The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

by Caroline Alexander

Hardcover, 2003

Call number




Viking Adult (2003), Edition: First Edition, 512 pages


More than two centuries have passed since Master's Mate Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lieutenant Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty. Why the details of this obscure adventure at the end of the world remain vivid and enthralling is as intriguing as the truth behind the legend. In giving the Bounty mutiny its historical due, Caroline Alexander has chosen to frame her narrative by focusing on the court-martial of the ten mutineers who were captured in Tahiti and brought to justice in England. This fresh perspective revivifies the entire saga, and the salty, colorful language of the captured men themselves conjures the events of that April morning in 1789, when Christian's breakdown impelled every man on a fateful course: Bligh and his loyalists on the historic open boat voyage that revealed him to be one of history's great navigators; Christian on his restless exile; and the captured mutineers toward their day in court. As the book unfolds, each figure emerges as a full-blown character caught up in a drama that may well end on the gallows. And as Alexander shows, it was in a desperate fight to escape hanging that one of the accused defendants deliberately spun the mutiny into the myth we know today-of the tyrannical Lieutenant Bligh of the Bounty. Ultimately, Alexander concludes that the Bounty mutiny was sparked by that most unpredictable, combustible, and human of situations-the chemistry between strong personalities living in close quarters. Her account of the voyage, the trial, and the surprising fates of Bligh, Christian, and the mutineers is an epic of ambition, passion, pride, and duty at the dawn of the Romantic era.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member johnleague
Popular histories sometimes (not always, but often enough to notice) suffer from one of two things: a deliberate paring away of detail--be it description or incident--to make for easier reading or a slimmer volume, or a concerted refusal to acknowledge or explore information that does not gird the
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author's thesis. Caroline Alexander's The Bounty has neither condition: it is as exhaustive an examination of a single moment of history as anything I've ever read.

Which is not to say that the reading is not compelling. Alexander goes to some pains to strip away the romantic veneer covering over the facts of the mutiny and those culpable in its execution. Nor does she provide complete exoneration to Captain Bligh, who is revealed as an able, conscientious and decent man, whose few failings were amplified by a flawed crew and lack of support (mainly in the absence of marines on board The Bounty) from the Admiralty. Oddly, but appropriately for such a scholarly work, Alexander pieces together much of what is known about lead mutineer Fletcher Christian from the extant evidence, which in most cases is second hand.

The exhaustive nature of the book does tend to drag in places. The build up to court martial introduces the tiresome (no more here though than she was doubtlessly so in life) Fanny Hayward, along with detailed explanation of the members of the court martial. Interesting and ultimately useful in sorting out the fractured loyalties that defined these men and their subsequent actions, it does get to be slow reading.

But more than a story of one mutiny in the Pacific, it is a tale of a changing world, where the virgin paradise of Tahiti is imbued with the failings of the British Empire, where Nelson's final words, "thank God I have done my duty," are not the anthem of a subsequent age but an epitaph for a waning one. An epic worth reading.
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LibraryThing member KarriesKorner
Perhaps it's because I was trying to listen to this story while I was driving on a boring stretch of I55, but I found this book hard to follow. Alexander clearly did a terrific job of researching because the level of detail in this story is high and, I assume, accurate. There are numerous
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characters and lots of switching gears from one aspect of the story to another.

I'll have to try it again because I never finished it -- I simply lost interest because it was boring.
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LibraryThing member whitetara
I bought this book upon seeing that Caroline Alexander was doing a lecture about it at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I honestly did not know her from anybody at that point but I love the museum, go to a lot of their lectures, and had a passing interest in the history of the
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Bounty. I was concerned about reading the entire book within the small time frame I had between getting it and the lecture but I needn't have worried. I finished it in two days - I was fascinated. I've re-read it since then as well. Ms. Alexander did an excellent job combining logs, letters, and journals from members of the crew but what really got me - even beyond the wonderful explanation of the journey itself - was the extraordinary detail and research that she did on the trials and the "after" that really made this book so wonderful. And - her lecture was a true pleasure. As a lover of history, it was fascinating to hear her describe her research and verification of facts. She was a somewhat soft-spoken person and I've never enjoyed a lecture so much. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
A good, thorough-going history of the Bounty mutiny and its aftermath. Well written and quite readable, for all the detail.
LibraryThing member CecilyK
I've had this book in my library for years and finally picked it up a month or two ago. I had no idea that I'd be swept into one of the most interesting narrative histories I've ever read.

Alexander has done her research thoroughly and what I find most astounding is just how much source material she
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had to work with. I'm new to British Naval history and I was amazed that they'd managed to preserve the logs and letters.

What was even more astonishing was that the evidence she compiles for this book paints Bligh in such a contrasting light than the rest of the world knows him. We can all spout what we've 'heard' about the reputation of Captain Bligh, but when the facts are laid bare, the story changes dramatically.

I now find myself defending Captain Bligh at every turn and encouraging people to read this fantastic book. Alexander's writing is clear and supremely interesting. She takes the time to explain the naval lingo and the ramifications of log entries and the actions of the Admiralty.

