The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

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Just before sunrise on the morning of April 28, 1789, in the far reaches of the South Pacific. Master's Mate Fletcher Christian and three other men, armed with cutlasses, bayonets and a musket, apprehended Lieutenant William Bligh and placed him and eighteen officers and crewmen in a small boat. This mutiny on board His Majesty's armed transport Bounty impelled every man on a fateful course - Bligh and his loyalists on a historic boat voyage. Christian and his followers on their restless exile. Bligh himself ...
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The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

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Overview

Just before sunrise on the morning of April 28, 1789, in the far reaches of the South Pacific. Master's Mate Fletcher Christian and three other men, armed with cutlasses, bayonets and a musket, apprehended Lieutenant William Bligh and placed him and eighteen officers and crewmen in a small boat. This mutiny on board His Majesty's armed transport Bounty impelled every man on a fateful course - Bligh and his loyalists on a historic boat voyage. Christian and his followers on their restless exile. Bligh himself returned to Britain as a hero, but that was not his final destiny. Ten of the Bounty's crew were eventually captured in Tahiti and brought back to England in irons to face their day in court and it was in the dynamics and politics of their court-martial and its aftermath that the story we know - or think we know - as the mutiny on the Bounty was shaped.

The facts of the mutiny itself are told in Admiralty records, but for the truth behind the story Alexander has ranged further, gleaning details from the wills, diaries and correspondence of figures not obviously connected to the events, from obscure news items and from the biographies and family pedigrees of seemingly minor players. She casts a radical new light on the events, on Bligh's character and on a welter of family connections and special interests that play crucial roles at different moments in the story. Using contemporary accounts, and particularly the mutineers' own testimony, she allows the men themselves to conjure the events and transport the reader back to the deck of the Bounty, to exotic islands in the South Pacific and to the back rooms of British naval power. Only when we look at the whole story, from beforethe Bounty left England until well after the death of the last participant, do we understand what happened and why.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
''What caused the mutiny on the Bounty?'' Alexander asks. ''The seductions of Tahiti, Bligh's harsh tongue -- perhaps. But more compellingly, a night of drinking and a proud man's pride, a low moment on one gray dawn, a momentary and fatal slip in a gentleman's code of discipline -- and then the rush of consequences to be lived out for a lifetime.'' This sounds almost like Conrad writing, and indeed it would have taken a Conrad to gives us a psychologically satisfactory Christian or Bligh. A sea mist hangs over this age-old tale. Alexander dispels it, to the reader's fascination. But when all the facts are told and the fates of the cast are duly chronicled, the sea mist settles in again, as impenetrable and yet more interesting than it has ever been. — Verlyn Klinkenborg
The Washington Post
As Caroline Alexander argues in this meticulously researched and smoothly readable revisionist history, the central part of the Bounty legend -- that William Bligh was a tyrannical captain and Fletcher Christian a heroic rebel -- simply is not true. — Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
A contributor to the New Yorker, Granta, Cond Nast Traveler and National Geographic, Alexander brings the past to life with travel narratives spanning continents and centuries. Alexander (The Endurance) again recreates a high seas voyage, retelling a familiar story-of the South Pacific misadventures of the small British naval vessel the Bounty-yet taking a fresh look at the drama. Commanded by William Bligh, the Bounty left England in December 1787 to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies. During the 1789 mutiny, Bligh and crew members were set adrift in an open boat and eventually returned to England. Bligh-who up until now has been viewed as a tyrant-was praised at the time, Alexander finds, since "no feat of seamanship was deemed to surpass Bligh's navigation and command of The Bounty's 23-foot-long launch, and few feats of survival compared with his men's forty-eight-day ordeal on starvation rations." Alexander's reconstruction of the mutiny and its aftermath (thanks to her exhaustive research through books, reports, newspapers, correspondence, historical societies and archives) is almost as remarkable as Bligh's feat. She details daily events during the captured mutineers' court-martial, expanding on court transcripts. Separating facts from falsehoods and myths in the closing chapters, she finally turns to the life of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island, noting "this fantastic tale of escape to paradise at the far end of the world had the allure of something epic." Alexander's work is destined to become the definitive, enthralling history of a great seafaring adventure. Maps and illus. not seen by PW. (On sale Sept. 15) Forecast: Ads, a 15-city author tour, a 20-city radio satellite tour and first serial in the New Yorker are sure to send readers sailing into bookstores. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Alexander sold 750,000 copies of The Endurance in hardcover alone, so following up with the tale of another shipboard tragedy was probably smart. A 15-city author tour; first serial to The New Yorker. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Blending a smooth interpretation of events with primary-source material, Alexander profiles history's most famous mutiny in the same stylish manner she brought to Shackleton's Antarctic expedition (The Endurance, 1998, etc.). There's no dearth of original material to work from when piecing together what happened aboard the Bounty in 1789, when Fletcher Christian and a small band of men staged a mutiny against Captain William Bligh, and Alexander has harvested all the best of it: admiralty papers, personal letters, Bligh's logs, wills, memoirs, diaries, and even "correspondence of figures not obviously connected to events, obscure news items, and the biographies and family pedigrees of seemingly minor players." The author re-creates the crew's capture on Tahiti and the courts-martial of Bligh and the others, with their contradictory evidence and clashes of will. Considering the surfeit of interpretations, it's not surprising when Alexander concedes that "exactly why, or precisely when Christian had begun to succumb to the pressure of serving under his irascible commander is impossible to ascertain." She offers fascinating and credible explanations for the rise of the Fletcher Christian myth, and the devolution of Bligh to join the ranks of Quisling and Legree; in one scenario, Bligh's breadfruit mission was intended to supply cheap food for slaves in the West Indies, and Abolitionists created in Christian "a young gentleman who, 'agonized by unprovoked and incessant abuse and disgrace,' stood up for his natural rights and overthrew the oppressive tyrant." The discovery, years later, of the families of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island added further grist to the Romantic mill. A great seastory ("surpassed, perhaps, only by the Odyssey," the author remarks), handled with dexterity to capture characters and circumstances with faithfulness to the record and a steady feeling of anticipation for history in the making. (32 pp. illustrations, not seen) First serial to the New Yorker; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142800300
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/15/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged Cassette
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 4.12 (w) x 6.18 (h) x 2.64 (d)

