William Bligh

William Bligh

Portrait by Alexander Huey (1814)
4th Governor of New South Wales
In office
13 August 1806 – 26 January 1808
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byPhilip Gidley King
Succeeded byLachlan Macquarie
Personal details
Born(1754-09-09)9 September 1754
Plymouth, Devon, England, Great Britain (or St Tudy, Cornwall, England)
Died7 December 1817(1817-12-07) (aged 63)
25 Bond Street, London, England, UK
Resting placeSt Mary-at-Lambeth, Lambeth, London, England
Spouse(s)Elizabeth (Betsy) Betham
Children6 children, including Mary Putland
OccupationNaval officer, colonial administrator

Vice-Admiral William Bligh FRS (9 September 1754 – 7 December 1817) was an officer of the Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. The Mutiny on the Bounty occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; after being set adrift in Bounty's launch by the mutineers, Bligh and his loyal men reached Timor, a journey of 3,618 nautical miles (6,700 km; 4,160 mi).

Seventeen years after the Bounty mutiny, on 13 August 1806, he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia, with orders to clean up the corrupt rum trade of the New South Wales Corps. His actions directed against the trade resulted in the so-called Rum Rebellion, during which Bligh was placed under arrest on 26 January 1808 by the New South Wales Corps and deposed from his command, an act which the British Foreign Office later declared to be illegal. He died in Lambeth, London, on 7 December 1817.

Early life

William Bligh was born on 9 September 1754, but it is not clear where. It is likely that he was born in Plymouth, Devon, as he was baptised at St Andrew's Church, Plymouth on 4 October 1754,[1] where Bligh's father, Francis (1721–1780), was serving as a customs officer. Bligh's ancestral home of Tinten Manor near St Tudy near Bodmin, Cornwall, is also a possibility. Bligh's mother, Jane Pearce (1713–1768), was a widow (née Balsam) who married Francis at the age of 40.[2] Bligh was signed for the Royal Navy at age seven, at a time when it was common to sign on a "young gentleman" simply to gain, or at least record, the experience at sea required for a commission. In 1770, at age 16, he joined HMS Hunter as an able seaman, the term used because there was no vacancy for a midshipman. He became a midshipman early in the following year. In September 1771, Bligh was transferred to Crescent and remained on the ship for three years.

In 1776, Bligh was selected by Captain James Cook (1728–1779), for the position of sailing master of Resolution and accompanied Cook in July 1776 on Cook's third voyage to the Pacific Ocean, during which Cook was killed. Bligh returned to England at the end of 1780 and was able to supply details of Cook's last voyage.

Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, daughter of a customs collector (stationed in Douglas, Isle of Man), on 4 February 1781. The wedding took place at nearby Onchan.[3] A few days later, he was appointed to serve on HMS Belle Poule as master (senior warrant officer responsible for navigation). Soon after this, in August 1781, he fought in the Battle of Dogger Bank under Admiral Parker, which won him his commission as a lieutenant. 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. Like many lieutenants, he would have found full-pay employment in the Navy; however, commissions were hard to obtain with the fleet largely demobilised at the end of the War with France when allied with the North American rebelling colonies in the War of American Independence (1775–1783). In 1787, Bligh was selected as commander of His Majesty's Armed Transport Bounty. He rose eventually to the rank of vice admiral in the Royal Navy.

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