I ended up feeling sympathy for Bligh and just a bit of rage at how he was mistreated. You may not be swept along as thoroughly as I was, but I doubt you'll be able to look at this epic true story in the same way again.
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LibraryThing member weird_O
59. The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

I do believe the basic story of "The Mutiny on the Bounty" is widely known: A British ship named Bounty, commanded by Lt. William Bligh, was seized by mutineers led by Fletcher Christian. Bligh and a group of loyalists
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journeyed thousands of miles in an overloaded open boat and eventually returned to England. Several of the mutineers were captured on Tahiti, returned to England, and tried, with all being convicted. Three were pardoned by King George III, three others were hanged. Years later, one surviving mutineer was discovered living on Pitcairn Island with a few Tahitian natives and some children fathered by mutineers. But by that time, relatively few cared. The End.

Thanks to high-level family connections, shrewd counsel, bogus investigations, and trash journalism, the tale, even before it had played out, was manipulated and twisted. In the popular mind, Bligh was a despicable villain with Christian becoming a folk hero. Novels and films have been spawned by the tale, and most of them have simply entrenched that idea: Bligh was a villain, Christian a misunderstood, introverted loner-hero.

Caroline Alexander may not be the first historian to research the records for the truth, but her book is the only one on the topic that I've read. She's done a thorough and commendable job. I think she does a good job of marshaling and dispensing the facts to maintain the mystery and our interest. What dialogue there is is taken from letters, trial testimony, written reports, and the like; no fictionalizing. I wouldn't call it a page-turner, and some readers will judge it plodding. I think it's interesting, methodical, thorough. Alexander presents facts, then asks questions and roots for more information and answers.

Having reached the end, I am satisfied. The feats of navigation and seafaring are simply incredible, the mutiny itself not really surprising, the intrigue and shenanigans before, during, and after the court-martial worthy of Trollope or Dickens
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LibraryThing member kenno82
Clearly, a meticulously researched book. Unfortunately, I found that the research drove the book rather than the reader's curiosity. Alexander labors over details where evidence can support it, but often this, combined with the structure, only serves to stifle any momentum created. Disappointing.
LibraryThing member tg9522
A great story about the mutiny on the Bounty
LibraryThing member nbsp
subtitle: the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty
LibraryThing member phyllis01
A lot. Do not rely on Hollywood for your history.
LibraryThing member p_linehan
A historical recounting of the Bounty incident. It gives great information about life in the Royal Navy and British social life. The account of the the trials and executions of captured mutineers was harrowing. Bligh comes across as a complicated figure, both a hero and as someone lacking in social
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The book is very interesting for readers of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturing series (Master and Commander)
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LibraryThing member stephengoldenberg
A riveting account of an event which most of us feel we already know about. It is very constructed to build up suspense in the 'storytelling' of the events. It is detailed and very well researched yet still leaves many questions unanswered - not least the confusing accounts of what may or may not
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have happened to Fletcher Christian after the mutiny.
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LibraryThing member PallanDavid
A researched history of the true story of "The Mutiny on the Bounty" which reads like a novel. Besides including short biographies of the persons involved in this nautical affair in the late 1700's, Caroline Alexander gives the reader the flavor of what being a man in the English navy at that time
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was like. She explores the different levels of the persons on board, and speaks of other ships and crews that were sailing at same time.
There is no "good guy" or "bad guy" here; rather, we have an even account of what occurred, or it is believed occurred before, during and after, the mutiny. Alexander uses official documents of the time: letters, journals, written interviews, ship logs, the proceedings of the courts-marshals, etc.
I believe anyone who has an interest in English history, nautical history, or just history in general will love this book. It took me away on the voyages, I met some interesting people and was a "fly on the wall" during closed English nautical courts-marshals. This is definitely not your typical ocean cruises to the South Seas.
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LibraryThing member NielsenGW
In December of 1787, the HMS Bounty, under the leadership of commanding lieutenant William Bligh, set out for the island of Tahiti to obtain breadfruit plants to grow in the West Indies. It was a routine trade mission. But Bligh’s return trip to England was far from routine. On the morning of
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April 28, 1789, ship’s mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Bligh and took the ship. Bligh and 14 crewmen were placed on a small 23-foot launch and sent to go back home while the mutineers steered towards Tahiti. Without charts or a chronometer, Bligh still made it over 4,000 miles to Australian shores and eventually got home. The story of the infamous mutiny and aftermath are the subject for Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty, a complex and nuanced tale of leadership, loyalty, and love.

While the details about the mutiny are still unclear, the core issue was that many among the crew wanted to stay on Tahiti with those whom they were enamored, and Commander Bligh ordered them back to the ship. The mission was a moderate success—over 1,000 plants had been secured for transport—and the crew had spent a wonderful five months on the island. It was quite possibly the easiest mission there could be. But, several men of the Bounty, including the master’s mate grew attached to local women and didn’t want to leave. Bligh, being a man of dogmatic intensity and fierce devotion to his job, ordered them back or face severe consequences.

