Journalist and historian Caroline Alexander appeared on the Campbell Hall stage Monday evening to speak about her new book, The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty.
The legend of the small vessel called the Bounty was popularized in the 1962 movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando. However, Alexander’s book put aside the myth of the mutiny to explain the true story.
“It’s a search for truth,” said Alexander. “A man’s reputation was savaged in his lifetime. It’s about moral urgency … fighting the forces of evil, if you will.”
The story of the Bounty took place two centuries ago, when Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lt. William Bligh of the British Navy on their return trip from the Tahitian islands. Modern interpretations of the mutiny and the events that followed often describe Bligh as the villainous dictator and Christian as the dark, young freedom fighter, Alexander said.
Yvon Douran, a descendent of Fletcher Christian who grew up on Norfolk Island where many of the mutineers were sent when, much like Australia, it was used as a penal colony, introduced Alexander. Douran gave the audience a taste of the dialect used by the sailors at the time of the mutiny. Though Christian is not the hero in Alexander’s book, they both claim there are no hard feelings.
After three years of research, Alexander presented in her book a more complex, less romantic picture of the events and its characters. She describes Bligh as a “portly, passionate, fussy” man who demonstrates “extraordinary leadership” when forced to navigate a 3,000-mile open boat journey with 18 loyal crew members set afloat with him in the middle of the Atlantic.
Christian’s behavior, according to Alexander, was more akin to an “impatient exhausted teenager who was sick and tired of the rules and hen-pecking of Bligh.”
Alexander also spoke about the court-martials of ten mutineers and the fates of Christian and his followers, as well as the elaborate spinning of the modern myth itself.
Alexander describes her research as a humbling experience.
“William Bligh is my hero. He lived by a sense of honor and duty and a code of conduct higher than himself,” she said. “It gave me a new respect for a rather stodgy set of moral codes. I suppose it made me a little less romantic.”
Santa Barbara residents Bob and Michele Fitch first learned of Alexander’s work while attending her lecture at the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles. They said they were impressed by her research in writing the book The Endurance, which tells the story of the Shackleton Antarctic expedition.
“She’s such a great speaker,” Michele Fitch said. “We’re so impressed, not only with her knowledge of the mutiny itself, but the way she puts the relationships together.”