Ancient history

William Bligh

Last updated:2022-07-25

William Bligh
(9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was a British Royal Navy officer and colonial administrator. He is best known for the mutiny he suffered aboard the Bounty. After this, he was appointed governor of New South Wales where his administration was at the origin of an insurrection, the Rum Rebellion led by John Macarthur. He will, however, make an honorable career in the Royal Navy, having started as a ship's mate at seven years old and finishing Vice-Admiral.

William Bligh was born in Tinten Manor, in the village of Saint-Tudy in Cornwall. He was the only son of Francis Bligh (died December 27, 1780) and Jane Pearce (she died when William was fourteen), a widow whose maiden name was Balsam.

William had his first contact with the sea in 1762, at the age of seven. He embarks as the personal servant of the captain of HMS Monmouth. In 1770, he enlisted in the Royal Navy on HMS Hunter and became Midship, the equivalent of midshipman the following year in 1771, he then served on HMS Crescent and HMS Ranger.

Very early on, he was noticed for his intelligence and his gifts in science and mathematics, as well as his talent for drawing and writing. He embarks with James Cook on the Resolution as Boatswain, this trip is marked by the tragic end of James Cook on February 14, 1779 in the Hawaiian Islands. During this period, Bligh observed Cook's methods of keeping his crew healthy, including the use of citrus fruits against scurvy and the daily physical exercise of the crew by dancing on deck with a musician. He will take over all this but will not be understood by his men on the Bounty.

On February 14, 1781, taking advantage of a twelve-month period of inactivity, he married Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a customs controller in the parish church of Onchan, on the Isle of Man. He is already a lieutenant and has done important hydrographic work for the Navy. Shortly after his marriage he returned to service and took part in the Battle of Dogger Bank on August 5, 1781 and also fought alongside Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782.

Then on August 16, 1787, he took command of the HMAV Bounty, at the age of thirty-three. He set sail on December 23, 1787 from the port of Spithead, leaving behind his wife and their two daughters.

The rest is well known, Bligh tries to reach Tahiti, the goal of his mission (where he must embark breadfruit plants to feed the slaves of the plantations of the Antilles) via the west). For a month, the crew tries in vain to cross Cape Horn to finally turn back and take the road to the Cape of Good Hope where they stop. After a second stopover at Adventure Bay in Tasmania, the expedition put off in Tahiti on October 26, 1788. This setback caused the Bounty to arrive at the wrong season to harvest the breadfruit trees and Bligh had to wait six months to embark his precious cargo. . During this time discipline is relaxed, especially since the reception of the population is more than friendly. Finally the Bounty set sail on April 4, 1789 and headed west, taking the same route as on the outward journey. On April 27, Bligh announced to his crew his intention to sail east via the Horn and thus circumnavigate the globe. This idea does not delight the crew, especially the passage of Cape Horn still in all memories. Taking advantage of the dissatisfaction of part of the crew, Lieutenant Fletcher Christian leads a mutiny and seizes the ship on the night of April 28 to 29. He decides to abandon Bligh and some of those who are loyal to him (18 people) in a rowboat...

It is here that the maritime feat begins, Bligh does not chart the most obvious route to reach a Spanish port from where he and his men can be repatriated, with a probable expectation, to Great Britain. Instead, confident in his gifts as a navigator and considering that it was his mission to inform the Admiralty of the mutiny as soon as possible so as to have the mutineers prosecuted, he took charge of Timor, which implied a navigation of 3618 nautical miles or 6701 km. Bligh, on an open launch barely seven meters long, overloaded with nineteen men, without map or compass and with barely a week's supplies at the start, will sail from memory across the Pacific, from the Great Barrier of coral to arrive forty-one days later at the Dutch island. He will have traveled all this journey, braving storms and hostile peoples (as well as the beginning of a new mutiny as the conditions for survival are harsh), losing only one man, Chief Petty Officer Norton on the island of Tofoa. Such a feat can only be achieved by an exceptional sailor.

Bligh, back in Great Britain, was court-martialed before the Admiralty, which acquitted him on March 15, 1790 for the loss of the HMAV Bounty and even congratulated him for his exploit in the shallop.

To this day, the reasons for the mutiny are still debated. Some see it as the result of Bligh's tyranny, which forced the crew to seize the boat. Others think that the crew, exposed to the easy life of their Tahitian stopover, could not bring themselves to relive the harsh discipline of life on board at that time and that thus, by seizing the ship, they could return to the island to pursue a way of life there, a life of pleasure and comfort, which he refused to give up.

He was given command of HMS Falcon and then embarked on HMS Medea. In 1792, he commanded the HMS Providence and was designated to repeat the same mission as with the Bounty. He successfully completes his mission this time (actually the slaves of the West Indies will never want to eat breadfruit, but Bligh has nothing to do with it.) During this last mission, Bligh was able to also introduce the ackee in the Caribbean, but we have no certainty on this fact, nevertheless this plant was named after him, in the classification, under the form Blighia sapida.

