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William Bligh~9th September 1754~ 7th December 1817


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Vice Admiral

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Although Bligh was certainly not the vicious man portrayed in popular fiction, some claim his over-sensitivity and acid tongue damaged what would have otherwise been a distinguished career.

Bligh was the son of Francis and Jane Bligh (née Balsam) in Plymouth  Devon, although of a Cornish family. He was signed up for the Royal Navy in 1761, at the age of seven, in the same city. Whether he went to sea at this tender age is doubtful, as it was common practice to sign on a "young gentleman" simply in order to rack up the required years of service for quick promotion. In 1770 at the age of 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term being used only because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year of 1771.

In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to the Crescent and remained on that ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook for the position of Sailing Master on the Resolution and accompanied Captain Cook in July 1776 on Cook's third and fatal voyage to the Pacific. He reached England again at the end of 1780 and was able to give further details of Cook's last voyage.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a Customs Collector, on 4 February 1781, at the age of 26. The wedding took place at Onchan, on the Isle of Man (coincidentally Fletcher Christian was descended from a Manx family). A few days later, he was appointed to serve on HMS Belle Poule as its master. Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker. For the next 18 months, he was a lieutenant on various ships. He also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782.

Between 1783 and 1787, Bligh was a captain in the merchant service.

In 1787 Bligh was selected as commander of HMAV Bounty.

Bligh would eventually rise to the rank of Vice Admiral in the British Royal Navy.


Naval Career

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In 1787, Bligh took command of the Bounty. In order to win a premium offered by the RSA he first sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then set course for the Caribbean, where breadfruit was wanted for experiments to see whether it would be a successful food crop for slaves there. The Bounty never reached the Caribbean, as mutiny broke out on board shortly after leaving Tahiti. In later years, Bligh would repeat the same voyage that the Bounty had undertaken and would eventually succeed in delivering the breadfruit to the West Indies.

Mural by Olga Lehmann depicting Captain Bligh delivering breadfruit to the natives.

Bligh's mission may have introduced the Ackee to the Caribbean as well, though this is uncertain (Ackee is now called Blighia sapida in binomial nomenclature, after Bligh).

The voyage was difficult. After trying unsuccessfully for a month to round Cape Horn, the Bounty was finally defeated by the notoriously stormy weather and forced to take the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. That delay resulted in a further delay in Tahiti, as they had to wait 5 months for the breadfruit plants to mature enough to be transported. The Bounty departed Tahiti in April 1789.

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 inhabitants during stops or to enforce security on board ship. To allow longer uninterrupted sleep, Bligh divided his crew into three watches instead of two, and placed his protege Fletcher Christian — rated as a Master's Mate — in charge of one of the watches. The mutiny, which broke out during the return voyage on 28 April 1789, was led by Christian and supported by a third of the crew, who had seized firearms during Christian's night watch and then surprised and bound Bligh in his cabin. Despite being in the majority, none of the loyalists seemed to have put up any significant struggle once they saw Bligh bound, and the ship was taken bloodlessly. The mutineers provided Bligh and the eighteen of his crew who remained loyal with a 23 foot (7 m) launch (so heavily loaded that the sides were only a few inches above the water), with four cutlasses and food and water for a few days to reach the most accessible ports, a sextant and a pocket watch, but no charts or compass. The launch could not hold all the loyal crew members, and four were detained on the Bounty by the mutineers for their useful skills; these were later released at 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 the Bounty pulled away. Timor was the nearest European outpost. Bligh and his crew did make for Tofua first, to obtain supplies. There they were attacked by hostile natives and a crewman was killed. After fleeing Tofua, Bligh didn't dare stop at the next islands (the Fiji islands), as he had no weapons for defense and expected further hostile receptions.

Bligh had a well-deserved 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 3618 nautical mile (6701 km) voyage to Timor. In this remarkable act of seamanship, Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, with the only casualty being the crewman killed on Tofua. Ironically, 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, as they waited for transport to England.

To this day, the reasons for the mutiny are a subject of considerable debate. Some believe that Bligh was a cruel tyrant whose abuse of the crew led members of the crew to feel that they had no choice but to take the ship from Bligh. Others believe that the crew, inexperienced and unused to the rigours of the sea and, after having been exposed to freedom and sexual excess on the island of Tahiti, refused to return to the "Jack Tars" existence of a seaman. They were "led" by a weak Fletcher Christian and were only too happy to be free from Bligh's acid tongue. They believe that the crew took the ship from Bligh so that they could return to a life of comfort and pleasure on Tahiti.

Bligh returned to London arriving in March 1790.

The Bounty's log shows that Bligh resorted to punishments 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 being kept very clean. His personal morals were above reproach. He cared about the natives of Tahiti and tried (unsuccessfully) to check the spread of venereal disease among them. The flaw in this otherwise enlightened naval officer was, as J.C. Beaglehole wrote: "[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."

On the Bounty's launch, with a hopeless journey ahead of him and obliged to navigate by memory, Bligh was in his element. In the face of disaster, his courage and leadership made him capable of great things. He could rally his crew around him, and save the lives of them all. It was routine circumstances in fair weather that caused his "thin-skinned vanity" to make him temperamental and acid-tongued. Bligh's tongue-lashings over petty matters were feared far more than his infrequent lashings with a whip.

Popular fiction often confuses Bligh with Edward Edwards of the HMS Pandora, who was sent on the Royal Navy's expedition to find the mutineers and bring them to trial. Edwards was every bit the cruel man that Bligh was accused of being; the 14 men that he captured were confined in terrible conditions. When the Pandora ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, 4 of the prisoners and 31 of the crew were killed. The prisoners would have all perished, had not some unknown crewman, more compassionate than Edwards, unlocked their cage before fleeing the doomed vessel.

In October 1790, Bligh was honourably acquitted at the court-martial inquiring the loss of the Bounty. Shortly thereafter, A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship "Bounty" was published.

Of the 10 surviving prisoners, 4 were acquitted, due to Bligh's testimony that they were non-mutineers that Bligh was obliged to leave on the Bounty due to 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.

Bligh's Letter to his Wife

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

My Dear, Dear Betsy,

I am now 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 28th 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 & endeavored 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. 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* & 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.

[* The Bligh's fourth child, another daughter, born a few months after Lt. Bligh sailed from England]

After the Bounty

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After a court of inquiry, Bligh continued to sail in the British navy.

In 1797 Bligh was one of the captains whose crews mutinied against 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 sailor. Bligh was again one of the captains effected 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'."

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

As captain of HMS Director, at the Battle of Camperdown, Bligh engaged three Dutch vessels: the Haarlem, the Alkmaar and the Vrijheid. While the Dutch suffered serious casualties, only 7 seamen were wounded on the Director.

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 in August 1806, to become the fourth governor. There he suffered another mutiny, the Rum Rebellion, when, on 26 January 1808, the New South Wales Corps under Major George Johnston marched on government house and arrested him. He sailed to Hobart on the Porpoise, failed to gain support to retake control of the colony and remained effectively imprisoned on board from 1808 until January 1810.

Bligh sailed from Hobart and arrived in Sydney on 17 January 1810 to collect evidence for the upcoming court-martial of Major George Johnston. He departed for the trial in England aboard the Porpoise on 12th May and arrived on 25 October 1810. The court-martial cashiered Johnston from the Marine Corps and British armed forces.

Afterwards, Bligh's promotion to Rear Admiral was backdated, and 3 years later, in 1814, he was promoted again, to Vice Admiral of the Blue.

Bligh designed the North Bull Wall at the mouth of the River Liffey in Dublin, to ensure the entrance to Dublin Port did not silt up by a sandbar forming.

Bligh died in Bond Street, London on 6 December 1817 and was buried in a family plot at St. Mary's, Lambeth. This church is now the Museum of Garden History. His tomb, notable for its use of Coade stone, is topped by a breadfruit. A plaque marks Bligh's house, one block east of the Museum.

After the Bounty~Redemption

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After the Bounty adventure & the Court martial that followed, William Bligh was given a chance to redeem himself. He was made leader of a second voyage to transport Breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica, promoted to Captain, given Marines for protection & Lieutenants under him; & chose two ships sufficient for his needs--a brand-new WestIndiaman with a Brig as escort. With rank & experience he now had the vested authority to get all he felt necessary for the expedition (Mackaness 1951, Kennedy 1978, 1989).

For all his historical ambiguity, Bligh was perhaps the only man for the job as Cook's protege & successor. Quite apart from his role on Resolution after Cook's death, his skill sailing Bounty & feeding its crew, & the extraordinary survival of the Bounty's launch proved this beyond doubt. His navigation & hydrography were sublime, his experience of diet & health second to none (Hough 1979).

Now, however, Bounty had shown that Bligh gravely lacked people management skills (Bach 1967 p.29). He was egoistic, self-assured, & insecure. He had no empathy--seamen were children needing constant guidance & supervision. "Much of Bligh's frustration came down to his perception that men did not apply the only system of management that got things done properly." (Kennedy 1989 p.192) Initiative & experience in others was scorned at best & assaulted at worst. He had a hot temper mitigated only by brevity--his temper exploded and blew away on the wind; he could not cope with stress & lashed out to relieve it-& became calm as a result. Once Providence's officers realised this, much of his abuse was disarmed.

