Readers' Guide: The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty by William Bligh

The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty

by: William Bligh

Guide Created By: : Marni
Discussion Leader(s): Marni
Read our archived discussion of this book

Guide Description

book coverCaptain Bligh of the H.M.S. Bounty wrote his own account of the fateful voyage of the ship, an epic saga of treachery and mutiny in 1789 and the heroic 3,600-mile voyage in a small boat to safety.

Plot Synopsis

When he returned home after the mutiny on the Bounty, Captain Bligh wrote his version of the story. In journal-like fashion, Bligh explains the purpose of the voyage, describes the trip to Tahiti and the sojourn there, and the Bounty mutiny. He writes the harrowing story of his 3600-mile voyage with 18 men in a small open boat across the Pacific Ocean to European civilization in the Dutch East Indies where the men then faced the scourge of "Batavia fever" and the voyage back to England. Determine for yourself if Captain Bligh was villain or hero.


Chapters 1 thru 5:

1. Regarding the "Author's Advertisement" in the book's beginning: Why and for whom was William Bligh "advertising" this account?
2. What was the mission of HMS Bounty? Whose plan was followed in preparation for the voyage?
3. Describe HMS Bounty. Was there anything unusual in how the ship was fitted out? Describe the Captain's quarters? Did Bligh have a role in fitting out the ship?
4. Describe the Bounty's crew. Were any additional passengers aboard? Who kept the key to the arms? How competent was the surgeon? Were important crew missing?
5. What route was the Bounty to take to Otaheite (Tahiti) in the Society Islands and when was she to leave England? How long was she to be gone? Why didn't she leave as scheduled and what problem did this create?
6. What sort of mischief and suffering did storms create for the Bounty and her crew?
7. Regarding Captain Bligh's management of his ship: How did he divide the ship's watches? How did he manage food and water? When and why did he order men to be flogged? What seemed to motivate the captain the most in the decisions he made? What is your impression of him as captain of a ship? Did he have skills important in a good captain? Faults?
8. Describe some of the crew's tasks. Was their life at sea treacherous?
9. Why didn't Captain Bligh sail to Otaheite by way of Cape Horn? What effect did route via the Cape of Good Hope have on the length of the voyage?
10. Why did Captain Bligh have every person aboard examined by the surgeon when the Bounty reached Otaheite?
11. How did the natives on Otaheite differ, in Bligh's narrative, from the natives in Van Diemen's Land? Why did Bligh give his men particular instructions not to reveal the cause of Captain Cook's death to the people of Otaheite?
12. Describe Bligh's narrative style. What does he focus on? Do you think he leaves anything important out? Do you think his style changes when he describes the Bounty's visits to land?

Chapters 6 thru 10:

1. What did you discover, though Bligh's narrative, about the Otaheite culture? Did anything about their culture startle or shock you? What did you learn about their religion? Class systems and royalty? Warfare? Marriage, family, roles of men and women? Illness and death? Humor? Crime? Education? Their eating/drinking habits and foods? Agriculture? Entertainment? Their dress?
2. What did the native people value? Why did they kill their children?
3. How did the Otaheiti people treat their British guests, and Bligh, in particular? What etiquette/protocol was expected of and towards their guests? Why did "pilfering" occur and what did the British and the Otaheitians do about it? What did the British and Otaheitians want from each other? Did the presence of the British present hardships for the natives?
4. Why did Bligh give his men particular instructions not to reveal the cause of Captain Cook's death to the people of Otaheite?
5. Describe the island of Otaheite, its land, water, weather, mountains, plants, animals, etc. What kinds of plants and animals had the British attempted to establish in Otaheite during Cook's stop there and during the Bounty's stay? How did the native people treat the new plants and animals delivered to their islands?
6. Bligh wrote, "there was scarce a man in the ship who had not his tyo or friend." What was a tyo?
7. How long did the Bounty stay in Otaheite and why? Where did the crew live during their long stay? Did Bligh order much flogging during their stay? Why do you think the three crew members deserted? What happened to them? What happened to the surgeon?
8. Why did Tynah wish to travel to England with his wife on the Bounty?
9. Why was the cutting of the ship's cable such a serious matter? Who did it? Do you think the stage has been set for mutiny?
10. Did the men of the Bounty accomplish their mission in Otaheite?

Chapters 11 thru 15:

1. Besides the breadfruit plants, what gift did Tinah intend for Britain's King George? What gift did Captain Bligh give to Tinah?
2. Describe the reaction of the men and the islanders as the Bounty'\'s crew prepared to depart.
3. Why did Bligh detain several chiefs on board the Bounty during a stop at Annamooka in the Friendly Islands? Do you think this was a wise move? Bligh wrote that when he let the chiefs go, "I have little doubt but that we parted better friends than if the affair had never happened." Do you think he was right?
4. Describe what transpired during the mutiny on the Bounty. Which men did Bligh specifically mention in his narrative and why? As Captain Bligh was being forced off the ship, what was Fletcher Christian's reaction when Bligh asked him if his treatment was a proper return for the many instances he had received of [his] friendship?
5. What did Bligh think was the reason for the mutiny? Did he have any inkling that the mutiny might occur?
6. Describe the launch (the "open boat") and the provisions its men were allowed to bring with them.
7. When the men in the launch stopped to search for water and food on the island of Tofoa, their first stop, how were the men treated by the natives and why?
8. Describe the voyage in the open boat. What ordeals did the men incur?
9. How did Captain Bligh handle food and drink during the voyage towards Timor? How did the men react to Bligh's system? What was your reaction?
10. How did Captain Bligh navigate on the journey? What was your reaction to his navigation skills?

Chapters 16 thru 20 - Plus Wrap-up

1. What was the route Bligh followed to reach Batavia (called Jakarta today) and where did the boat stop along the way?
2. As the men drew closer to Timor, they began to fall ill. What were the symptoms of their illnesses? How did the captain treat those most ill? Which men were the sickest? What was the condition of Captain Bligh's health?
3. Did the men remain always in good spirits on their journey? Did the captain have to cope with any trouble?
4. How did their diet change in this phase of their journey? There was food/water left over when the boat finally reached Dutch civilization. Do you think the captain held back too much food and water?
5. Do you think Bligh should have stopped for refreshment in eastern Timor among the natives rather than pushing on immediately for Coupang?
6. Describe the reception and treatment at Coupang. What was the reaction of the Dutch people of Timor when they saw the crew from the launch? Describe the town and people (Dutch and natives) of Coupang?
7. How did the crew get to Batavia? Describe the their stay at Batavia. Was it very different from their stay in Coupang? Did Bligh encounter any money problems there?
8. What steps did Captain Bligh take to catch the mutineers?
9. Bligh and his men had voyaged for 47 days to reach their target in Timor and then Batavia. During the voyage, they had lost only one man, stoned by natives in Tofua. Did the rest all make it safely home to England? How did they get home?
10. What happened after the return to England? Please share with everyone information you might have about this.

Recommended Reading

"The Bounty" by Caroline Alexander

Interesting Information

Nautical Glossary

Voyage of The Bounty - View Map

Links to Supplemental Information