William Bligh

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William Bligh

Portrait by Alexander Huey (1814)
4th Governor of New South Wales
In office
13 August 1806 26 January 1808
Monarch George III
Preceded by Philip Gidley King
Succeeded by Lachlan Macquarie
Personal details
Born(1754-09-09)9 September 1754
Plymouth, Devon, England, Great Britain (or St Tudy, Cornwall, England)
Died7 December 1817(1817-12-07) (aged 63)
25 Bond Street, London, England, UK
Resting place St Mary-at-Lambeth, Lambeth, London, England
Spouse(s)Elizabeth (Betsy) Betham
Children6 children, including Mary Putland
OccupationNaval officer, colonial administrator

Vice-Admiral William Bligh FRS (9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was an officer of the Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. The Mutiny on the Bounty occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; after being set adrift in Bounty's launch by the mutineers, Bligh and his loyal men reached Timor, a journey of 3,618 nautical miles (6,700 km; 4,160 mi).

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Mutiny on the <i>Bounty</i> Mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty

The mutiny on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty occurred in the south Pacific on 28 April 1789. Disaffected crewmen, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, seized control of the ship from their captain Lieutenant William Bligh and set him and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship's open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island. Bligh meanwhile completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles in the launch to reach safety, and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.


Seventeen years after the Bounty mutiny, on 13 August 1806, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia, with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the New South Wales Corps. His actions directed against the trade resulted in the so-called Rum Rebellion, during which Bligh was placed under arrest on 26 January 1808 by the New South Wales Corps and deposed from his command, an act which the British Foreign Office later declared to be illegal. He died in Lambeth, London, on 7 December 1817.

Governor of New South Wales vice-regal representative of the Australian monarch in New South Wales

The Governor of New South Wales is the viceregal representative of the Australian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in the state of New South Wales. In an analogous way to the Governor-General of Australia at the national level, the Governors of the Australian states perform constitutional and ceremonial functions at the state level. The governor is appointed by the queen on the advice of the premier of New South Wales, for an unfixed period of time—known as serving At Her Majesty's pleasure—though five years is the norm. The current governor is retired judge Margaret Beazley, who succeeded David Hurley on 2 May 2019.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Rum distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane

Rum is a distilled alcoholic drink made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels.

Early life

William Bligh was born on 9 September 1754, but it is not clear where. It is likely that he was born in Plymouth, Devon, as he was baptised at St Andrew's Church, Plymouth on 4 October 1754, [1] where Bligh's father, Francis (1721–1780), was serving as a customs officer. Bligh's ancestral home of Tinten Manor near St Tudy near Bodmin, Cornwall, is also a possibility. Bligh's mother, Jane Pearce (1713–1768), was a widow (née Balsam) who married Francis at the age of 40. [2] Bligh was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, at a time when it was common to sign on a "young gentleman" simply to gain, or at least record, the experience at sea required for a commission. In 1770, at age 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term used because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year. In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to Crescent and remained on the ship for three years.

Plymouth City and Unitary authority in England

Plymouth is a port city situated on the south coast of Devon, England, approximately 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London. Enclosing the city are the mouths of the river Plym and river Tamar, which are naturally incorporated into Plymouth Sound to form a boundary with Cornwall.

Devon County of England

Devon, also known as Devonshire, is a county of England, reaching from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is part of South West England, bounded by Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the north east, and Dorset to the east. The city of Exeter is the county town. The county includes the districts of East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, and West Devon. Plymouth and Torbay are each geographically part of Devon, but are administered as unitary authorities. Combined as a ceremonial county, Devon's area is 6,707 km2 and its population is about 1.1 million.

St Andrews Church, Plymouth Church in Plymouth, England

The Minster Church of St Andrew, also known as St Andrew's Church, Plymouth is an Anglican church in Plymouth. It is the original parish church of Sutton, one of the three towns which were later combined to form the city of Plymouth. The church is the largest parish church in the historic county of Devon and was built in the mid to late 15th century. It was designated as a Minster Church in 2009 and it continues to operate as the focus for religious civic events for the city and as a bustling evangelical church.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook (1728–1779), for the position of sailing master of Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook's third voyage to the Pacific Ocean, during which Cook was killed. Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to supply details of Cook's last voyage.

James Cook 18th-century British explorer

Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

HMS <i>Resolution</i> (1771) 18th-century sloop of the Royal Navy

HMS Resolution was a sloop of the Royal Navy, a converted merchant collier purchased by the Navy and adapted, in which Captain James Cook made his second and third voyages of exploration in the Pacific. She impressed him enough that he called her "the ship of my choice", and "the fittest for service of any I have seen."