Meet the Author

 Caroline Alexander has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Condé Nast Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, and National Geographic and is the author of four previous books.

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Read an Excerpt

PRELUDE

Spithead, winter 1787

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. William Bligh, aged thirty-three, had been selected by His Majesty's government to collect breadfruit plants from the South Pacific island of Tahiti and to transport them to the plantations of the West Indies. Like most of the Pacific, Tahiti—Otaheite—was little known; in all the centuries of maritime travel, fewer than a dozen European ships had anchored in her waters. Bligh himself had been on one of these early voyages, ten years previously, when he had sailed under the command of the great Captain Cook. Now he was to lead his own expedition in a single small vessel called Bounty.

With his ship mustered and provisioned for eighteen months, Bligh had anxiously been awaiting the Admiralty's final orders, which would allow him to sail, since his arrival at Spithead in early November. A journey of some sixteen thousand miles lay ahead, including a passage around Cape Horn, some of the most tempestuous sailing in the world. Any further delay, Bligh knew, would ensure that he approached the Horn at the height of its worst weather. By the time the orders arrived in late November, the weather at Spithead itself had also deteriorated to the extent that Bligh had been able to advance no farther than the Isle of Wight, from where he wrote a frustrated letter to his uncle-in-law and mentor, Duncan Campbell.

"If there is any punishment that ought to be inflicted on a set of Men for neglect I am sure it ought on the Admiralty," he wrote irascibly on December 10, 1787, "for my three weeks detention at this place during a fine fair wind which carried all outward bound ships clear of the channel but me, who wanted it most."

Nearly two weeks later, he had retreated back to Spithead, still riding out bad weather.

"It is impossible to say what may be the result," Bligh wrote to Campbell, his anxiety mounting. "I shall endeavor to get round [the Horn]; but with heavy Gales, should it be accompanied with sleet & snow my people will not be able to stand it....Indeed I feel my voyage a very arduous one, and have only to hope in return that whatever the event may be my poor little Family may be provided for. I have this comfort," he continued with some complacency, "that my health is good and I know of nothing that can scarce happen but I have some resource for— My little Ship is in the best of order and my Men & officers all good & feel happy under my directions."

