Summary and Analysis
Byam goes to see Sir Joseph, who is in the company of Captain Montague, and he informs the two men that he intends to return to the South Sea and to the island of Tahiti. Sir Joseph urges Byam not to return to Tahiti, and Captain Montague tells him that he wants him to sail with him on the Hector's next voyage. Byam promises to think the matter over. Sir Joseph then asks Byam if he knows where Christian sailed to after the mutiny, and Byam assures him that he has no idea where Christian was headed, except that Christian's final destination point was an uninhabited island.
Byam reluctantly decides that it is time to return to his family home, Withycombe, and so he hires a coach for the journey. While residing at Withycombe, Byam realizes that his roots are in England — not in Tahiti. He informs Captain Montague and Sir Joseph that he is willing to sail with the captain aboard the Hector.
Byam then recounts the events that happened after joining Captain Montague, when the Hector was sent to battle against the Dutch. Later, Byam was made captain of a small frigate and received orders to set sail for the South Sea. He recounts the fate of Captain Bligh, how Bligh was made governor of New South Wales, and how some men on the island mutinied against him.
Byam and his small frigate sailed to the South Sea and made a stop at New South Wales, where Byam went ashore to talk to the current leader of the island, one of the island mutineers. Bligh was being held under house arrest until a ship from England sailed to the island to return Bligh to England for a trial of misconduct.
From New South Wales, Byam sailed to Tahiti, where he went ashore and learned that Hitihiti, as well as Byam's wife, Tehani, had died. An old man on the island took Byam to see his daughter, Helen, now grown. Byam met the woman but refrained from telling her that he was her father. The novel closes with Byam contemplating the events of his life and the beauty of Tahiti before returning to his ship.
The last two chapters of the novel present the conflict in Byam's soul between his strong desire to return to Tahiti and his friends' argument that he must stay in England and restore the Byam name to its former honor. Even Sir Joseph understands Byam's reluctance to return to the sea; after all, he was in irons in a smelly "hell hole," imprisoned for a long period of time, tried for mutiny and sentenced to death, all unjustly — all because of "sea law" — reason enough for any man to reject having anything to do with naval officers again. However, such people as Captain Montague, who represents the very best that the British navy can offer, stands as a shining example to Byam that more humane people are needed to serve England if she is to become the great colonial power that she seems destined to be. Stereotypes such as Captain Bligh and Captain Edwards should be replaced by men such as Captain Montague.
Not until Byam returns to his home soil, however, does he realize that his roots, like those of his ancestors, are deeply embedded in the values of Western Civilization — in England, in particular — and not in the South Sea.
The Epilogue, as the title indicates, adds nothing to the novel; it simply concludes the story. We hear interesting accounts, such as the West Indies mutiny against Captain Bligh, accusing him of a tyrannical misuse of power, and we also learn that Byam returns to Tahiti, that Tehani is dead, their daughter grown, and that the island has been plagued by missionaries, war, and disease — all of which have destroyed four-fifths of the population. The novel ends with Byam gazing at his granddaughter before departing forever from Tahiti.
saving yourself besides yourself.
the portico a columned porch.
men at the sweeps men at the large oars.
chirrup to make a series of chirps or trilling sounds.
the antipodean on the opposite side of the world.
the sinnet a braided cordage made in a flat or round or square form from 3 to 9 cords.