The Bounty mutiny and its adaptations
Tattooing, primitivism, class and criminality
in Tattoos in crime and detective narratives
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The mutiny against William Bligh’s command of the Bounty inspired numerous fictional adaptations; it also facilitated Euro-American primitivist and criminological discourses about tattooing. Many of the Bounty's crew were tattooed at Tahiti, including the majority of the mutineers. These tattoos can be read as specular markers of the destabilisation of the civilised/savage binary. Bligh compiled two descriptive lists of the mutineers, which produced a strong correspondence between tattooing, criminality and rejection of Western civilization. Two types of primitivist identification based on social class appear in the description; identification with the ‘noble savage’ by officers such as Christian and with the ‘racial Other’ by the ‘class Other’, the common sailors. Using primary historical research, this chapter explores how the documentation of the tattoos of the Bounty mutineers helped to facilitate emergent primitivist and criminological discourses on tattooing. Furthermore, this historical analysis provides an insight into the representations of the mutiny across literature and film with particular attention given here to Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s novelisation Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), Richard Hough’s Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1972/1979) and three American films (Lloyd 1935, Milestone 1962, Donaldson 1984).

Editors: Kate Watson and Katharine Cox

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