Bligh may have been the only man for the job--others with the experience and authority were dead or unavailable. He was, however, not a well man. He had endured a 3000nm open boat voyage with meagre supplies, driven by hatred of Christian and determination to survive. He contracted a mild case of malaria at Batavia in the Dutch.E.Indies after the launch voyage, and endured a long sea passage home after that (Mackeness 1951, Kennedy 1978 et al). There is evidence to show he suffered generally from what we now call executive stress ; he was not able to cope with the strain of command for long periods in a closed environment. There are many instances of inability to deal with his temperament and his inconsistent treatment of those he commanded (Christian 1983, Daniellssen 1962, Darby 1965, etc). On Resolution, Bounty, and on Providence men did not measure up to Bligh and he knew it--and he made it clear. Bligh had what I call a pressure-cooker personality. He could not relieve tension as other men did through exercise, or simply through wine, women and song. Without an outlet tension festered within him until it found a way out. He would explode over a minor incident, often shocking men by his eloquence but moreso by his severity, and then be perfectly contented with the ship and crew (Tobin, letter, 1817 in Mackeness 1949).

Instead of punishing seamen with lashes and confinement he attacked them and their officers verbally. This was "a fairly innocuous way of letting off steam compared to some open to an 18th century sea captain ." (Darby 1965) but not without its risks. As Dening showed (1988, 1992) it was Assaultative, not merely 'bad'. On Bounty it was at its worst. A small ship, no officers, and a close friend and deputy who could not take it, led to history's most memorable, if not significant, mutiny. On Providence the officers learned, and took care to deal with problems before Bligh found them (Darby 1965)--a situation made easier by Bligh's frequent absences due to illness. Bligh's inconsistency still made life difficult; reaction and punishment depended on mood. If bursting with tension, he could become apoplectic over the loss of a grapnel-or a coconut-while in the Barrier Reef "Lookouts found making hats and reading plays" got merely a line in the log (entry, 17 Sep.1792)., not the trial and flogging seamen expected-preferred?-instead. A dogstopper left on an anchor cable that almost lost the ship was verbally reprimanded (16 Sep.1792) where other men would have court martialled.

His early career had been marked by taciturn periods, distance from other officers, a superiority complex, explosive rages over matters more often small than great. He was not a man who communicated well with other men or understood them--at all. On Resolution with Cook he had learned a style of command unsuited to his temperament and body language. Unlike Cook he was short, pale, delicate; effeminate-looking. His blistering rages looked silly rather than awesome. "He was always throwing away any dignity he had--a little man in a rage." (Beaglehole 1967 p.22) Bad relations with the other officers aboard meant he was the only officer not rewarded with promotion when they returned in 1780. Even the master of the other ship, Discovery, Nathaniel Portlock, was given a commission and sent to the North-West coast of America. In 1791 he would accompany Bligh in Assistant.

Within three weeks of setting out on this second breadfruit voyage Bligh was crippled by stress and illness in the Canary Islands. His health had not broken on the trip home from the open boat voyage, nor in the months of writing and lobbying in London. It had not broken till the beginning of this voyage, when it was too late to replace him--and now he thought himself "near to death" (Dening 1992 p.10) Paralysed by "A severe fever, of a very putrid tendency"--malaria and a migraine--he had the commander of the escort vessel the Assistant, Nathaniel Portlock, his old friend, brought over to command Providence for Bligh was "unsure how long I might survive". (log, 31 Aug.1791). The two ships departed South two days later with Bligh still bedridden, where he would remain almost until CapeTown two months later. They paused overnight at the Cape Verde Islands, searching for somewhere Bligh could rest ashore, but heat and disease there drove them on. Bond, Bligh's relation and the first Lieutenant of Providence, viewed his transfer to Assistant at Teneriffe "with profound relief" despite the loss of contact with his messmates (loss of them was made up for by the loss of contact with Bligh). His return to Providence at CapeTown upon Bligh's near-recovery was "attended with frightful discomfort." (Christian 1982 p.188). Bligh's relationships on this voyage were no smoother than on earlier ones; only the men, and their capacity to absorb abuse, had changed. Bond, unlike Christian, stood up to Bligh, and had other officers to share the strain, as well as not being so close to him (Mackaness 1960 p.23-7).

Bligh's condition varied from headaches and exhaustion to raging fever as the malaria and stress hormones fought it out. It is now commonly known that stress and environment have a considerable effect on capability and health. Stress can suppress the immune response and lead to infection (Lazarus, R, 1981) It is also known that disease can recur months or even years after first infection and cause permanent damage. Stress and illness result not so much from what or how we are doing but from how we perceive it (Weiten 1991). Bligh felt alone and surrounded by incompetents, and overreacted to everything. For the first time in his life stress was being directed inwards rather than outwards. His personality problems; intolerance and an inability to relieve tension, had become medicalised--somaticised--they were no longer merely emotional and psychological. At CapeTown he went inland briefly, and though the fever was gone the migraine remained--and would intermittently for the rest of his life.

Across the Indian Ocean, to the Pacific and on to Tahiti migraine afflicted him continually, save for the pause in Tasmania. Strain twisted the muscles on one side of his face (log, 14 Mar.1792) . In Tahiti and other hot humid places he was struck again and again, leaving Portlock and the other officers to run the operation; their way, not his. Migraine attended all his dealings with the Tahitians, even forcing him to go ashore at evening to bathe in the cool of a river (log, May 1792). Migraine and stress followed Bligh through the central Pacific, left him for the vital Barrier Reef passage, but returned again in Torres Strait and at Koupang. At this very unhealthy port, he was no worse or better though he only lost one man to sickness there (log, 6 Nov.1792). Worry about the declining health of the breadfruit harried Bligh again at sea in the long passage via St.Helena to the Caribbean.

In Jamaica he was so ill that the surgeon, Edward Harwood, confined him ashore. Only in the Atlantic on the final leg did he recover. Far from being better by CapeTown on the way to Tahiti as some authors make it seem, his illness lasted the voyage, and beyond.

The illness' effects were deep. Not only incapacitating Bligh for short periods so the officers had to act for him (which given his insecurity must have been very hard to accept), this also meant Bligh was even further apart from the crew on this larger ship, with its officer corps and clearly-defined structure. Unlike Bounty's hodgepodge where everyone knew each other too well, it lessened the damage he could do. Only the officers really experienced this and only when Bligh was well. When he wasn't, the rage and stress (and the migraine it caused) felled him immediately. Though the officers took considerable abuse (some deserved), they did not break as Christian had. Significantly, the breakdown ocurred very early in the voyage, and it was singular. His preparations and planning meant there was an officer corps to act for him, and officers and crew could adjust to an ill captain as well as an intemperate and inconsistent one. On Bounty there had been a general collapse of morale and discipline at Tahiti which affected everyone. On Providence only Bligh broke; on Bounty everyone did a little, and it was too late for them to adjust once Fletcher's crisis appeared.

From the officers comes information about Bligh's condition and personality. Aware of the adverse publicity around Bounty , these men did not say anything on their return. They depended on Bligh for promotion and references and had joined the ship anticipating it, given the fame and fortune associated with such voyages since Drake (Tobin, in Mackaness 1960 p.80). There was to be little on their return, largely due to the revenge of the Christian and Heywood families. The officers of Providence and Assistant confined thoughts and feelings to letters and notes and I have drawn heavily upon these, showing as they do Bligh away from the historic events of Bounty and the Rum Rebellion. This is what he was like usually, normally.

The lieutenant of marines, a distant relation of Bligh's called Thomas Pearce left only this: "From Bligh's odious behaviour during the voyage he would as soon shoot him, as one would a dog, had it not been for the law. " (Christian 1982 p.178-9) George Tobin, 3rd Lt, said (in 1817) "there was no settled system of tyranny exercised by him to produce dissatisfaction. It was in those violent tornados of temper that he lost himself, yet, when all went well could a man be more placid and interesting ... once or twice I felt the unbridled licence of his power of speech yet never without receiving an emolient plaister to heal the wound. " (Tobin to Bond in Mackeness 1949 p.33) Bond, 1st Lt of Providence and Bligh's step-nephew, went further: "the very high opinion he has of himself makes him hold every one of our profession with contempt, perhaps envy. Nay, the Navy is but a sphere for fops and lubbers to swarm in without one gem to vie in brilliancy to himself." (Mackaness 1976 p.69) "From particular traits in his conduct believed him insane at times."

Bligh was guilty of "a dictatorial insistence on trifles, everlasting fault-finding, slights in matters of common courtesy, passionate condemnation of little errors of judgement...being really unconcious of the amount of provocation he had given ... in good times all arrogance and insult and in real danger a change to cordiality and kindness." (Christian 1982 p.179) Bligh said he suffered from "ebullition of the mind" (agitation of boiling water or lava) "when faced with" what he considered "dereliction of duty." "This convulsed his body as well as his tongue" (Dening 1992 p.60). Providence's officers show he 'ebullited' away quite frequently--but they "clewed up many passing squalls in time" and thus avoided many (Tobin journal 1792). Bond unlike Christian knew "notwithstanding his passion is partly to be attributed to a nervous fever he has been attacked by the greater part of the voyage, the chief part of his conduct must have arisen from the fury of an ungovernable temper." He knew much of the abuse was due to Bligh's illness and the rest to stress, and the officers could counteract much of it.

