The Mutiny on the Bounty By Charles Nordhoff and James Hall Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21

Summary

After arriving in Portsmouth, the prisoners are transferred to the H.M.S. Hector. Within an hour, Byam is taken to the captain's cabin, where he is allowed to read a letter from Sir Joseph Banks, who informs him that his mother is dead. Sir Joseph visits Byam a few days later and is excited to learn that Byam's Tahitian transcripts are intact and being kept by the Pandora's doctor. Sir Joseph tells Byam that Bligh has sailed on another journey and that Bligh's sworn deposition is in the hands of the British Admiralty. Before leaving, Sir Joseph promises to find Tinkler, the one living man who can corroborate Byam's testimony.

Ten days pass, and Byam receives a letter from Sir Joseph informing him that Tinkler sailed on a ship headed for the West Indies, and that the ship was lost in a hurricane near the island of Cuba. Sir Joseph has talked to Fryer and some of the other men who sailed in the launch with Bligh, and these men will testify at Byam's trial. Also, Sir Joseph has found an able attorney to represent Byam, a Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham visits Byam and the other men and encourages them not to give up hope. Morrison tells Mr. Graham that he will be representing himself before the tribunal.

Two months pass as the prisoners wait to be called before the court that will decide life or death for them.

Finally, on September 12, the prisoners are transferred aboard the H.M.S. Duke, the ship on which the court-martial trials will be held. The audience at the tribunal includes Sir Joseph Banks, Captain Edwards of the Pandora, Dr. Hamilton of the Pandora, and the officers of the ill-fated Bounty. The sworn deposition of Captain William Bligh is read before the court, and, in it, Bligh accuses Byam of mutiny-based on Byam's statement the night preceding the mutiny: "You can count on me." This he said to Christian, to which Christian replied, "Good! That's settled, then."

John Fryer is called to testify before the tribunal. Fryer relates to the court the events leading up to the mutiny as best he knows. Fryer recalls that he asked Christian if Byam had any part in the mutiny, and Christian said that Byam did not. The prisoners are then allowed to question Fryer. Byam asks Fryer if he heard any of the conversation that Byam and Christian had the night preceding the mutiny, to which Fryer responds, "No." Byam also asks Fryer if he would have included Byam in a plan to retake the Bounty, to which Fryer responds that he would have.

Mr. Cole, the Bounty's boatswain, is called to testify. His testimony is very unfavorable for Ellison, but unimportant to Byam's case. Cole's testimony helps Morrison's case the most. Cole points out that Morrison played absolutely no role in the mutiny and that, in fact, Morrison helped Bligh and Bligh's followers into the launch.

The court adjourns for the day, and the prisoners are taken back to the Hector, where Mr. Graham consults with Byam and asserts his belief that Byam is innocent of the mutiny.

Analysis

After the presentation of such horrible sea captains as Captain Bligh and Captain Edwards, we are suddenly and favorably exposed to a humanitarian captain in the person of Montague, captain of the Hector, who seems to be genuinely concerned about Byam's welfare, and, even more important, who treats Byam as though Byam were innocent rather than as an already-convicted felon.

Likewise, we again meet another good humanitarian in the person of Sir Joseph Banks, who fortunately holds an influential position as president of the Royal Society. He never loses his faith in Byam's honesty and integrity. While being sympathetic to Byam's predicament, Sir Joseph's comments about the case allow both the reader and Byam to realize fully, for the first time, the ultimate seriousness of Byam's position. That is, two of the people who can confirm Byam's story — Nelson and Norton — are dead, and another, Tinkler, is missing and presumed dead. Byam's position seems even worse because of the severity of sea law (see Chapter 2). Any person who "stands neuter is considered an offender along with the person who actually lifts his hand against the captain." This law will, of course, condemn Ellison to death because not only did he not oppose the mutiny, but in his youthful exuberance, he delighted in waving a bayonet under Captain Bligh's nose.

In Chapter 21 and, ultimately, throughout the trial, we see many things which Byam can never forgive Bligh for doing. These include the unnecessarily cruel letter which Bligh wrote to Byam's mother, and Bligh's injustice to some of the men whom Bligh knows to be innocent. In view of the innocence of some of the men, Bligh's duplicity and vengeance are further illuminated since Bligh knew full well that such men as Coleman, Norman, and McIntosh desired to go with him but were forcibly restrained by the mutineers. "The barest justice demanded that he [Bligh] should have acknowledged their innocence, yet he made no distinction between them and the guiltiest members of Christian's party." This injustice Byam cannot comprehend.

In any court of law except a military court-martial, Mr. Fryer's testimony would probably provide ample evidence to clear Byam. Mr. Fryer — a man whose integrity and loyalty cannot be doubted — testifies that Byam had "no hand in this business." Later, Fryer repeats that Byam's actions were performed in order to assist Captain Bligh, and Byam, in cross-examining Fryer, reconfirms that he had no part whatsoever in the mutiny. And yet, all of the testimony in favor of Byam will be of no consequence in the face of the now-famous Captain Bligh's vindictively sworn statement.

Glossary

tacked to change the course of a sailing ship, or boat.

four cutlasses four short, heavy, slightly curved swords.

binnacle the stand that houses a ship's compass.

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