Alexander’s history tries to give a less heavy-handed version of the events than previous writers. Bligh is traditionally seen as a taskmaster with no real heart or humanity. Fletcher is the idealized image of every person finding happiness in a far-off land. But, the historical documents at hand tell a slightly different tale. True, there was a mutiny and, true, the men did disobey orders. Bligh was the only real officer on board and had to be the sole administrator of discipline and justice, but the extent to which his orders become tyrannical is up for debate. The author does an interesting job of countermanding previous assumptions and laying out a more balanced view of the story. A lively and entertaining book.
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LibraryThing member Kaethe
If Alexander wants to tell me a story, I want to listen. I didn't care about the bounty until she told me to.
LibraryThing member untraveller
I love this story and tis well told here. More reading along these lines to come....
LibraryThing member ConnieJo
Read on a whim after stumbling across Pitcarin Islands in some other reading. A fantastic story, and I appreciated the academic flavor, as I imagined other writings sensationalizing the story. Alexander bears this out towards the end of the novel. It was easy to read, and ultimately a good book
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about a very fascinating topic.

The reading is a bit dry, however, and the work drags as it goes into the known details of every crew member and their various influential friends and family members. On one hand, I have a hard time begrudging it this, as they did provide sometimes essential information. On the other, I cared little about the individual fates of most men. But each person's story (both during the mutiny, their testimony at the mutineer's trial, and their testimony in public afterwards) paints an amusing whole picture, and it would've been hard to edit that information out and still be readable.

Still. At one point, I got career summaries for each of the captains at the mutineer's trial. Important to show that they were all experienced and more likely to agree with Bligh's version of events and not have much of a sympathetic ear for mutineers, but it felt excessive. The part with the trial and convictions also felt interminable.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
I expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstanding. If you haven't read that one and you are interested in Shackleton, I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it.

The Bounty is another one of
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those marvelous histories, which although documented (sources for each chapter are given at the end & thus there are no footnote encumbrances), reads likes a novel. I literally could not put this book down.


Sunrise, April 28, 1789. William Bligh, who was actually a lieutenant captaining the ship Bounty, sent from England to the South Pacific to gather of all things breadfruit (you have to read the book to understand this)was rudely awakened at swordpoint from his bunk to be informed that he would be leaving the ship. In charge of this operation was Mr. Fletcher Christian, (and God help me, I can't help but think of Mel Gibson every time his name was brought up), who explained that he was in Hell and could no longer abide the captain's behavior. Wearing only a nightshirt, Bligh was bound and lowered into a launch. Others soon followed suit...the ship was then in the hands of Fletcher Christian and a few others of it seems, like minds. So...the question is what brought on the mutiny? Was Captain Bligh really as nefarious and evil as history has painted him? What conditions led to Fletcher Christian's decision? And then, in probably what is the true meat of this story, how were the majority of the mutineers rounded up & brought to justice? We all know that Fletcher Christian and a few of his associates landed on & settled Pitcairn Island, which lay largely what was the real story here? So many questions, so many answers, from various viewpoints, keep this account lively & leave the reader wanting to read more.

The book opens with the collection & transport of the mutineers who had escaped to Tahiti; some of them voluntarily going to the ship & thus their certain fates and others who had to be rounded up. The story then moves to part two, in which we are introduced to each of the crew members including Captain Bligh & Fletcher Christian. The voyage of the Bounty commences, and this part of the book ends with the mutiny. Part three recalls Captain Bligh's feat of navigation and getting himself & the others consigned to go with him back to civilization, and investigating his court-martial for losing the Bounty. Part four...the political wheelings & dealings involved with the trial of the captured prisoners...and then finally, how the name of Captain Bligh came to be permanently associated with martinet-like behavior & came to be a dirty word. Here too you will find differing views on what happened once the main body of mutineers reached Pitcairn island.

One fun piece of information is worth noting. The night before the mutiny, Captain Bligh got into it with his officers about some missing coconuts. He called upon all of them to account for how many they'd eaten. Not that this is earthshaking in itself, but those of you who have read The Caine Mutiny (one of my favorite books of all time) will remember the dastardly Captain Queeg and the strawberry incident. I couldn't help but laugh and draw parallels & even wonder if Herman Wouk had incorporated this part of the Bounty mutiny into his own work.

I would very very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this type of thing. Read it and savor it. Take it slow. Because Alexander (like any historian worth her salt) relies heavily on primary documents, the wording is often a bit difficult to read, but it is well worth the time you will take on it.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Very informative true account of the Bounty mutiny and all the people connected to it. Not quite as simple as the movies or the Nordhoff and Hall trilogy which I read years ago. Very detailed. Bligh is not the brute he seems in the films and Christian is not quite the hero. Great book for a history
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Audie Award (Finalist — Non-Fiction — 2004)
National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — General Nonfiction — 2003)




067003133X / 9780670031337
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