They have been together on this voyage |
almost two years, each man enduring
storms, sickness, frostbite, sunburn, hunger,
thirst, bad food, fatigue, threat of shipwreck
and attack by hostile natives, besides problems
of boredom, discipline, punishment, rivalry,
jealousy and every minor irritation due to
crowding and confinement. At one point
Molesworth Phillips, Lieutenant of Marines
calls out John Williamson in a duel,
but fails to dispatch him, to the dismay
of the others. James Trevenen, midshipman
on the Resolution, writes in his diary:
Our first lieutenant, Williamson,
is a wretch,
feared and hated by his inferiors,
detested by his equals
and despised by his superiors,
a very devil
to whom none of our midshipmen have spoke
for above a year,
a person with whom I would not wish
to be in favour
nor would receive an obligation from
was he Lord-High-Admiral of Great Britain.
Williamson, an unfortunate and unhappy man,
engenders unease and dislike wherever
he goes. He has already killed one native
in the southern islands, and treated another
with great cruelty. He will be criticized
later for his behaviour during the incident
that leads to Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay.
Yet the antagonism towards Williamson
is exceptional. Most members of the expedition
share a close comradeship, feeling privileged
to be here on this mission of peace
and exploration. Other ships in the British fleet
are engaged in war.
You know about life in the Royal Navy of the Eighteenth
You have seen those movies too, the men being
lashed and keel-hauled and sent before the mast in the raging gale.
Incidentally, the Bounty mutiny is only eleven years away, and the
villainous William Bligh, whom you imagine as
Charles Laughton or Trevor Howard, on this voyage
is the peerless sailing master of the Resolution.
Bligh, age twenty-four, and as yet without a commission,
is reputed to be next only to Cook
in navigational skill.
He is perhaps not such a despicable fellow,
but historical fiction has treated him badly.
I wonder how it will treat me, or you.