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of a customs collector (stationed in Douglas, Isle of Man), on 4 February 1781. The wedding took place at nearby Onchan. [3] A few days later, he was appointed to serve on HMS Belle Poule as master (senior warrant officer responsible for navigation). Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker, which won him his commission as a lieutenant. For the next 18 months, he was a lieutenant on various ships. He also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782.

Douglas, Isle of Man Capital of the Isle of Man

Douglas is the capital and largest town of the Isle of Man, with a population of 27,938 (2011). It is located at the mouth of the River Douglas, and on a sweeping bay of two miles. The River Douglas forms part of the town's harbour and main commercial port.

Onchan village in the parish of Onchan on the Isle of Man

Onchan is a village in the parish of Onchan on the Isle of Man. It is at the north end of Douglas Bay. Although administratively a village, it has the second largest population of settlements on the island, after Douglas, with which it forms a conurbation.

French frigate <i>Belle Poule</i> (1765)

Belle Poule was a French frigate of the Dédaigneuse class, which Léon-Michel Guignace built. She is most famous for her duel with the British frigate HMS Arethusa on 17 June 1778, which began the French involvement in the American War of Independence.

Between 1783 and 1787, Bligh was a captain in the merchant service. Like many lieutenants, he would have found full-pay employment in the Navy; however, commissions were hard to obtain with the fleet largely demobilised at the end of the War with France when allied with the North American rebelling colonies in the War of American Independence (1775–1783). In 1787, Bligh was selected as commander of His Majesty's Armed Transport Bounty . He rose eventually to the rank of vice admiral in the Royal Navy.

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

HMS <i>Bounty</i> 18th century Royal Navy vessel

HMS Bounty, also known as HM Armed Vessel Bounty, was a small merchant vessel that the Royal Navy purchased for a botanical mission. The ship was sent to the Pacific Ocean under the command of William Bligh to acquire breadfruit plants and transport them to British possessions in the West Indies. That mission was never completed due to a mutiny led by acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian. This incident is now popularly known as the mutiny on the Bounty. The mutineers later burned Bounty while she was moored at Pitcairn Island. An American adventurer rediscovered the remains of the Bounty in 1957; various parts of it have been salvaged since then.

Vice admiral is a senior naval flag officer rank, equivalent to lieutenant general and air marshal. A vice admiral is typically senior to a rear admiral and junior to an admiral. In many navies, vice admiral is a three-star rank with a NATO code of OF-8, although in some navies like the French Navy it is an OF-7 rank, the OF-8 code corresponding to the four-star rank of squadron vice-admiral.

William Bligh's naval career involved various appointments and assignments. He first rose to prominence as Master of Resolution, under the command of Captain James Cook. Bligh received praise from Cook during what would be the latter's final voyage. Bligh served on three of the same ships on which Fletcher Christian also served simultaneously in his naval career.

DateRankShip (number of guns)
1 July 1761 – 21 February 1763 Ship's boy and captain's servant HMS Monmouth (64)
27 July 1770 Able seaman HMS Hunter (10)
5 February 1771 Midshipman HMS Hunter
22 September 1771Midshipman HMS Crescent (28)
2 September 1774Able seamanHMS Ranger
30 September 1775 Master's mate HMS Ranger
20 March 1776 – October 1780 Master HMS Resolution (12)
14 February 1781Master HMS Belle Poule
5 October 1781Lieutenant HMS Berwick (74)
1 January 1782Lieutenant HMS Princess Amelia (80)
20 March 1782Sixth lieutenant HMS Cambridge (80)
14 January 1783Joins merchant service
1785Commanding lieutenantMerchant vessel Lynx
1786CaptainMerchant vessel Britannia
1787Returns to Royal Navy
16 August 1787Commanding lieutenant HM Armed Vessel Bounty
14 November 1790 Commander HM Brig-sloop Falcon (14)
15 December 1790 Captain HMS Medea (28) (for rank only)
16 April 1791 – 1793Captain HMS Providence (28)
16 April 1795Captain HMS Calcutta (24)
7 January 1796Captain HMS Director (64)
18 March 1801Captain HMS Glatton (56)
12 April 1801Captain HMS Monarch (74)
8 May 1801 – 28 May 1802Captain HMS Irresistible (74)
March 1802 – May 1803 Peace of Amiens
2 May 1804Captain HMS Warrior (74)
14 May 1805Appointed Governor of New South Wales
27 September 1805Captain HMS Porpoise (12), voyage to New South Wales
13 August 1806 – 26 January 1808Governor of New South Wales
31 July 1808 Commodore HMS Porpoise, Tasmania
3 April 1810 –
25 October 1810
Commodore HMS Hindostan (50), returning to England.
31 July 1811Appointed rear admiral of the blue (backdated to 31 July 1810)
12 August 1812Appointed rear admiral of the white
4 December 1813Appointed rear admiral of the red
4 June 1814Appointed vice admiral of the blue

