Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Mutiny on the HMS Bounty Inspired Poetry

Bligh and his loyalists being cut adrift in the open boat by the Bounty mutineers in this early 19th Century lithograph. A man on board the ship is show throwing a cutlass to the outstretched arms of one of the men in the boat.  The four naval swords were the only protective weapons the Bligh and his men were allowed.


Old habits die hard.  Like browsing through the daily almanac feature on Wikipedia for blog post inspiration. I was reminded that on April 28, 1789 crew members on the HMS Bounty under the leadership Fletcher Christian, a young gentleman serving as an unpaid volunteer with the functional status of a warrant officer and mate, mutinied against their captain, Royal Navy Lt. William Bligh.  Bligh, an officer who had sailed under James Cook and was already a veteran captain of tropical voyages to the Caribbean and South Seas, and several loyal crewmen we set adrift with scant supplies in an open launch.  The mutiny and its aftermath would become one of the great sea yarns of all time.
What has this to do with poetry? say you.  Plenty, says I.  It inspired verse almost from the beginning, including an effort by Bligh himself in one of his several literary attempts to clear his reputation.  In 1823 no less a figure than George Gordon, Lord Byron himself published a fictionalized and highly romanticized account in a mini-epic poem The Island.  Since that time the story and it characters have inspired dozens of renderings by bards, balladeers, and poets down to contemporary hip-hop rappers. 
The Bounty, a small three masted, square rigged former collier—a veritable lumbering tub—had been purchased by the Royal Navy especially for an unusual mission—to bring a cargo of breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies where they were hoped to become a cheap source of food for slaves on sugar plantations.   Mature breadfruit trees produced scores of large, pulpy and starchy fruit yearly with very little care required in moist tropical climates.  They were a staple of the Polynesian diet and had been spread by those far ranging people across the South Pacific.
An Admiralty temporarily between wars with plenty of experienced officers and crews available could engage in such economic missions.  Bligh, then 43, was recalled to active duty with the Royal Navy after a few years as a commercial master in the Caribbean trade, in 1787 especially for this mission.  Earlier, he had been sailing master on Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage of exploration in the South Seas.  When Cook was killed, Bligh returned home to England in command of his ship, the HMS Resolution and made his final report to the Admiralty.  No one in the service was a better fit for the mission.

Lt. William Bligh from the frontpiece of his own account of the mutiny and his open boat voyage to safety.
Bligh handpicked many of the crew, including former shipmates from the Resolution.  He also added a young gentleman, Fletcher Christian with whom he had made three voyages in the Caribbean.  Bligh had taken to Christian and the two had developed a master/apprentice relationship.  They younger man aspired to a Royal Navy career and studied navigation under Bligh.  He did not have the family connections or the money to buy an appointment as a midshipman, so Fletcher, like a few others came aboard as civilian volunteers.  Some were listed and paid as able bodied seamen.  On board, however, they were treated as regular midshipmen and junior officers.  Christian rose during the voyage to become virtual First Mate, although the once close relationship between the two men soured.
The rest of the crew was typical of the Royal Navy at the time.  There were a handful of old salts but much of the crew was made up of hapless young men swept up by Navy press gangs in England, shanghaied while drunk or druggedvirtually kidnapped.  Such men on voyages that could last years were always a ticking time bomb.  The notoriously harsh discipline of the Royal Navy, including floggings to the edge of death—and sometimes beyond—for even trifling offences, was considered necessary to keep crews under control. 
Bligh, although a strict commander with a quick temper, was not considered a particularly brutal officer.  In fact log books show that he employed the lash far less frequently than almost any other commander in the service.  Later, one of the few complaints of his conduct as captain of the Bounty by his brother officers was that the eventual mutiny would never have occurred if he had  “earned the respect and fear of the men” by more frequent floggings.  He could, however, lash men with vicious tongue, dishing out humiliations that seemed worse than physical injury.  As their relationship deteriorated on the long voyage, Christian often felt that wrath and scorn. 
The voyage to Tahiti took a full year from October 1787 to October 1788.  Bligh’s rigorous demand for hygiene, strict attention to a healthy diet for the crew, a three watch system that left the crew better rested than the Royal Navy’s usual four watches with officers and crews going on and off duty every four hours, and restrained physical punishment resulted in an exceptionally fit crew and good moral.   Contrary winds prevented Bligh from following Cook’s route around Cape Horn so the ship had to cross the South Atlantic to pass the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean.  There were layovers for provisions and repairs at False Bay east of the Cape and at Adventure Bay on Tasmania.
At Tahiti Bligh established friendly relations with the local chief, who remembered him being with Cook 15 years earlier.  After gifts of assorted trade goods, Bligh asked only for young breadfruit trees, which grew with abundance on the island.   For the Tahitians it was like trading away sand.  Christian was put in charge of a shore party and established a camp near the main village.  For more than five months work went into to gathering, potting, and loading on board more than 1000 young trees.  Much of that work was done by the natives. 

