The Mutiny on the Bounty By Charles Nordhoff and James Hall Summary and Analysis Chapters 22-23

Summary

The court-martial is reconvened aboard the Duke, and William Peckover, the gunner of the Bounty, is called to the stand. Morrison questions Peckover after the court is finished with its examination, and Peckover testifies that he never once saw Morrison under arms and that Morrison did everything in his power to see that the launch had provisions and much-needed articles.

Purcell, the carpenter, is next called to the stand and testifies that it was Byam who persuaded Christian to give Bligh the Bounty's launch instead of the cutter, which was in bad repair. Purcell asserts that Byam is definitely innocent of all charges against him. Purcell affirms the court's question of whether Purcell believes that Christian would have told Byam of his plan to seize the Bounty, considering the fact that Byam was Christian's closest friend aboard the ship. Purcell, under questioning by Byam, describes the condition of the launch, how its edges were barely above water, and confirms that this is why Byam and some of the other men were not allowed to board the launch.

The following morning, Thomas Hayward gives his testimony. He relates the events leading up to the mutiny, and his testimony is very unfavorable for Byam's case. Hayward maintains that Byam would not have joined Bligh in the launch even if he had been given the chance to do so.

John Hallet, called to the stand next, relates to the court that, at one point, Byam was standing by Bligh (who was bound), laughed in Bligh's face, and walked away. Hallet maintains further that Morrison was one of the mutineers and that he brandished a musket after the mutiny occurred.

John Smith, the only one of the Bounty's seamen to testify at the court-martial, is called to the stand, but he relates nothing of importance concerning Byam, Morrison, or any of the other prisoners. This concludes the evidence provided to the court by members of the Bounty. Captain Edwards and the lieutenants of the Pandora are next called upon to testify about the Pandora's journey after leaving Tahiti. Edwards testifies that Byam and the other men gave themselves up voluntarily by rowing out to meet the Pandora and identified themselves immediately. The court adjourns in anticipation of hearing the testimony of the prisoners the following day.

Coleman is the first to testify in his own behalf, and the questions that he asks of the other prisoners, as well as his own statements, leave no doubt that he will be acquitted. The court adjourns for the day.

When the court convenes Monday morning, Byam presents his defense. He reads a passionate statement concerning his innocence and relates to the court the circumstances and events leading up to the mutiny. Byam calls John Fryer to the stand, and, in an attempt to discredit the testimony of Hayward and Hallet (given earlier), he questions Fryer about the emotional condition of the two men at the time of the mutiny. Fryer does so and also relates to the court what Bligh said about Byam after the launch had been set adrift.

Byam then proceeds to question Cole, Purcell, and Peckover, hoping that they will confirm that Tinkler overheard the conversation between Christian and Byam, and that the conversation had nothing whatsoever to do with the mutiny, but the three men cannot confirm Byam's testimony. Peckover does, however, remember having talked to Norton the night before the mutiny, and he also recalls that Norton was engaged in building what Peckover thought might have been a raft, but Peckover is unable to verify Byam's assertion that the raft was being built for Christian's use.

Morrison is called next to present his defense. His testimony goes very well, and he is even able to get Hayward and Hallet to admit that they might have been mistaken when they testified that they had seen him under arms.

Norman, McIntosh, and Byrne (the half-blind seaman) testify next, and it is clearly established that they are innocent of the charge of mutiny against the Bounty. Burkitt, Millward, and Muspratt take the stand in their own behalf, and it is evident that the first two played an active role in the mutiny. Ellison follows these three men with his brief statement.

The court adjourns and the prisoners are taken back to the Hector to await the court's verdict.

Analysis

These chapters are arranged around the basic drama of courtroom testimony; the outcome of the trial is pre-determined, except that we, as modern readers, know of Byam's innocence and expect that he will receive an acquittal of all charges. It is only when we look back and consider the sternness and absolute rigidity of naval courts and the authoritarian despotism of a captain at that time in history, do we then realize that Bligh's condemning statement as to the guilt of Byam and the other prisoners supersedes any other considerations.

Ironically, both chapters present further evidence of Byam's innocence. For example, Purcell, who hated Bligh as much as anyone on board the Bounty, testifies strongly in Byam's behalf, and he likewise maintains that Christian was not a person to reveal his thoughts to another person; consequently, Byam would know nothing of Christian's plans. Even the negative criticism offered by Hayward and Hallet is not convincing because their testimonies are given so as to conceal the fact that they were thoroughly terrified throughout the entire mutiny and reluctantly joined Bligh.

John Hallet's testimony can be readily dismissed by the reader because Byam knows of Hallet's sucking sycophantism. For example, in Chapter 8, Byam caught Hallet betraying a fellow crewman and called him a "little swine" and a "contemptible little sneak." Now, however, this is Hallet's chance for revenge, an opportunity to protect himself from the possibility that his cowardice might be revealed.

In Chapter 23, Byam makes his defense and selectively makes his cross-examinations, a defense which to the modern reader proves his innocence. For example, Byam does not even bother to cross-examine Hallet; instead, he questions Mr. Fryer about Hallet's actions during the mutiny so that Fryer's testimony will undermine Hallet's.

Glossary

the taffrail the rail around the stern (the back) of a ship.

like the thrust of a rapier like the thrust of a small sword having a narrow blade, used for thrusting and slashing.

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