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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It occurs to Ol’ Robbo that it’s been a long while since he posted random bits from the Before Times here. Perhaps it’s a good idea to pick up the habit again before they’re disappeared forever.

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1754, of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, surely one of the most unjustly-maligned figures in popular culture. Even many of those who have never seen “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) nor heard of Charles Laughton have the idea in their heads that Bligh was an unhinged tyrant. Well, he wasn’t. A disciplinarian, yes. A man with a temper, yes. Perhaps not endowed with what are now known as “communication skills”, yes. But an unhinged tyrant? No. And he was a damned good sailor, too.

Not too long ago, Ol’ Robbo re-watched “The Bounty” (1984), with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian. It does a much better job of probing into the actual causes of the Mutiny. (And as an aside, Patrick O’Brian also deals very well with Bligh in the Aubrey/Maturin novel Desolation Island, discussing not only the Mutiny itself and Bligh’s remarkable voyage after being cast adrift, but also the reasons for the rebellion against him by the local cabal of grifters when he was Governor of Australia.)

Funny enough, though, I prefer the older movie as a movie: Laughton plays Bligh as a cartoon villain, but he’s so much fun to watch that I am able to swallow my outraged historickal sensibilities. On the other hand, the more recent film comes over as rayther flat to me, despite its attention to period detail and gorgeous cinematography. Go figure.

UPDATE: Oh, if you’re interested in a real historickal lunatic who had no biznay commanding a ship, read up on the mutiny of the crew of H.M.S. Hermione in 1797 against Captain Hugh Pigot. Dudley Pope’s The Black Ship is an excellent source for this.


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September 2021