Bligh was a man who suffered from incredible self-assurance and ego. He believed he was always right and increasingly later in life that he could never be wrong (Beaglehole 1967 p.24). He viewed dissent as incompetence or malice and argument as attack on his very being. He had to be first-and seen and respected as such in all things, wherever he went. "Every order challenged his authority and changed the landscape of his quarterdeck." (Dening 1992 p.60-1). Worse, he could not keep his opinions to himself and frequently embarrassed with his open and egotistical denunciations of other men merely because they did not operate the way he did. Better men than Edwards of Pandora were labelled incompetent or old-fashioned and stupid by Bligh, though not always without reason. Cook and Bligh both railed against the intransigence and conservatism of captains and Admiralty which continued the provisioning of ships with salt food and rotten water despite proof that sauerkraut and cleanliness prevented most sea ailments (as against those caught in port) and kept crews alive with minimum effort.

On his ships, and Providence as much as any, everything had to be done Bligh's way. He flew into rages against junior officers who worked without express orders or used their initiative. "Every dogma of power and consequence has been taken from the Lieutenants in order to establish his reputation." (Bond to brother Thomas in Mackeness 1960 p.71) He never learned to delegate without trying to oversee and manage everything; he never trusted his subordinates with the intelligence and skill he valued in himself and expected of them; he could never admit he was wrong; and he never kept to himself criticism of other men. In short, Bligh learned to sail and navigate and chart, and learned to feed and support his men. But he never learned to command. He was insensitive to the feelings and ideas of others to an astonishing degree, and he never, ever, became aware of it. This, more than anything, led to his fall by small slips from the apogee of the Providence voyage, leading a convoy home. "After Providence he made no more discoveries, save of his limitations-and of those he was always incredulous." (Beaglehole 1967 p.11) Illness and stress made Bligh do and say things he never would have on land or when well, beyond the bounds of criticism and insult. Insensitivity meant he didn't realise how much harm and upset he caused--and conceit made him think he was right anyway. He never came down with a bump; life merely reinforced his faith in himself and his mistrust of others which made him lash out under stress.

He waited long for another command, fought twice under Nelson, but was not safe enough to become one of Nelson's chosen few. He lost a ship at the Nore mutiny and was courtmartialled for abuse in 1804. The governorship of N.S.W. was no promotion at all, it was part of the deal that got him off the courtmartial with a warning; and it got him away from the Admiralty where his ideas and invective could do less harm (Mackeness 1951, Kennedy 1989 et al). On the way to and at N.S.W. his character and attitude rubbed men up the wrong way (his ship was fired on by the convoy commodore for attempting to lead the convoy himself! and he ruined the man afterwards (Humble 1976 p.187). Though he was supported by the populace, the Rum Corps ousted him and were never adequately punished. He eventually made Rear and then Vice-Admiral, though he did not sail as such. Beyond a certain point promotion did not depend on achievement, and his early success and Sir Joseph Banks' influence guarded him from the harsher consequences of his words and actions.

Bligh's temperament and illness on this voyage have always been known to historians, but overlooked and undervalued. Writers have viewed the illness within the context of his whole life rather than from Bligh's perspective. He is ill but recovers quickly; effect and duration, and the relationship between fever, stress-migraine, and personality has not been explored. Clearly they were related, and were present throughout the trip and for years after. Stress and illness nearly killed Bligh, forced his officers to lead the voyage and act for Bligh even more than they would normally. His behaviour was much the same as before and after, Bond showed its causes were apparent, and its effects could be limited. Bligh had become manageable. His forethought and preparations of men, ships and organisation had preserved the operation in a way the pennypinching before Bounty could not. The ships sailed on, the officers ran the operation when Bligh could not, his experience and skills were still available; the Breadfruit were gathered, tended, and delivered. Despite Bligh's physical and emotional troubles the voyage succeeded--and was forgotten. Stress, insecurity, and illness caused his actions and reactions not only on Providence but before and after, and therefore the causes of the Bounty mutiny and the Rum Rebellion are much clearer. He is partly responsible for all that happened; both good and bad, neither wholly one or the other. The time for assigning singular blame and responsibility is long past. The voyage of Providence is more than the turning point in Bligh's career, it is the key to understanding his whole life and character.

Service Record

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His service record was as follows:
  • 01 Jul 1762 Captain's Servant: HMS Monmouth
  • 27 Jul 1770 AB: HMS Hunter
  • 05 Feb 1771 Midshipman: HMS Hunter
  • 22 Sep 1771 Midshipman: HMS Crescent
  • 02 Sep 1774 AB: HMS Ranger
  • 30 Sep 1775 Midshipman: HMS Ranger
  • 20 Mar 1776 Master: HMS Resolution
  • 14 Feb 1781 Master: HMS Belle Poule
  • 05 Oct 1781 Lieutenant: HMS Berwick
  • 01 Jan 1782 Lieutenant: HMS Princess Amelia
  • 20 Mar 1782 Lieutenant: HMS Cambridge
  • 14 Jan 1783 Half-Pay Lieutenant
  • 16 Aug 1787 Commanding Lieutenant: HMS Bounty
  • 14 Nov 1790 Captain: HMS Falcon (sloop)
  • 15 Dec 1790 Captain: HMS Medea
  • 08 Jan 1791 Half-Pay Captain
  • 16 Apr 1791 Captain: HMS Providence
  • 07 Sep 1793 Half-Pay Captain
  • 30 Apr 1795 Captain: HMS Calcutta
  • 07 Jan 1796 Captain: HMS Director
  • 03 Jul 1800 Half-Pay Captain
  • 13 Mar 1801 Captain: HMS Glatton
  • 12 Apr 1801 Captain: HMS Monarch
  • 08 May 1801 Captain: HMS Irresistible
  • 28 May 1802 Half-Pay Captain
  • 02 May 1804 Captain: HMS Warrior
  • 30 Apr 1805 Half-Pay Captain
  • 24 May 1805 Governor of New South Wales
  • 27 Sep 1805 Commander: HMS Porpoise
  • 14 Nov 1805 Captain: HMS Porpoise
  • 31 Jul 1808 Commodore: HMS Porpoise
  • 03 Apr 1810 Commodore: HMS Hindostan
  • 31 Jul 1810 Half-Pay Rear Admiral
  • 04 Jun 1814 Half-Pay Vice Admiral


William Bligh does not deserve his popular reputation as a cruel villain. He could better be described as a 'young turk ... a man moving in the fast lane'. He evidenced early brilliance matched with the right connections. His perfectionism carried him far, but also led to most of his problems. He could not emotionally understand or deal well with persons who did not share his devotion to duty and detail. He was uncommonly concerned with the physical health of his men, and contrary to popular misconceptions, he was slow to impose corporal punishment. But he could, and did, impose fearful tongue- lashings, and his temper was legendary. These were not traits that would endear him to the violent, street-smart members of the lower classes who made up the bulk of the crews over which he served. Like many of today's corporate executives, he almost, but not quite, reached the pinnacle of his profession. He is a man deserving of admiration.


The Wills of Captain Cook's Crew - William Bligh

This is the last Will and Testament of me William Bligh of Durham Place, Lambeth in the County of Surrey, Esquire, Captain in his Majesty's Navy and also Governor General and Commander in Chief in and over his Majesty's Colony of New South Wales. I direct that all my just debts and funeral and testamentary expences be in the first place paid and satisfied out of my personal Estate as soon as conveniently may be after my decease.

I give and bequeath unto my daughter Harriet, the Wife of Henry Barker, the sum of one hundred pounds of lawful money of Great Britain, to be paid to her as soon as conveniently may be after my decease in order to in order to place her upon an equality with my Daughter Mary Putland who has already received from me the sum of two hundred pounds.

I give unto each of my four younger Daughters Elizabeth, Frances, Jane and Ann, the sum of two hundred pounds to be paid or transferred to them upon their attaining the age of twenty one years, or day of marriage with or without the consent of my dear Wife, which shall first happen,

And I direct that the ____ shall be invested in the public funds of Great Britain in the names of my Executors and that the dividends to arose therefrom shall in the mean time be paid be paid and applied in such manner as I shall hereinafter direct concerning the dividends to arise from the Residue of my personal Estate I give and bequeath all the Rest, Residue and Remainder of my personal Estate and Effects whatsoever and wheresoever unto and for the use of the Right Honourable John Earl of Darnley and Dugall Campbell of Saltspring Estate in the Island of Jamaica Esquire my Executors hereinafter named, their executors, administrators and assigns upon trust nevertheless as soon as conveniently may be after my decease absolutely to sell and dispose of all such parts of my Personal Estate and Effects, (except as hereafter mentioned) as shall not consist of money or securities for money and as shall be in their nature saleable by public auction or private Contact and in such manner as they my said trustees shall think most adviseable and also to derive and get in all debts and sums of money that shall be due or owing to me at my decease, and to convert into money all other parts of my personal Estate, and my will is and I direct that they , my said trustees and the survivor of them his executors and administrators shall stand and be possessed of all the clear monies arising from such sale or sales and to ////// and got in as aforesaid together with all other the Residue of my said personal Estate (after payment of my debts, funeral and testamentary expences and legacies) Upon trust to lay out and invest the same in their or his names or name in some or one of the Government Stocks or Funds of Great Britain or other Government Securities and to stand and be possessed thereof upon trust for and during the life of my said Wife to pay one moiety or equal half part of the Dividends, interest and annual product of such Stocks, Funds or securities to my said Wife for her own sole separate and independant use and not to be liable to the debts, contracts or engagements of any husband with whom she may hereafter intermarry and for which her receipt alone notwithstanding her Coverture shall be sufficient discharge to my said Executors so as such receipt be signed and given by my said Wife after the dividends shall become due and not by anticipation

And upon further trust, to pay and dispose of the remaining moiety or half part of such dividends and interest unto and equally between my four younger Daughters Elizabeth, Frances, Jane and Ann, or such of them as shall be unmarried at the time of my decease.

