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Vice Admiral William Bligh
9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817

 


Born 9 September 1754 in St Tudy near Bodmin in Cornwall to Francis and Jane Bligh ( Balsam).
Early Years

He was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, it being common to sign on a "young gentleman" to gain the experience at sea required for promotion.

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 the Crescent and remained on the ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook for the position of sailing master on the Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook's third and fatal voyage to the Pacific.

Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to give details of Cook's last voyage.

Married

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.

The Mutiny on
The Bounty

In 1787, Bligh was selected as commander of the Bounty.

Since it was rated only as a cutter, the Bounty had no officers other than Bligh himself (who was then only a lieutenant), a very small crew, and no Marines to provide protection from hostile natives during stops or enforce security on board ship.

To allow longer uninterrupted sleep, Bligh divided his crew into three watches instead of two, placing his Master's Mate Fletcher Christian in charge of one of the watches.

The mutiny, which took place on 28 April 1789, was led by Christian and supported by eighteen of the crew.

They had seized firearms during Christian's night watch and surprised and bound Bligh in his cabin.

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty.

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 with a 23 foot (7m) launch (so heavily loaded that the gunwales were only a few inches above the water).

They were given four cutlasses, enough food and water to reach the most accessible ports, a quadrant and a compass, but no charts, sextant or Marine chronometer.

The launch could not hold all the loyal crew members, so four were detained on the Bounty for their useful skills; they were later released at Tahiti.

Timor and Safety

Timor was the nearest European outpost, so Bligh and his crew first made for Tofua, to obtain supplies.

However, they were attacked by hostile natives and John Norton, a quartermaster, was killed.
Fleeing from Tofua, Bligh did not dare to stop at the next islands (the Fiji islands), as he had no weapons for defence and expected hostile receptions.

Bligh had confidence in his navigational skills, which he had perfected under the instruction of Captain Cook.
His first responsibility was to survive and get word of the mutiny as soon as possible to British vessels that could pursue the mutineers.

Thus, he undertook the seemingly impossible 3,618 nautical mile (6,701 km) voyage to Timor.

In this remarkable act of seamanship, Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, the only casualty being the crewman killed on Tofua.

Several of the men who survived this ordeal with him 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.

'That Bounty bastard'

In 1797 Bligh was one of the captains whose crews mutinied over "issues of pay and involuntary service for common seamen" during the Spithead mutiny.

Despite receiving some of their demands at Spithead, disputes over navy life continued among the common sailors.

Bligh was again one of the captains affected during the mutiny at the Royal Navy anchorage of Nore.

"Bligh became more directly involved in the Nore Mutiny", which "failed to achieve its goals of a fairer division of prize money and an end to brutality."

It should be noted that these events were not triggered by any specific actions by Bligh as they "were widespread and involved a fair number of English ships".

It was at this time that he learned "that his common nickname among men in the fleet was 'that Bounty bastard'."

Governor of New South Wales

Having gained the reputation of being a firm disciplinarian Bligh was offered the position of Governor of New South Wales by Sir Joseph Banks 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, to become the fourth governor.

During his time in Sydney, his confrontational administrative style provoked 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, and 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:

Bligh was determined to put a stop to this practice.

The Rum Rebellion

The conflict between Bligh and the entrenched colonists culminated in another mutiny, the Rum Rebellion, when, on 26 January 1808, the New South Wales Corps under Major George Johnston marched on Government House in Sydney and arrested him.

A rebel government was subsequently installed and Bligh, now deposed, made for Hobart in Tasmania aboard HMS Porpoise.

He 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

Bligh was eventually permitted to sail from Hobart. Arriving in Sydney on 17 January 1810 to 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.

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.

Died Bligh died in Bond Street, London on 6 December 1817 and was buried in a family plot at St. Mary's, Lambeth


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