A story of the high seas

There is a famous film of the events of 1789 but I haven’t seen it so Peter Fitzsimon’s book Mutiny on the Bounty is the first time I have read all the details of what exactly happened. I listened to it on audio where it was read by Michael Carman who was excellent although he threw me a bit because he is Australian and these were very English people – it appears that the author is also Australian. This really didn’t matter as he read it with such feeling and panache but I did find found it amusing that all the non-officers seemed to speak with a West Country accent irrespective of from where in Britain they originated.

The author has told this as narrative fiction. It’s not presented as a story but it is in the present tense. The narrator fills in details about things but there is a lot of use of dialogue and occasionally the narrator speaks to the people involved. It took a little getting used to but it was excellently suited to audiobook and the author has promised that all the dialogue he uses comes from the contemporary written records (of which there are a lot).

The Bounty set sail for Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants to grow in the West Indies as cheap food for slaves. Its captain was William Bligh, an experienced man but one from a relatively humble background who didn’t have the rank he thought he deserved. He was renowned for his navigational skills and also showed rare care for his seamen. He had a terrible temper, was paranoid about disloyalty and used violence to settle arguments.

Fletcher Christian came from Guernsey and was from a higher social background than his captain. He was popular with most of the other sailors and Bligh was jealous of him. Christian fell in love on Tahiti and began to resent the way that he was treated on the ship. In desperation he sought to desert but was persuaded by others to mutiny instead. The result was that the sailors were divided into two groups depending on their allegiance and that the mutineers were prepared to do almost anything to prevent word of what happened getting back to England – the automatic sentence for mutiny was death by hanging.

This story is captivating. The author has undertaken a lot of research into all the people on board so we get to know many of them as well as the principals and also to learn what happened to them in later life if they were among the survivors. The story follows Bligh as he and his companions travel across the Pacific Ocean in an open boat in an incredible feat of navigation and also the mutineers who eventually split into two groups. Time is also given to the indigenous people who become involved in events or who are affected by them.

I was totally gripped by this history. I wouldn’t like all of my non-fiction to be presented this way but for this book it really worked.

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