William Bligh

From Academic Kids

William Bligh in 1814
William Bligh in 1814

William Bligh (9 September 1754 - 7 December 1817) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and colonial administrator. He is best known for the famous mutiny that occurred against his command aboard HMAV Bounty. After the Bounty mutiny he became Governor of New South Wales, where his stern administration engendered another insurrection, the Rum Rebellion led by John Macarthur.


Early life

Bligh was born in Plymouth, a seaport in south-west England, and went to sea at the age of eight. In 1776, he was selected by Captain James Cook for the crew of the Resolution and, in 1787, selected as commander of the HMAV Bounty. He would eventually rise to the rank of Vice Admiral in the British Navy.

Military career

William Bligh's naval career consisted of a variety of appointments and assignments. A summary is as follows:

  • July 1, 1762: Ship's Boy and Captain's Servant, HMS Monmouth
  • July 27, 1770: Able Seaman, HMS Hunter
  • February 5 1771: Midshipman, HMS Hunter
  • September 22, 1771: Midshipman, HMS Crescent
  • September 2, 1774: Able Seaman, HMS Ranger
  • September 30, 1775: Master's Mate, HMS Ranger
  • March 20, 1776: Master, HMS Resolution
  • February 14, 1781: Master, HMS Belle Poule
  • October 5, 1781: Lieutenant, HMS Berwick
  • January 1, 1782: Lieutenant, HMS Princess Amelia
  • March 20, 1782: Lieutenant, HMS Cambridge
  • January 14, 1783: Joined Merchant Service as Lieutenant
  • 1785: Commanding Lieutenant, Merchant Vessel Lynx
  • 1786: Lieutenant, Merchant Vessel Britannia
  • 1787: Returns to Royal Navy active service
  • August 16, 1787: Commanding Lieutenant, HMAV Bounty
  • November 14, 1790: Captain, HMS Falcon
  • December 15, 1790: Captain, HMS Medea
  • April 16, 1791: Captain, HMS Providence
  • April 30, 1795: Captain, HMS Calcutta
  • January 7, 1796: Captain, HMS Director
  • March 18, 1801: Post Captain, HMS Glatton
  • April 12, 1801: Post Captain, HMS Monarch
  • May 8, 1801: Post Captain, HMS Irresistible
  • May 2, 1804: Post Captain, HMS Warrior
  • May 14, 1805: Governor of New South Wales
  • September 27, 1805: Post Captain, HMS Porpoise
  • July 31, 1808: Commodore, HMS Porpoise
  • April 3, 1810: Commodore, HMS Hindostan
  • July 31, 1810: Appointed Rear Admiral of the Blue
  • June 4, 1814: Appointed Vice Admiral of the Blue

The voyage of the Bounty

In 1787, Bligh took command of the Bounty. He first sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then set course for the Caribbean, where the breadfruit were wanted for experiments to see if breadfruit would be a successful food crop there. The Bounty never reached the Caribbean, as mutiny broke out onboard 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. Bligh's mission may have introduced the akee to the Caribbean as well, though this is uncertain. (Akee is now called Blighia sapida in binomial nomenclature, after Bligh).

The mutiny, which broke out during the return voyage, was led by Master's Mate Fletcher Christian and supported by a quarter of the crew. The mutineers provided Bligh and the eighteen of his crew who remained loyal with a 23 foot (7 m) launch, provisions sufficient to reach the most accessible ports, a sextant and a pocket watch, but no charts or compass. Bligh disdained the obvious course of action, which would have been sailing for nearer Spanish ports where they would be repatriated to Britain after delays. Bligh was confident in his navigational skills and considering his first responsibility to be getting word of the mutiny as soon as possible to British vessels that could pursue the mutineers, so he embarked instead on a 3618 nautical mile (6701 km) voyage to Timor. In the successful 41-day voyage, the only casualty was one crewman killed by hostile natives.

To this day, the reasons for the mutiny are a subject of considerable debate. Some feel 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 feel that the crew, 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 hold that the crew took the ship from Bligh so that they could return to a life of comfort and pleasure on Tahiti.

Missing image
William Bligh, pictured in his 1792 account of the Mutiny voyage, A Voyage to the South Sea, available from Project Gutenberg

After the Bounty

After a court of inquiry, Bligh went on to serve under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen, commanding HMS_Glatton, a 64-gun ship of the line, which was experimentally fitted exclusively with carronades.

He became governor of New South Wales in 1805. There he suffered another mutiny, this time the Rum Rebellion, and was imprisoned from 1808 to 1810.

In 1811, having been exonerated, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, and 3 years later, in 1814, 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 and prevent a sandbar forming.

Bligh was buried in a family plot at Lambeth. This church is now the Museum of Garden History. His gravestone is topped by a breadfruit. Bligh's house is marked by a plaque a block east of the Museum.

Further reading

  • Caroline Alexander, The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Viking Penguin, 2003, hardcover, 512 pages, ISBN 067003133X

External links

Preceded by:
Philip Gidley King
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by:
Lachlan Macquarie

Template:End boxde:William Bligh eo:William BLIGH fr:William Bligh he:ויליאם בליי sv:William Bligh


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