In the early 1780s, while in the merchant service, Bligh became acquainted with a young man named Fletcher Christian (1764–1793), who was eager to learn navigation from him. Bligh took Christian under his wing, and the two became friends.

Voyage of Bounty

The mutiny on the Royal Navy vessel HMAV Bounty occurred in the South Pacific Ocean on 28 April 1789. Led by Master's Mate / Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, disaffected crewmen seized control of the ship, and set Bligh and 18 loyalists adrift in the ship's open launch. The mutineers variously settled on Tahiti or on Pitcairn Island. Meanwhile, Bligh completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) to the west in the launch to reach safety north of Australia in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia) and began the process of bringing the mutineers to justice.

First breadfruit voyage

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship HMS Bounty. By Robert Dodd Mutiny HMS Bounty.jpg
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship HMS Bounty. By Robert Dodd

In 1787, Bligh took command of Bounty. In order to win a premium offered by the Royal Society, he first sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then set course east across the South Pacific for South America and the Cape Horn and eventually to the Caribbean Sea, where breadfruit was wanted for experiments to see whether it would be a successful food crop for African slaves there on British colonial plantations in the West Indies islands. The notion that breadfruit had to be collected from Tahiti was intentionally misleading. Tahiti was merely one of many places where the esteemed seedless breadfruit could be found. The real reason for choosing Tahiti has its roots in the territorial contention that existed then between France and Great Britain at the time. [4] The Bounty never reached the Caribbean, as mutiny broke out on board shortly after the ship left Tahiti.

The voyage to Tahiti was difficult. After trying unsuccessfully for a month to go west by rounding South America and Cape Horn, Bounty was finally defeated by the notoriously stormy weather and opposite winds and forced to take the longer way to the east around the southern tip of Africa (Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas). That delay caused a further delay in Tahiti, as he had to wait five months for the breadfruit plants to mature sufficiently to be potted in soil and transported. Bounty departed Tahiti heading east in April 1789.


Because the vessel was rated only as a cutter, Bounty had no officers other than Bligh (who was then only a commissioned lieutenant), a very small crew, and no Marines to provide protection from hostile natives during stops or to enforce security on board ship. To allow longer uninterrupted sleep, Bligh divided his crew into three watches instead of two, placing his protégé Fletcher Christian—rated as a Master's Mate—in charge of one of the watches. The mutiny, which took place on 28 April 1789 during the return voyage, was led by Christian and supported by eighteen of the crew. [5] They had seized firearms during Christian's night watch and surprised and bound Bligh in his cabin.

Account of arrival at Timor, 14 June 1789. Log of the Proceedings of His Majesty's Ship Bounty, 1789, bound manuscript, Safe 1 / 47 Wr Bligh Journal fl3156809 a286171.jpg
Account of arrival at Timor, 14 June 1789. Log of the Proceedings of His Majesty's Ship Bounty, 1789, bound manuscript, Safe 1 / 47

Despite being in the majority, none of the loyalists put up a significant struggle once they saw Bligh bound, and the ship was taken over without bloodshed. The mutineers provided Bligh and eighteen loyal crewmen a 23-foot (7.0 m) launch (so heavily loaded that the gunwales were only a few inches above the water). They were allowed four cutlasses, food and water for perhaps a week, a quadrant and a compass, but no charts, or marine chronometer. Most of these were obtained by the clerk, Mr Samuel, who acted with great calm and resolution, despite threats from the mutineers. The launch could not hold all the loyal crew members, so four were detained on Bounty for their useful skills; they were later released in Tahiti.

Tahiti was upwind from Bligh's initial position, and was the obvious destination of the mutineers. Many of the loyalists claimed to have heard the mutineers cry "Huzzah for Otaheite!" as Bounty pulled away. Timor was the nearest European colonial outpost in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia), 3,618 nmi (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) away. Bligh and his crew first made for Tofua, only a few leagues distant, to obtain supplies. However, they were attacked by hostile natives and John Norton, a quartermaster, was killed. [6] Fleeing from Tofua, Bligh did not dare to stop at the next islands to the west (the Fiji islands), as he had no weapons for defence and expected hostile receptions. He did however keep a log entitled "Log of the Proceedings of His Majesty's Ship Bounty Lieut. Wm Bligh Commander from Otaheite towards Jamaica" which he used to record events from 5 April 1789 to 13 March 1790. [7] He also made use of a small notebook to sketch a rough map of his discoveries.

