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 sea story (“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)