996: The Bounty by Caroline Alexander

by Gerard


996.18: Alexander, Caroline. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. New York: Penguin, 2004. 410 pp. ISBN 0-14-200469-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 990: History of other areas
  • 996: History of Polynesia and other Pacific Ocean Islands
  • 996.1: Southwest central Pacific, and isolated islands of southeast Pacific
  • 996.18: Isolated islands of the southeast Pacific Ocean

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 But, the historical documents at hand tell a slightly different tale.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.