In 1797 Bligh was in command of HMS Director. Like many commanders, Bligh had to suffer the mutiny of the Nore in April 1797. He was simply dropped ashore by the crew of his ship at the anchorage of the Nore in the North Sea. At the end of the mutiny, Bligh, still on the HMS Director, took part in the Battle of Camperdown on October 11, 1797, he engaged three Dutch ships - the Haarlem, the Alkmaar and the Vrijheid. While he inflicted heavy losses on enemy ships, only seven of his men were injured during the fight. He receives the surrender of Haarlem.

In the 19th century, Dublin was considered the second city of the British Isles, the boats flocked there but the risk of silting up in the bay and the too narrow port prevented the economic development of the city. Bligh suggests in a study made in 1801 the construction of a wall-dike parallel to that existing on the south bank of the mouth of the River Liffey. By channeling the current (the two dikes must tighten towards the exit of the port) the force of the river will be increased and it will dig deeper the bed of the bay, facilitating the entry of large buildings which will then be sheltered from the dykes in bad weather. The construction of the North Bull Wall took place from 1819 to 1824 for a length of 1.7 km. Over time and the tides, the sand has accumulated along the wall to form dunes 6 meters high today which continue to grow towards the sea, an artificial refuge for birds and seals.

Then on April 2, 1801, it was as commander of HMS Glatton that he took part in the Battle of Copenhagen under the orders of Admiral Nelson. The latter congratulates him for his bravery during the fight. It was also this year that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (it had already recommended him for the mission of the Bounty) in consideration of his services both in navigation and in botany.

1805 saw him appointed as governor of the fledgling colony of New South Wales. Once again his rigid administration, but especially the corruption of the soldiers of the 102nd Regiment of infantry of the garrison will be at the origin of an insurrection, the Rebellion of the rum led by John Macarthur a wool merchant, in Sydney in 1808. He was deposed from his post by Major George Johnston and imprisoned for two years. It is his replacement sent to restore order with a new regiment that delivers him. On his return, the Court cleared him of all responsibility and had Johnston locked up in Chelsea hospital.

Bligh will then be promoted Rear-Admiral of the Blue Fleet in 1810 and will finish Vice-Admiral in 1814.

He will spend the last years of his life in his mansion in Farningham in Kent, but it is in London, in Bond Street that he dies on December 7, 1817 at the age of sixty-four. He will be buried in the eastern part of the churchyard of Lambeth Church, where he rests next to his wife who bore him six daughters, his tomb is surmounted by a sculpture of a fruit from the breadfruit tree. /P>

In the 1980s, one of his distant grandsons who lives in Australia will try to repeat the feat of crossing the Bounty in a rowboat with a team of sportsmen and scientists, but they will have to stop their challenge in front of difficulty and misunderstanding.

The cinema through three films has given the image of a tyrannical captain William Bligh who manhandles the crew of his ship, the Bounty, in front of one of his officers, Fletcher Christian, defender of the oppressed. It is probable that Bligh was no more cruel than other British commanders of his time. He was, without a doubt, an outstanding sailor, his navigation after the mutiny of the Bounty as well as his behavior during naval battles, are proof of this without question, and these qualities will be recognized by his superiors. , since he will make an honorable career in the Royal Navy, having started as a ship's boy at seven years old and finishing Vice-Admiral

Military career

* July 1, 1762:enlisted as ship's boy and captain's servant on the HMS Monmouth.
* July 27, 1770:Brevet Seaman on the HMS Hunter.
* February 5 1771:Midshipman on HMS Hunter.
* September 22, 1771:Midshipman on HMS Hunter.
* September 2, 1774:Brevet Seaman on HMS Ranger.
* 30 September 1775:Mate HMS Ranger.
* 20 March 1776:Boatswain on HMS Resolution (last expedition of James Cook).
* February 14, 1781:Boatswain on HMS Belle Poule.
* October 5, 1781:Lieutenant on HMS Berwick.
* January 1, 1782:Lieutenant on HMS Princess Amélia.
* March 20, 1782:Lieutenant HMS Cambridge.
* January 14, 1783:Bligh joins the merchant navy as Lieutenant.
* 1785:Commander as lieutenant of the merchant ship Lynx.
* 1786:Lieutenant on the merchant ship Brittania.
* 1787 :Bligh returns to active service with the Royal Navy.
* 16 August 1787:Promoted to lieutenant as commanding officer of HMAV Bounty.

* November 14, 1790:promoted captain, commander HMS Falcon.
* December 15, 1790:captain HMS Medea.
* April 16, 1791:captain HMS Providence.
* 30 April 1795:Captain HMS Calcutta.
* 7 January 1796:Captain HMS Director.
* 18 March 1801:Captain HMS Glatton.
* 12 April 1801:Captain HMS Monarch.
* 8 May 1801:Captain vessel HMS Irresistible.
* 2 May 1804:Captain HMS Warrior.
* 14 May 1805:Governor of New South Wales (Australia).
* 27 September 1805:Captain HMS Porpoise.
* 31 July 1808:Promoted to Commodore, HMS Porpoise.
* 3 April 1810:Commodore HMS Hind ostan.
* July 31, 1810:Appointed Rear Admiral of the Blue Fleet (Rear Admiral of the Blue).
* June 4, 1814:Appointed Vice Admiral of the Blue Fleet (Vice Admiral of the Blue).