Original illustration by S. Dree from French author Jules Verne's story "The Mutineers of the Bounty" (Les Revoltes de la Bounty) (1879). Mutineers of the Bounty by Jules Verne, illustration by Leon Bennett.jpg
Original illustration by S. Drée from French author Jules Verne's story "The Mutineers of the Bounty" (Les Révoltés de la Bounty) (1879).

Bligh had confidence in his navigational skills, which he had perfected under the instruction of Captain James Cook. His first responsibility was to bring his men to safety. Thus, he undertook the seemingly impossible 3,618-nautical-mile (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) voyage to Timor, the nearest European settlement. Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, the only casualty being the crewman killed on Tofua. From 4 May until 29 May, when they reached the Great Barrier Reef north of Australia, the 18 men lived on 112 pound (40 grams) of bread per day. The weather was often stormy, and they were in constant fear of foundering due to the boat's heavily laden condition. On 29 May they landed on a small island off the coast of Australia, which they named Restoration Island, 29 May 1660 being the date of the restoration of the British monarchy after the English Civil War. Over the next week or more they island-hopped north along the Great Barrier reef—while Bligh, cartographer as always, sketched maps of the coast. Early in June they passed through the Endeavour Strait and sailed again on the open sea until they reached Coupang, a settlement on Timor, on 14 June 1789. [7] Several of the men who survived this arduous voyage with him were so weak that they soon died of sickness, possibly malaria, in the pestilential Dutch East Indies port of Batavia, the present-day Indonesian capital of Jakarta, as they waited for transport to Britain. [8]

Possible causes of the mutiny

The reasons behind the mutiny are still a subject of debate. Some sources report that Bligh was a cruel tyrant whose abuse of the crew led them to feel that they had no choice but to take over the ship. Other sources argue that Bligh was no worse (and, in many cases, objectively gentler) than the average captains and naval officers of the era, and that the crew—inexperienced and unused to the rigours of the sea—were corrupted by the freedom, idleness and sexual licence of their five months in Tahiti, finding themselves unwilling to return to the "Jack Tar's" life of an ordinary seaman.

This view holds that most of the men supported Christian's prideful personal vendetta against Bligh out of a misguided hope their new captain would return them to Tahiti and allow them to live out their lives in hedonistic peace, free from Bligh's acid tongue and strict discipline. This rationale is supported by most modern historians and reinforced by the ultimate decision of 16 out of 24 of the active mutineers to demand Fletcher return them to Tahiti (despite his rational protestations that it was the last port of call for the Bounty and inevitably the first place the Admiralty would search once word of the mutiny was received or the ship was reported overdue).

The mutiny is made more mysterious by the friendship of Christian and Bligh, which dates back to Bligh's days in the merchant service. Christian was well acquainted with the Bligh family. As Bligh was being set adrift he appealed to this friendship, saying "you have dandled my children upon your knee". According to Bligh, Christian "appeared disturbed" and replied, "That,—Captain Bligh,—that is the thing;——I am in hell—I am in hell." [9]

Bounty's log shows that Bligh resorted to punishments relatively sparingly. He scolded when other captains would have whipped, and whipped when other captains would have hanged. He was an educated man, deeply interested in science, convinced that good diet and sanitation were necessary for the welfare of his crew. He took a great interest in his crew's exercise, was very careful about the quality of their food, and insisted upon the Bounty's being kept very clean. He tried (unsuccessfully) to check the spread of venereal disease among the men.[ citation needed ] The modern historian John Beaglehole has described the major flaw in this otherwise enlightened naval officer: "[Bligh made] dogmatic judgements which he felt himself entitled to make; he saw fools about him too easily … thin-skinned vanity was his curse through life … [Bligh] never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them." [10]

Popular fiction often confuses Bligh with Edward Edwards of HMS Pandora, who was sent on the Royal Navy's expedition to the South Pacific to find the mutineers and bring them to trial. Edwards is often made out to be the cruel man that Hollywood has portrayed Bligh as being. The 14 men from Bounty who were captured by Edwards' men were confined in a cramped 18′ × 11′ × 5′8″ wooden cell on Pandora's quarterdeck. Yet, when Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, three prisoners were immediately let out of the prison cell to help at the pumps. Finally, Captain Edwards gave orders to release the other 11 prisoners, to which end Joseph Hodges, the armourer's mate, went into the cell to remove the prisoners' irons. Unfortunately, before he could finish the job, the ship sank. Four of the prisoners and 31 of the crew died during the sinking. More prisoners would likely have perished, had not William Moulter, a bosun's mate, unlocked their cages before jumping off the sinking vessel. [11]