And I direct and declare that it shall and may be lawful for my said trustees upon the marriage of any or either of my said four younger Daughters with the consent or my Wife during her lifetime, to be testified by writing under her hand, to transfer to her or them so marrying such share of and in the principal Stocks, Funds or securities to the interest and dividends whereof she or they would be entitled under the trusts hereinbefore declared during the life of my said Wife, but otherwise us transfer or division of the said Stocks, funds or securities shall be made until after the death of my said Wife as hereinafter directed and declared and from and after the decease of my said Wife,

I direct that they my said Trustees and Executors and the survivor of them his executors and administrators shall stand possessed of and interested in the said Stocks, funds and securities to be purchased with the produce of my said Estate and the dividend, interest and annual proceeds thereof in trust for all my Daughters Harriett Barker, Mary Putland, Elizabeth Bligh, Frances Bligh, Jane Bligh, and Ann Bligh, or such of them as shall be living, and the Issue of such as shall be dead, in equal parts, shares and proportions, the shares of such of them as shall be living and shall have attained the age of twenty one years or be married to be transferred to them immediately, and the shares of such of them as shall be under the said age and unmarried to be transferred to them upon their attaining the same or marrying, which shall first happen, and the interest and dividends thereof in the mean time to be paid and applied in and towards their support and maintenance, and the share or shares of the Issue of such of my said daughters as shall be dead to be transferred to such issue respectively in equal proportions upon their attaining the age of twenty one years, or if females upon them marrying before that age and the interest dividends and annual produce in the mean time to be in vested in the public funds to accumulate for his, her or their benefit and in case any or either of my said daughters shall happen to die before her or their share or shares of and in the said principal Stocks, funds and securities shall become payable or transferable without leaving any lawful issue her or them surviving, I direct that such share or shares of her or them so dying both as to the principal and as to the interest dividends and annual proceeds thereof shall from and after her or their decease sink into and be considered as part of the residue of my personal Estate and it is my Will and I hereby further direct that the interest and dividends to become payable to my Daughters under the bequest hereinbefore contained shall until they respectively attain the age of twenty one years or marry before that age be paid to their Guardian or Guardians for the time being for their support and maintenance,

And my Will is and I do declare that my said Executors shall permit and suffer my dear Wife Elizabeth Bligh to have the use and occupation of my said Dwellinghouse with the appurtenances in Durham Place aforesaid to reside therein with my unmarried Children for and during the term of her natural life, if she shall so long continue a Widow, without paying any rent or other compensation for the same to my said Executors, and from and after her decease, or ceasing to be a Widow as aforesaid shall permit and suffer such of my Daughters Elizabeth, Frances, Jane and Ann as shall be then single and unmarried and such of them as shall respectively continue unmarried to have the like use and occupation of my said Dwellinghouse with the appurtenances without paying any rent or other compensation for the same until the youngest of my unmarried daughters shall attain the age of twenty one years, and from and after the period last mentioned I direct that the same shall sink into the residue of my personal Estate.

And I direct that the Ground rent and taxes of and for my said Dwellinghouse and its appurtenances shall be paid and sustained by and out of my personal Estate. And my Will is and I also direct that my said Executor shall within three months next after my decease raise an Inventory in writing to be taken of all my household furniture, plate, linen, china, books, pictures, prints, wines, liquors and other effects in my said Dwelling house and shall permit the same to remain and continue therein to be used by my said Wife and my Daughters, the occupier or occupiers of the said house for the time being during such time as she or they shall reside in and occupy the said house and from and after the expiration of the said trusts I direct that the said household furniture, plate, linen, china, books, pictures, prints and other Effects shall sink into and become part of the Residue of my personal Estate, but I direct and declare that it shall and may be lawful to and for my said Executors, Trustees at any time after the decease of my said Wife, or her marrying again and before the youngest of my Daughters unmarried shall have attained the age of twenty one years with the consent and approbation of such of my Daughters intitled to the use and occupation of my said Dwellinghouse, furniture and effects who shall have attained the age of twenty one years and of the Guardian of such of my said Daughters who shall be under that age to sell and dispose of the said house, furniture and effects and to lay out and invest the monies arising by such sale deducting the expences attending the same in the public funds or upon Government securities in trust to pay, apply and dispose on the dividends, interest and annual produce thereof from time to time unto and amongst all my Daughters who would have been intitled to the use and occupation of the said Dwelling House and Effects under the trusts aforesaid in equal shares and proportions for such time only as they would have been intitled to such use and occupation, and from and after the expiration of the trust lastly hereinbefore declared I direct that the Stocks, funds and securities so to be purchased as aforesaid and the Dividends interest and annual produce thereof shall go in such monies as is herein directed of and concerning the said house and Effects in case the sale thereof had been delayed until the youngest of my Daughters unmarried shall have attained the age of twenty one years.

And it is my Will that my said Executors shall be at liberty to proceed to the sale of my premises in the Parish of Marylebone in the County of Middlesex or not as they may think fit

And I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint the said Earl of Darnley and Dugall Campbell Executors of this my Will and my said dear Wife Elizabeth during her life, and after her death the said Earl of Darnley and Dugal Campbell Guardian and Guardians of my Infant and unmarried children and my Will is and I do hereby declare that the receipt and receipts of my said Trustees or the survivor of them or the heirs and executors or administrators of such survivor shall be good and sufficient discharge or good and sufficient discharges to the purchaser or purchasers of all or any part of my said Real and Personal Estate and his, her or their heirs executors and administrators for the money to arise from the sale thereof and that such purchaser or purchasers shall not be answerable or accountable for any loss misapplication or nonapplication of the said purchase money or any part thereof or be obliged to see to the application and disposition thereof or of any part thereof and I direct that they my said Trustees Executors or either of them their or either of their heirs executors or administrators shall not be charged with or accountable for any more of the trust monies Estates and Premises than they respectively shall actually receive or shall come to their respective hands by virtue of this my Will nor with or for any loss that shall happen to the same or any part thereof so as such loss happen without their wilful default nor one of them for the other of them or for the acts, deeds, receipts or disbursements of the other of them but each of them only for his own acts, deeds, receipts or disbursements.

And also that it shall and may be lawful for them my said Trustees and Executors and each of them their and each of their heirs executors and administrators in the first place by and out of the trust Estates monies and premises to deduct retain to and reimburse him and themselves all such loss, costs, charges and expences as they or either of them shall respectively sustain expend or be put unto by reason of the trusts hereby in them reposed or the execution thereof at any time relating thereto.

And lastly I hereby revoke annul and make void all and every former and other Will and Wills by me at any time heretofore made and declare this to be my last Will and Testament,. In Witness whereof I the said William Bligh have hereunto and to two other parts of this my last Will and Testament contained in six sheets of paper set my hand to the first five sheets thereof and to the sixth and last sheet thereof my hand and seal this twenty fourth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five    Wm. Bligh.

Signed, Sealed Published and Declared by the within named Testator William Bligh as and for his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who in his presence and at his request and in the presence of each other have hereunto and to two other parts thereof set our hands as Witnesses R Gatty, Angel Court, Throgmorton Street,
Tho. Gatty his Clerk.

On the 20th April 1818 Admon. (Williamo) of the Goods & P of William Bligh of Farmingham House in the Co.of Kent Esqr. a Vice Admiral of the Blue in his Majesty's Navy, deceased, was granted to Harriett Maria (in the Will written Harriett) Barker (Wife of Henry Aston Barker Esqr.) Elizabeth Bligh (Wife of Richard Bligh Esqr.) & Frances Bligh Spr. the Daurs. & three of the Exors Legatees being first sworn duly to Admr. – The Rt. Honble John Earl of Darnley the survg. Exor. //// & Residl. Legatee in trust named in the Will having first ____, and Elizabeth Bligh the Wife of the Testator & Residl. Legatee for life, dying in his lifetime.

(Transcribed from the copy at the Family Records Centre, London. Microfilm Reference Prob. 11 / 1603.)

Mr. Bligh's Bad Health

William Bligh was gravely ill in the early stages of his second breadfruit voyage, 1791-93, with HM ships Providence and Assistant. He was frequently incapacitated and bedridden during the following two years. It is my contention that this illness not only prevented his skills & abilities from leading the voyage throughout much of its time, but also spared his officers and men from the coarser aspects of his personality; his overbearing self-confidence and self-righteousness, his denigration of others for his own security and self-esteem, and his insensitivity to the problems and feelings of others. Bligh's character was flawed in a way that his abilities as a navigator and sailor were not.

