Fan­tas­tic voy­ages

AN­DREW DIL­LEY en­joys a new ac­count of the mutiny on the Bounty and a dar­ing es­cape from Aus­tralia’s Botany Bay pe­nal colony

BBC History Magazine - - Books / Reviews - Dr An­drew Dil­ley spe­cialises in Bri­tish im­pe­rial his­tory at the Univer­sity of Aberdeen

Par­adise in Chains by Di­ana Pre­ston Blooms­bury, 352 pages, £25

Ever since Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan’s voy­age across the Pa­cific in 1520-21, the vast ocean has beguiled Euro­pean imag­i­na­tions. How­ever for the next two cen­turies, the ocean llarge­lyl re­tained its mys­tery. All that changed in the mid-18th cen­tury, thanks to im­proved ships, as well as ad­vances in medicine and nav­i­ga­tion. Knowl­edge of the Pa­cific ex­ploded with the voy­ages of nav­i­ga­tors such as Sa­muel Wal­lis, Louis De Bougainville and James Cook.

Par­adise in Chains of­fers a ship­shape ad­di­tion to a flotilla of books on Pa­cific mar­itime his­tory, nar­rat­ing two cru­cial early Bri­tish en­deav­ours and the sub­se­quent ex­plo­sive in­tru­sion of Euro­pean ac­tiv­ity: the es­tab­lish­ment of the con­vict colony in New South Wales, and the mis­sion of the HMS Bounty to trans­port bread­fruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. Di­ana Pre­ston neatly places each story side by side, breath­ing life into a vast cast in a his­tory fo­cus­ing on peo­ple. Two char­ac­ters par­tic­u­larly draw Pre­ston’s gaze. On the Bounty, the spot­light falls on Cap­tain Bligh, who emerges as able yet deeply flawed – dili­gent and a bril­liant nav­i­ga­tor, but ob­sessed with sta­tus and prof­i­teer­ing, and un­able to re­strain a harsh tongue. That clearly con­trib­uted to the fa­mous mutiny led by Fletcher Chris­tian.

Pre­ston also draws at­ten­tion to the enig­matic fig­ure of Mary Broad, one of an all-fe­male band of Cor­nish high­way rob­bers sen­tenced to trans­porta­tion. She mar­ried fel­low pris­oner William Bryant, and they sub­se­quently led an es­cape by boat from Botany Bay with fel­low con-

victs and their two chil­dren, sail­ing to the Dutch East Indies in a feat of nav­i­ga­tion as re­mark­able as Bligh’s.

Pre­ston charts th­ese sto­ries and more. Her lively ac­count nicely cap­tures the sheer ad­ven­ture and achieve­ment of th­ese episodes, along with the ex­otic, if at times in­salu­bri­ous, ap­peal of the Pa­cific to 18th-cen­tury Euro­peans. She is also alive to the pe­riod’s at­ten­dant vi­o­lence, sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, phys­i­cal de­pri­va­tion and dis­ease, and the suf­fer­ings of Pa­cific is­lan­ders, abo­rig­i­nals and con­victs.

In sum, this is a fun­da­men­tally hu­man and read­able ad­di­tion to the books on the Euro­pean in­cur­sion into the Pa­cific.

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