Summary and Analysis
After a month's delay due to bad weather, the Bounty sets out to sea on the twenty-third of December. During that time, young Byam is taught trigonometry, nautical astrology, and navigation, along with two of his fellow midshipmen: George Stewart, a seaman who has made other voyages before his current stint on the Bounty, and Edward Young. Others on board are also introduced to the reader: Mr. Nelson, the botanist, who will care for the young breadfruit trees; Hallet, a sickly looking boy of fifteen; Tinkler, fourteen years old and a good friend of Byam's throughout the voyage; and Hayward, one of Byam's berth-mates. Hayward feels superior to Byam because this is Byam's first voyage at sea and Hayward's second. Thomas Ellison is the mess boy for Byam and his berth-mates.
Food and drink are abundant at the beginning of the voyage, with each man receiving a gallon of beer daily, but during a heavy storm, many casks are lost, and the men must be content with wine. Also damaged during the storm is a large portion of the bread, which was stored below deck.
The island of Teneriffe is sighted on the fourth of January, and for five days, the Bounty lies anchored there. Captain Bligh refuses shore leave for the men and also stops the allowance of salt beef. Instead, he substitutes very low-grade fresh beef obtained from the island. Both of these actions cause grumbling among the men. They say that they would rather eat nothing at all than the "fresh beef" which they suspect is cut from the carcasses of dead horses. As a result, most of the meat is thrown overboard.
After setting sail from Teneriffe, Bligh divides the men into three watches, putting Fletcher Christian in charge of the third watch. (This fact will be of importance later on in the novel when Bligh remembers seeing Christian and Byam talking secretly; Bligh will imagine that they are plotting mutiny.) As head of the third watch, Christian becomes a lieutenant and second-in-command of the ship, much to the dissatisfaction of his former superior, Master Fryer, who now must take orders from Christian.
Bligh informs the men that because of the uncertainty of the length of the voyage, the allowance of bread will be cut by one-third. The food given the men during the Bounty's voyage is handed out by Mr. Samuel, Bligh's clerk, who regularly keeps back a portion which is due for the men for himself and Bligh. The men are not ignorant of this cheating; they know that they are being robbed of what is rightfully theirs, and, as a result, there is more grumbling among them.
Being a captain who knows every detail of his ship, Bligh announces that fifty pounds of cheese is missing, and he accuses the men of having stolen it. Hillbrandt, the cooper, reminds Bligh that he himself ordered the cheese to be taken ashore to Bligh's house before the Bounty left port. Bligh calls him an "insolent scoundrel" and demands that Mr. Samuel stop the men's allowance of cheese — and the officers' allowance, as well. Everyone, especially the officers, are taken aback by this order.
Very soon into the voyage, the provisions obtained before the Bounty set sail begin to dwindle. The remaining bread is infested with maggots, and the small amount of salt beef aboard is so hard that Alexander Smith, one of the able seaman, carves a snuffbox for the surgeon out of it. The dissatisfaction of the men — and the officers — continues to grow.
Bligh invites Byam to dine with him, along with Fryer and Christian, his usual guests. The conversation turns to the flogging of Thomas Burkitt, on the preceding day. Bligh stresses the need for severity when dealing with the men, while Christian offers the suggestion that a little kindness might do just as well. Christian's suggestion is scoffed at by Bligh, who damns all the men aboard the Bounty. Byam perceives that Fryer dislikes the captain because of the cheese incident and that Christian, too, has contempt for the captain. The meal is anything but congenial.
Following Bligh's orders, Samuel begins to distribute pumpkins, which were obtained on the island of Teneriffe, in place of bread. The men feel that this is unfair, and Bligh, hearing of the men's discontent, threatens them, shouting, "I'll make you eat grass before I've done with you!" The men cease their grumbling, but the officers continue to talk among themselves about their continual state of hunger. Meanwhile, Bligh and his clerk continue to pilfer the ship's rations.
The Bounty reaches the coast of Brazil and stands becalmed due to the wind. The men spend their time wishing for a way to supplement their scant rations. John Mills, the gunner's mate, catches a shark and is rationing it between the men when Samuel tells Mills that a piece of the shark must be provided for the captain's table. Mills throws a chunk at Samuel, hitting him in the face, and leaves the deck. As a result, Mills is ordered by Bligh to spend the night in irons and is flogged with 36 lashes the following day.
Captain Bligh decides to steer for the Cape of Good Hope. Fine weather helps the spirits of the men on board, and they begin to play pranks on each other. But their fun and games is quelled when Tinkler, playing a card game late at night (when all the men are supposed to be in their bunks) gets caught by Bligh and is sent to the top of the main masthead.
Fearful that Tinkler is dying aloft, Christian climbs the mast in the morning and helps Tinkler down to the deck. Blue and stiff with cold, Tinkler is taken to the surgeon, who gives him spoonfuls of rum to revive him.
On the twenty-third of May, the Bounty drops anchor near Cape Town and stays there for a month before continuing its voyage, reaching Adventure Bay on the twentieth of August, when they stop for water and saw planks from the local timber.