The commander of the escort, Assistant, was brought over to Providence a month into the voyage when it seemed possible Bligh might not survive a relapse of malaria (caught in Batavia after his historic open boat voyage following the Bounty mutiny), heatstroke and what we now call executive stress.

In the hands of competent subordinates the expedition moved smoothly along without the confusion and disruption Bligh's rages caused on Bounty. A larger crew, two ships, marines and lieutenants under him made all the difference. The rages were fewer & the illness kept Bligh away from the men long enough for the voyage to succeed.

Ian Campbell, Ichi-Ban Research Inc, P.O.Box 296 Kings Meadows 7249 Tasmania; 20 June 1995.

Mary Bligh O'Connell Speaks

Mary Bligh, who has been described as the sauciest, daintiest and most determined little spitfire ever to preside at Government House, was an independent and strong willed woman. Her association with Riverstone began on the occasion of her marriage to Maurice O'Connell, Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, when Governor Macquarie made a grant to him of 2500 acres of land, which O'Connell named Riverston after his birthplace in Ireland. Much has been written about O'Connell's career, but it is Mary whose life had all the drama of a current television soap opera!

Mary Bligh was born to Elizabeth and William Bligh in London, early in 1783. She was the second daughter, her sister Harriet having preceded her. She was to have five sisters in all, for she was followed by Betsy, twins Frances and Jane, and Ann, who was epileptic and mentally defective. The Blighs also had twin sons, who died when only one day old.

The only information we have of Mary as a child comes from a letter from her father to John Bond, who was married to his half-sister, Catherine, on 7th April, 1783:
I found Mrs Bligh very well, but the child, from her severe teething illness, suffering a great deal and indeed to add to all, a general breaking out over all her body and limbs, which most certainly was the itch. However, I am happy to say that from partial rubbings and her teething illness going off, she is survived to a pretty child.

During her early childhood, the family lived at Belle Vue, Hampden; Norse Moor Place, Lambeth; Durham Place, Lambeth; but after 1789 appear to have settled at 3 Lambert Place, London. They seem to have been a close family, despite Bligh's problems with his career, as he wrote to, and about, them often. On August 19th, 1789, as he was in Timor waiting to return to London after the calamitous events of the mutiny on the Bounty, he wrote to his wife: Know then, My own dear Betsy, that I have lost the Bounty, and tells her at great length of the troubles he endured, but, at what was surely the worst time of his life, he remembers his girls. Give my blessing to my Dear Harriet, my Dear Mary, my Dear Betsy and to my Dear little stranger and tell them I shall be home soon.

It was Sir Joseph Banks who recommended Bligh for the position of Governor of New South Wales, as a firm disciplinarian, much needed in the colony. Bligh was reluctant at first as Mrs Bligh, being a very poor sailor, refused to go on another sea trip. Furthermore, he felt that the salary of one thousand pounds, ($2000), which had been paid to all previous Governors, was insufficient for him to live well and put some aside for later. It was agreed that his salary would be doubled and Bligh was appointed Governor and, in addition, Commander-in-Chief, on full pay, of all British ships in the N.S.W. station. Accordingly he was able to request his son-in-law, John Putland, be appointed as his naval Lieutenant and this meant that he could be accompanied by his daughter Mary, now Mary Putland, who would act as Governor's Lady.

John Putland at this time, was a half pay Lieutenant, already with early signs of T.B., but Bligh proudly asserted that Putland was the first rating to be elevated to the rank of Lieutenant by Lord Nelson himself after the Battle of the Nile.

Bligh assured his wife that their separation would not last longer than five years and Mrs Bligh, who was a noted natural historian with a special interest in seashells, seemed contented to remain in England and wait. Bligh, John and Mary Putland embarked on the ship Lady Madeleine Sinclair and Mary wrote to her family: In this ship there are female as well as male convicts, among the latter is a clergyman named Newishman, a man of very good family. His wife is with him, they say a very genteel woman. Mary relieved the tedium of the long sea voyage by writing frequently to her mother and sisters, so we know that the very next day Bligh planned to visit Fortune another convict ship.

She writes again that at 10 a.m. Papa went on board the Alexander to see the state of the ship and convicts. They, poor unfortunate creatures, were delighted to see him. Bligh promised them that if their behaviour was good he would see if he could ameliorate their conditions. Also in the convoy was the Elizabeth, a whaler whose captain had a grant of land at Port Jackson, and the Porpoise.

They had not been at sea long when Lt. Putland was transferred to the Porpoise, while Mary stayed with her father. Soon after, the first portent of arguments to come occurred when Bligh, who considered himself to be totally in charge of the whole operation, ordered his ship to change course. This angered Captain Short on Porpoise, who had been entrusted with command of the ships at sea. He signalled Bligh to return to course, and when he took no notice, Putland was ordered to fire on the ship containing his wife and father-in-law. He refused to do so and the confrontation was ultimately defused when Bligh brought his ship back into line.

During the voyage Mary wrote to her family: Papa has purchased sapphires, emeralds and amethysts for Mamma and all of you - Mamma's to be the handsomest of course.

The party landed in Sydney on 8th August, 1806. The Sydney Gazette recorded, We are extremely happy to state that Governor King's successor is accompanied by his amiable daughter, Mrs Putland, a circumstance which conveys the greatest pleasure and cannot fail being attended with the most beneficial consequences. Governor King almost immediately made Bligh a grant of 1000 acres on the Hawkesbury which he later turned into a model farm with Andrew Thompson as Bailiff, and 600 acres at St Marys for John and Mary Putland. Bligh returned the gesture with a grant to Mrs King, which she named Thanks.

The Blighs soon made their presence felt in Sydney Town. Bligh sent home to England some Rosehill parrots, but regretted that the emu egg, presumably being carved, was not finished, and Mary sent home feathers for her mother and sisters. Her sister Elizabeth wrote her thanks and said she thought them the most elegant of the kind I ever saw. She had been told they were from an egrette of the bittern tribe and told Mary that her mother had distributed them as favours to friends and people who had done them past kindnesses.

The gift giving was not all one way for Mrs Bligh sent Mary three pairs of silk stockings, six pairs of gloves and four pairs of shoes, besides some music, and Mary in a letter from Government House to her sister tells how excited she was by the receipt of a new gown, which was altogether different and superior to anything of the kind which has been seen in this country. Perhaps it was this gown which she wore to services at St Philip's church one famous Sunday. Denton Prout describes the scene in the book, Petticoat Pioneers (page 41): the gown, a modish one, suited her to perfection, but it was so thin as to be almost transparent in the strong Australian light. It gave some of the soldiers sitting in the church such a lesson in the complexities of feminine wearing apparel that their minds were taken from the study of their prayer books. Mary was not wearing petticoats, and the long lacy pantaloons she wore underneath were visible to all. A series of lascivious chuckles ran through the church. Mary looked haughtily around to see what was causing the amusement. Then, realising that she was responsible, she did the only thing a woman of her upbringing could do in the circumstances. She fainted. Bligh, once his daughter had been carried prostrate from the church, angrily demanded explanations and apologies from the soldiers, thus further exacerbating the ill feelings that were mounting towards him as he introduced harsh methods to restore order in the colony.

On the 10th October, 1807, Mary wrote to her mother, Papa is quite well, but dreadfully harassed by business and the troublesome set of people he has to deal with. In general he gives great satisfaction, but there are a few that we suspect wish to oppose him....Mr Macarthur is one of the party, and the others are the military officers, but they are all invited to the house and treated with the same politeness as usual.

Macarthur was indeed stirring up trouble, although in the previous January he had written to a friend, Our new Governor, Bligh, is a Cornish man by birth. Mrs Putland, who accompanied him is a very accomplished person. This was before he realised that Bligh would seek to prevent him trafficking in rum, which had been a perquisite of the N.S.W. Corps, and he was now recruiting other military officers to his side against the new Governor. Bligh, however, remained popular with many settlers, especially those of the Hawkesbury region, whom he had helped fairly and generously after a disastrous flood.

There is little mention of John Putland at all and Mary's first loyalty seemed to belong to her father. On 24th August, 1806, Bligh had appointed Putland his aid du camp(sic), and a magistrate throughout the territory and its dependencies and in January, 1807, Putland was appointed Commander of the Porpoise in the absence of Captain Short, who had gone to England on the Buffalo. Putland's health must have been deteriorating steadily, however, and in November of the same year Bligh had written to Joseph Banks of John's grave condition, and the traumatic effect it had on Mary, for they were inestimable to me, so you will feel for the distress we are in besides my apprehension for my daughter's health. She has been a treasure to the few gentlewomen here and to the dignity of Government House. Only 16 months after their arrival in Sydney, John Putland died of tuberculosis on 4th January, 1808, and was buried in the grounds of Government House. Bligh had been very fond of his son-in-law and was said to be deeply affected by his death, perhaps to the extent of clouding his judgement during the difficult time coming.

