You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Bounty

I received The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander, as a gift, and quickly delved into it. The book is a detailed account of the mutiny on the Bounty. Alexander pored over tons of documents, including original logs, letters, newspaper accounts, and naval records.

William Bligh was a lieutenant in the British navy when he was selected by Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, to lead an expedition to bring breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies. Bligh was an officer who did not like to use corporal punishment, and was glad at having avoided it for much of the first leg of the voyage until he finally had to use some discipline. There were no other commissioned officers on the ship. Bligh was prone to fly into rages, though he would forget his passions and act friendly with his crew. He had to deal with crew members and warrant officers who didn't follow orders and talked back. Some of the crew stole, and some deserted on Tahiti and had to be brought back.

There are many different accounts of the mutiny given during the court-martial. It was Fletcher Christian, the master's mate and acting lieutenant, who Bligh had taken under his wing, who led the mutiny. Bligh was taken out of his bed one morning and held by Christian with a bayonet in his hand, while they readied first one boat, and then another larger one after the first one proved to be leaky and others pleaded for the captain and his companions to have a larger boat. Bligh was cast off with eighteen shipmates, nearly half the crew of the Bounty, in a boat twenty-three feet long and overloaded with the weight of the men and a few supplies. Bligh sailed the boat for over forty days, through the Endeavor Straight, one of the most treacherous stretches of water. They only lost one man, when natives attacked them. When they landed in a port, they were hungry and weak, but still had several days of food left.

After Bligh and his officers were exonerated at the court-martial, the Pandora is sent after the mutineers. They pick up most of them on Tahiti, and spend weeks looking for the rest in nearby islands. The prisoners are kept in harsh conditions in a jail on the Pandora. The Pandora strikes a reef in the Endeavor Straight and sinks. The crew and most of the prisoners make it off and sail to nearby lands in boats. It is the second such voyage for Lieutenant Peter Hayward, who was also with Bligh on his historic voyage.

There is a long account of the court-martial of the mutineers. Four are exonerated, for they were kept on the Bounty against their will for their skills. Three are executed, and three are pardoned. The rest of the mutineers sailed away from Tahiti one night when they cut the anchor while their companions were ashore. Eventually Christian got them to Pitcairn island, where they made a settlement with some Tahitian women and men.

The book is an A+, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in sailing ships or the age of sail. The author takes and interesting course by narrating the events out of order. It got a little confusing, though the effect was strong. The voyage in the open boat is frightening, full of storms and dangerous reefs. The court-martial is a classic courtroom drama. The characters come alive through their actions and words, and it turns out to be a fascinating and varied crew, from the drunk ship's surgeon to the disgruntled master to the capable and literate boatswain's mate. Life on the ships really comes into focus in the story.


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