Mutiny on the Bounty did not seem like the type of book I would normally pick to read, but when my friend Karen learned I had never read it, she sent me a copy. Now that I have read it, I’m glad she did, for it is a true adventure story, extremely interesting and well written.
The story of the famous mutiny is told by Roger Byam, the only fictional character on the ship. At the beginning of the novel Lieutenant Bligh (not, apparently, a captain at the time) meets the young man socially and invites him along on the journey because of Roger’s facility with languages. One of Bligh’s directives for the voyage besides its mission to collect breadfruit trees is to draft a dictionary of the Tahitian language, a task for which Bligh does not feel competent.
Once aboard, Byam soon learns how ill-fitted Bligh is to command men. Byam commends him as an excellent navigator, but Bligh has no control over his temper and abuses all his men verbally, no matter their station. He is prone to order the most vicious punishments for slight or even imagined offenses. As time goes on, the men also come to believe that Bligh is cheating them out of their due rations with the connivance of Mr. Samuel, his clerk. Bligh even accuses his officers of the theft of cheeses that he himself had delivered to his own house before departure.
Bligh’s clash with Fletcher Christian is perhaps inevitable. Christian is one whom Bligh first views as a friend and promotes to second-in-command over the head of the ship’s master. However, Christian is an upright man whose attempts to soften Bligh’s behavior and whose rebukes in the name of fairness are not well received. And Christian is victim to his own passions. Nordhoff and Hall build slowly to the famous mutiny, which takes place shortly after the ship has departed Tahiti for home.
Although Christian is depicted more positively than Bligh, his fault lies in taking actions that affect the lives of the men who are innocent of the mutiny. Fully half the novel deals with the aftermath of the mutiny, culminating in the trial of eight men, three of whom are innocent.
The novel is carefully researched and the tale told is enthralling, from the details about shipboard life in the 18th century to the customs and culture of Tahiti. Even though the first chapter makes you aware of Byam’s fate, as he is tried for mutiny although entirely innocent, the suspense at the end of the novel still holds you to the page.
I was surprised to learn that this novel is the first of a trilogy. Men Against the Sea, which I had not heard of, tells the story of Bligh and the other men set adrift in a small boat, and Pitcairn’s Island, which I had heard of, relates what happened to the men who left with Fletcher Christian on the Bounty after they departed Tahiti for the second time. I will certainly read these other two novels.