Putland had only been dead for two weeks. Mary, a widow at twenty six, and her father were still in deep mourning. The officers of the N.S.W. Corp, goaded by Macarthur, decided the time had come to depose the Governor for his stringent policies on the importation of stills and on their lucrative monopoly on trading in rum. Although John Macarthur had signed an address of welcome to Bligh on behalf of the free citizens of the colony on Bligh's arrival in August, 1806, his mind was now changed. Matters came to a head after Bligh had decided two court cases against Macarthur, one regarding the prohibited importation of stills. Macarthur moved to Sydney to be on hand to engineer the revolt. At last, after an abortive third trial, on 26th January, 1808, Macarthur and nine of his close associates petitioned Lieutenant Governor Johnstone to remove Bligh from office and he agreed.

So, on the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the colony, the Corps was ordered to march on Government House. Soldiers with fixed bayonets over-ran the grounds of the residence, pushing aside Mary and trampling on the grave of her newly buried husband. Johnstone, writing to Captain John Piper, the Commandant at Norfolk Island on 2nd February, (Piper was collecting shells for Mrs Bligh at this time), informed him of the event and assured him that not a single instance of disorder or irregularity took place, but that Bligh was nowhere to be found, but after a long and careful search he was at last discovered in a situation too disgraceful to be mentioned. A political cartoon of the day showed Bligh being pulled from under the bed, the inference being that he was hiding, but according to Merchant Campbell, who was dining with Bligh that night, the Governor was attempting to hide secret papers Campbell writes, We had just drank about two glasses of wine after dinner, when we understood that Mr Macarthur was liberated from gaol. The Governor almost immediately rose from the table and went upstairs to put on his uniform and I heard him call to his orderly to have his horses ready. I accompanied him upstairs and saw him open his bureau or trunk and take out a number of papers, when Mr Gore entered and delivered him Major Johnstone's order for the liberation of Mr Macarthur. I had scarcely read that order when I heard Mrs Putland's screams, upon which I immediately ran downstairs to the gate at the entrance to Government House where I found her endeavouring to prevent Mr Bell, who commanded the main guard, from opening the gate. I saw the gate opened and a party of soldiers and officers marched in. (Campbell was friends with Bligh and often visited him. He had given Mary a shawl in the way of a friendly present.)

Mary alone attempted to resist by force the intrusion of these soldiers, laying about her with a parasol to fend off the men trying to get through the bedroom door. One eyewitness reported: The fortitude evinced by Mrs Putland on this truly trying occasion merits particular notice, for regardless of her own safety and forgetful of the timidity peculiar to her sex, her extreme anxiety to preserve the life of her beloved father prevailed over every consideration and with uncommon intrepidity she opposed a body of soldiers who, with fixed bayonets and loaded firelocks, were proceeding in hostile array to invade the peaceful and defenceless mansion of her parent, her friend, her protector, and as she then believed, to deprive him of his life. She dared the traitors to stab her to the heart but to spare the life of her father. The soldiers themselves, appalled by the greatness of her spirit, hesitated how to act and that principle of esteem and respect which is inherent in the breast of every man who sees an amiable woman in distress, and is not himself a most consummate villain, deterred them from offering any violence to her.

It was Lieutenant Minchin, later of Minchinbury Estate, who physically removed Bligh from his bedroom and escorted him downstairs to hear formally of his deposition.

It is unfortunate that due to a lack of paper, no newspaper account of these events is available, as the Sydney Gazette was not published between August 1807 and May 1808. But we do know that Macarthur, hero of the day, paraded around the streets where bonfires blazed and riotous behaviour occurred.

There was a lull for about a year, while Bligh and Mary were under house arrest, and little is known about the lives of the pair during this time at Government House, but suddenly they were returned to the spotlight when the rebels went to Bligh and demanded that he return to England on the Admiral Gambier. This he refused to do. Although he was no longer Governor, Bligh could not have his naval powers taken from him. Bligh still had command of the Porpoise, although he was not allowed to go on board. Johnstone wanted to use the Porpoise and he ordered Bligh to give up command of the ship or be confined to barracks. Bligh again refused. Bligh wrote, I went to my daughter and reconciling our feelings to our reputation, we parted.

Johnstone put Bligh into a one horse chaise and drove with him. Now Mary comes back into the limelight. Once again showing great courage and spirit, Mary pursued the carriage on foot and caught up with it, much to the astonishment and entertainment and indeed admiration of the populace. The picture is best described in Bligh's own words.

He had only drove me 200 yards, when I found my beloved child, under a vertical sun, rushing after me, having passed Captain Abbott, who told her she need not go for they would not let her in. Bligh, who was riding in front, was almost at bursting point at the sight of his amiable daughter fainting and sinking under the accumulation of such unmerited wrongs and insults wantonly heaped on her beloved and respected parent.

Mary persisted, running along the street in the heat of a summer's day, and arrived at the Barracks when the carriage did. Bligh continues and seizing hold of my arm, we walked into it, passing Lieutenant Colonel Foveaux, who came to direct Major Johnstone where I was to be confined. This happened to be a subaltern's barrack. It consisted of two rooms with a bed in one and a sofa in the other. I had just got her to the sofa when distress of mind, and the great heat she had passed through overcame her.

Although her entry was voluntary, Mary was warned she would have to share her father's confinement. Soldiers were sent for some clothes and necessary articles for her and she used the bed while Bligh took the sofa. Soldiers' women waited on them, although her maid was allowed in to share the two hot little rooms some days later and three armed sentries kept guard over them.

Paterson was anxious to get the Blighs out of the colony and after seven days strict confinement, they came to an agreement. Bligh was to go with his daughter on board the Porpoise on 20th January and sail for England without touching any part of the territory, being allowed to return to Government House for the few days remaining. Johnstone said Bligh could take with him anyone he needed as a witness in the enquiry which would be held. However, Johnstone refused to release one of these people, so as soon as Mary and Bligh set sail, Bligh repudiated his promise, feeling that he was no longer bound to its terms, and sailed to the Derwent River in Tasmania and remained there.

Poor Mary suffered, for she was a bad sailor, so on arrival in Hobart Bligh went ashore to Government House, where David Collins was ensconced. Bligh described it as a miserable shell of three rooms and preferred to return each night and sleep on the ship. However, he left Mary ashore as Collins' house guest. The two men finally had a fierce argument over the removal of a sentry from Government House, so Bligh removed Mary from the house and took her back to the ship. He insisted that Collins had insulted Mary by parading around, arm in arm, with his mistress, Margaret Eddington who was pregnant at the time.

Bligh removed the Porpoise down river to establish a blockade to stop all shipping movements in and out of Hobart. Collins ordered all people to have nothing to do with the ship and said he would fire on any boat going ashore from her. This made obtaining food very difficult for Bligh and Mary and he was forced to demand food from the ships he was trying to stop. They stayed there for six months until he heard in December 1809, that Macquarie was due from England, so Bligh set sail again for Sydney. Macquarie had his ship sail close to Hobart in the hope of meeting Bligh, but thick fog kept the ships from each other.


Mary Speaks Continued

Bligh arrived in Sydney on 17th January, 1810, and he and Mary were welcomed by Governor Macquarie and invited to stay at Government House. Macquarie wrote in his journal, Commodore Bligh, accompanied by his daughter, Mrs Putland, came on shore and I invited them to dinner, but they declined. He did not know that they had already been introduced to his Lieutenant Governor, Maurice O'Connell, who had issued an invitation for them to dine with him and been accepted. Reports vary on whether Macquarie provided the Blighs with a house to live in, or whether Bligh himself rented the house in Bridge Street, close by the Tank Stream at ten pounds a month, but either way Bligh insisted on being provided with a protective guard from Macquarie's 73rd Regiment, the Second Black Watch. The Hindostan was being prepared for his return to England, and Bligh insisted on being saluted each time he went aboard or came off the vessel, often as many as six times a day.

At the time that Mary Bligh Putland met Maurice O'Connell, she was 27 years old and he was a 42 year old bachelor. Unbeknown to Bligh, who was busy preparing to leave the colony, Mary and Maurice were forming a serious attachment and when Bligh left on St Patrick's Day to tour the Hawkesbury and see his farms again, Mary and O'Connell decided on a match.

Maurice Charles O'Connell was born in Riverston in County Kerry, Ireland in 1768. He was educated mainly in France where he studied for the priesthood. He then fought in the Irish Brigade with the French Army. Transferred to the British Army, he had a good military record before he joined Macquarie's 73rd Regiment and came to N.S.W. in command of the Regiment and as Lieutenant Governor. Before the Hindostan was ready to sail, he had proposed to Mary and been accepted. Mary, however, kept the betrothal secret and actually packed her belongings and boarded the ship on 5th May. O'Connell then gave a grand dinner party at which he announced their marriage plans. Macquarie, who was aware of the disruption the presence of the Blighs caused in the colony, had been anxious to see them go, but was prepared to put a good face on it.

We have an interesting pen portrait of Mary at this time written by Ellis Bent, the new Judge Advocate who had arrived with Macquarie. Very small, nice little figure, rather pretty, but conceited and extremely affected and proud. God knows of what! Extremely violent and passionate, so much as now and then to fling a plate or candlestick at her father's head ........everything is studied about her, her walk, her talking, everything ...... and you have to observe her mode of sitting down ........dressed with some taste, very thinly, and to compensate for the want of petticoats wears breeches or rather, trowsers. He called the marriage a cursed match and continued, she is very clever and plays remarkably well on the pianoforte. I regret extremely this marriage, for in the first place I dislike her, and in the next place it crushed the hopes I had formed of seeing comparative harmony restored to the colony. He was one of the few who recognised what was going to happen and he wrote to his brother: I immediately divined the fact and now know that the Colonel is going to marry Mrs Putland, who has prepared all her accommodations aboard the Hindostan. He felt the marriage would encourage the split in the colony and make the place very unpleasant.

