THE JOURNAL OF FLETCHER CHRISTIAN:

TOGETHER WITH THE HISTORY OF HENRY CORKILL

 

Extract from The Journal of Fletcher Christian

Pitcairn's Island, 15 January 1790

The sea is in my blood and in my bones, and more than once I have thought that the sea might be where my bones would rest. From the first day I went to sea, aboard HMS Eurydice, bound for the Far East, I resolved always to be a gentleman. No easy resolution I found, for within days I discovered how a sailor's life differs from all others and the obstacles that are placed in the way of gentlemanly behaviour - principally the character of the master of the vessel. In my experience this applies, whatever trade the vessel may be engaged in and whatever character he may bear to the world at large. Put a man in charge of a small world and the chances are he will, at least once in the course of a voyage, play the Emperor.

I experienced something of this myself as the de jure commander of HMS Bounty, being forced to play the tyrant to keep order. But a good captain can keep to a minimum the damage occasioned by such acts of authority if he will but observe one rule: let him never draw too close to any one of his minions nor ever play favourites. For such will surely bring havoc down upon heads. Men's heads, like their pricks, are ruled by pride, and in both instances pride is a source of both power and joy and incapacitating weakness, as I have all too much reason to know.

And now I have come to dwell on Pitcairn's Island in the South Seas with some members of Bounty's crew and a number of natives; some volunteers, some pressed. Although I am addressed as 'Mr Christian' by most of the whites and as 'Titreano' by all the natives, I have no legitimate authority now that the ship is no more. Such authority as I have will soon diminish as our lives take shape here and I can no more predict what will happen to us than I could have forseen the events that brought us here, where no man has trod for many generations.

I was never a great one for reading newspapers or listening out for the latest gossip on this and that, but I confess I have a powerful curiosity to know how the news of the mutiny on Bounty will be received at home. Of course, all will depend on the bringer of the news. Should B-- (I cannot bring myself to write his damned name) encounter a vessel at sea, make a safe landing on an island and be picked up or even make his way to Botany Bay where a convict fleet is headed, and be the messenger, my name will be blackened forever. Should it transpire that B-- and his companions are lost and the news comes from those we left behind at Otaheite, the case could be different. Fruitless to speculate.

My account, I fear, will never be told in person. At least I hope not, for if I am discovered here I will surely choke at the end of rope. I hope to die here, full of years, with my children around me and my good name intact, at least as far as it is known on these few square miles. And yet, I begin this journal, not to acquit myself of mutiny, of which I am surely guilty, nor to justify my actions, but to explain how it all came about. As I have intimated, I expect to die here and this account can assume, though in long anticipation of that event, the character of a dying testament. A melancholy thought, one such as has been a plague to me in the past and no doubt awaits me still. For I have dark moods and angry spells and am not always in charge of my passions. Indeed my spirits can soar to heights of joy from the pit of despair with the hour.

But pride rises to the surface once more. I would leave behind my life in words, so that a child, a grandchild or a later yet fruit of these loins, might know something of whence he comes and how he assumes the character he has. For in my mind's eye I see him as brown-skinned as his mother, and sturdy, like an Englishman, or rather a Manxman. Here on this rocky island, I am compelled to view myself as an islander from the start - born of those Norsemen who occupied the Isle of Man - to the finish.

I am under canvas scratching, with a sea chest as a desk, and a candle for light, but in time we will have palm leaf roofs and wooden furniture and oil lamps. We will, with our own hands and hearts, begin in a small way a new chapter in the story of man's movement across this mighty world. I am suddenly filled with hope. I trust it lasts. I fancy the keeping of this journal will buoy my spirits. Apart from my midshipman's logs, which merely record details of the ship's progress and the weather with few other remarks, I have never essayed such a writing as this. I will have to recall conversations and describe scenes which are fresh in my memory but perhaps erroneous in detail. I will do my best to be accurate, but as a keen reader of the works of Squire Fielding and Mr Smollett, I may be tempted to embellish my account. What does it matter? I write for my own peace of mind as much as for the reasons I have stated above. I lay down my pen knowing I have a hundred tasks before me, but resolved to continue, as time permits, my tale, for in truth I believe it to be one of the most curious since the world began.

A fascinating and brilliantly told tale of rollicking ship life and the seductive charm of the Pacific.

While researching his family ancestry, historian Peter Corris discovers a Manx connection to history's most famous mutineer, Fletcher Christian. Years later a mysterious parcel addressed to Corris arrives, containing two old journals. The first, an intimate and adventurous chronicle of American Henry Corkill's life at sea, is inextricably bound through history and blood to the second - that of Fletcher Christian, acting lieutenant on the Bounty and English rebel. Translated from eighteenth century Manx, Christian's journal reveals the dark and violent history of the mutiny and the fateful beginnings of Pitcairn Island.

Binding together three lives, two histories and a fractured world of new - and old - cultures, The Journal of Fletcher Christian is a riveting tale of men and madness, and a dazzling work of the imagination.