CHASING THE BOUNTY: THE VOYAGES OF THE PANDORA AND MATAVY

Reviewed by: BRIAN TRIM

This is a somewhat unusual book in that it is made up of a series of original sources, selected and sequenced to tell the story of the search for the Bounty mutineers. I do not doubt that this story is worth telling. The editor’s short introduction is persuasive in explaining that while Bounty is firmly fixed in popular culture, the subsequent voyages of Pandora and its tender, Matavy, to capture the mutineers is much less well known. Yet it includes all the elements of high adventure: a search at the very frontier of European exploration, shipwreck, cultural exchanges, and some impressive feats of navigation.

The book tells this story through the narratives of both Pandora and Bounty personnel, including two re-captured prisoners. Extracts of journals, despatches, and both official and personal correspondence are used to step through the voyage. While some chapters open with a short ‘scene-setter’ by the editor, the bulk of the book is comprised of just these extracts from primary sources. There is some virtue in this. The editor’s intent was to let the original voices narrate the story; he certainly achieves this. In places, this gives the book a lively feel, almost like listening to an epic ‘dit’ in the bar. There are many cultural observations and the sources themselves are interesting cultural artefacts with much to say about our former maritime empire. Anyone who has ever arrived at anchor off an unfamiliar shore will recognise some of the ‘thrill’ in these recounts.

Regrettably, much of the book is weighed down with monotonous detail that adds little value, certainly for the general reader. By sequencing multiple sources, the editor incorporates a great deal of repetition. Had he done so alongside greater analysis of the original authors, this could have rounded the story more effectively. In practice, it becomes slightly tedious. Part three is particularly burdened in this way and is much in need of editing for focus. Likewise, the two-pages of waypoints in Part Seven should be replaced with a one-page map, while the five pages of poetry in the appendix added little for me.

I accept that this book will be useful for a serious student of the Bounty story. It is not, however, particularly enjoyable for the general reader. I was only able to find it electronically, and £17.69 for an e-book feels like rather too much [a paperback edition is also available, and costs £46.95]. I am unable to recommend it.