The Bounty's crew found Tahitian women and their seemingly casual acceptance of multiple partners irresistible. However modern anthropologists believe that all was not a consensual as myth would have it.  The local chief directed/allowed some of his women to engage in sex with the visitors as part of trade practices and not all of the women offered may have been willing.  There is also evidence of both rape and abuse by the seamen.  A few relationships like Christians were established.  This 1782 portrait of Poedua, daughter of Orea, King of Ulietea by John Webber illustrates the allure of Polynesian women.


Meanwhile both those living ashore and those birthing on board had plenty of leisure time.  Almost everyone spent it with the women, whose culture was sexually accommodating.  Many took multiple partners others settled in with a single companion.  Christian did both, eventually taking up with Mauatua, to whom he gave the name Isabella after a former sweetheart.  After a few months, almost all of the shore party and many on board were diagnosed and treated for venereal disease, which was rife among the natives.  That included Christian. 
Bligh, although he did not participate, took a tolerant view of the hijinks until it began to take a toll of work performance.  The longer the crew stayed, the worse it got.  As it became clear that the ship was ready to sail, three men tried to desert in a small boat but were captured, returned, and flogged.  When the ship finally sailed on April 4, 1789 moral was low but no one expected a mutiny.
But Bligh was now hypercritical of the performance of his crew and junior officers.  Christian was the target of the most abuse and was driven to consider jumping overboard and committing suicide.  Things came to a head when Bligh accused him of stealing from his personal stash of coconuts.  Christian considered trying to desert on a raft but two of the acting midshipmen convinced him that the crew would be with him if he stayed with the ship and seized control.
On April 29 Christian and part of the crew seized Bligh and bound him in his cabin.  Christian was surprised when less than half of the crew actively supported him.  Although no one resisted—the small ship did not have a complement of Royal Marines to protect the Captain and suppress mutiny—many swore allegiance to Bligh and others tried to remain neutral.  After a period of confusion, Christian decided to put the Captain and two or three of his strongest supporter over the side in the ship’s small dory.  Other clamored to be included.  Eventually he had to allow the launch, the largest of the ship’s three boats be used.  Bligh was joined by 18 other men.  Four men with special skills were kept on board with a promise to be released in Tahiti.  Other loyalists or neutrals were also onboard since the launch was dangerously overloaded.  Bligh and his men were given about a week’s worth of food and water and Bligh was allowed some navigational instruments.  As the ship cut the boat loose, four cutlasses were thrown down for protection against hostile natives should them men reach an island.
Christian had a reduced compliment of 25 men on board the Bounty, almost half of them not active participants in the mutiny.  With a sense of doom, he set sail for Tahiti assuming that Bligh and the others, thousands of miles from a safe port were doomed.
But Bligh was one of the great navigators in the British Navy and his discipline of his crew paid off.  He strictly rationed the food and water—enough daily to barely sustain life.  Some rainfall was captured and a few fish were landed.  He set sail first to the relatively nearby island of Tofua to lay in more supplies.  The natives there were at first friendly but quickly became hostile.  Bligh barely got his men off the island when an attack killed one man.  After that the captain decided to avoid other inhabited islands until he could reach the nearest European outpost—Timor in the Dutch East Indies about 3,500 nautical or 4000 statute miles.  The boat was at sea most of the next 45 days at sea.  After crossing thousands of miles of open waters, the boat sailed up the coast of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef before finally reach a Dutch outpost at Coupang harbor on the island of Timor on June 14.  He had lost only the one man to hostile action.
But at Coupang and in the festering Dutch capital of Batavia, several men died of disease—likely malaria and being weakened by starvation.  Bligh and four of his most loyal crew caught a ship for England to which he finally returned on March 14, 1790.  He was hailed as a hero for his epic journey in the small boat.  He was officially brought to court martial in October but quickly acquitted by a sympathetic court in October.  He was promoted to Captain at last and given command of the HMS Providence with orders to complete his breadfruit.  He sailed in August of 1791.