At last, on December 23, 1787, the Bounty departed England and after a rough passage arrived at Santa Cruz, in Tenerife. Here, fresh provisions were acquired and repairs made, for the ship had been mauled by severe storms.

"The first sea that struck us carryed away all my spare yards and some spars," Bligh reported, writing again to Campbell; "—the second broke the Boats chocks & stove them & I was buryed in the Sea with my poor little crew...."

Despite the exasperating delay of his departure, the tumultuous passage and the untold miles that still lay ahead, Bligh's spirits were now high—manifestly higher than when he had first set out. On February 17, 1788, off Tenerife, he took advantage of a passing British whaler, the Queen of London, to drop a line to Sir Joseph Banks, his patron and the man most responsible for the breadfruit venture.

"I am happy and satisfyed in my little Ship and we are now fit to go round half a score of worlds," Bligh wrote, "both Men & Officers tractable and well disposed & cheerfulness & content in the countenance of every one. I am sure nothing is even more conducive to health. —I have no cause to inflict punishments for I have no offenders and every thing turns out to my most sanguine expectations."

"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...."

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Table of Contents

The Bounty Ship's Company
Author's Note

Prelude
Pandora
Bounty
Voyage Out
Tahiti
Mutiny
Return
Portsmouth
Court-Martial
Defense
Sentence
Judgment
Latitude 25° S, Longitude 130° W
Home Is The Sailor

A Note on Sources
Select Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

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Customer Reviews

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( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2004

    A Bountiful Story !!

    My first inclination was to not buy this book as who needs an expose akin to the trash one might see in the National Inquirer. Not so with this treasure. Well researched and flowing without prejudice. The author gives you a wonderful read without spoiling it by drawing her own conclusions. One is left to his/her own conclusions about who is Jekyl and who is Hyde. A great read about a perplexing journey many years ago. Read it and enjoy. Congratulations to the author for showing restraint and giving us the historical facts without personal opinions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2004

    Extensive Research -- Needs Editing

    I truly enjoyed the story of the Bounty and the general organization of this book. However, the author obviously wanted to let us all see every single piece of research she ran across. This could have been much more concise. Needs editing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    Great book

    Great Book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2004

    It's a interesting book for kids

    My favorite part was when William Bligh dreamed of being a sailor in Plymouth,England.He was going to be a Captain for the HMS Bounty.This is good for kids to read 9 years and up.It would be a fun book to read.Have fun with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2004

    Finally the turth be told of the HMS Bounty

    Caroline Alexander finally tells exactly what happened on the Bounty. Though the book lacks in depth the reason why Mr. Christian and his mutineers took over the ship, it does give insight to each of the sailor¿s background as well as that of Captain Bligh. It describes in detail the Trial, the fates of those found guilty and some information on the fait of Mr. Christian, the leader of the mutineers. Caroline hints at several possibilities of why the mutiny took place, but leaves the reader still wondering. A very good book to offset the Hollywood myths. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2004

    A great book, great navigator... BUT

    Carolina Alexander has certainly ritten the best researched book concerning a mutiny which is perhaps as current today as it was when it happened. She answers many questions with authority and insight. I have read much about this story and so far no one has answered a basic question: WHY DIDN'T BLIGH, AN EXPERIENED NAVIGATOR, GO AROUND CAPE HORN INSTEAD OF REACHING THE ATLANTIC VIA THE CALM WATERS OF THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN? Bligh spend 30 days trying to cross the Horn.... a week or two in the Strait would have sufficed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2004

    Fascinating look at a legendary story

    Caroline Alexander writes of the mutiny on the Bounty with the urgency of a Hollywood screenwriter pounding out the latest big-budget action flick, and in so doing takes a somewhat old-hat military history and brings it alive with dry wit, illuminating digression, and interesting organization. She jumps back and forth in time, spends many pages drawing connections between key players in the event, and detailing her intense research. This is good history, and it's engagingly presented, but one can't help but find Alexander's book a little meandering at times, if not simply boring. If it can be said, 'The Bounty' is almost over-researched at times, with her tangents becoming (much like those of Jon Krakauer in 'Under the Banner of Heaven') detrimental to the overall success of her book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2003

    5 out of 5 lashes!

    If you're out of college and all the history lessons you get these days come from the movies, give this book a chance. You'll never watch any version of 'The Mutiny on the Bounty' on AMC again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2003

    Uneven but a must read!

