A British historian recounts the links between the founding of the British penal colony in Australia and the mutiny on the Bounty.
Preston (A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare, 2015, etc.) narrates the story of three remarkable open-boat journeys. The first was occasioned by mutiny, the second by escaped convicts, and the third by shipwreck. William Bligh (1754-1817) was part of two other mutinies: the great naval mutiny in 1797, when aggrieved sailors removed their captains from a number of ships on Britain’s coast, and his deposition by subordinates as governor of the Australian penal colony in 1808. The story of Bligh’s 3,600-mile open-boat journey to Timor in 1789 is well-known, but two others made similar voyages not long after. Almost two years to the day, nine convicts, escapees from Port Jackson penal colony in Botany Bay, landed at the same place on Timor. Their 10-week trek covered more than 3,200 nautical miles of hazardous seas. The third trek was led by the captain of Pandora, a ship sent to find and arrest the Bounty mutineers. She sank in the Great Barrier Reef, but dozens of the ship’s company, as well as 10 captured mutineers, survived the trip to Timor in four boats. Ultimately, this is a book about survival, and the author engagingly recounts the nearly impossible task of trying to establish a penal colony with few supplies and poor agricultural conditions. Preston shines in her description of the true nature of Capt. Bligh, who skimmed, cheated, cut rations, and stole supplies. Still, it seems greed was the least of his faults. He also had an explosive temper and was uncommonly harsh, abusive, and even tyrannical. His manner was consistently aggressive, and he seemed to completely lack empathy, intuition, or insight.
A wonderful look into the beginnings of Australia and the remarkable strength of the survivors of these dangerous voyages.