The Bounty

When I was a teenager, I somehow happened upon a copy of Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. It fascinated me, and I read it several times. Then I discovered it was the first part of a trilogy, so I got the other two books and read them. Then I found out that the three books, although fiction, were based on fact. That made it even more fascinating, and since them I've read several other books on the subject.

The story, in short: The British sent a small ship to Tahiti under Captain William Bligh to gather breadfruit for the West Indies where it was supposed to serve as food for slaves. After several months on Tahiti, the Bounty set sail for home, but it didn't make it far. Several crew members, lead by Fletcher Christian, mutinied and took the ship. They set Bligh and the loyal crew members adrift in a small, open boat.

Bligh pulled off one of the most amazing bits of seamanship in history, piloting the boat across thousands of miles of open ocean and reaching safety with the loss of a single man. Christian and the mutineers sailed back to Tahiti. They knew the British Navy would be searching for them, so they set sail again. Some of the mutineers stayed on Tahiti and were captured when the Pandora arrived.

The Pandora searched for Christian on neighboring islands, then sailed toward home. It ran into a reef off Australia and sank. The survivors had to make their own open-boat voyage back to civilization. The the handful of mutineers who were taken back were put on trial, and some of them were hung.

The Bounty disappeared. Nobody knew what happened to it for about 20 years. Than an American ship stopped at remote, tiny Pitcairn's Island in the South Pacific. They found one old British sailor named John Adams, a bunch of middle-aged Polynesian women and a lot of children. Adams told various stories about what happened to Christian, and nobody knows for sure. But descendents of the mutineers still live on Pitcairn's Island, and it is a British possession.

The Bounty saga is so many stories woven in with each other, all of them fascinating. If you've never read about it, I highly recommend that you do. Start with the fictionalized trilogy, then go on to one or more of the historical accounts.

Bounty Trilogy, by Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall

  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1932)  — 10
  • Men Against the Sea (1934)  — 9
  • Pitcairn's Island (1934)  — 9

Here's the first nonfiction account I'd recommend that you read:

  • The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander (2003)  — 8 (Alexander's emphasis is on the court martial of the mutineers brought back to England.)

 

 

The Bounty off Tahiti from the 1984 Mel Gibson movie.

Other Books

  • Pitcairn: Children of Mutiny, by Ian M. Ball (1973) — 6 (The mutineer's descendents on Pitcairn.)
  • The Mutiny of the Bounty, by Sir John Barrow (1831) — 9 (Barrow was the Permanent Secretary to the British Admiralty. This is a fascinating account of the entire story.)
  • The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty, by William Bligh (1792) — 8 (Bligh's own story of the mutiny and his open-boat voyage.)
  • Fragile Paradise: Fletcher Christian of HMS Bounty, by Glynn Christian (1982)  — 6 (A biography of Christian by his great-great-great-great grandson. It contains a lot of conjecture.)
  • Hell and Paradise, by Peter Clarke  — 8 (At one point, Pitcairn's Island was getting overcrowded, so the population was moved to Norfolk Island for a time. This is the story of that move and those who stayed there.)
  • Mr. Bligh's Bad Language, by Gred Dening (1992) — 6 (A psychological study of what happened to cause the mutiny.
  • Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, by Richard Hough (1972) — 8 (Pretty good until the end when Hough gives his guess of what happened.)
  • The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, by George Mackaness — 6 (A very detailed biography of Bligh's entire life.)
  • A Book of the Bounty, edited by George Mackaness (1938) — 9 (Bligh's account and some documents relating to the mutiny.)
  • H.M.S. Bounty, by Alexander McKee — 7

 

 

Pitcairn's Island

  • The Five Neighbors of Pitcairn Island, by Spencer Murray — 5 (Brochure on neighboring islands.)
  • Pitcairn Island: The First 200 Years, by Spencer Murray (1992)  — 10 (Very good overview.)
  • The Wreck of the Wild Wave, by Thurman C. Petty, Jr. (1991) — 6 (About a ship that wrecked on Pitcairn's Island when all the natives were on Norfolk Island.)
  • Pandora's Last Voyage, by Geoffrey Rawson (1963) — 6 (History of the Pandora voyage.)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty, by State Library of New South Wales (1991) — 6 (Assortment of misc. stuff.)
  • The Great Revolution on Pitcairn, by Mark Twain (1903) — 7) (A short story about an American who tries to make himself king of Pitcairn.)
  • Mister Christian, by William Kinsolving (1996) — 6 (Novel about Christian's adventures after he escapes from Pitcairn and returns to England. There are some people who think this really happened.)
  • Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas, by Sven Wahlroos (1989) — 7 (An encyclopedia of stuff related to the mutiny.)
  • The Island, by George Gordon Byron (1823) — 6 (Long poem very loosely based on Pitcairn.)

Movies:

  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with Clark Gable as Christian and Charles Laughton as Bligh. — 7
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando as Christian and Trevor Howard as Bligh  — 4 (Painful to watch.)
  • The Bounty (1984) with Mel Gibson as Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Bligh — 8 (The best of the three, but not great.)

Of related interest:

  • Captain James Cook, by Richard Hough (1994) — 7
  • Voyages of Discovery, by Captain James Cook, edited by John Barrow (1860) — 8
  • Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific, by Lynne Withey — 9
  • Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz (2002) — 10
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