A Wreck, Possibly Related to ‘Longships Lighthouse, Land’s End’, J.M.W. Turner

James Morrison, Bounty’s boatswain’s mate, an Outer Hebrides man convinced of his innocence but by circumstance a mutineer, chooses to remain in Tahiti when the hard core crew sails away with provisions, livestock, and some Tahitian men and women to scout the coordinated Pacific in search of a repercussion-proof hideaway.  Unlike most of his fellow original anti-authoritarians he has a plan.  He will design and build a seaworthy boat.

With escape to the Americas in mind he pledges two others to secrecy, using locals for labouring assistance, diplomatic, saying the boat will be for their leisure, sailing around the picturesque islands.  This group respects Morrison, their leader in prayers who sports the Order of the Garter tattooed in Latin around his thigh, his views unorthodox.  He conjoins carpentry, coopering, and metalworking skills from this new mixed beach community but lacks a shipwright’s instructions, Fletcher Christian commandeering most of Bligh’s books and charts.  Morrison covets one particular book owned by an illiterate, the murderous Thompson, part of his share when they divided their spoils after the riddance of Bligh.  Trading alcohol, a hatchet, and words, Morrison wheedles Moore’s The Practical Navigator & Seaman’s Daily Assistant from him.

Scrounging, inventing new tools, material, and methods, it takes seven months without traditional English timbers, oak, elm, and pine, using ironwood, hibiscus, and chestnut, with, of all things, a mast of breadfruit wood.  Morrison is at pains not to present as owner or captain of this thirty-one foot, eighteen ton vessel he loves that also captivates the Tahitians whose canoes are their deserved pride.  Saluting that dead icon of Tahitians, Cook, he names the clinkered half-decked craft Resolution.

This island society is far from idyllic.  Some mutineers are violent towards Tahitians.  They rape and murder, take sides, switch.  Bribery and kidnapping are rife.  Reprisals flare up.  Aboard Resolution, their horizon broken by jagged counterscarps, these mercenaries who play politics brag their way from another barbecue, adding exotica and firepower, to ambush a rival faction.  An outrigger cuts through rimpled water to deliver news.  Silhouetted against the sky loom the ascendant masts of outraged British Naval vengeance, Morrison’s clever hope expired, tribulation, trial, ahead for his still beating heart under all the glittering stars, days and nights he shall remember and write down.

Wind spills from these knaves’ makeshift replacement sails.  Seizing the moment, natives cross the deck to wrest weapons and status in this arc of hubris, even plonking some protesting ragtag outlaws into the brine where they flail, helpless without their boat, absurdly beyond what should be their element.

Resolution starts afresh with a new name, Matavy, skeltering the North American coast of Morrison’s dreams, and Fiji’s archipelago where Bligh was leery of heaving to in the launch lest they emulate Cook as the major ingredient of a hotpot’s recipe.  Matavy also breaks a speed record in the China Sea, outlasting most of the cast of this marine melodrama, their roles, great and small, fragmentary glimpses reeling across history’s stage, vignettes within a super tale that could underpin a movie franchise.