Dover Book

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    Probably most everyone is familiar with this title, but perhaps many, or most know little to nothing about it. I personally did not realize it was a non-fictional book written by the surviving Commander of the Bounty, William Bligh. It was made popular by the numerous films based on the book, but the confusion lies in the fact that the movie which starred Charles Laughton and Clark Gable (who briefly went to school down the road from me!!! My neighbors, who gave me my dog, Molly, own the property now, and the remains of the old school bell still survive.) Anyways. That version of the movie is based on a fictional book, based on Bligh's journal, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, which makes the mutineer, Fletcher Christian, the hero. Perhaps he was. I got some rather negative feeling about Bligh as I read, and they were not unfounded. Historically, he is remembered as a cruel tyrant. And I also had to wonder about his competence. So, there is much confusion and ambiguousness about the whole deal. For me, the most heartbreaking aspect of it all was the loss of all those beautiful tropical plants they were transporting, which I was appalled to find that Christian dumped overboard after the mutiny. Why, I wonder? When you read this book, I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia article immediately after. It fills in the blanks where Bligh left off, including what happened to the mutineers. And it also provides an opposing viewpoint. Bligh obviously perceived himself as the victim of cruelty and criminal behavior, which he was, but the opposing side also felt the same. In any case, Bligh is most certainly not remembered as a hero. The picture on the front cover of this Dover edition is by Robert Dodd, 1790, entitled Fletcher Christian and the mutineers sent Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift.
    Wikipedia also provides other interesting images and a map, plus clarifies the route with place names more familiar to us now. At the time, apparently Otaheite was British territory, or in some way allied to England. It later became known as Tahiti and is still part of French Polynesia. In the short introductory section, Bligh states that it was his intention to publish the account of the voyage separately from the mutiny, but he was convinced to do it all together, which was a good choice. Actually the greater part of the book is about the voyage to Otaheite, which I will refer to from now on as Tahiti. They remained there nearly half a year mingling with the natives, some of whom Bligh knew because he had also travelled with the famous Captain James Cook. Cook is referenced repeatedly throughout the book because of his immense contribution to global discoveries. Wikipedia says, "He left a legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge that influenced his successors well into the 20th century, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him." The mutiny does not occur until Chapter XIII, out of twenty chapters.
    When I first began doing these book reviews, I knew absolutely nothing about the South Pacific. I believe my first exposure was a coloring book, and since then, I have read so much material about this area, both fictional and non-fiction, that I've become quite familiar with it. So the whole segment of their adventures on Tahiti were the most enjoyable for me. You may read all my South Pacific reviews on the Polynesia, South Seas Index Page.
    Lieutenant William Bligh was a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy. His mission was to command the HM Armed Vessel Bounty, purchased in 1787 for a botanical mission. He was to gather breadfruit trees and other native South Pacific trees and plants, and transport them to British territories in the West Indies. Bligh doesn't mention this, but Wikipedia does: the real purpose was to establish cheap food for the slaves. Well, that sort of casts a negative energy on the agenda. The perception one gets from the book is that it was more of a goodwill, or prosperity venture for the West Indian people. The drawing of the lower decks fitted for stowing the trees on the Wikipedia page is also included in the book.
    The mission began on August 16, 1787, the Bounty carrying 44 Royal Navy seamen and officers, plus two civilian botanists to care for the plants and trees, some which were to be carried back to England for the Kew Gardens. The voyage seemed to be plagued with one setback after another, including terrible weather and damage to the vessel. They really set off too late in the year, due to problems getting the ship fitted correctly. It is December 23 before they finally leave Spithead, but a heavy sea washed away some of their beer casks and ruined much of their bread. The weather finally calmed down on the 29th.
    And I cannot help but think that perhaps Bligh was not always competent, although the fact that he got all nineteen men to safety in a tiny launch after the mutiny, travelling 3,500 nautical miles, certainly does give him credit. The original order was to head west and travel around Cape Horn at the southern tip of Chile, to enter the Pacific Ocean. They reach Teneriffe on January 4, 1788, in the Canary Islands and get restocked, although it was out of season for fruits, vegetables and meat.
    The weather continues to not cooperate. At one point they caught seven hundred gallons of water to store for drinking. Seven hundred gallons!! Sounds like Northeast Ohio. The wet weather begins to make everything mildewy. That sounds like Ohio, too. Bligh was a stickler for health, and insisted on cleansing, airing, and vinegar. This also included constant washing and drying of clothing. He set up a "three-watch system" of four hour shifts, so that each man could get a full eight hours sleep, so it certainly appears that he had the best interest of his crew in mind. I also want to comment that the book is filled with points on the map that he recorded constantly, and compared them with other voyagers' observations. I would guess that at this particular time in history, any sea voyager would be on the lookout for undiscovered lands.
