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

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

by Caroline Alexander


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More than two centuries after Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty, the true story of this enthralling adventure has become obscured by the legend. Combining vivid characterization and deft storytelling, Caroline Alexander shatters the centuries-old myths surrounding this story. She brilliantly shows how, in a desperate attempt to save one man from the gallows and another from ignominy, two powerful families came together and began to create the version of history we know today. The true story of the mutiny on the Bounty is an epic of duty and heroism, pride and power, and the assassination of a brave man’s honor at the dawn of the Romantic age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142004692
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/25/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 458,801
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 - 17 Years

About 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.

Read an Excerpt


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...."

Table of Contents

The BountyShip's Company
Author's Note

Voyage Out
Latitude 25° S, Longitude 130° W
Home Is The Sailor

A Note on Sources
Select Bibliography

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The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
johnleague on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Popular histories sometimes (not always, but often enough to notice) suffer from one of two things: a deliberate paring away of detail--be it description or incident--to make for easier reading or a slimmer volume, or a concerted refusal to acknowledge or explore information that does not gird the author's thesis. Caroline Alexander's The Bounty has neither condition: it is as exhaustive an examination of a single moment of history as anything I've ever read.Which is not to say that the reading is not compelling. Alexander goes to some pains to strip away the romantic veneer covering over the facts of the mutiny and those culpable in its execution. Nor does she provide complete exoneration to Captain Bligh, who is revealed as an able, conscientious and decent man, whose few failings were amplified by a flawed crew and lack of support (mainly in the absence of marines on board The Bounty) from the Admiralty. Oddly, but appropriately for such a scholarly work, Alexander pieces together much of what is known about lead mutineer Fletcher Christian from the extant evidence, which in most cases is second hand.The exhaustive nature of the book does tend to drag in places. The build up to court martial introduces the tiresome (no more here though than she was doubtlessly so in life) Fanny Hayward, along with detailed explanation of the members of the court martial. Interesting and ultimately useful in sorting out the fractured loyalties that defined these men and their subsequent actions, it does get to be slow reading.But more than a story of one mutiny in the Pacific, it is a tale of a changing world, where the virgin paradise of Tahiti is imbued with the failings of the British Empire, where Nelson's final words, "thank God I have done my duty," are not the anthem of a subsequent age but an epitaph for a waning one. An epic worth reading.
whitetara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book upon seeing that Caroline Alexander was doing a lecture about it at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I honestly did not know her from anybody at that point but I love the museum, go to a lot of their lectures, and had a passing interest in the history of the Bounty. I was concerned about reading the entire book within the small time frame I had between getting it and the lecture but I needn't have worried. I finished it in two days - I was fascinated. I've re-read it since then as well. Ms. Alexander did an excellent job combining logs, letters, and journals from members of the crew but what really got me - even beyond the wonderful explanation of the journey itself - was the extraordinary detail and research that she did on the trials and the "after" that really made this book so wonderful. And - her lecture was a true pleasure. As a lover of history, it was fascinating to hear her describe her research and verification of facts. She was a somewhat soft-spoken person and I've never enjoyed a lecture so much. I highly recommend this book.
tg9522 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great story about the mutiny on the Bounty
CecilyK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've had this book in my library for years and finally picked it up a month or two ago. I had no idea that I'd be swept into one of the most interesting narrative histories I've ever read.Alexander has done her research thoroughly and what I find most astounding is just how much source material she had to work with. I'm new to British Naval history and I was amazed that they'd managed to preserve the logs and letters. What was even more astonishing was that the evidence she compiles for this book paints Bligh in such a contrasting light than the rest of the world knows him. We can all spout what we've 'heard' about the reputation of Captain Bligh, but when the facts are laid bare, the story changes dramatically.I now find myself defending Captain Bligh at every turn and encouraging people to read this fantastic book. Alexander's writing is clear and supremely interesting. She takes the time to explain the naval lingo and the ramifications of log entries and the actions of the Admiralty. I ended up feeling sympathy for Bligh and just a bit of rage at how he was mistreated. You may not be swept along as thoroughly as I was, but I doubt you'll be able to look at this epic true story in the same way again.
