BLIGH, William (1754-1817)


BLIGH, William (1754-1817)
admiral, and governor of New South Wales
son of Francis and Jane Bligh, was born at Plymouth on 9 September 1754. In 1770 he joined H.M.S. 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. In September 1771 he was transferred to the Crescent and remained on her three years. On 17 March 1776 he was appointed master of the Resolution, under the command of Captain James Cook (q.v.), which sailed from Plymouth in July 1776. It was a remarkable compliment that Bligh should have been selected for this position while still only 21 years of age, but it is evident from Cook's journals that he did his work most efficiently. He reached England again at the end of 1780 and contributed to the account of Cook's third voyage. On 4 February 1781 he was married to Elizabeth Betham, and a few days later was appointed master of the Belle Poule. In August he fought under Admiral Parker at the Dogger Bank and was a lieutenant on other vessels during the next 18 months. Between 1783 and 1787 he was a captain in the merchant service. In 1787 he was offered the command of the Bounty, on an expedition to procure bread-fruit trees for transmission to the West Indies. The expedition was planned on too small a scale, Bligh had no lieutenant as second-in-command, and no marines for protection in case of mutiny. He carefully looked after the health of his men and did not treat them with undue severity. In April he sailed from Tahiti and on the 28th of that month Fletcher Christian, who was acting lieutenant, with some companions, seized Bligh while asleep in his cabin and placed him in a boat 23 feet long with 18 other members of the crew. With only four cutlasses for arms, and food and water sufficient for a few days, the boat was cast off loaded to within a few inches of the gunwale. The voyage of about six weeks to Timor was in the circumstances one of the most remarkable ever known. It was possible only because Bligh was a fine seaman and a brave, resourceful and determined man, who by his own force of character was able to bring his crew to safety except for one man killed by natives. Some of the men died shortly afterwards, but Bligh had done all that was possible.
Bligh arrived in London in March 1790. In October he was honourably acquitted at the court-martial to inquire into the loss of the Bounty, and shortly afterwards published A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship Bounty. It was decided that Bligh should be sent out a second time to carry out his earlier instructions and also to explore Torres Strait. This time there were two vessels, the Providence and the Assistant, which had the equipment lacking on the first voyage. They sailed in August 1791 and returned almost exactly two years later. Bligh had successfully carried out his mission and brought his crews back in good health. He was heartily cheered on quitting his ship. Bligh was on half pay until April 1795 when he was placed in command of the Calcutta. He fought in several actions during the next 10 years and showed himself to be a capable officer. On 21 May 1801 Bligh was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in March 1805 Sir Joseph Banks (q.v.), much in the confidence of the government, offered Bligh the position of governor of New South Wales at a salary of £2000 a year, which was double the amount King (q.v.) was receiving. Bligh hesitated to accept the offer, for one thing his wife had such a horror of the sea she would not go with him. He decided to accept, making one condition that his son-in-law Lieutenant Putland should be attached to him. He left England in February 1806. One of his instructions was that no spirits were to be landed in the colony without his consent, and it was his endeavour to carry out this that led to his conflict with the military and to his deposition. He arrived in Sydney in August 1806 and was soon at work. He received addresses from the Sydney and Hawkesbury free settlers, who most reasonably asked that all debts should be made payable in currency and that they should have the right to buy and sell in open market. Bligh himself soon realized that there was much to be done in the way of building, education and the control of the liquor traffic. In a dispatch to Windham, a little more than a year after his arrival, he was able to report many improvements, e.g. "the barter of spirituous liquors is prohibited—and the floating paper money of an undefined value—is now obliged to be drawn payable in sterling". The whole dispatch suggests that the various difficulties were being vigorously grappled with, and writing to Banks at about the same period he mentions that "this sink of iniquity Sydney is improving in its manners and in its concerns". On 1 January 1808, 833 settlers signed an address thanking Bligh for having so greatly improved their lot, and assuring him that they would always regard themselves as bound "at the risque of our lives and properties" to support his government. (H.R. of N.S. W., vol. VI, p. 411). But the officers and other monopolists were by no means satisfied. A series of actions was brought, the effect of which was to discredit Bligh and led to the trial of Macarthur for sedition. Unfortunately the judge-advocate, Atkins, was both weak and incompetent as Bligh well knew, and it hampered the governor very much. While Macarthur was in custody Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston ordered his release, and on 26 January 1808 the New South Wales Corps marched to government house and placed Bligh under arrest. This continued for over a year. He at last agreed to proceed to England in the Porpoise, and undertook not to return to any part of the territory or interfere with the government. It is clear that Bligh never intended to keep this promise. He said afterwards that he signed the paper because he thought it was his duty to regain his ship. He was dealing with mutineers and he considered that he should outwit them if possible. Once on board he assumed command and instead of sailing to England he proceeded to Hobart, where he was received with respect by the Lieutenant-Governor Colonel David Collins (q.v.). But Collins became luke-warm and Bligh stationed the Porpoise at the entrance of Storm Bay Passage. In this position he remained until January 1810. In the meantime it had been decided to recall Bligh and appoint Lachlan Macquarie (q.v.) as governor. Macquarie was instructed to reinstate Bligh for one day, but this could not be done because Bligh was in Tasmania. All the officials whom Johnston had deposed were reinstated. Bligh returned to Sydney on 17 January 1810 and collected evidence in connexion with the forthcoming trial of Johnston. He sailed for England on 12 May and arrived on 25 October. At the court-martial of Johnston the charges against Bligh were disproved after full investigation, and Johnston was cashiered. On 31 July 1811 Bligh was gazetted rear-admiral of the Blue and in 1812 rear-admiral of the White. In the same year his wife died, and in 1813 he was granted a pension and retired to the Manor House, Farmingham, Kent. In June 1814 he was made vice-admiral of the Blue. He died while on a visit to London on 7 December 1817, and was survived by six daughters.
Bligh was below average height, somewhat heavily built, with black hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion. He was a thoroughly efficient officer, a great navigator and cartographer, honoured and esteemed by his friends, Nelson, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Frederick Pollock and other well-known men. By present standards his land transactions with his predecessor King may be questioned, but in those days men felt that if they faced the perils of distant lands they were entitled to some reward. The grants made by King and Bligh were comparatively small when compared with those of William Paterson (q.v.). The worst that can be said of Bligh is that he had a choleric temper accompanied on occasions by a flow of violent language. He was unfortunate in being the victim of two mutinies, but in each case the circumstances were against him. On the Bounty he had no marines to enable him to enforce his authority, and he came into conflict with the forceful but unbalanced personality of Fletcher Christian. In New South Wales, the military officers, the very men who should have supported him, were the chief cause of the evils he was trying to combat. No doubt he might have shown more tact on occasions, but he was not a tyrant and his recent biographers agree in painting him as a brave, just, and great man.
G. Mackaness, The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh; H. V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion; H. S. Montgomerie, William Bligh of the Bounty; Owen Rutter, Turbulent Journey; Geoffrey Rawson, Bligh of the "Bounty"; Historical Records of New South Wales, vols. VI and VII; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. V to VII; G. Suttor, Australian Stories Retold, p. 6; R. G. Hay, Journal and Proceedings Parramatta and District Historical Society, vol. IV; F. M. Bladen, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. I, pp. 192-200.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Bligh,William — Bligh (blī), William. 1754 1817. British naval officer who as captain of the H.M.S. Bounty was set adrift by his mutinous crew during a voyage to Tahiti (1789). * * * …   Universalium