    Despite the weather, the men remained in fairly good health, except during a particularly rough storm when the cook fell and broke a rib and another man dislocated his shoulder. A gunner got rheumatism, but unfortunately the ship's surgeon was a drunkard who stayed in his cabin all day and night, and eventually caused the death of one of the men by his incompetence. He ended up dying, too. There was another surgeon on board, who left with Bligh during the mutiny.
    Eventually they realize they cannot sail around Cape Horn, so head back east to the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, where they enter False Bay and repair substantial damage to the vessel. They then proceed on to the Island of St. Paul, Van Dieman's Land, and the Penguin Islands. They spend time at Adventure Bay in Tasmania, which is part of Australia, where they replenish their water, fell trees and interact with the naives. They also started little plantations at various islands. They finally arrive at Tahiti.
    As mentioned above, I really enjoyed this section, but I will not spend too much space on it for this review. Bligh knew some of the natives there, and the interaction with the island people was warm and friendly. I want to point out that cannibalism was never part of Tahiti's culture. Many gifts were exchanged, of which Bligh made sure to have the ship stocked. Along with beads and trinkets, there were tools and other useful items. After settling in, Bligh cautiously hints about the breadfruit trees and other trees and plants. Tinah, one of the chiefs, and his wife Iddeah are two of the people that most closely interact with Bligh. However, one of the problems which eventually leads to the mutiny is that many of the men found mates, and when it was time to leave, they really preferred to stay. Bligh had no clue of this. Plus, a number of the men were sick of Bligh and his temper, not hesitating to have men flogged, which as far as I am concerned, is barbaric. Whether it's a child or adult or animal, nothing deserves to be beaten. My parents never hit me, and I turned out pretty good. But he should have been a little more aware, because even then, there were a couple occasions when men deserted. They were brought back, of course, and punished.
    There were also problems with the natives, especially theft. But often this crime was committed by natives not part of the immediate group attending to Bligh. Plus, as usual, there were warring factions amongst the island people. Bligh was upset that the cattle that had been given them on a previous voyage were all gone from a raid. However, one cow and one bull were eventually brought together and mated, so there were hopes to begin again. Bligh and his botanists also planted little plantation here with various seeds they brought, and were distressed at the lack of responsibility from the natives, often trampling them or ruining them in some way.
    Bligh records really just about every major event, including ceremonies, meals and gifts, very much on the immense abundance on these islands. Like a bunch of bananas weighing 81 pounds and consisting of 286 fruits! Wow!! And sugar cane six inches round. He speaks of the natives' beliefs and quirks, and Tinah's laziness and arrogance and selfishness, but also finds out that many of the gifts he requests are given to others, and after everyone gets to know each other better, his attitude changes and Bligh believes his friendship is sincere.
    It is here where the drunken ship's surgeon dies, but Bligh and his crew witness the excellent skill of native surgeons during a wrestling match when a contestant put his elbow out of joint. Before Bligh could summon the ship's other surgeon, the natives had it snapped back into place. They also demonstrated how they would reset a broken bone. As my regular readers know, I am a firm believer and practitioner of holistic healing, particularly as indigenous peoples practiced. We need more bonesetters to replace all the medical crap and toxic x-rays people are subjected to in "modern" hospitals.
    And so, after twenty-three weeks, Bligh absolutely insists there must be no further delay. They load up the breadfruit trees—1,015 in all, in 774 pots, 38 tubs and 24 boxes, plus numerous other plants. One other hint that something was amiss at this time: The ship's cable was cut near the water's edge, with only one strand securing it. Bligh, of course, immediately blames the natives because they were pressing him to remain longer. It was not until the further events happened that Bligh considers it was his own men who did the deed. Perhaps if he had paid attention to the fomenting anger of his crew, all would have worked out differently. Bligh does not seem like someone even remotely likable and appears to have a rather arrogant attitude concerning his authority. In any case, they do safely leave Tahiti.
    Their first stop is the Friendly Islands, now called Tonga, in particular, the island of Annamooka, now called Nomuka. Bligh recognizes people there and the cattle they had previously brought were doing well. They collect wood and Bligh warns his men not to cut a certain one because it causes temporary blindness. They receive a yam weighing forty-five pounds! It is the day after they leave this island that the mutiny occurs.