KarriesKorner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps it's because I was trying to listen to this story while I was driving on a boring stretch of I55, but I found this book hard to follow. Alexander clearly did a terrific job of researching because the level of detail in this story is high and, I assume, accurate. There are numerous characters and lots of switching gears from one aspect of the story to another.I'll have to try it again because I never finished it -- I simply lost interest because it was boring.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstanding. If you haven't read that one and you are interested in Shackleton, I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it.The Bounty is another one of those marvelous histories, which although documented (sources for each chapter are given at the end & thus there are no footnote encumbrances), reads likes a novel. I literally could not put this book down.Synopsis:Sunrise, April 28, 1789. William Bligh, who was actually a lieutenant captaining the ship Bounty, sent from England to the South Pacific to gather of all things breadfruit (you have to read the book to understand this)was rudely awakened at swordpoint from his bunk to be informed that he would be leaving the ship. In charge of this operation was Mr. Fletcher Christian, (and God help me, I can't help but think of Mel Gibson every time his name was brought up), who explained that he was in Hell and could no longer abide the captain's behavior. Wearing only a nightshirt, Bligh was bound and lowered into a launch. Others soon followed suit...the ship was then in the hands of Fletcher Christian and a few others of it seems, like minds. So...the question is what brought on the mutiny? Was Captain Bligh really as nefarious and evil as history has painted him? What conditions led to Fletcher Christian's decision? And then, in probably what is the true meat of this story, how were the majority of the mutineers rounded up & brought to justice? We all know that Fletcher Christian and a few of his associates landed on & settled Pitcairn Island, which lay largely what was the real story here? So many questions, so many answers, from various viewpoints, keep this account lively & leave the reader wanting to read more.The book opens with the collection & transport of the mutineers who had escaped to Tahiti; some of them voluntarily going to the ship & thus their certain fates and others who had to be rounded up. The story then moves to part two, in which we are introduced to each of the crew members including Captain Bligh & Fletcher Christian. The voyage of the Bounty commences, and this part of the book ends with the mutiny. Part three recalls Captain Bligh's feat of navigation and getting himself & the others consigned to go with him back to civilization, and investigating his court-martial for losing the Bounty. Part four...the political wheelings & dealings involved with the trial of the captured prisoners...and then finally, how the name of Captain Bligh came to be permanently associated with martinet-like behavior & came to be a dirty word. Here too you will find differing views on what happened once the main body of mutineers reached Pitcairn island.One fun piece of information is worth noting. The night before the mutiny, Captain Bligh got into it with his officers about some missing coconuts. He called upon all of them to account for how many they'd eaten. Not that this is earthshaking in itself, but those of you who have read The Caine Mutiny (one of my favorite books of all time) will remember the dastardly Captain Queeg and the strawberry incident. I couldn't help but laugh and draw parallels & even wonder if Herman Wouk had incorporated this part of the Bounty mutiny into his own work.I would very very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this type of thing. Read it and savor it. Take it slow. Because Alexander (like any historian worth her salt) relies heavily on primary documents, the wording is often a bit difficult to read, but it is well worth the time you will take on it.
p_linehan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A historical recounting of the Bounty incident. It gives great information about life in the Royal Navy and British social life. The account of the the trials and executions of captured mutineers was harrowing. Bligh comes across as a complicated figure, both a hero and as someone lacking in social graces.The book is very interesting for readers of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturing series (Master and Commander)
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1954coastal More than 1 year ago
Great Book
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MFowler More than 1 year ago
I picked up this hardcover book at, believe it or not, a dollar store, thinking it would be a good book for a cross-country air trip. And it was - up to a point. After the first chapter it started a long, gradual downhill slide until by the end I was thinking that maybe $1 was a bit much. The book does do a good job of stripping away some of the myths and legends that have grown up around the mutiny in the ensuing decades, and there are quite a few of them. What was the most fascinating to me was how, even in the 1800s, it was all about "damage control" and "spin" and who you knew. Money talked then, apparently even moreso than it does now, although perhaps class would be the word to use. The rehabilitation of Peter Heywood, especially, from mutineer who just barely escaped the hangman's noose to distinguished Royal Navy officer, shows how far a little political capital, properly applied, can go. Must be one of the benefits of a rigid class society. However, if you want to know why Fletcher Christian did what he did, be prepared; "because" isn't far off the mark. As to what happened to the mutineers who made it to Pitcairn Island, "lots of things, most of them bad" is about it. The only gem I took away from this exhaustive effort was a complete reassessment of William Bligh - far from being an insane psychotic as per Hollyweird, Bligh comes across as a dedicated, at times brilliant, but rigid Royal Naval officer who believed in honor over all things and always conducted himself in a manner that was a credit not only to the service, but to his name as well. It is a shame that history, seen through the lens of popular culture, has seen fit to cast him in so inaccurate a light. One last quibble - there were a number of helpful maps and good period illustrations. In fact, all of the principal characters had at least one picture. All but one. Poor Fletcher got cheated out of his 15 minutes of fame, once again.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!