by Landeg White
DANGAROO Press 1993
Signed copies of this book can be purchased directly from the author.
Bounty brings a fresh perspective to the familiar story of the mutiny. The narrator is Michael Byrne, the near-blind fiddler employed by Captain Bligh to exercise his crew on the long voyage to Tahiti. Siezed by the mutineers, Byrne refused to sail with Fletcher Christian to Pitcairn Island but remained in Tahiti where his fiddle gained him unique entry into the society. After his arrest, he survived the shipwreck of HMS Pandora to be acquited at the mutineers’ court martial. An Irish minstrel, his imagination brimming with sea-shanties, he tells a tale which shifts the emphasis away from a quarrel between Englishmen to a heart-breaking quarrel between England and the South Seas.
The case is Christian’s mutiny. But your court
won’t stomach that Christian. It smells of
mercy. This tale’s awash like the Bounty’s
bilge with meanings no one wants. We were all there, you
all saw, Adams, black Matthew, gunner Mills,
by Christ, Adam’s mutiny! Jack Adams, John Doe,
every-man-Jack’s mutiny! But your Lords
need a hanging, not this tale rippling
Irishly like a stone in a green lagoon.
I remember the white untidy beach, my head
a washed-up coconut jumping with sandflies.
If my fiddle were jailed and not fathom
five in the Barrier reef singing to catfish
I’d strike up a jig the court martial
would dance to! Michael Byrne, Irish fiddler,
two thirds blind, on trial for my life.
I kissed that maid and went away.
Says she, “young man, why don’t ye stay?”
from Bounty by Landeg White
“… I praised Landeg White’s last book to the skies; Bounty is even better. Actually, it can’t be compared this brilliant account of the mutiny and its aftermath through the voice of Michael Byrne, Captain Bligh’s blind Irish fiddler, is a kind of balladic counterpoint to Derek Walcott’s epic Omerus…White’s so light on his feet that one wonders how Bligh and Fletcher et al come across so vividly, but they do. So does the incomprehension, the belief that we were (and are) being bountiful.”
“White has an innately dramatic sense of how to make a story happen through what is not said, through lies, contradictions and silences…If, like me, you think you know what happened on the Bounty, read this book to discover that you don’t, and to relish this exposure of how an accepted history is made from a teeming, chaotic muddle of motives and passions.”
“… a kind of Browningesque monologue by one of the mutineers, Michael Byrne…his blank verse is broken up by extremely effective brief switches to ballad and shanty and this alternates through much of the poem with episodes of Tahitian cosmology. Landeg White has retold this inexhaustible tale for our own times as an episode in Europe’s long appalling bounty to the rest of the world.”