In October 1790, Bligh was honourably acquitted at the court-martial inquiring into the loss of Bounty. Shortly thereafter, he published A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship "Bounty"; And the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew, In the Ship's Boat, from Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, to Timor, a Dutch Settlement in the East Indies. Of the 10 surviving prisoners eventually brought home in spite of Pandora's loss, four were acquitted, owing to Bligh's testimony that they were non-mutineers that Bligh was obliged to leave on Bounty because of lack of space in the launch. Two others were convicted because, while not participating in the mutiny, they were passive and did not resist. They subsequently received royal pardons. One was convicted but excused on a technicality. The remaining three were convicted and hanged.

Comparative travels of Bounty and the small boat after mutiny

Bligh's letter to his wife, Betsy

The following is a letter to Bligh's wife, written from Coupang, Timor, Dutch East Indies (circa June 1791), in which the first reference to events on Bounty is made.

William Bligh, pictured in his 1792 account of the mutiny voyage, A Voyage to the South Sea William Bligh - Project Gutenberg eText 15411.jpg
William Bligh, pictured in his 1792 account of the mutiny voyage, A Voyage to the South Sea

My Dear, Dear Betsy,

I am now, for the most part, in a part of the world I never expected, it is however a place that has afforded me relief and saved my life, and I have the happiness to assure you that I am now in perfect health....

Know then my own Dear Betsy, that I have lost the Bounty ... on the 28 April at day light in the morning Christian having the morning watch. He with several others came into my Cabin while I was a Sleep, and seizing me, holding naked Bayonets at my Breast, tied my Hands behind my back, and threatened instant destruction if I uttered a word. I however call'd loudly for assistance, but the conspiracy was so well laid that the Officers Cabbin Doors were guarded by Centinels, so Nelson, Peckover, Samuels or the Master could not come to me. I was now dragged on Deck in my Shirt & closely guarded – I demanded of Christian the case of such a violent act, & severely degraded for his Villainy but he could only answer – "not a word sir or you are Dead." I dared him to the act & endeavoured to rally some one to a sense of their duty but to no effect....

The Secrisy of this Mutiny is beyond all conception so that I can not discover that any who are with me had the least knowledge of it. It is unbeknown to me why I must beguile such force. Even Mr. Tom Ellison took such a liking to Otaheite [Tahiti] that he also turned Pirate, so that I have been run down by my own Dogs...

My misfortune I trust will be properly considered by all the World – It was a circumstance I could not foresee – I had not sufficient Officers & had they granted me Marines most likely the affair would never have happened – I had not a Spirited & brave fellow about me & the Mutineers treated them as such. My conduct has been free of blame, & I showed everyone that, tied as I was, I defied every Villain to hurt me...

I know how shocked you will be at this affair but I request of you My Dear Betsy to think nothing of it all is now past & we will again looked forward to future happyness. Nothing but true consciousness as an Officer that I have done well could support me....Give my blessings to my Dear Harriet, my Dear Mary, my Dear Betsy & to my Dear little stranger [13] & tell them I shall soon be home...To You my Love I give all that an affectionate Husband can give –

Love, Respect & all that is or ever will be in the power of your
ever affectionate Friend and Husband Wm Bligh. [14]

Strictly speaking, the crime of the mutineers (apart from the disciplinary crime of mutiny) was not piracy but barratry, the misappropriation, by those entrusted with its care, of a ship and/or its contents to the detriment of the owner (in this case the British Crown).

Second breadfruit voyage

After his exoneration by the court-martial inquiry into the loss of Bounty, Bligh remained in the Royal Navy. From 1791 to 1793, as master and commander of HMS Providence and in company with HMS Assistant under the command of Nathaniel Portlock, he undertook again to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies. [15] He also transported plants provided by Hugh Ronalds, a nurseryman in Brentford. [16] The operation was generally successful, and breadfruit is a popular food in Puerto Rico; however, its immediate objective, which was to provide a cheap and nutritious food for the African slaves in the West Indies islands around the Caribbean Sea was not met, as most slaves refused to eat the new food. During this voyage, Bligh also collected samples of the ackee fruit of Jamaica, introducing it to the Royal Society in Britain upon his return. [17] The ackee's scientific name Blighia sapida in binomial nomenclature was given in honour of Bligh.