Macquarie ignored the rumour that Mary's motive in marrying O'Connell was to settle in an important social position from which she could snipe at her father's enemies. She brought to the marriage a large dowry in the form of her previous land grant and cattle, and Macquarie gave O'Connell a grant of 2500 acres at Riverstone as a wedding gift. The grant was made on the 7th May and the wedding took place on the 8th. Governor and Mrs Macquarie gave them a dinner at Government House, the ballroom being decorated with flowers and with festoons encircling a device showing the initials of the happy couple. The event culminated with a display of fireworks. This sumptuous ball had originally been planned to farewell the Blighs and was quickly adapted to suit both occasions. The wedding ceremony was conducted by Samuel Marsden and took place at Government House. Bligh gave the bride away. The Sydney Gazette gave no details of the wedding, just a brief official notice, but it did publish a very fulsome poem to celebrate the event.

Strike! Loudly strike the lyric string;
To Bridal Love devote the song;
Let every muse a garland bring
And Joy the festive note prolong!
To P........d, amiable and fair
Soft as her manners pour the warbled lay;-
Another bolder strain prepare
For brave O'C.........l on his nuptial day!
In Australia's genial clime proclaim
Their love and valour blend their spotless flame
And wreaths of sweetest flowers prepare
For lovely P........d's flowing hair.

The poem ended with the line

And children' children crown their virtuous love!

For some reason it was deemed improper to have printed their names in the poem, and it was left to the readers to fill in the blank spaces!

Bligh had not at first viewed the match with favour and he was fearful about what his wife would think of it, so he delayed informing his family until he reached Rio, when he wrote this letter:

"Hindostan", 11th August 1810
in Rio de Janiero.

My dearest love,
Happily I am thus far advanced to meet you and my dear children. I am now well, as is our dear Mary, altho I have suffered beyond what at present I can describe to you. Providence has ordained certain things which we cannot account for; so it has happened with us. My perfect reliance that everything which occurs is for the best is my great consolation. In the highest feelings of comfort and pride of bringing her to England, altho I thought she could be under no guidance but my own - my heart devoted to her - in the midst of most parental affections and conflicting passions of adoration for so good and admired a child, I at the last found what I had least expected - Lt. Col. O'Connell commanding the 73rd Regiment had, unknown to me, won her affections. Nothing can exceed the esteem and high character he has. He is likewise Lt. Gov. of the territory - a few days before I sailed when everything was prepared for her reception, and we had even embarked, he then opened the circumstance to me - I gave him a flat denial for I could not believe it - I retired with her, when I found she had approved of his addresses and given her word to him. What will you not, my Dear Betsy, feel for my situation at the time, when you know that nothing I could say had any effect; at last overwhelmed with a loss I could not retrieve, I had only to make the best of it. My consent could only be extorted, for it was not a free gift. However, on many proofs of the Honour, Goodness and high character of Colonel O'Connell and his good sense, which had passed under my own trial I did, like having no alternative, consent to her marriage and gave her away at the ceremony consummated at Government House, under the most public tokens of honour and respect and veneration, the whole colony, except a few malcontents, considering it the finest blessing ever bestowed upon them - every creature devoted to her service by her excellence, with respect and adoration............they remain persons of the utmost importance to the welfare of the colony and the admiration and respect of Gov. and Mrs Macquarie, who did the honours of the ceremony at Government House with an extraordinary degree of pleasure and even adulation.

Bligh must have been very hurt by Mary's duplicity, when he would have felt every confidence in her loyalty to him after all they had been through together. That he had been totally ignorant of the situation is shown in a previous letter he wrote home: The "Hindostan", being large and commodious, my Dear Mary will feel more comfortable situated and particularly as she will have pleasanter society than in the "Porpoise", a ship by no means agreeable to her.

So they were obviously expecting Mary to return home to England with her father, and what Mrs Bligh thought of this sudden change of plan is not recorded. Bligh did however take with him a letter from Mary to her mother, although we do not know the contents, and he concludes his letter from Rio by assuring his wife, Thus, my dearest love, when I thought nothing could have induced our dear child to have quitted me, I have left her behind in the finest climate in the world. To have taken her into the tempestuous voyage I have now formed, I believe would have caused her death. Everything Honourable and affectionate has been performed by Col. O'Connell which I soon hope to communicate to you.

Bligh left for England on 12th May, having given Mary bills of 140 pounds to settle her accounts before her marriage.

Mary and Maurice O'Connell lived in barracks in Wynyard Square until 1812 when O'Connell rented Vaucluse Estate at Vaucluse until 1814. Presumably the O'Connells, Mary, sometimes called a spitfire, and the amiable Maurice, settled down to married life. When Macquarie set off on a tour of inspection, he wrote in his diary that on Wednesday, 28th November, 1810 he, with Mrs Macquarie, Mr Gregory Blaxland and others crossed South Creek and travelled along the right bank to Mr Marsden's farm, then re-crossed the creek to Mrs O'Connell's farm at Frogmore. On Saturday, 1st December Macquarie leaves the Kurry-Jung Hill named by the late Mr Thompson, Mount Maurice out of compliment to Lt. Col. O'Connell and on the following Saturday, 8th December, he writes, At 9 o'clock this morning, immediately after breakfast, Mrs M. and myself set out in the carriage from Windsor to Parramatta, accompanied by the gentlemen in our family and Mr Hassall. We halted for about a quarter of an hour at Lt. Col. O'Connell's farm of Riverston (granted to him by me on his marriage) distant about 6 miles from Windsor on the high road to Parramatta, examined his dairy and stock yards and then pursued our journey. The O'Connells had made some improvements to their grant in just seven months. Mary and Maurice's Riverston Farm homestead, (the E was not added to the name until an error was made in the spelling when the railway was built), was located at the junction of Crown and Junction streets, close to Windsor Road.

By 1811, Mary was pregnant, and on King's Birthday of that year, 72 persons, including five ladies, one of them Mrs O'Connell, were entertained at dinner at Government House. There were constant wagers, it seems, upon when Bligh's turbulent daughter, who, it was reported, had worn a fevered and anxious expression throughout the year, would add to the O'Connell clan. In fact her son Maurice Charles Junior, was born in January, 1812. Governor Macquarie was his godfather. By 1812 also, Mary's land grant at St Marys of 600 acres had been swelled by 1055 acres granted by Macquarie to her. She had stocked the land and in that year bought from the government 8 cows, 9 oxen and 25 sheep, for which she paid a total of £386. ($772)

Although from these facts we would assume that Macquarie really liked and approved of the O'Connells, he realised that Mary was still the reason for a lot of discontent in the colony. In 1813 he wrote to Lord Bathurst and asked for a withdrawal of the 73rd Regiment and its Commanding Officer, for the peace of the colony. He wrote, Mrs O'Connell, naturally enough, has imbibed strong feelings of resentment and hatred against all those persons and their families who were in the least inimical to her father's government. Lt. Col. O'Connell allows himself to be a good deal influenced by his wife's strong-rooted prejudice against the old inhabitants, although he asserted, Lt. Col. O'Connell is naturally a well disposed would most assuredly greatly improve the harmony of the country if the whole of the officers and men of the 73rd Regiment were removed from it. As this was Macquarie's own regiment, he must have had very strong feelings indeed that Mary had to go. Accordingly, O'Connell was transferred with his regiment to Ceylon on 28th March. Macquarie held a farewell dinner for them and a welcome dinner for the new Lt. Governor, George Molle. They were thus present at Government House on the evening when Governor Macquarie's son, Lachlan, was born. Macquarie wrote that there were 38 persons present at the large dinner, including Lt. Governor O'Connell and his lady, who slept at Government House, presumable before boarding the General Hewitt for Ceylon. The party broke up about half an hour before Mrs Macquarie gave birth. She had not attended the dinner as she had been in labour all afternoon. The O'Connells were aroused by a loud knocking at their door to announce the happy news.

So the O'Connells left Sydney, although as it transpired, not for good. Mary and Maurice had more children, Richard O'Connell, Charles Phillip, William Bligh, Robert Browning, Mary Nino Godfrey and Elizabeth.

Robert Browning, who had been born in December, 1817, died in Ceylon when he was only 14 months old, and there is a very sad story from the Gazette, 14th February, 1819.

Mrs O'Connell must have suffered severely from the powerful trial to her maternal affections. Her little boy was taken ill in their passage at the beginning of a gale wind that lasted some days, during which she was herself much indisposed, and both were deprived of all professional assistance as the only medical gentleman on board the transports, was unfortunately on another ship. On landing, some hope was entertained but it was soon dashed away and in a few days the afflicted parents were doomed to see the death of their boy, whose improved health and bloom they had at the commencement of the voyage contemplated with such delight.

Mary Nino Godfrey also died young, in Athlone, Ireland on 19th February, 1825. She had been born in 1823.

After leaving Ceylon, O'Connell retired on half pay to England where he was promoted to Major General in 1830. In 1834 the O'Connells were posted to Malta and he was knighted in 1835.

