The tale of a British ship called the Bounty and the subsequent mutiny of some of its sailors has been endlessly scrutinized, romanticized and depicted ever since the event occurred in the late 1700s. With so many memoirs, historical accounts and fictional tales based on the Bounty’s story, it’s easy to assume that nothing new could be unearthed or written about it. But in his debut book, The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania, and Mutiny in the South Pacific, travel journalist Brandon Presser does exactly that, and brilliantly. By sifting through many of these prior texts, as well as other resources such as captain’s logs and interviews, Presser has managed to create a fact-based book that reads as grippingly as any thriller.
As a travel writer, Presser has crisscrossed the world to report on memorable locales and adventures. When he was offered the chance to do a story on Pitcairn, the tiny, isolated isle in the South Pacific that became the home of the Bounty’s mutineers, and where 48 of their descendants still live, he knew he had to take it, driven by his need “to know what happened when you fell off the map.” Visiting Pitcairn, a full month’s journey from his home in New York, certainly falls into that category.
Presser spent three years researching and writing this thorough account of the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath. In the process, Presser spent time on both Pitcairn Island and Norfolk Island in Australia, where some of the mutineers’ descendants later migrated. His narrative toggles between past and present, fleshing out the timeline of events—epic in nature and sprawling in scope—and cast of characters, particularly the Tahitians who accompanied the mutineers to Pitcairn and whose roles have previously been underrepresented.
Although some facts remain a mystery (such as the breaking point that made Fletcher Christian snap and take over the ship from Captain William Bligh), Presser’s detailed interpretation allows many of the formerly fuzzy pieces to fall into place. His personal experience on the islands combined with fastidious research make The Far Land such an incredible, unforgettable tale that Presser had to stress in an author’s note that it is “indeed a work of nonfiction.”