities of class and hierarchy that impelled much of what happened aboard the Bounty. The book centers far more on the effort to round up the mutineers than the actual mutiny itself. The book is enlivened by the colorful commentary of the crew members themselves, gleaned from letters and court documents. Alexander does us all the favor of presenting Bligh the way he was understood and received in his day--as a brilliant navigator who, when placed in context, was not a brutal task-master at all. She roots the tyrannical figure we know so well from the movies on the last-ditch efforts of one well-connected crew member to save his own hide from hanging. --Mike McGonigal

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:05 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Chronicles the events surrounding the mutiny aboard His Majesty's armed transport Bounty on April 28, 1789, using details from the wills, diaries, and correspondence of figures not directly connected to the events to uncover the true story behind the mutiny.… (more)

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