on March 5, 2002
This book is a collection of early documents relating to Fletcher Christian's mutiny against William Bligh in 1789 on the HMS Bounty. The editor claims to have gathered together for the first time "the relevant texts and documents" related to this famous event that has intrigued readers for 200 years. In all, ten documents whose publication dates range from 1790 to 1870 are included. The first four documents make up the body of the book and consist of a series of published statements by William Blight and responses by Edward Christian, Fletcher's brother. Fletcher Christian died on Pitcairn Island and never put his story in print. These four sections are followed by six Appendixes. The first Appendix contains a transcript of Bligh's orders and a botanical description of the breadfruit that the Bounty went to Tahiti to obtain. The remaining five Appendixes are narratives of the lives of those who stayed on the Bounty after the mutiny.
All of these early texts are preceded by a delightful and informative Introduction by the editor that relates the early lives of both Bligh and Christian and discusses their relationship leading up to the mutiny. It describes the mission of the Pandora to seek out the Bounty and bring back any mutineers they can find. Also covered is the trial and disposition of those sailors brought back from Tahiti. Lastly, the Introduction goes on to summarize the history of Bounty documentation and scholarship, from Bligh's first published account right on through the famous fictionalized Bounty trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall. The Introduction is followed by a one page listing of suggested further readings.
The first section of the book is Bligh's 1790 account of the mutiny and subsequent voyage of he and 18 crew members in the ship's 23 foot boat. He quickly recounts the details of the mutiny on the first four pages and then spends the remaining 62 pages on his heroic and epic voyage across 3,600 miles of the South Pacific that took about a month and a half. Bligh depicts himself as a dedicated leader who saved the lives of all but one crew member in this fascinating and arduous journey.
The second section of the book is the proceedings of the court martial of those brought back to face charges of mutiny, published in 1794 by Edward Christian in an attempt to exonerate his brother. This text consists of a written statement by Bligh, a series of interrogations of the Bounty crew regarding the events of the mutiny, and an Appendix by Edward. A picture of Bligh as a tyrant emerges from this testimony. It is 86 pages long and somewhat repetitive, but still an interesting document to read. The 20 page Appendix at the end of is Edward Christian's attempt to show that his brother had cause for his actions. Although he does not try to justify his brother's actions, he tries to show the state of desperation that his brother was driven to by Bligh's actions. Bligh was at sea when this was published and, when he returned home, he published in 1795 "An Answer..." to the statements of the Appendix which is included as the third section of this book. To this Edward Christian wrote and published a "Short Reply..." that is the fourth section of this book. This interchange in writing between Bligh and Edward Christian is wonderful to read because it presents both sides of the story in a very balanced and fair manner. Without having Fletcher Christian to defend his own actions, this set of documents is the next best thing we have to a fair presentation of both sides of the case.
The above documents alone would have made a wonderful and enlightening book. The editor goes on to present in the Appendixes documents that tell the story of those men who followed Fletcher Christian to Tahiti or Pitcairn Island. The first Appendix is a copy of Bligh's orders to go to Tahiti and a description of the breadfruit he was to bring to Jamaica. The second Appendix is an 1870 retelling of a journal kept by one of the sailors who was taken by the Pandora from Tahiti as a mutineer. It tells of the harsh treatment these 14 received aboard this ship and how four died when the ship sank. The next two Appendixes are accounts written by crew members of a ship that visited Pitcairn Island 19 years after the mutiny in 1808. They tell the story of the crew that landed there with Fletcher Christian and their history and families. By this time only one of the nine members of the original Bounty crew that landed on the island remained alive. The last two Appendixes are the story of one of the Tahitian women who married a Bounty crew member and the story of the last surviving crew member himself.
