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