This final novel in the Bounty Trilogy tells what happened to the mutineers from Mutiny on the Bounty. As explained in the introduction, the fate of the mutineers was not known until Pitcairn’s Island was rediscovered by an American ship in 1808. Although the mutineers arrived 18 years before, only one survived, surrounded by the wives and progeny of himself and others.
As the authors explain, the only information available about the fate of the mutineers was directly or indirectly from Alexander Smith, but those sources failed to agree and many accounts were improbable. So Nordhoff and Hall presented what they thought was the most likely version of events.
The mutineers and their companions arrive at Pitcairn’s Island in 1790. They have already tried to settle twice in Tahiti and once in the Friendly Islands (Tonga) but had to leave for fear of discovery or because of hostile natives. With the nine mutineers are six native men and twelve native women. Although all of the islanders get along well at the beginning while they are busy building their homes and planting their crops, the seeds of failure are already there, in the quality of some of the mutineers.
The first problems are caused by John Williams. He already has a woman named Fasto, but he lusts for Hutia, the wife of one of the native men, Tararu. When disputes over the woman reach the heights of disruption, Fletcher Christian allows Hutia to pick her husband. She picks John Williams, thus introducing the first tension between whites and native men.
But Christian’s biggest mistake is his egalitarian impulse to grant each man a vote on the future of their community. Although he wants to extend this vote to the native men, the whites do not agree, and it is this plus the votes extended to the less scrupulous whites that cause the problems. Eventually, some of the lowest of the men begin treating the native men as their slaves. The final break between whites and natives comes after a vote about ownership of the land, for the whites want to own the land and reduce the natives to servants.
Although most of the novel is peaceful, taking place in a tropical paradise, the worms in the apple are a few of the white men. A palpable tension brews throughout the novel.
If I have a criticism, it is that the final portion of the novel, presented as Alexander Smith’s story to the mate of the Topaz in 1808, goes on for a bit too long past the fate of the islanders into Smith’s discovery of God and the Bible. Other than that, the novel is gripping and a fine conclusion to the trilogy.