Altogether these various documents pieced together tell what we can know of the Bounty mutiny. They make fascinating reading, more interesting than the fictional accounts. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in tales of the sea.
on July 19, 2001
What an amazing book. Using the original source materials--Bligh's diary, the transcript of the Bounty Court Martial, Fletcher Christian's brother's defense of the mutineers, and other materials--the Editor R.D. Madison has put together a book which is impossible to put down. Indeed, the book leaves the reader wishing it were twice as long. Madison refuses to take sides in the Bligh v. Christian debate, and lets the record speak for itself. Since the record is contradictory and nobody is unbiased, the effect, in cinematic terms, is more like "Roshomon" than either of the two Bounty movies. William Bligh comes across as an incredibly brave man with an indomitable will--yet he has a tendency to whine, and worse, he stoops to securing affidavits which do not even pass the smell test. Fletcher Christian comes across as a 23-year old hothead who lets the men talk him into leading a mutiny--and can't control the situation after the mutiny. Christian petulantly refuses to have dinner with the Captain on the eve of the mutiny. Clark Gable, he clearly ain't. The moral world of the Bounty is painted entirely in shades of gray; the men of the Bounty are imperfect and all too human.
Not only is the reader treated to a great detective story, but it is a story with an absorbing and instructive sequel. The book ends with a contemporary account, first published in the 1830's, of the subsequent history of Pitcairn's Island as told by the last survivor of the Bounty, "John Adams" (an alias). Adams described a harrowing descent into mayhem and murder by the mutineers who made it to Pitcairn's Island along with their native friends. The disputes began with a dispute over--you guessed it--who would possess a native woman. Except for Adams, Fletcher Christian his gang were all killed, along with the native men. In the end, John Adams sets up a harmonious society based on Biblical principles.
I have been scratching my head for two whole weeks since finishing this book, pondering its meaning. And that is a high recommendation, indeed.
on June 20, 2006
This is my first review. I feel that some of the 'rave reviews' I read for this volume did not adequately describe several flaws that I feel need mentioning.
I bought this book because I wanted to read the contemporary accounts of the Bounty mutiny to gain an understand of both sides of the issues involved, and to make a personal decision on what happened and why. This edition was touted as allowing me to do just that. However I found that the editor, in his introduction, tries to do some of my thinking for me. I feel that, in a book of this sort, the editor should not be telling us his version of the story, particularly at the beginning of the book. Mr Madison may well believe that Captain Bligh was the villian in this tragedy with Mr Christian the poor sensitive victim, but I wish he would keep it to himself and limit himself to background and supplemental material.
Another disappointment is that apparently, the chapter titled "Minutes of the Proceedings of the Court-Martial held at Portsmouth, August 12, 1792." is not the real minutes at all, but a partial transcript provided by Edward Christian (Fletcher's brother). I'm not sure I understand why the actual court transcript was not available and what is missing in the version we have. I do know we have to rely on a version published by the 'defendant's" brother. Is that really conducive to getting an objective picture?
That said, the book is still interesting and does give the reader a fairly comprehensive picture of the events of that spring morning in 1789.
on March 14, 2016
A crucial book for anyone who wants to know the truth about the mutiny on "Bounty," BECAUSE IT GIVES EVIDENCE OF THE LIES TOLD TO BLACKEN CAPTAIN BLIGH''S NAME! Here, besides a copy of Bligh's own account of the mutiny, we have a partial account of the court martial of the mutineers, but, more importantly, we have the pamphlet by Edward Christian, Fletcher Christian's brother, an obviously ridiculous attempt to blacken Bligh's reputation and make Fletcher Christian seem like a Saint. Bligh's "Reply" and accounts of events that happened to the mutineers are interesting, but Edward Christian's libels are at the heart of the book.
In fact, many people think that Edward Christian's account of the mutiny was the most important factor that blackened the reputation of a kind, brilliant, and fatherly captain whose voyage in the launch made history--William Bligh
on January 22, 2013
As one who has spent years accumulating about 30,000 miles as captain of his own boat sailing the Pacific, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In 2001, I sailed right over the spot, near the island kingdom of Tonga, where the Bounty mutineers took over the ship. I found that screen writers have made a hero of the chief mutineer, Fletcher Christian, (played by Clark Gable in the first movie on the subject and Marlon Brando who portrayed him him the second. And Captain Bligh, who was portrayed as a tyrant, was actually an accomplished navigator. He was sailing master for the explorer Captain James Cook earlier in his career and eventually retired as a Vice Admiral. Christian reportedly later committed suicide. His brother and Captain Bligh conducted a war of words after Bligh's return to England. It was Edward Christian who published article after article, defaming Bligh and trying to rehabilitate his brother Fletcher's reputation. The book is all the stronger because it consists entirely of primary sources, Bligh's log, a record of his court-martial proceedings and various publications in Bligh's and Edward Christian's war of words. Recommended for all sailors, armchair and real, and historians.
