By Christine Salins
PS News Books
In Bligh’s Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty
By Jennifer Gall (National Library of Australia, $34.95, softcover, 234 pages)
At an auction in London in 1976, the National Library acquired the small leather-bound notebook in which William Bligh recorded his account of being cast adrift with 18 others in a 23-foot boat after a mutiny on the Bounty.
The mutiny led by Fletcher Christian remains, to this day, one of the most gripping tales to have captured people’s imagination.
Numerous films have been made and books written on the subject, but the Library was well-placed to provide a fresh perspective thanks to the prized notebook in its collection.
In Bligh’s Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty uses facsimile pages from the notebook to lead into each of the chapters.
These begin with the mutiny itself and the various protagonists, followed by the amazing voyage of survival as Bligh and 18 of his men undertook their 47-day, 6700km journey from Tonga to Timor.
During the voyage, Bligh wrote daily entries in the notebook, his accounts ranging from the crew’s near-starvation to appalling weather conditions and their fear of attack.
Jennifer Gall draws on these entries to flesh out the character of Bligh, who saved his men’s lives through a relentless regime of rationing and navigational calculations.
Her meticulous research is accompanied by wonderful illustrations that only an institution such as the National Library could source – historical photos, line drawings, maps, paintings, letters and botanical illustrations.
It’s a remarkably rich resource that brings the story to life and provides a valuable adjunct to the facsimile pages from the notebook.
The National Library has produced many great publications in recent years, but I expect this will be one of the most popular, given the enduring interest in the story and the background it provides to one of the Library’s most prized acquisitions.
Bligh’s notebook can be seen online at http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms5393
To find out more about Christine Salins click here.