Monday, October 25, 2010

Adventure on the High Seas: the Real Story of the Mutiny

Recently we had Blog Action Day, the theme of which was Clean Water.  I posted about that on my genealogy blog (linked at right).  I have been busy since then with classwork, so I'm late in putting this up.  Though it doesn't relate specifically to the Blog Action Day theme, the theme of water reminded me of a corking good read I experienced more than 10 years ago now.  (Has it really been that long?  Does not seem like it!)

The book in question is Bligh: A True Account of Mutiny Aboard His Majesty's Ship Bounty, by Sam McKinney.  It is a paintakingly-researched and well-documented full account of the mutiny from the perspective of Bligh and of the mutineers.  McKinney factually examines the 'legend' of Bligh the tyrant in the context of the British Navy of the time.  He includes in the appendices an explanation of shipboard rank and dutles and a copy fo the Articles of War. 

Bligh, it turns out, was typical of British Navy ship commanders of the time.  He had certain authority and powers, explained in the appendices to the book, and the crew were obliged to obey him.  He could be a martinet at times, and did have an explosive temper.  He knew what he was doing as a ship's captain, and was loyal and steadfast in his duty to His Majesty's Navy.  He was also a master mariner who accomplished a prodigious feat of leadership and navigation after being put off the Bounty in a crowded small boat with several of his crew.  Others of the crew loyal to Bligh were forced to remain aboard the ship with the mutineers, as there was not room for them in the small boat.  They were later left behind in Tahiti, when Bounty called there for supplies, and took on Tahitian men and women, before embarking on its search for a safely isolated place for the crew to establish themselves.

Fletcher Christian is shown to be not much of a leader, a failure with fatal consequences.  He fostered or at least allowed an atmosphere of racism and bald-faced discrimination against the Tahitian natives that accompanied the mutineers, leading to a bloody and violent beginning to the colony.  The Pitcairn Island colony eventually settled down to daily life and peace, and lasted until it was finally abandoned in the mid-twentieth century.  His failure of leadership and weakness of character also resulted in his own death.

I highly recommend this book for those who love history and love the sea.  The true tale is at least as exciting and engaging as the mythology which has grown up around the Bounty.

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