New Release Book Review: Mutiny on the Bounty by Peter Fitzsimons

Mutiny on the Bounty: A saga of sex, sedition, mayhem and mutiny, and survival against extraordinary odds…

About the Book:

The dramatic story of Captain William Bligh, Fletcher Christian and history’s most famous mutiny, brought to life by Peter FitzSimons, Australia’s storyteller.

The mutiny on HMS Bounty, in the South Pacific on 28 April 1789, is one of history’s truly great stories – a tale of human drama, intrigue and adventure of the highest order – and in the hands of Peter FitzSimons it comes to life as never before.

Commissioned by the Royal Navy to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti and take them to the West Indies, the Bounty’s crew found themselves in a tropical paradise. Five months later, they did not want to leave. Under the leadership of Fletcher Christian most of the crew mutinied soon after sailing from Tahiti, setting Captain William Bligh and 18 loyal crewmen adrift in a small open boat. In one of history’s great feats of seamanship, Bligh navigated this tiny vessel for 3618 nautical miles to Timor.

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers sailed back to Tahiti, where most remained and were later tried for mutiny. But Christian, along with eight fellow mutineers and some Tahitian men and women, sailed off into the unknown, eventually discovering the isolated Pitcairn Island – at the time not even marked on British maps – and settling there.

This astonishing story is historical adventure at its very best, encompassing the mutiny, Bligh’s monumental achievement in navigating to safety, and Fletcher Christian and the mutineers’ own epic journey from the sensual paradise of Tahiti to the outpost of Pitcairn Island. The mutineers’ descendants live on Pitcairn to this day, amid swirling stories and rumours of past sexual transgressions and present-day repercussions. Mutiny on the Bounty is a sprawling, dramatic tale of intrigue, bravery and sheer boldness, told with the accuracy of historical detail and total command of story that are Peter FitzSimons’ trademarks.

My Thoughts:

You know how you see those questions on social media about who you’d like to have at your dinner party? I want Peter Fitzsimons at mine. He is one entertaining man. I’ve been buying his books for my father for years now, but this is the first time I have cracked one open for myself. It will not be the last. Sorry Dad, you’re not getting this one! Mutiny on the Bounty is without doubt the most entertaining book of history I have ever read. Anyone who says history is boring needs to regard it through the Fitzsimons gaze. Grounded in fact (just check out the footnotes!), yet told in the present tense, he has constructed this historical account in the manner of a novel. Creative non-fiction – is that even a thing? I love it. Mutiny on the Bounty is a huge book, but it rollicks along with sharp wit, meticulous detail, entertaining exchanges, and a tangible sense of atmosphere.

‘They comprise a fairly typical rogues’ gallery of men who have built their lives sailing the Seven Seas, whoring, fighting, drinking, pissing razor blades with venereal disease, occasionally wielding swords and muskets in shore fights, suffering scurvy, sleeping damp and hot with rats and lice, eating weevils at every meal, swabbing decks, heaving ropes, tying knots until their fingers bleed, shinnying up masts, setting sails, and standing watch as the waves crash, the wind blows, the lightning bolts strike, and the ship surges onward beneath the starry skies and searing suns alike.’

Captain Bligh must be one of the most ridiculous human beings to have ever inhabited the earth. There’s no disputing his navigational brilliance; truly, this man sailed from a point of abandonment in the Pacific Ocean all the way to Timor, 3168 nautical miles (which is a heck of a long way), in an open boat that was crammed with 18 other people. Yet, as humbling as this experience may have been, Bligh remained a jerk throughout, and the most astonishing part of this daring journey was that all of the 18 men stuck in the boat with him resisted the urge to toss him overboard.

‘Captain Bligh is not pleased, and, as ever, expresses his discontent with much the same passion, and even much the same noise, as an exploding volcano.’

Peter captures, through a variety of consulted sources, the true flavour of Bligh’s character. He’s done a superb job at giving balance to a very unbalanced man. There was a risk of Bligh becoming a caricature, and while I laughed a lot at Bligh, I still felt as though I got a good sense of who he was. He was rather brilliant and instinctively in tune with navigation. What he lacked in people skills he made up in bluster.

‘Yes, among the most famous of the miracles of Jesus Christ was turning water into wine. Well, Bligh has performed a miracle of his own, healing a cripple by turning most of his wine into water!’