Subsequent career and the Rum Rebellion

In February 1797, while Bligh was captain of HMS Director, he surveyed the River Humber, preparing a map of the stretch from Spurn to the west of Sunk Island.

In April–May, Bligh was one of the captains whose crews mutinied over "issues of pay and involuntary service for common seamen" during the Nore mutiny. [18] The mutiny was not triggered by any specific actions by Bligh; the mutinies "were widespread, [and] involved a fair number of English ships". [19] Whilst Director's role was relatively minor in this mutiny, she was the last to raise the white flag at its cessation. [20] It was at this time that he learned "that his common nickname among men in the fleet was 'that Bounty bastard'." [19]

As captain of Director at the Battle of Camperdown on 11 October, Bligh engaged three Dutch vessels: Haarlem, Alkmaar and Vrijheid. While the Dutch suffered serious casualties, only seven seamen were wounded on Director. Director captured Vrijheid and the Dutch commander, Vice-Admiral Jan de Winter.

Bligh went on to serve under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801, in command of Glatton, a 56-gun ship of the line, which was experimentally fitted exclusively with carronades. After the battle, Nelson personally praised Bligh for his contribution to the victory. He sailed Glatton safely between the banks while three other vessels ran aground. When Nelson pretended not to notice Admiral Parker's signal "43" (stop the battle) and kept the signal "16" hoisted to continue the engagement, Bligh was the only captain in the squadron who could see that the two signals were in conflict. By choosing to fly Nelson's signal, he ensured that all the vessels behind him kept fighting.

Propaganda cartoon of Bligh's arrest in Sydney in 1808, portraying him as a coward. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. Arrest of Govenor Bligh.jpg
Propaganda cartoon of Bligh's arrest in Sydney in 1808, portraying him as a coward. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

Bligh had gained a reputation as a firm disciplinarian. Accordingly, he was offered the position of Governor of New South Wales on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks (President of the Royal Society and a main sponsor of the breadfruit expeditions) and appointed in March 1805, at £2,000 per annum, twice the pay of the retiring governor, Philip Gidley King. He arrived in Sydney on 6 August 1806, [21] to become the fourth governor. As his wife Elizabeth had been unwilling to undertake a long sea voyage, Bligh was accompanied by his daughter, Mary Putland, who would be the Lady of Government House; Mary's husband John Putland was appointed as William Bligh's aide-de-camp. [22] During his time in Sydney, his confrontational administrative style provoked[ citation needed ] the wrath of a number of influential settlers and officials. They included the wealthy landowner and businessman John Macarthur, and prominent Crown representatives such as the colony's principal surgeon, Thomas Jamison, as well as senior officers of the New South Wales Corps. Jamison and his military associates were defying government regulations by engaging in private trading ventures for profit, a practice which Bligh was determined to put a stop to.

The conflict between Bligh and the entrenched colonists culminated in another mutiny, the Rum Rebellion, [23] when, on 26 January 1808, 400 soldiers of the New South Wales Corps under the command of Major George Johnston marched on Government House in Sydney to arrest Bligh. A petition written by John Macarthur and addressed to George Johnston was written the day of the arrest but most of the 151 signatures were gathered in the days after Bligh's overthrow. [24] A rebel government was subsequently installed and Bligh, now deposed, made for Hobart in Tasmania aboard HMS Porpoise. Bligh failed to gain support from the authorities in Hobart to retake control of New South Wales, and remained effectively imprisoned on the Porpoise from 1808 until January 1810.

Shortly after Bligh's arrest, a watercolour illustrating the arrest by an unknown artist was exhibited in Sydney at perhaps Australia's first public art exhibition. [25] The watercolour depicts a soldier dragging Bligh from underneath one of the servants’ beds in Government House, with two other figures standing by. The two soldiers in the watercolour are most likely John Sutherland and Michael Marlborough and the other figure on the far right is believed to represent Lieutenant William Minchin. [25] This cartoon is Australia's earliest surviving political cartoon and like all political cartoons it makes use of caricature and exaggeration to convey its message. [26] The New South Wales Corps' officers regarded themselves as gentlemen, and in depicting Bligh as a coward, the cartoon declares that Bligh was not a gentleman and therefore not fit to govern. [26]

Of interest, however, was Bligh's concern for the more recently arrived settlers in the colony, who did not have the wealth and influence of Macarthur and Jamison. From the tombstones in Ebenezer and Richmond cemeteries (areas being settled west of Sydney during Bligh's tenure as governor), can be seen the number of boys born around 1807 to 1811 who received "William Bligh" as a given name, e.g. William Bligh Turnbull b. 8 June 1809 at Windsor, ancestor of Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; [27] and James Bligh Johnston, b.1809 at Ebenezer, son of Andrew Johnston, who designed Ebenezer Chapel, Australia's oldest extant church and oldest extant school.