Bounty Bay of Pitcairn Island with the wreckage of the burnt and scuttled ship in the foreground
Christian and the Bounty sailed for Tahiti, arriving at that island on September 22, 1789.  They found the natives far less welcoming than before and the crew was badly split between Bligh loyalists, Christian’s supporters, neutrals, and men who simply wanted to debauch themselves in Tahiti.  15 men voted to stay on the island.  Christian and 8 followers, and one loyalist detained for his skill as an armorer, decided to flee to greater safety.  After inviting several Tahitians, including several women and children on board for a feast, he quietly cut anchor and sailed away, essentially kidnapping the Tahitians.   They decided to seek refuge on a remote island south east of Tahiti not on any British charts.  After a long search they found deserted Pitcairn Island in January 1790.  The Bounty was stripped of everything useful and burned to prevent its discovery by the Royal Navy.  The mixed group of mutineers and Tahitians settled into an uneasy community, despite nearly ideal conditions.  Fletcher and Isabella gave birth to a son, Thursday October Christian.  Other children were born.  But there were jealousies over the remaining women and the Tahitian men resented the mutineers.  In September 1793 some of the Tahitian men made a coordinated attack on the Europeans.    Christian and four others were hacked to death.  The four surviving Englishmen also eventually fell out.  One was murdered by the others. 
Eventually only one mutineer, John Adams, remained alive.  But he was finally able to bring harmony to the surviving community, taught religion and letters to the children and built a stable, even thriving community.  The Royal Navy finally accidentally discovered the colony in 1808, deciding to take no action against Adams.
The men on Tahiti also fared poorly.  They soon divided into two hostile groups, one made up largely of Bligh loyalists who tried to maintain some discipline and order, and the other of debauchers.  One drunkenly murdered another who was then killed by the dead man’s Tahitian friends. At least one “went native” adopting local dress, learning the language and customs, and getting Polynesian tattoos over much of his body.
Meanwhile the Admiralty had dispatched the HMS Pandora, under Captain Edward Edwards, to capture the mutineers and return them to England to stand trial. The ship arrived at Tahiti on  March 23, 1791, and within a few days all 14 surviving Bounty men had either surrendered or been captured.  Edwards made no distinction between loyalists and mutineers, decided to bring them all back in chains to face court martial.  On the return voyage the Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.  In the confusion one escaped with other non-Bounty prisoners and four drowned.  The remaining men were bound for yet another long open boat trip to Coupang.  They reached England on June 19, 1792 and faced court martial in September.
Bligh, who had promised to vouch for the loyal men, was still absent on the second breadfruit expedition.  Testimony included revelations and allegations of Bligh’s behavior that began to swing public sentiment against him.  Even many formerly staunchly supportive Navy officers turned.  Radical Whigs now took up the missing Christian as a hero against tyranny and cast the mutineers along the lines of the liberators of the Bastille.  Tories worried that they would become revolutionary rallying cries. 
At the court martial the testimony of four of the men that they were loyal men detained by Christian went unchallenged and they were acquitted.  Testimony by survivors of Bligh’s open boat went against the others, two of whom maintained their innocence and offered their voluntary surrender to the Pandora as evidence of their good intentions.  But the court found all of the remaining six men guilty and sentenced them to hang with recommendations of mercy for the two men who maintained their innocence.  Those men were ultimately pardoned by King George III.  One of the men obtained a stay of execution and ultimately was reprieved and pardoned.  The remaining three, all common seamen with no family connections and who were too poor for legal representation were hung at Portsmouth on October 28, 1792.  The Whig press charged that “money had bought the lives of some, and others fell sacrifice to their poverty.”
Fletcher Christian’s brother, a prominent jurist, published the proceedings of the court, much of it critical of Bligh along with an Appendix of other accounts that tended to vindicate Fletcher and vilify Bligh.  Bly responded with his own book, long in preparation, A Voyage to the South Sea Undertaken by Command of His Majesty: For the Purpose of Conveying Bread-Fruit Trees to the West Indies.  Although the account of his open boat voyage won back some lost support, Bligh’s reputation was never the same.  In the wake of the Court Martial report and Appendix the Admiralty let Bligh sit on the beach without a command.
Eventually Bligh found enough support to be given a ship.  In the next few years he commanded ever larger and heavier war ships carrying more guns with each new assignment.  In 1796 while in command of the 64 gun HMS Defiant his crew joined in the broad Spithead Mutiny involving 16 ships in protests over the treatment, pay, and conditions of common seamen.  It was more like an industrial strike than a traditional mutiny.  The shocked Royal Navy actually met most demands and promised pardons to the mutineers.
The next year Bligh and the Defiant were at the Nore, an anchorage in the Thames when another mass mutiny broke out.  This one lacked the unity of Spithead and many ships and crews slipped away from the mutineers only to be fired upon by them.  A blockade of London was attempted.  Demands were expanded to include an immediate peace with France—considered proof that the mutineers were republican revolutionaries.  Eventually the mutiny failed when its leader, Richard Parker hoisted a signal for the mutinous ships to sail for France.   This was a step to far toward treason and most ships refused to sail.  The mutiny was crushed by loyal ships and Parker arrested and hung.  29 others were hanged, 29 were imprisoned, and 9 flogged, while others were sentenced to transportation to Australia.
In neither of these mutinies was any action or abuse by Bligh cited as a reason for the insurrection.  He was only peripherally involved at Spithead.  At the Nore when he re-gained control of his ship and crew, he was engaged in action against the mutineer.  But his presence at both mutinies re-enforced the public image of him.
Bligh did enjoy successes, however.  On October 11 the Defiant, back on war sea duty engaged three Dutch ships at the Battle of Camperdown, defeating them, and capturing one prize with the Dutch admiral on board.  In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Bligh and his 56-gun ship of the line HMS Glatton were specifically cited by Admiral Horatio Nelson for a leading part in the victory.