    In the early hours of Tuesday, April 28, Bligh is accosted in his bed, and his hands tied, warned not to call out for help which he does anyways. The plot then rapidly unfolds, and the smaller boat they had planned to send him off in was way too small for all those who wished to remain faithful—nineteen men in all, who were then forced into the launch, still way too small, with few provisions and no guns or ammunition. Mr. Samuel, the clerk, was able to secure Bligh's papers for this voyage, but not other valuables. Christian Fletcher, the Master's Mate, was the instigator of the criminal act. Having little worry that these outcasts would actually live to reach safety, they headed the Bounty back to Tahiti. The book gives no account of what happens to them, which is why I recommend the Wikipedia article linked above. According to them, the returning crew is not welcomed back as they expected, and some left Tahiti to go elsewhere. Eventually, the men remaining on Tahiti are caught and taken back to England by another ship. Christian was one who left the island, and he was never caught. However, what goes around comes around, and his demise came about in a most brutal manner.
    The thing is, no matter how disliked Bligh was, those who committed such an act well deserved severe punishment. They not only basically put nineteen men out to die, they dumped all those beautiful plants overboard! Oh, no!!! How tragic. There are other ways they could have handled the situation, such as returning to England and requesting leave to settle in the South Pacific. Many English and other Europeans did, of course. Even requesting leave of the voyage to Bligh, or perhaps issuing a list of complaints might have awakened him. It is my opinion that going through the proper channels should always be the first choice, then if that doesn't work, other avenues can be taken. In all fairness, Bligh at least deserved to hear the truth about his crew's feelings, then perhaps he would have changed.
    The book lists the crew members who stayed with Christian and those who left with Bligh, and their position. Not all who were loyal were able to accompany Bligh, either because they were detained, but also because there was no more room in the launch. The boat managed to return to Tonga, this time to Tofoa to stock up on supplies. The Friendly Islands were not so Friendly when visitors arrived without firearms to defend themselves. While at first the natives welcome them, they were treacherous. Bligh begins to feel uneasy and suspect things are not right. They had been able to load up with some supplies, and just as they are ready to leave, one of the natives stops them and demands they stay on shore, or they will be killed. They all quickly load into the boat, except for the man onshore, quartermaster John Norton, casting the stern fast off. The natives immediately attacked and killed him, then take off after the boat and pummel it with stones. Friendly Islands, indeed . . . .
    So now they know they cannot disembark on any of these islands without firearms, and they begin their voyage from hell. Not only must the tiny amount of food be severely rationed—Bligh has it all figured out down to the ounce—but the weather is bitter cold and stormy most of the way. The only advantage to that is that they are able to collect an abundance of drinking water, which is usually the most torturous aspect of being lost at sea. But there is so much rain, they must constantly bail. They are soaked to the bone, numb with cold and weak with hunger. And have an eight week journey ahead of them.
    You know, I have read so many horror stories about being lost at sea, both fictional and non-fiction, that the idea of taking a cruise has never been on my wishlist. Of course, Elon Musk and his 60,000 5G satellites will supposedly supply internet to every inch of the globe, which doesn't make me feel any better about it.
    Anyways, sun and warmth does occasionally arrive, at which point they strip off their clothing and dry them. Bligh also made them run wet clothing through the salt water when there was no sun, then wring them out, which apparently made them feel warmer and drier. They are able to occasionally catch birds or fish with their hands and eat them raw—all parts including blood and entrails and any fish the birds might have in their stomach. Bligh was determined to get all his men to safety, and he does. They do find a couple islands that appear deserted, and find some food and water, but not enough to sustain them. In all, this was the boat ride from hell. They even had to deal with snow and hail!!
    In any case, they eventually reach the European settlement at Coupang, (Kupang) Timor, where the botanist, Nelson, dies. From there they go to Batavia (Jakarta), where the conditions were horrid and more men die. They're not horrid now!! They're known as the Indonesian "Big Apple."
    They are finally able to hitch a ride on other vessels bound to Europe, but not all in the same ship. Four more of the remaining men died in Batavia or on their way home.
    Below are some of the images I gathered from various Wikipedia pages, all linked above. First is a breadfruit tree in Honolulu and the second is a breadfruit, at Tortuguero, Costa Rica. The third is William Bligh.


William Bligh

Breadfruit Tree

    The next one is a replica of the Bounty, built in 1960, here shown at the 2010 Great Lake Tall Ship Challenge on Lake Michigan at the Port of Chicago. Built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1960, she sank off the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Sandy on 29 October 2012.
    The last is a map showing Bounty's movements in the Pacific Ocean, 1788-1790.
RED: Voyage of Bounty to Tahiti and to location of the mutiny, 28 April 1789.
GREEN: Course of Bligh's open-boat journey to Coupang, Timor, between 2 May and 14 June 1789.
YELLOW: Movements of Bounty under Christian after the mutiny, from 28 April 1789 onwards.

Map of the Bounty's Movements

Replica of the Bounty

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