So captain and faithful crew make it home eventually, and what happens to the mutineers? Famously, some started a colony on the uninhabited Pitcairn’s Island. Save them for later. Because the rest decide to stay in Tahiti, where they’re sure to be caught, and after a while they are.
Fletcher Christian, the ringleader of the mutineers, has a brother back home in London, Edward, who decides to publish the minutes of the court-martial of the mutineers brought back from Tahiti (Christian not among them), along with an appendix by himself. The minutes are fascinating. The survivors from the launch are interviewed about what happened that morning on the Bounty, and the main question at hand is, which of the defendants were participating in the mutiny and which, if any, were in fact being held on the Bounty against their will.
I should note something about the nature of mutiny. Nearly every document presented has a reminder that there is no justification for the crime of mutiny. The captain is the autocrat of the ship, period, and his rule is law. No kind of ill treatment by a captain, illegal activity, etc., nothing at all can be used as an affirmative defense against the charge of mutiny.
So of course none of the men try to mount such a defense, instead opting to claim they didn’t want to mutiny and were just stuck on the ship under the power of Christian and others. The prisoners get to ask the witnesses questions, and so many are of a single pathetic type: Don’t you remember I told you I didn’t want to mutiny? Don’t you remember my saying we could take back the ship? Don’t you remember I tried to put my clothes in the launch but Christian prevented me? Almost uniformly, the
Continue reading A crime, marked by such circumstances as to be unexampled in the annals of nautical history
Sometimes I think we hardly need fiction. It’s not just that truth is stranger—it’s also just as dramatic and just as fascinating. I’m very fond in general of reading fiction presented in the form of some other document—diary entries, letters, statements, legal records of all sorts, fiction within fiction, etc.—and when I read nonfiction put together in the same way I’m always surprised at how it seems just as ingeniously constructed as the novels.
The story of the Essex was exciting with its somewhat conflicting journal entries and long lost manuscripts, not to mention the high drama of the events themselves. But in terms of historical documents, The Bounty Mutiny‘s were more numerous, more varied, and more nasty.
The first document, though, is mostly remarkable for its similarity to Owen Chase’s account of the wreck of the Essex. Or rather the other way around, since the Bounty mutiny took place in 1789.
Captain Bligh begins his story with the mutiny itself. Since we have no knowledge of what preceded it, it is as inexplicable as the actions of the whale that destroys the Essex. Bligh professes complete surprise at his treatment and very quickly we are all in the launch with him and his few remaining comrades. The narrative of the journey in the launch is very like Chase’s: in the form of a ship’s log, without much going on except weather, rationing, and the setting in of weakness and possibly death.
Bligh’s men don’t seem nearly as hardy as Chase’s, though. The crew of the Essex are out and about for 90 days; Bligh makes it to Timor in something like half that time, and his men are significantly luckier in terms of both food and water supplies. Of course, it is still a harrowing trip,
Continue reading William Bligh’s “Narrative of the Mutiny”