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The Bounty - Caroline Alexander



Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IT'S A STORY that captures the imagination perhaps more than any other and it's true - not a masterpiece of fictional ingenuity but an historical fact that, on Tuesday, April 28, 1789, a mutiny led by Master's Mate, Fletcher Christian, occurred on a relatively insignificant little ship called the Bounty.

It happened close to the island of Tofua, in the southern Pacific ocean, as Bounty, under the command of Lieutenant Bligh, was making her way from Tahiti to the West Indies, with a cargo of breadfruit trees - breadfruit being a new and, perhaps more importantly, cheap food for the islands' slave population. But why did it happen?

The majority of us would, no doubt, cite Bligh as the cause - a brutal officer who abused his men; simple men for the most part who, on that April morning, were still coming to terms with leaving the delights (and there were many) of an island paradise and the daunting prospect of a long and difficult voyage ahead.

And why would we think otherwise? After all, we've been indoctrinated by Hollywood in three lavish screen versions of the story, as well as a West End musical, to sympathize with Christian rather than Bligh.

 

Now though, comes Caroline Alexander's meticulously researched book, The Bounty - The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, in which she endeavours to set the record straight, once and for all.

It's a beautifully written account, made totally believable by numerous and cleverly interwoven quotations from actual records. In this, there is inevitably a discrepancy of style and grammar that isn't always easy but it's something worth persevering with as, ultimately, it works extremely well.

And her account isn't just about the mutiny. It does, in fact, encompass every aspect of the event, its aftermath and the people whose lives it touched.

Furthermore, it paints a vivid and often disturbing picture of life in the 18th Century - not only in England but at sea, on tropical islands and, surprisingly maybe, in France where the Revolution was at its height.

Also included, are a number of maps and photographs so, in many instances, faces can be put to names. The one omission, and I have to say I'm disappointed, is Fletcher Christian. Means though, I can stick with Mel Gibson!

This surely will be the definitive account of one of England's most infamous historical episodes. So, what really did happen on that ill-fated breadfruit voyage of 1789?

To find out, you'll have to read Alexander's account yourself. Suffice to say, it proves indubitably, that human nature is constant, regardless of time or place. And not necessarily, in the way you're thinking.

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