Mutiny In Paradise

In December 1787 His Majesty's armed transport Bounty crept out of Portsmouth harbor on a clandestine mission, heading for the vast and largely uncharted South Pacific. Tahiti, a tiny pinpoint of land in the Polynesian Islands, was the goal. In October 1788, the Bounty dropped anchor in Tahiti's spectacular Matavai Bay. In April 1789, she set out for Jamaica, West Indies, the hold filled with breadfruit trees, to feed the slaves there. The secret objectives had also been achieved. A Tahitian-English dictionary was written. A trade and diplomatic relationship had been established. An aristocratic crewman had married into the royal family, linking England and Tahiti politically. The Tahitian culture and governmental system and its weaknesses had been monitored in Captain William Bligh's log. All this effort was the first step in absorbing and colonizing the Polynesian chain.

On April 27 some of the crew mutinied, led by Master's Mate Fletcher Christian. In September 1792, a handful of the captured mutineers faced a court-martial in Portsmouth. The trial was sensational. The testimony and the whole aura surrounding the Bounty's journey shook British and European society to its core. Did Fletcher Christian revolt because of Bligh's cruel authority, or had Mr. Christian seen Utopia, the living Garden of Eden, and turned against civilization itself? If the first was true, the mutineers...

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