on April 16, 2015
Bligh's leadership and seamanship under such adverse circumstances will never be matched. A crew member might not have enjoyed Bligh's discipline, but he could always be sure he was in the hands of a good Sea Captain. Bligh was a great man, even if he was a harsh Captain. There should be a tribute movie memorializing Bligh's amazing life, from Able Seaman to Admiral. We have already seen enough movies glorifying the villainous mutineers. Contrary to popular belief, after seeing Tahiti and nude Island women, the mutineers acted out of lustful self-interest and hedonism, not because Bligh was a brutal Captain. Due to their degeneracy, brutality, and corruption, most of the mutineers died or were killed within a few years. Bligh lived to old age, after a distinguished naval career. We need a movie focused on the great Bligh, showing the truth: "BLIGH!"
on June 30, 2012
Only about one third of this is worth reading. Namely, Bligh's description of his amazing voyage to Timor after being ejected from the Bounty, the physical description of the mutineers, and John Adams' description of all the years subsequent to taking over the Bounty.
The rest of the material is boring historical trivia intended for history buffs and as general filler to pad this out to book length, no doubt.
Of course I have to weigh in on the whole controversy and give my verdict, right? OK, Bligh was a navigation tech-head possessed of great will power and self-discipline but he had crappy social skills so he didn't realize he'd have to ease his men back into naval discipline after enjoying 6 months in the tropical paradise of Tahiti. He wasn't a pompous, blustering tyrant, just an intolerant hard-ass.
A lot is made of whether or not Fletcher Christian had allowed himself to become attached to a Tahitian woman and what a weakening and corrupting thing that was. This is ridiculous, of course. It's a much weirder and more disturbing for a man not to have become attached to a woman in these circumstances. No one ever bothers to ask why Bligh didn't become attached to one. A serious omission, if you ask me.
on May 22, 2009
Depending on your mindset when you read this collection, this can be a great analytical read on the most infamous mutiny in western naval history. The most important point to understand about this collection is that it is meant to illustrate the power of language.
The accounts in the book are from many of the people either directly involved in the Bounty mutiny or were closely affected by it. When reading the different accounts, the reader will see how each author utilizes rhetorical strategies to sway the reader to sympathize for their agenda.
It is from this use of rhetoric that the reader can see the types of people these men truly were. Captain Bligh uses facts and exact and minute details to recall the events before and after the mutiny. It shows he is a very astute and analytical thinker who was perhaps out of touch with his crew. From Edward Christian we can see the type of fire and passion that he and his brother (Fletcher, the initiator of the mutiny) possessed. The develop of these people based on simply their own writing is quite astounding.
In all, these primary writings are a good source for historical analysis and also important to document the use of rhetorical strategies in written language.
on April 5, 2015
Interesting original source material. More for the record than for entertaining reading.
on August 30, 2014
I wish I head read the reviews before I bought this - this is not your typical biography or history book, but rather a collection of papers written at the time of the mutiny by those involved. It is a difficult read, being written in more of an old English type of speech that people used back then. A portion of the book is a transcript of court proceedings after the mutiny and it is just a long list of questions and answers. There is a 14 page introduction at the beginning that provides a general summary of the mutiny, but this is written in such a horrendously dry and unenthusiastic tone it is deplorable. I found that this book contains no life, and was not at all interesting. I struggled through half the book and gave up. If you like first hand, old English accounts, you may love this. But if you are simply looking for an easy, enjoyable read about history, save your money and look elsewhere.