In this pro-rebellion primative painting New South Wales Gov. Bligh is depicted as being arrested by troops while hiding under his bed, something that almost surely did not happen.


In 1805 Bligh’s reputation as a disciplinarian earned him an extraordinary appointmentRoyal Governor of New South Wales with an annual income of £2000, a fortune.  When Bligh arrived in Sydney his old imperiousness, sharp tongue, demand to instant obedience quickly put him at odds with both influential and wealthy local planters and the officers off the New South Wales Corps.  When he attempted to suppress a long established but illegal rum trade by Army officers and key settlers, the 400 soldiers of the New South Wales Corps under the command of Major George Johnston marched on Government House in Sydney and arrested and deposed Bligh.  A rebel government was established.  Bligh sailed on the HMS Porpoise to Hobart in Tasmania seeking support for move to re-assert control.  The authorities there refused to get involved and Bligh was kept a virtual prisoner on the Porpoise for two years.
Finally, in January 1810 he got word from London that the rebellion had been declared illegal and a mutiny.  Bligh returned to Sydney to gather evidence for Johnston’s Court Martial but was never restored to his position.  He returned to England aboard the Porpoise with the new rank of Commodore.  Although Johnston was convicted of mutiny, he was only cashiered from the service and allowed to return to Sydney to resume his lucrative business dealings.  The lightness of the sentence was a slap in the face to Bligh.
He did get further promotions, first to Rear Admiral and then to Vice Admiral of the Blue, but he never again got a significant sea command.  His last duties were preparing navigation charts and making improvements to the sea wall and removal of sand bars in Dublin’s River Liffey—an important but unglamorous assignment.
Bligh died in London on December 17, 1817 at the age of 63 and he was buried in a family plot under a monument capped by a carved breadfruit.

The book that cemented the images of Bligh and Christian.
A few years later Lord Byron portrayed him as a not quite irredeemable villain to Fletcher Christian’s dashing hero in his The Island.  Most subsequent accounts have followed that interpretation.  Most notably Charles Nordhoff’s and James Norman Hall’s 1932 international Best Seller Mutiny on the Bounty.  That became the first of the Bounty Trilogy which also included Men Against the Sea about Bligh’s open boat sail to safety and Pitcairn’s Island.  The Bounty story had already been filmed in a 1916 silent version and in 1933 an Australian dram/documentary hybrid starring the very young Errol Flynn as Christian was released.
But mighty MGM bought the rights to Nordhoff and Hall’s book for their 1933 classic Mutiny on the Bounty staring Charles Laughton as Bligh, Clark Gable as Christian, and Franchot Tone as a midshipman and Christian’s best friend.  Laughton’s Bligh was a memorable ogre and Gable always a hero.   In 1962 the studio revisited the Bounty in a Super Panavision wide screen epic famously starring Marlon Brando as Christian and Trevor Howard as Bligh.  It is best remembered for behind the scenes as Brando hijacked the production, ran up production costs astronomically, and went native involving himself with and eventually marrying his Tahitian leading lady.  The film was a critical and box office flop which nearly killed the most prestigious studio in Hollywood history.