William Bligh House in London Captain Bligh House London.jpg
William Bligh House in London

Bligh received a letter in January 1810, advising him that the rebellion had been declared illegal, and that the British Foreign Office had declared it to be a mutiny. Lachlan Macquarie had been appointed to replace him as governor. At this news Bligh sailed from Hobart. He arrived in Sydney on 17 January 1810, only two weeks into Macquarie's tenure. [28] There he would collect evidence for the coming court martial in England of Major Johnston. He departed to attend the trial on 12 May 1810, arriving on 25 October 1810. In the days immediately prior to their departure, his daughter, Mary Putland (widowed in 1808), was hastily married to the new Lieutenant-Governor, Maurice Charles O'Connell, and remained in Sydney. The following year, the trial's presiding officers sentenced Johnston to be cashiered, a form of disgraceful dismissal that entailed surrendering his commission in the Royal Marines without compensation. (This was a comparatively mild punishment which enabled Johnston to return a free man to New South Wales, where he could continue to enjoy the benefits of his accumulated private wealth.) Bligh was court martialled twice again during his career, being acquitted both times.

Soon after Johnston's trial had concluded, Bligh received a backdated promotion to rear admiral. In 1814 he was promoted again to vice admiral of the blue. Perhaps significantly, he never again received an important command, though with the Napoleonic Wars almost over there would have been few fleet commands available. He did, however, design the North Bull Wall at the mouth of the River Liffey in Dublin. Its purpose was to clear a sandbar by Venturi action. As a result of its building, North Bull Island was formed by the sand cleared by the river's now more narrowly focused force. Bligh also charted and mapped Dublin Bay, and recommended the building walls for a refuge harbour at what was then known as Dunleary; the large harbour and naval base subsequently built there between 1816 and 1821 was called Kingstown, later renamed Dún Laoghaire.


Bligh's tomb, surmounted by an eternal flame, sits in the Sackler Garden at the Garden Museum. Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London - geograph.org.uk - 1411724.jpg
Bligh's tomb, surmounted by an eternal flame, sits in the Sackler Garden at the Garden Museum.

Bligh died in Bond Street, London, on 7 December 1817 and was buried in a family plot at St. Mary's, Lambeth (this church is now the Garden Museum). His tomb, notable for its use of Coade stone (Lithodipyra), a compound of clay and other materials which was moulded in imitation of carved stonework and fired in a kiln. This stoneware was produced by Eleanor Coade at her factory in Lambeth. The tomb is topped by an eternal flame, not a breadfruit. [29] A plaque marks Bligh's house, one block east of the Garden Museum at 100 Lambeth Road, near the Imperial War Museum.

He was related to Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh and Captain George Miller Bligh, and his British and Australian descendants include Native Police Commandant John O'Connell Bligh [30] and the former Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh. [31] [32]

In literature and film

Bligh is humorously portrayed in Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's short story "Frenchman's Creek" as a competent but irascible and tactless surveyor sent to a small fishing village in Cornwall during the Napoleonic Wars. His accent and strong language being misunderstood by the locals as French, he is temporarily imprisoned as a spy. [33]

The situation in Sydney in 1810, with Bligh returning from Tasmania to be restored as governor, is the setting of Naomi Novik's fantasy novel Tongues of Serpents (Harper-Collins, 2011).

On 16 December 1964, the "Adobe Dick" episode of the cartoon The Flintstones (episode 129) paid a humorous homage to Cpt. Bligh and his ship. On the show, the characters Fred and Barney took a chartered fishing trip with the guys from the lodge on the U.S.S. Bountystone. The captain of the ship, Capt. Blah, was a domineering man with a uniform resembling the historical figure, William Bligh. Mutiny, on Channel 4 in the UK, charts a recreation of Bligh's journey to Timor. It aired in 2017.

Bligh was mentioned in the film Clear History by Larry David's character while rowing a boat off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.

