Seascape with Distant Coast, J.M.W. Turner

After the irreparable rent they ripped in the fabric of Royal Naval discipline chattering mutineers turn their hands to tailoring sailcloth into uniforms fit for officers. Given the natives’ respect for status, does this now skeleton crew of twenty-four conduct an exercise in pragmatism remembering sacrificial bones, or a symbolic unshackling? Elsewhere, liberty, equality, and fraternity shall become this decade’s catchphrase. They parade, preen, like royalty.

Were these radicals not personae non grata their now considerable collection of artefacts would attract flash Greenwich prices. After dividing their spoils ceremoniously the loneliness of the forever hunted endlessly circling enchanted yet dangerous isles shall invade their visions of the future, stealing bright days, wind cracking the rigging, haunting where hammocks sway.

Fletcher, facing the responsibility of command – alone in agony on a wide, wide sea like an ancient mariner? – spreads Bligh’s maps, books, etc., a crash course in speed reading, eerie remembered conch calls leading him and his crew whose respect is only for expertise, ever towards betrayal. In the chill spray of star-blazed nights does optimism waver?

Tahiti’s draped lush mountain slopes now no place to hide, he scours the charted Pacific dreaming of a fortress eclipsing the sun on the horizon where goats, pigs, run free and mutineers bend to their husbandry tending their individual plots, red necks bared, solid, though recent, landowners, having traded up their labour.

Fletcher understands the limits of human endurance but understanding the future is infinitely trickier. A legacy wafts shipboard, the miasma of mistrust, also another stowaway, violence. Sexual jealousy looms, and that olden tinder, the fermentation of grog, when Bligh’s Canary wine is finished. Tahitians learn English, language and ways. They already know that most English of crimes, murder.

Pitcairn, no beaches, unlike Tahiti, mostly sheer cliffs incorrectly charted isolated landfall in a misnamed ocean where that eternal symbol of hope, a baby, shall be borne ashore by barrel through its hazardous entrance, awaits. That child’s first land journey there, The Hill of Difficulty, a torturous uphill slog for those hopefuls, shall represent progress but downfall is not yet done.