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Lot 57

Original boards, uncut

Mutiny on the Bounty—Bligh’s Personal account

57. BLIGH, William. A Narrative of the Mutiny, on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty; and the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew, in the Ship’s Boat, from Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, to Timor, a Dutch Settlement in the East Indies. London: George Nicol, 1790. iv, 88 pp., 4 copper-engraved plates (3 folded and on blue paper): (1) A Copy of the Draught from which the Bounty’s Launch was built; (2) Track of the Bounty’s Launch from Tofoa to Timor by Lieut. William Bligh 1789); (3) Chart of Bligh's IslandsDiscovered by Lt. William Bligh in the Bounty’s Launch..., with an inset of the northern part of New Hebrides; (4) N.E. Coast of New Holland by Willm. Bligh a Track of Lieut. Bligh in the Bounty’s Launch. 4to (31.5 x 24.5 cm; 12-3/8 x 9-3/4 inches),original boards, uncut (neatly rebacked to style at an early date, sympathetic printed paper spine label). Last plate with a bit of marginal foxing and minor offsetting to opposite text page. H1-2 with light spotting in the margins. Old paper repairs to small blank portions of first two leaves (hard to discern) and lower portion of one plate. Overall, a wonderful copy, uncut in the original boards.

     First edition of Bligh's own personal account of the Bounty mutiny, "one of the most remarkable incidents in the whole of maritime history" (Hill), preceding the official account (see next entry) by some two years. Clement, Mutiny on the Bounty 1. Cox II, p. 303. Ferguson, Australian Bibliography 71. Hill I, p. 26. Hill II:233. Kroepelien 87. O'Reilly-Reitman 543. Ragatz, British Caribbean History, p. 280: “Bread-fruit trees descended from those brought back [during Bligh’s second breadfruit voyage] are to-day scattered throughout the West Indies.” Sabin 5908a. Spence A101. Wantrup 61.

     That a mission so simple as to supply breadfruit to slaves in the British West Indies could have resulted in such events has made the first voyage of the Bounty and Fletcher Christian’s mutiny an endless source of speculation, books, films, and tourists' trips to the South Seas. Bligh’s account starkly contrasts the violent mutiny and grim, rigid nature of naval life to the voluptuous pleasures of Tahiti. Beginning innocently enough, the Bounty was unable to round Cape Horn because of unabated violent weather and had to cruise to Tahiti around Africa. An idyllic six months followed in Tahiti as Bligh waited for conditions to be right for the voyage to the West Indies. That leg of the voyage, however, proved disastrous to the crew's morale, and an ensuing mutiny resulted in Bligh and a few faithful crew members being set adrift in the ship's small, deeply-laden, open launch, which Bligh amazingly guided 3,618 miles to Timor and safety, with the loss of only a single man. The mutineers remaining on Tahiti were eventually captured and dealt with, whereas those who had gone to Pitcairn Island escaped, although most lost their lives in turmoil with the natives. Finally visited by British naval vessels in 1814, Pitcairn held only one remaining mutineer, John Adams, who was left there as an act of mercy.

     Legends and interpretations have pitted a cruel Bligh against a romantic Christian, although there is argument aplenty about the historic facts. What is certain is that Bligh feared for his reputation and rushed this account into print to curry favor with the Admiralty and to forestall any negative interpretations that might be imputed to him once the mutineers were brought back to England for trial. What need not have concerned him, however, was the effect his spectacular voyage in a small boat would have on the public's imagination and his career. Quickly cleared by a court martial, Bligh, in his account of his voyage to Timor, assured his lasting fame. Bligh’s success is considered one of the most astounding feats of seamanship of all time. The modern reader can appreciate his heroic voyage simply by opening the large folded map present here to see the vast, open tracts across which Bligh had to navigate without charts. Paradoxically, despite his desperate situation, Bligh took the time to explore and map the northeast coast of New Holland (Australia), the outlines of which are first published here. "In the course of this hazardous journey Bligh took the opportunity to chart and name parts of the unknown north-east coast of New Holland as he passed along it" (Wantrup, p.128).

     Bligh (1754-1817) was prepared for a career in the King’s Navy from an early childhood, and by the age of fifteen was well-versed in science and mathematics and a talented writer and illustrator. Sir Joseph Banks assisted Bligh in his appointment in 1776 as the sailing master on the HMS Resolution, the flagship of Captain Cook’s third and final voyage. Bligh owed much to Cook for assisting him in attaining the skills that enabled him to serve in the Royal Navy for the remainder of his life, and some have suggested that perhaps he was influenced by Cook’s dark side. After the deaths of Captain Cook and then Captain Charles Clerke, practically all the navigation back to England was Bligh’s responsibility. Cook’s charting of Adventure Bay off Tasmania is credited to Bligh, and all the charts made after Cook’s death were from Bligh’s originals. Bligh eventually did sail another ship on a successful mission to collect breadfruit and rose through the ranks to become an admiral, but rarely is anything he ever did after the Bounty's first voyage remembered in the public's mind. Ironically, the breadfruit brought at such cost to the British West Indies was despised by the slaves, who refused to eat it. ($20,000-30,000)

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