Bligh was mentioned in the television show Survivor during the reunion show of Survivor: Panama by Jeff Probst describing the next season Survivor: Cook Islands . [34]

Bligh has been portrayed in film by the following actors:

See also

Related Research Articles

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Peter Heywood was a British naval officer who was on board HMS Bounty during the mutiny of 28 April 1789. He was later captured in Tahiti, tried and condemned to death as a mutineer, but subsequently pardoned. He resumed his naval career and eventually retired with the rank of post-captain, after 29 years of honourable service.

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Michael Byrne was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1761. He went to sea as an able seaman at the age of 19. He had served on five naval ships by 1787, when he was signed as an able seaman by Captain Bligh on the Bounty, primarily to play the fiddle. Bligh wrote, "I had great difficulty before I left England to get a man to play the violin and I preferred at last to take one two-thirds blind than come without one," and described him as being "5 feet 6 inches high. Fair complexion and is almost blind. Plays the fiddle. Has the mark of an issue in the back of his neck."

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  7. 1 2 Bligh, William. "Log of the Proceedings of His Majestys Ship Bounty Lieut. Wm Bligh Commander from Otaheite towards Jamaica, signed `Wm Bligh'" (5 Apr. 1789 -13 Mar. 1790) [Bound Manuscript]. William Bligh - Papers, Series: William Bligh - Papers relating to HMS Bounty, 1787-1794, Box: Item 2, File: Safe 1 / 47. NSW, Au: State Library of New South Wales, State Library of NSW.
  8. Toohey, John (March 2000). Captain Bligh's Portable Nightmare: From the Bounty to safety—4,162 Miles Across the Pacific in a Rowing Boat. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN   0-06-019532-0.
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  12. Gosse, Philip (19 October 2005), Bounty Story
  13. The Blighs' fourth child, another daughter, born a few months after Lt. Bligh sailed from England.
  14. Alexander, Caroline, The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (Viking Penguin, New York, 2003), pp. 154–156.
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  16. Ronalds, B.F. (2017). "Ronalds Nurserymen in Brentford and Beyond". Garden History. 45: 82–100.
  17. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Information Sheets: Staple Foods II – Fruits
  18. The Mutinies of 1797
  19. 1 2 "William Bligh – Vice Admiral of the Blue".
  20. Mundle, Rob (2010). Bligh Master Mariner. Sydney: Hachette Australia. pp. 288–291. ISBN   9780733628467.
  21. "A Place In History". The Sunday Herald . Sydney. 9 November 1952. p. 10. Retrieved 2 May 2012 via National Library of Australia.
  22. Whitaker, Anne-Maree, 'William Bligh', in David Clune and Ken Turner (eds), The Governors Of New South Wales 1788–2010, Federation Press, Sydney, 2009, pp. 87–105, ISBN   978-1-86287-743-6.
  23. Evatt, H. V., Rum Rebellion: A Study of the Overthrow of Governor Bligh, Dawson Publishing, Folkestone, 1937.
  24. "The petition against Governor Bligh". Discover Collections. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  25. 1 2 Neville, Richard (May 1991). "The Arrest of Governor Bligh: Pictures and Politics". Australiana. 13 (2): 38–42.
  26. 1 2 "Governor Bligh's Arrest, 1808". Archived from the original on 15 October 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  27. "Death of an Early Hawkesbury Settler". Windsor and Richmond Gazette . NSW. 9 July 1892. p. 6. Retrieved 23 October 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  28. Mundle, Rob (2010). Bligh Master Mariner. Sydney: Hachette Australia. pp. 330–332. ISBN   9780733628467.
  29. Woodward, Christopher (April 2016). "Captain Bligh's tomb" (PDF). Australian Garden History. 27 (4): 18–20 via http://britain-australia.org.uk.
  30. Farrell, Chad. "John O'Connell Bligh". WikiTree. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  31. Google.com
  32. Couriermail.com.au
  33. Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas. "Frenchman's Creek" . Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  34. "All Survivor Season Previews Borneo - Game Changers". YouTube. 20 February 2017. Retrieved 18 December 2017.


Manuscript sources

Online works
Government offices
Preceded by
Philip Gidley King
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Lachlan Macquarie
  1. "Jane Balsam". Ancestry. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  2. "Francis Bligh". Ancestry. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  3. "John Bond". Ancestry. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  4. "Catharine Pearce". Ancestry. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  5. Shaw, A. G. L. "Bligh, William (1754–1817)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  6. Mundle, Rob (2012). Bligh Master Mariner. Pen and Sword. p. 227. ISBN   9781781590478.
  7. 1 2 Coates, Richard. "Frederick Bligh Bond". University of the West of England. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  8. "Bond, Frederick Bligh (1864–1945)" . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 18 February 2016.