  • Bligh, William — born Sept. 9, 1754, county of Cornwall, Eng. died Dec. 7, 1817, London English admiral. He went to sea at the age of seven and joined the Royal Navy in 1770. After serving as the sailing master on Capt. James Cook s final voyage (1776–80), he was …   Universalium

  • Bligh, William — (9 sep. 1754, cond. de Cornwall, Inglaterra–7 dic. 1817, Londres). Almirante inglés. Comenzó a navegar a la edad de siete años y se unió a la Marina Real en 1770. Después de ocupar el cargo de capitán en el último viaje de James Cook (1776–80),… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • William Bligh — Retrato de 1814 Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • William Bligh — Infobox Person name = William Bligh image size = 240px caption = 1814 portrait birth name = birth date = birth date|1754|09|09|df=y birth place = St Tudy, Cornwall, United Kingdom death date = death date and age|1817|12|7|1754|09|09|df=y death… …   Wikipedia

  • Bligh — Bligh, Captain William (1754 ?1817) an officer in the British navy who was in command of the ship HMS ↑Bounty. Bligh was unpopular because he was a strict leader, so the men on his ship took power from him, and made him leave in a small boat …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Bligh — [blī] William 1754 1817; Eng. naval officer: commander of the Bounty, whose crew mutinied …   English World dictionary

  • Bligh — noun British admiral; was captain of the H.M.S. Bounty in 1789 when part of the crew mutinied and set him afloat in an open boat; a few weeks later he arrived safely in Timor 4,000 miles away (1754 1817) • Syn: ↑William Bligh, ↑Captain Bligh •… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Bligh — /blaɪ/ (say bluy) noun 1. Anna Maria, born 1960, Australian state Labor politician; premier of Qld 2007–12. 2. William, 1754–1817, English born naval officer and governor of NSW, 1806–08; captain of HMS Bounty in 1787. William Bligh entered the… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Bligh — biographical name William 1754 1817 English naval officer …   New Collegiate Dictionary


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