Even today, for most of us Clark Gable and Charles Laughton are Fetcher Christian and William Bligh.
In 1982 a version of the story not based on Nordhoff and Hall’s book was brought to the screen after nearly a decade in development by director David Lean.  The Bounty instead was based on the revisionist Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian by Richard Hough which took a much more sympathetic view of Bligh without excusing him his faults.  It was originally intended to be made into two films, one covering the voyage of the Bounty, Tahitian layover, mutiny, and Christian’s attempt to find safety for his followers and the other on Bligh’s open boat sail.  Lean wanted completely historically accurate film and had a full scale replica of the Bounty constructed even before the script was completed.  Warner Bros., fearing a money-pit disaster like MGM’s second effort, withdrew funding for the film forcing Lean to jam two films into one.  A search for a new backer ended with Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was best known for big, splashy films.  During pre-production the original screen writer, Robert Bolt suffered a stroke and was unable to finish the script, which was finished by journeyman writer and BBC presenter Melvyn Bragg. 
Lean completed the casting including Anthony Hopkins as Bligh, and rising Australian star Mel Gibson as Christian.  Conflicts with De Laurentiis caused Lean, the most acclaimed British director of his generation, to drop out.  Gibson had enough clout with the producer to bring on his friend Roger Donaldson who had no experience on such an epic film.  The production shot on location in Australia, Tahiti, and London was plagued with production problems, especially un-cooperative weather.  But somewhat amazingly, it came in under budget.
The film opened to wildly mixed reviews.  Some praised it for its accuracy and for showing how the Tahitian, far from living as idealic children of nature were exploited and abused by the Bounty crew and mutineers.  They also appreciated showing that Bligh and Christians were friends and started out with an almost father/son relationship that some though had homoerotic undertones.  Other critics found the script a mess and felt that Gibson lacked the charisma of Gable and Brando.   Gibson thought the film was a failure because it was not revisionist enough.  It still tried to cling to Christian as a hero and Bligh as a villain, at least until he redeems himself in the open boat. 
In the old version, Captain Bligh was the bad guy and Fletcher Christian was the good guy. But really Fletcher Christian was a social climber and an opportunist. They should have made him the bad guy, which indeed he was. He ended up setting all these people adrift to die, without any real justification. Maybe he’d gone island crazy. They should have painted it that way. But they wanted to exonerate Captain Bligh while still having the dynamic where the guy was mutinying for the good of the crew. It didn’t quite work.
The film had some success at European film festivals and did moderately well at the box office but was not the blockbuster that De Laurentiis counted on.
And, as Gibson predicted, it was not enough to rescue Bligh from the image of a tyrant still etched in the public mind by the powerful performance of Charles Laughton all those years before.
Here are two of the early poems—Bligh’s apologia and Byron’s Romance—that fixed the story in the public mind.
Captain’s Log - 22.23
27th April  1789 –