In 1834 the O'Connells were returned to Australia in the Fairlie, Maurice having been appointed to command the forces in N.S.W. Their son Maurice who was a captain in the 73rd Regiment, came with his father as his military secretary.

It was not long before Mary's presence was felt by the then Governor, Gipps. In August, 1839, he reported to the Colonial Office that Sir Maurice O'Connell was claiming on behalf of Bligh's heiresses, 105 acres at Parramatta worth about £40,000, ($80,000), and including the sites of the Female Factory, the gaol, the King's School, the Roman Catholic church and chapel and many houses. His attorney had sent notices of ejection to all occupiers of the land. Gipps directed attention to the extreme delicacy of the position in which this business has placed me, since O'Connell was the senior member of the Executive Council and if the Governor were to die, would succeed to the position. At length, in February, 1841, a settlement was reached whereby the heiresses surrendered their claim to the Parramatta land but their titles to other grants were confirmed. One of these, Camperdown, the site of the present suburb, was later sold for £25,000, ($50,000), a huge sum for those days. Mary and Maurice resided in a mansion called Tarmons at Woolloomooloo which now forms part of St Vincent's Hospital. They put their Riverston property up for sale in 1845. They entertained lavishly at Tarmons and one dinner is described by a guest, Adjutant General Mundy, in 1846.

I dined this day, 29th June, with my respected chief Sir Maurice O'Connell, at his beautiful villa, Tarmons .........there were brisk coal fires burning in both dining and living room and ........the general appliances of the household, the dress of the guests and servants were entirely as they could have been in London. The family likeness of an Australian and Old Country dinner party became less striking when I found myself sipping doubtfully, then swallowing with relish, a plate of wallabi(sic) tail soup, followed by a slice of boiled schnapper with oyster sauce. A roast of kangaroo venison helped to convince me........a delicate wing of the wonga-wonga pigeon and sauce, with a dessert of plantains and loquats, guavas and some oranges, pomegranates and cherimoyas landed my decision at length firmly in the Antipodes.

Mary found time to serve on many public committees including a Ladies Committee set up to support Caroline Chisholm's work with migrant women, on which she served with Lady Gipps.

O'Connell became Acting Governor on 12th July, 1846, after Governor Gipps left for England and until Governor Fitzroy arrived. So the wheel turned full circle and Mary was once again the Governor's Lady until December 1847. Maurice O'Connell died at the age of eighty in his home on the very day he was to return to England, 5th May, 1848. He was accorded a full military funeral at St James Church. The Sydney Morning Herald carried a full description of the funeral procession, which was attended by a huge crowd, and listed the mourners. They also ran a long obituary which told the events of his busy life, but at no time was any mention made of Mary!

Mary did return to England where she died at the residence of her son-in-law, Colonel Somerset, at Beaufort Buildings, Gloucester, on 10th December, 1864, aged 81.

Her son, Sir Maurice O'Connell Junior, who made a very distinguished career in the Queensland Government, died in 1879 and William Bligh O'Connell died in 1896, while her daughter Elizabeth died in 1892. A grandson, Mr W.B. O'Connell was Minister for Lands in Queensland and died in 1901, leaving 9 children. A great-grandson was prominent in Sydney in the 1930s so the O'Connell influence in Australia remained strong long after Mary had departed.

Mary Bligh Putland O'Connell was a strong woman who attracted strong opinions both for and against almost everything she did. Yet she was a dutiful daughter, a loving wife and mother, who stood up against the iniquities she felt had been unjustly visited on her family. In the days when men ruled the world, Mary was there fighting for the rights of women and showing the strength there is in us all.

Source: Shirley Seale the author and researcher

Bligh's Tomb

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The Real Captain Bligh

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William Bligh is remembered today as the sadistic martinet who provoked the mutiny on the Bounty. But there was another Bligh: a brilliant navigator, a pioneer of ethnographic research and a thorn in the side of the class-bound naval establishment.

Born in 1754 in Cornwall, at 16 Bligh joined the Navy. Six years later he was appointed to the rank of master aboard Captain Cook's ship the Resolution. A ship's master was the chief navigator; it was also the highest rank attainable without a commission from the Admiralty. Commissioned ranks were generally reserved for the sons of established naval families. Cook himself was an exception, having been a ship's master before being promoted to captain.

Class ceiling.

Bligh joined Cook for the third of his great Pacific voyages. The Resolution was the first European ship to reach Hawaii. There, tragically, relations with the islanders broke down and Cook was killed. Back in Britain, the Resolution's log was published to great acclaim. However, Bligh's name was not mentioned, and maps he had drawn were reattributed to the ship's lieutenants.

Bligh was now determined to gain a commission. In 1781 he married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of the Isle of Man Collector of Customs. Later that year, Bligh was appointed to the commissioned rank of lieutenant.

The Bounty's voyage was planned by Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, who had sailed with Cook to Tahiti in 1768. He saw the Tahitian breadfruit as an ideal food source for British slaves in the West Indies. The Bounty was to sail west to Tahiti, take on a cargo of breadfruit plants; continue westward to northern Australia and map the uncharted Endeavour Straits before sailing on to the West Indies. Several sons of the gentry volunteered to join the voyage, including two members of prominent Isle of Man families: Peter Heywood and Fletcher Christian. Heywood was 14 when the Bounty set sail in 1787; Christian was 23 and seemed sure to obtain a lieutenant's commission after the voyage.

Harsh but healthy.

Perhaps mistrustful of the former ship's master, the Admiralty did not allocate the Bounty any Royal Marines – the shipboard police force – and refused Bligh promotion to the full rank of captain: 'Captain Bligh' was a lieutenant. Bligh's relations with the crew were not helped by his health-oriented shipboard regime; dancing was compulsory, and the diet included sauerkraut and limejuice to protect the men from scurvy. Cook had imposed similar policies but had qualities – diplomacy and physical stature – which Bligh lacked.

The Bounty sailed in December 1787. Failing to round Cape Horn due to bad weather, the ship took the longer eastward route. At Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), Bligh traded ship's supplies with the indigenous people for fruit and vegetables; this was healthier than the official policy of buying dry food from European outposts but raised suspicions that Bligh was embezzling ship's funds. At the end of October 1788 the Bounty reached Tahiti. Within six weeks the ship was loaded with breadfruit pods. However, earlier delays now meant that the wind was against Bligh. Rather than cut the voyage short, Bligh decided to remain on Tahiti until the wind changed. Over the next four months, Bligh alternated between studying the local culture and increasingly vain attempts to assert naval discipline. The crew were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the island and its people – in particular its women, described by Christian as 'constitutionally votaries of Venus'.

Rebellion on-board.

The Bounty sailed from Tahiti on 4 April 1789. Tahitian indiscipline had taken its toll on Bligh, who frequently flew into rages with his crew – and with Christian in particular. Accused first of cowardice and then of theft, Christian prepared to jump ship. Then, on 28 April he and four others confronted Bligh in his cabin. Bligh and 18 loyal crew were cast off in the ship's launch.

The men aboard the Bounty first settled on the island of Tubuai but after bloody skirmishes with the islanders, returned to Tahiti. Christian and eight others, with 18 Tahitians, then left in search of an uninhabited island. In January 1790 they reached Pitcairn Island. A naval expedition in 1808 found the island inhabited by one mutineer together with four Tahitian women and their children; all the other settlers had died in a wave of inter-racial violence. Descendants of the mutineers still live on Pitcairn.

Survival against all odds.

Meanwhile, Bligh's party had landed on the island of Tofua. After a confrontation with the islanders, he decided to sail direct to the Dutch colony of Timor, nearly 4,000 miles away. On starvation rations and navigating by dead reckoning, Bligh and his crew sailed the launch to Fiji, through the Endeavour Straits – which Bligh charted in accordance with his original orders – and on to Timor. All 19 men survived the 41-day voyage. In Britain, Bligh was cleared of responsibility for the mutiny, and was finally promoted to captain. His first command was the Providence, which followed the Bounty's intended route and introduced the breadfruit to the West Indies. He died in 1817, having achieved the rank of Vice-Admiral.

Mud sticks.

In 1793, however, 10 Bounty crew members had been brought back to Britain. Six were court-martialled: three were hanged; one was released on a technicality; the remaining two were pardoned. One of these was Peter Heywood, whose testimony blamed Bligh for the mutiny. Determined to resume his naval career, Heywood devoted himself to clearing his name – and destroying Bligh's. When he died in 1831, his version of the Bounty story was preserved by Admiralty official Sir John Barrow. Barrow's work inspired the novel Mutiny on the Bounty, which in turn was the source for the celebrated 1935 film starring Charles Laughton.

The real William Bligh was a great captain and an outstanding navigator, but a man whose puritanical discipline, irascible temperament and class-based grudges made him a formidable enemy. Sadly, our image of Bligh has been shaped not by his achievements but by the enmity he inspired.


Elizabeth Betham

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During a 12 month leave from active duty he met his future wife and on February l4th 1781 at the parish church of Onchan, Isle of Man,  Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a Collector of Customs.  He was already  a Lieutenant, and had made several important hydrographic surveys. Shortly after his marriage he saw action at the battles of Dogger Bank in August 1781 and also fought with Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782.

Contributor: bgill
Created: July 31, 2007 · Modified: August 1, 2007

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