    Before I comment on Caroline Alexander¿s extremely well researched and detailed narrative of the Bounty, Captain Bligh, and his crew I must admit that I have always been drawn to this story. In fact, I may be the only person in my generation to have liked the 1962 Marlon Brando film version of ¿Mutiny on the Bounty¿. So when I saw Caroline Alexander¿s book I simply had to read it and although I enjoyed and appreciated the scholarship of the work I found it uneven, and maybe a bit to ambitious. The first chapter, which covers Captain Edwards and his ship the Pandora sailing to capture the mutineers, is simply marvelous. It¿s a story that cries out to be a book all by itself. The rest of the book sets up as a defense of Captain Bligh and the views of each crew member with an emphasis on Peter Hayward all to explain how Bligh became the villain of the Bounty mutiny rather than it¿s hero. And much of this I found compelling and interesting. However, and I can not help feeling it is a big problem for the narrative here, Fletcher Christian (they called him, in fact, Mr. Christian) is almost a phantom, with others (the crew and Bligh) left to tell Christian¿s side and explain his motives. This may explain why many of the popular Bounty books are novels rather than the ¿true story¿. It is not, of course, Caroline Alexander¿s fault that Christian is an enigma here. She tries hard to define him by bring forth-different perspectives offered by the crew as he increasing becomes the villain of the piece. Yet, with what little direct evidence there is Christian becomes an invisible (off stage) personality in this narrative. Is it fair to point this out? I think yes. But at the same time Caroline Alexander can only tell the story from what is know and the documents and historical evidence and tell the story she does with an excellent eye for all sort of details, personality, social status, and the incredible . Yet, it¿s strangely unsettling to read her present the evidence the Christian did not die on Pitcairn Island, but some how, returned to England to live in semi-secret. Who knows? Who will ever know? And this is the frustration and beauty of this multi leveled narrative.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2003

    HISTORY - RELIVED AND REVISED!

    After three movies, several poems, and numerous vignettes, most of us probably think we know the story of that ill-fated ship the Bounty. Many will remember Charles Laughton's unforgettable portrayal of the cruel, tyrannical Captain Bligh. Forget everything you've seen and read because most of it is completely untrue, as is revealed in this landmark history of one of the world's most famous mutinies. Stellar British actor Michael York, acclaimed for his stage and screen roles, offers an impeccable reading of The Bounty in the abridged versions. The unabridged version is in the capable hands of veteran vocal performer Simon Prebble who also gives a top-notch delivery. Surprised listeners will learn, perhaps for the first time, that rather than being an oppressive taskmaster, Captain Bligh was in actuality a fine leader who went to great lengths to avoid using physical punishment. He was, in effect, tossed overboard, sent to sea in a small boat with meager rations, and a few who remained loyal to him. Despite the odds he was able to save all of their lives and take them to land. Perhaps the most spellbinding segment of Ms. Alexander's story is the court martial of the mutineers who were found in Tahiti and returned to England. Remembering the day in 1789 when Fletcher Christian led the insurrection listeners are able to relive that fateful time as they hear it related in the voices of the participants. The author has accomplished an amazing work of scholarship, and the readers give it remarkable voice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2003

    Recommended - But know the Queens English

    C Alexander tells a riviting tale. She leaves us to be the judge and jury as she (sometimes agonizingly so) tells the stories of each crewmate of Bounty whether they were part of the ships taking or not. An excellent follow up as she traces the participants family lines and personal agendas. As the last 4 chapters take hold of you, you'll wish the same intrigue began with the book. Alexander tells the story in the royal tone of the day which at times can be tedious, but she tells the story to completion and without bias - well done. I put it down and bought her first book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2003

    If you loved The Endurance, you'll love The Bounty

    If the greatest open boat journey was the Shackleton's Caird from Elephant Island to St George's - then the second greatest has to be Captain Bligh's from the Bounty. This is amazing book. Just like the Endurance I found myself stopping every few pages to wonder at hardship and adventure. If you liked the Endurance, you'll love the Bounty!

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    Posted April 20, 2011

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    Posted September 2, 2011

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    Posted May 2, 2010

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    Posted March 15, 2013

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    Posted January 20, 2009

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    Posted January 18, 2009

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