How subtle did the harmony of quill,
against this parchment drenched of one disdain,
afford to not subside or whether still,
the crew as one, a nightfall weather vain.

A time when fluid ounce became a quart,
if asked if fury raged when keenest sought,
the splendour being close to chivalry,
forgets the golden rule, “no rivalry” ...

What melody is this when moonlight mesh,
compares with fragrance from the one besides,
inventiveness to steer their wanton fresh
Tahiti's beauty more than makes resides,
enough of this abatement to prowess,
that goods and things like this are duly kept,
but women? Oh, but no I say, have leapt.

Endearing as they are, my eyes have closed,
enough to see for sorrow, their desire,
what innocense there was have I disclosed
the passion of the crew is close to fire!
Delirious a thought attaches stealth,
as mighty as those cargoes found elope,
maintain to course the survey as we’d hope
would honey sweet the rage review one’s wealth? 

Capstan to the turn of wind behind,
sets sail amongst what rapture petals do
those women with their anthers in pursue,
of frolic did intentions seek their kind?

Incredible if blameless few could stay,
delicious even - thinking I, as them
could entertain good fortune with dismay
returning without slender to condemn.

(hesitates)

 ... look back as often will a candid pry,
if all let loose on board the Bounty, high
from issues due to those left fresh deny,
with delicate annoyance.  ~   Captain Bligh.

—William Bligh




Lord Byron.

 
The Island
Canto I
I.
The morning watch was come; the vessel lay
Her course, and gently made her liquid way;
The cloven billow flashed from off her prow
In furrows formed by that majestic plough;
The waters with their world were all before;
Behind, the South Sea's many an islet shore.
The quiet night, now dappling, ‘gan to wane,
Dividing darkness from the dawning main;
The dolphins, not unconscious of the day,
Swam high, as eager of the coming ray;
The stars from broader beams began to creep,
And lift their shining eyelids from the deep;
The sail resumed its lately shadowed white,
And the wind fluttered with a freshening flight;
The purpling Ocean owns the coming Sun,
But ere he break- a deed is to be done.

II.
The gallant Chief within his cabin slept,
Secure in those by whom the watch was kept:
His dreams were of Old England’s welcome shore,
Of toils rewarded, and of dangers o'er;
His name was added to the glorious roll
Of those who search the storm-surrounded Pole.
The worst was over, and the rest seemed sure,
And why should not his slumber be secure?
Alas! his deck was trod by unwilling feet,
And wilder hands would hold the vessel’s sheet;
Young hearts, which languished for some sunny isle,
Where summer years and summer women smile;
Men without country, who, too long estranged,
Had found no native home, or found it changed,
And, half uncivilised, preferred the cave
Of some soft savage to the uncertain wave-
The gushing fruits that nature gave untilled;
The wood without a path- but where they willed;
The field o’er which promiscuous Plenty poured
Her horn; the equal land without a lord;
The wish- which ages have not yet subdued
In man- to have no master save his mood
The earth, whose mine was on its face, unsold,
The glowing sun and produce all its gold;
The Freedom which can call each grot a home;
The general garden, where all steps may roam,
Where Nature owns a nation as her child,
Exulting in the enjoyment of the wild
Their shells, their fruits, the only wealth they know,
Their unexploring navy, the canoe
Their sport, the dashing breakers and the chase;
Their strangest sight, an European face
Such was the country which these strangers yearned
To see again- a sight they dearly earned.