The mutiny itself was an extraordinary event, but so was all that followed after. I love a good deserted island story, I have to say, and knowing that this was all real was an absolute bonus. Pitcairn Island has a rather horrifying history, and the way they were all going for a while there, it’s amazing they actually survived. I did a little reading up on Pitcairn after I finished this book, and it’s not a pretty history, particularly its most recent affairs. But it is fascinating, to think of those original inhabitants, hiding out from the Royal British Navy, as the beginnings of a new society. I was a little shocked and disappointed about Christian’s fate, but fact is fact.

Mutiny on the Bounty is a vastly comprehensive book, with nothing left unexplored. I loved that about it, that people didn’t just drop off the radar. We got to know what (supposedly) happened to everyone, before, during, and after the mutiny. The ripple effect of the mutiny was depicted with precision. You’d never really normally consider a 600+ page history book entertaining reading that you devour from cover to cover, but this is exactly what Mutiny on the Bounty is. With the inclusion of colour photographs along with maps and other visual aids, Peter has written a book that contributes greatly to the historical accounts of this amazing event. And it’s funny. Really, genuinely, funny. Which is why I’m inviting Peter to dinner. I highly recommend Mutiny on the Bounty to all readers, and it would make a great gift this Christmas – except for you Dad, sorry, because it took me longer than anticipated to read and I needed to get your parcel in the mail. Birthday, then?

‘He seems so…angry. Well, come to think of it, they had left him in a tub in the middle of the ocean with few supplies and a maniacal commander, laughing and cheering as they sailed away, but still…’


Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of Mutiny on the Bounty for review.

About the Author:

Peter FitzSimons is Australia’s bestselling non-fiction writer, and for the past 30 years has also been a journalist and columnist with the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD and the SUN-HERALD. He is the author of a number of highly successful books, including BURKE AND WILLS, MONASH’S MASTERPIECE, KOKODA, NED KELLY and GALLIPOLI, as well as biographies of such notable Australians as Sir Douglas Mawson, Nancy Wake and Nick Farr-Jones. His passion is to tell Australian stories, our own stories: of great men and women, of stirring events in our history. Peter grew up on a farm north of Sydney, went to boarding school in Sydney and attended Sydney University. An ex-Wallaby, he also lived for several years in rural France and Italy, playing rugby for regional clubs. He and his wife Lisa Wilkinson – journalist, magazine editor and television presenter – have three children; they live in Sydney.

Mutiny on the Bounty
Published by Hachette Australia
Released on 30th October 2018

7 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: Mutiny on the Bounty by Peter Fitzsimons

  1. This whole story fascinates me…
    While I was on Norfolk Island I bought a rather ordinary fictionalisation of the story, see and on my travel blog I also noted some of the signage from the museums there, where as you can see I’m not as sanguine about Bligh’s fate:
    But what really bothers me about the whole story is the fate of the women who went with Fletcher Christian and his men. The story is that they went willingly, but it seems eerily reminiscent of the fate of Aboriginal women captured by sealers. I don’t see how, with a language barrier, those women could really have understood the dangers of sailing into an uncharted world, and I find it unlikely that if they did, they would have willingly left their families never to return. But their voices are, as far as I can tell, silent. There appears to be no testimony from any of them.
    Does FitzSimons have anything authoritative (i.e. based on primary sources) to say about them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I really loved about this book was how Peter attempted to give the ‘story’ from all angles. He does show Bligh as the enlightened man you mention, who appeared to have been obsessed with hygeine on board and he also seemed to take health matters seriously and personally. Peter also explores the idea that Christian may have been suffering from a mental illness at the time of the mutiny (apparently there is condition that could be linked to the way his hands were always so wet with perspiration), and he dismisses the claims of homosexual proposition. That’s why it’s so long, he just leaves nothing out.
      Peter gives the impression that he feels much the same as you about the fate of the women and he describes their leaving with Christian in a manner that suggests he abducted them. There are some sources cited, in particular a woman who recorded the names of those women who were on Pitcairn and who they were linked to. I *think* this originates from an original list made by one of the original women. Peter tells of multiple instances whereby the women tried to leave the island. With the exception of Christian’s wife, there was a lot wife swapping and violence, and this didn’t change until the women outnumbered the men. Peter’s account of abduction in the night seems credible to me because like you, I can’t see women leaving everyone and everything they know for a bunch of sailors that didn’t speak the same language, probably had venereal disease, and after so long at sea, would have been less than appealing on the hygeine front. Plus, some of these men were bruts, really unpleasant men with rough histories. The footnotes/research section in this book was about 100 pages long, so I didn’t comb over it, I must admit. I just sat back and read and took it on faith that Peter had been faithful to the sources. His notes at the end were very interesting, addressing a lot of myths and further talking about the fate of the women.


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