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Ahoy;

Brief descriptions about 2 well researched books I am reading.

 

First: The True Story of the Mutiny of the Bounty.  By Caroline Alexander 2003, ISBN-978-0-14-200469-2

This book is extremely detailed and very well researched.  All of the events are well described.  Before the voyage.  The voyage out  to the South Pacific. The mutiny, The Pandora. The return of Bligh to Coupang (Dutch Colony) and the trail of the mutineers.  The author takes all this information and creates a seamless narrative.  Many of the sources are letters from the sailors to family and diaries that the men kept.

 

In the back of the book it has all the sources for each chapter and select biographies.  Best book I have read about the HMS Bounty.

 

Second:  The Slave Ship - A Human History.  By Marcus Rideker (professor of History) 2007 ISBN-978-0-14-311425-3

Another book that is well researched.  The book discusses in detail the life, death and terror of the slave trade. The evolution of it.  The so called "Middle Passage"  From Africa to either the West Indies or the USA.  Insurrections, the lives of sailors, death and diseases on particular slave ships.  This book is not just about what happens to the slaves but everything that has to do with it.  The people involved and then several last chapters of the abolition of slavery.  You read about accounts that are quoted from actual court proceedings.

 

Again well researched with lots of sources quoted for each chapter in the book. 

 

Thank you for reading my brief review.

Marc

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  • 1 year later...

Caroline Alexanders 'The Bounty'

 

Just bringing this thread to life again as I have just finished re-reading this book for the fourth time and, as ever, was so impressed by it so felt a slightly more detailed book review would be in order. There may be some people out there who don't know the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. I suspect that most would not be members of this site. But to precis  it the popular 'newspaper version' is that a small ship is sent by Britain to ferry bread plants from Tahiti to the West Indies as food for slaves. The occupants of this ship are faced with one of the cruellest tyrants in the British Navy a hang em and flog em utter b*stard who makes life a living hell for all concerned. Eventually the noble Mr Christian (Masters Mate and acting Lieutenant) has had enough and mutinies along with a sub set of the crew. Bligh is then put into a boat (and honourably not killed on the spot). Most of the Mutineers end up on Pitcairn island free to continue their questionable sexual practices (apparently the age of consent was 12 until recently) whereas Bligh managed to con the little launch without maps from memory on starvation rations half way across the world to safety.

 

That is the 'standard' version as beloved by Hollywood and some fictional authors (I exclude the Mel Gibson film from this group) and is also the version smashed to pieces by this magnificent book, M(s) Alexander has really done her research not just on the mutiny but on what happened afterwards. It is quite obvious that as opposed to reading a memoir plus existing histories and using those she has instead poured over as many original sources as can be found so letters, memoirs, court evidence, private evidence to build up a very different picture to the popular version. Not only does she do this she also shows how the current popular legend was generated.

 

She handles the voyage and mutiny itself by simply reporting on what happened and allowing the men to speak in their own voices as much as possible and does not attempt to interpret. It is when the captured mutineers return (having survived their own wrecking and incarceration in Pandora's Box) and are court martialled that the book kicks up a gear. The author shows a very deep understanding of not only the undercurrents of peoples relationships but also society (and notable society at sea) and its ways as opposed to what exists now. Her deft handling of the ever present 'interest' and the manipulation of the various parties is fascinating and it paints an impressive picture of the British Navy of the time. As an example of this (And her quote heavy style allowing the participants to speak as much as possible) here is a quote from the latter part of the book describing something mentioned in the kangaroo court assembled by Fletcher Christians brother.

There was, then, much about life at sea that did not translate well into the civilian world – principally, that naval language was more often than not spiced with profanity, and that officers and men commonly did not like their Captains. Ironically, the single incident that would undoubtedly have struck a nerve with naval professionals confronted with the same testimony heard at the Crown and Sceptre was probably the last thing Edwards was capable of imaging.

 

‘Damn your blood, you have stolen my cocoa nuts,’ Bligh had accused Christian.

 

‘I was dry. I thought it of no consequence, I took one only.’ Christian had plaintively replied, according to Edward.

 

Bligh’s own response to this episode, drafted in the third person after Edward’s publication, but never published, was unequivocal and unrepentant: ‘ A heap of Cocoa Nutts were between the guns under the charge of the Officer of the Watch, with orders for no one to touch them until the Ship was clear of the land, when they would be issued equally and considered highly refreshing, without which caution some would have & waste one half & others would have none. In one Night (the first) the Officers permitted the whole within a score to be taken away. As this was evidently done through some design Captain Bligh ordered all the Cocoa Nutts to be replaced – The officers of the watch declared they were taken away by stelth – Here was publick theft; a contumacy, & direct disobedience of orders.’

 

Bligh did not require so thorough an explanation. Under the inexorable rules that governed the hierarchy of command and conduct on board a ship in His Majesty’s Naval service, the removal of a single coconut from the ship’s store, if forbidden by order of the superior officer, was a criminal act. And to Bligh’s charge that he – the officer of the watch, the acting lieutenant, the second-in-command – had contravened his commanding officer’s infrangible injunction, Christian had, in essence, replied, with pain and bewilderment in his voice – ‘but I was thirsty’.

 

 

Bligh throughout comes across as a talented professional with the highest standards who expected his officers especially to have the same dedication, if these are not kept to then he also had a temper but not one which led to mass floggings quoting the book again

 

‘I have heard the Captain damn the people, like many other Captains,’ Lawrence Lebogue would later go on record as saying, ‘but he was never angry with a man the next minute, and I never heard of their disliking him’

 

 

Perhaps if anything Bligh was not hard enough as after reading the book you can almost see where the problems arose and how the crew felt they had some 'right' to do as they wished yet came across Captain Blighs almost magnificent dedication to duty. This was one man who under no circumstances would let personal weakness stop him doing what was right regardless as to the consequences. I have known people like him and feel like I know people like the other crew members and for a historical book to generate that degree of empathy for people who died hundreds of years ago is no small feat in itself.

 

 

Anyway I don’t want to go on about this to long so please have a look if you have any interest in the period at all. I don't think you will be disappointed. As a final aside the Gibson film runs closest to this version and due to this book (first published around 2003?) several fictional authors have produced more recent works which match this 'understanding' of events so finally, perhaps, William Bligh is getting his true just deserts after centuries of lies..

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 Hello Matrim; I would like to add an observation to your review of  "The Bounty"

       Few have noted that Bounty was under-manned; there weren't enough officers!!

Captain Bligh was the only "commissioned" officer on board for 40+ seamen. Fletcher

Christian the most experienced midshipman (officer in training) aboard, was appointed

by Bligh to be "Acting Lieutenant".  Had there been another commissioned officer, the

story might have had a much happier ending. 

      Consequently I would consider Bligh to have been an overstressed exasperated nag! 

The unfair Hollywood character given to him of 'a cruel tyrant" really described Captain

Edwards of the Pandora.  Regards, Mark Pollex

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