III.
Awake, bold Bligh! the foe is at the gate!
Awake! awake!- Alas! it is too late!
Fiercely beside thy cot the mutineer
Stands, and proclaims the reign of rage and fear.
Thy limbs are bound, the bayonet at thy breast;
The hands, which trembled at thy voice, arrest;
Dragged o'er the deck, no more at thy command
The obedient helm shall veer, the sail expand;
That savage Spirit, which would lull by wrath
Its desperate escape from Duty’s path,
Glares round thee, in the scarce believing eyes
Of those who fear the Chief they sacrifice:
For ne’er can Man his conscience all assuage,
Unless he drain the wine of Passion- Rage.

IV.
In vain, not silenced by the eye of Death,
Thou call’st the loyal with thy menaced breath
They come not; they are few, and, overawed,
Must acquiesce, while sterner hearts applaud.
In vain thou dost demand the cause: a curse
Is all the answer, with the threat of worse.
Full in thine eyes is waved the glittering blade,
Close to thy throat the pointed bayonet laid.
The levelled muskets circle round thy breast
In hands as steeled to do the deadly rest.
Thou dar’st them to their worst, exclaiming- “Fire!”
But they who pitied not could yet admire;
Some lurking remnant of their former awe
Restrained them longer than their broken law;
They would not dip their souls at once in blood,
But left thee to the mercies of the flood.

V.
“Hoist out the boat!” was now the leader’s cry;
And who dare answer “No!” to Mutiny,
In the first dawning of the drunken hour,
The Saturnalia of unhoped-for power?
The boat is lowered with all the haste of hate,
With its slight plank between thee and thy fate;
Her only cargo such a scant supply
As promises the death their hands deny;
And just enough of water and of bread
To keep, some days, the dying from the dead:
Some cordage, canvass, sails, and lines, and twine,
But treasures all to hermits of the brine,
Were added after, to the earnest prayer
Of those who saw no hope, save sea and air;
And last, that trembling vassal of the Pole-
The feeling compass- Navigation’s soul.

VI.
And now the self-elected Chief finds time
To stun the first sensation of his crime,
And raise it in his followers- “Ho! the bowl!”
Lest passion should return to reason’s shoal.
“Brandy for heroes!” Burke could once exclaim-
No doubt a liquid path to Epic fame;
And such the new-born heroes found it here,
And drained the draught with an applauding cheer,
“Huzza! for Otaheite!” was the cry.
How strange such shouts from sons of Mutiny!
The gentle island, and the genial soil,
The friendly hearts, the feasts without a toil,
The courteous manners but from nature caught,
The wealth unhoarded, and the love unbought; sic
Could these have charms for rudest sea-boys, driven
Before the mast by every wind of heaven?
And now, even now prepared with others' woes
To earn mild Virtue’s vain desire, repose?
Alas! such is our nature! all but aim
At the same end by pathways not the same;
Our means- our birth- our nation, and our name,
Our fortune- temper- even our outward frame,
Are far more potent o’er our yielding clay
Than aught we know beyond our little day.
Yet still there whispers the small voice within,
Heard through Gain’s silence, and o’er Glory's din:
Whatever creed be taught, or land be trod,
Man’s conscience is the Oracle of God.

—George Gordon, Lord Byron



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