Purcell, the carpenter, is instructed by Bligh to fell large eucalyptus trees for the planks, but after inspecting the quality of the trees, Purcell tells Norman and McIntosh, his mates, to cut down certain smaller trees of a different kind. When Bligh arrives to inspect the work, Purcell gets a verbal lashing by the captain because he did not follow the captain's exact orders. When Purcell tries to explain why he chose the smaller trees instead of the larger ones, Bligh calls him "a mutinous old bastard" and orders him to the ship to spend fifteen days in irons.
Wrangling and discontent continue among the men because of the scant food available, while Bligh meantime feasts on wild duck. During the stay in the bay, Dick Skinner sees a hollow log with bees swarming around it and believes that he can get some honey. He gets lost in the woods while looking for more honey, and his comrade Young is blamed for this misadventure. He receives 12 lashes while strapped to a gun on the quarterdeck. Skinner receives 24 lashes for getting lost.
On the fourth of September, the Bounty sets sail and enters the South Sea seven weeks later, its crew miserable because of an outbreak of scurvy and a constant state of starvation. Byam sorts through his chest, anticipating trading with the Indians of Tahiti so that they can help him formulate his dictionary.
Captain Bligh asks Fryer, the master, to sign his name to an inventory list of what stores have been expended on the voyage thus far, but Fryer refuses because of discrepancies of the amount of beef and pork that have been issued to the men. Bligh calls all the men together on deck and orders Fryer to sign. Fryer signs the document, but not before saying to Bligh that "the ship's people will bear witness that I sign in obedience to your orders, but please to recollect, sir, that this matter may be reopened later on."
Tahiti is sighted in the foreground.
As noted previously, Chapter 3 emphasizes the crowded conditions that the men must live under, conditions that will impair not only their physical existence, but their mental health as well. Chapter 3 also emphasizes the fact that the men aboard the Bounty are all first-rate men. The officers and the midshipmen are either "men of good birth" or "first-rate seamen and navigators." Likewise, the able seamen are among the best seamen that any captain might obtain. Historically speaking, on such a mission as the Bounty's, the seamen would normally not be a quality crew; they would be "impressed" into duty from jails and low-class taverns — in short, they would be the "scum of the sea." Therefore, we should remember that the mutiny will not be carried out by low-class criminals but, instead, by highly respected seamen who were pushed beyond the point of endurance.
In contrast to the other characters on board ship is the surgeon who, because of his wooden leg and his penchant for alcoholic beverage, is a comic figure, functioning mainly as comic relief in the movie versions of this novel.
Chapter 3 begins to plant the "seeds of discontent" that will later lead to the mutiny. We should always remember that there is not a single cause for the mutiny; instead, there is a multiplicity of causes that culminate in the mutiny. For example, at the first stop, Teneria, the crew's allotment of salt beef is replaced by fresh beef that is too foul to eat. A short time later, the crew discovers that Captain Bligh, in collusion with his clerk, Mr. Samuel, is deliberately withholding supplies from the crew in order to increase their own hoard. This is illustrated by the fifty pounds of cheese that Captain Bligh maintains was stolen. The members of the crew know that the cheese was taken to Bligh's home before the voyage began. This type of "smallness of mind" and "meanness" turn the men against Bligh. It is even rumored that some of the so-called fresh meat might be from indentured slave laborers, thus introducing the repugnant subject of cannibalism, a perversion particularly repellent to the crew members.
The terrible condition of the food is humorously illustrated at the end of Chapter 3, when one of the able seamen carves what seems to be a little wooden box. The substance that he is carving from turns out to be a tough piece of meat — a sample of the meat which the men are supposed to eat.
Chapter 4 is aptly titled "Tyranny" because it reveals Bligh to be a complete and irrational tyrant. From the very beginning of the voyage, Bligh can find nothing good to say about anyone on the ship. His neuroticism causes him to believe that the only way to control the men is by frequent threats of extreme punishment. He refuses even to consider Fletcher Christian's point of view that some Englishmen are best controlled by kindness.
The episode of the pumpkins, which are given out to replace the spoiled bread, is additional proof of Bligh's tyranny over the men. Once more, we see an illustration of the severity of "sea law." Bligh tells the men, "I am the only judge of what is right and wrong. . . . The first man to complain from now on will be seized up and flogged." The men know that there will be no redress from Bligh's harsh discipline until the end of the voyage.
Other examples of Bligh's irrational behavior and inhuman treatment of his men include Mills' flogging because of the fresh shark incident, Tinkler's being sent to the masthead because of a boyish prank at night, Purcell's punishment because he chose different trees for the planks than those chosen by Bligh, Skinner's extreme punishment for inadvertently getting lost, and Young's unjust punishment for having been in charge of the honey-gathering expedition.
old-style Navy salt an experienced sailor.
the bos'n's whistle the boatswain's whistle.
grog watered-down rum.
duff a stiff, spicy pudding.
adze a heavy, curved tool for dressing timbers.
snuggery a snug, cozy, private room.
purser the officer aboard ship in charge of money.
the cooper the person who repairs casks and barrels.
squalls sudden, violent gusts of rain and strong wind.
hove-to to bring a ship to a standstill without anchoring.
firked whacked, or smacked.
a fortnight a period of two weeks.
a fowling piece a light gun used for shooting birds.
scurvy a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, characterized by swollen, bleeding gums, livid spots, and prostration.