The Bounty

Caroline Alexander, a recognized expert on expeditions and travel narratives, has previously published five nonfiction books, including the bestseller, The Endurance (1998). She also has written and co-produced a documentary of the same title and has published several articles in National Geographic and other popular magazines.

During the last two centuries, more than 250 books, thousands of magazine articles, five major movies, as well as primary-source documents have approached the story of the Bounty from a variety of perspectives. In addition to this abundance of published materials, Alexander has exploited archival collections in England and Australia. The result is a superb synthesis that is probably the most useful and interesting single volume devoted to the topic.

Each chapter of Alexander’s book tells a sub-story, including Joseph Banks’s organization of the Bounty expedition, the experiences of the crew in gathering breadfruit plants in Tahiti, the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, the almost miraculous return of William Bligh’s group to England, the settlements of the English sailors on Tahiti and Pitcairn’s islands, the Pandora expedition and its sinking, the 1792 court-martials of ten men who were taken captive on the Pandora, and the later lives of the major personalities, especially Peter Heywood and John Adams.

Alexander is highly critical of Christian and the other mutineers. Asking for the causes of the mutiny, she answers: “The seductions of Haiti, Bligh’s harsh tongue—perhaps. But more compellingly, a night of drinking and a proud man’s pride, a low moment on one gray dawn, a momentary and fatal slip in a gentleman’s code of disciple.” Like Gavin Kennedy’s biography of Bligh, Alexander defends Bligh’s conduct and argues that he inflicted less cruel punishments than did other naval commanders of the period.