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William Bligh
Birth: Sep. 9, 1754, England
Death: Dec. 7, 1817
City of London
Greater London, England

British Naval Commander. Commanding Lieutenant of the HMS Bounty. The son of a custom's officer, he was born in St. Tudy, near Plymouth. As a child Bligh wanted to be an artist, and he remained a keen illustrator (and a fairly talented writer) throughout his life. His parents, however, had him pegged for the Royal Navy from birth. In 1762, at the age of seven, he was made to spend a year aboard the warship HMS Monmouth as a Captain's servant, a traumatic experience that had lasting effects on his character. Yet he excelled in his nautical studies and was considered a prodigy in navigation and cartography. In 1776 Captain James Cook appointed Bligh as Sailing Master of the HMS Resolution for his third voyage to the South Seas. He was only 21, and to achieve that senior rank on a major scientific expedition was a great tribute to his abilities. During the voyage he discovered the breadfruit plant and in later years he came to be known, somewhat disparagingly, as "Breadfruit Bligh." He served with Captain Cook for three years and witnessed Cook's killing by Hawaiin natives in 1779. Upon his return to England Bligh met and married Elizabeth Betham, a native of the Isle of Man and a cultured, intelligent woman. Betsy, as he called her, became Bligh's only confidant. She gave him six daughters and would support him through every crisis of his life. Her family connections were very helpful to Bligh's career. Betsy's uncle, Sir Duncan Campbell, employed Bligh in his fleet of West Indies merchant vessels and gave him his first two commands: of the SS Lynx (1784) and the Brittania (two voyages, 1785-87); and it was through Campbell that he met his most loyal patron, Sir Joseph Banks, the brilliant botanist and President of the Royal Society. Mrs. Bligh also introduced her husband to a charming young seaman named Fletcher Christian and urged his appointment as a petty officer on the Brittania. Bligh respected Christian's seafaring skills and when they weren't at sea together he was a welcome guest at the Commander's home. Bligh would ultimately regret having known Christian, but he never held it against Betsy. In August 1787, the Royal Society commissioned Bligh for a scientific journey to the South Seas. Its purpose was to transport the breadfruit plant from Tahiti to the West Indies in order to grow cheap food for slaves. Bligh was given a three year-old merchant vessel, the Bethia, refitted and renamed the HMS Bounty by Banks; it was a small ship for such a long voyage, and its living space was even further reduced to make room for the breadfruit cargo. Bligh and his crew of 45, including Fletcher Christian as Master's Mate, set sail from Spithead, Portsmouth, on December 23, 1787. It proved to be an adventure celebrated not for what was accomplished but for what went terribly awry. So many myths and misconceptions have surrounded the Bounty voyage that it has taken historians nearly two centuries to get the facts straight. Bligh himself was responsible for much of the misinformation, since in his Commander's log and later writings about the Bounty he was careful to omit anything that would show him in an unfavorable light. One thing must be said straight away: the Hollywood image of Bligh as a blood-drinking sadist, flogging and keel-hauling sailors left and right, is sheer nonsense. As a disciplinarian Bligh preferred "time out" to spanking; witholding rations and confinement to quarters were his favored methods of punishment. During the Bounty's 10-month trip to Tahiti Bligh ordered only five floggings, a noteworthy statistic when you consider that genuine sea beasts like Captains Edward Edwards and Hugh Pigot were whipping their men at the rate of a dozen a day. It appears that Bligh tried to run a healthy ship. His men were required to exercise and maintain good hygiene, and he was one of the first British naval Commanders to provide rations of lime juice to combat scurvy. (This would not become standard practice in the Royal Navy until 1795, after which British sailors were nicknamed "limeys"). But if Bligh was lenient in terms of physical abuse, in most other respects he was an unsympathetic and even a malevolent man. Asocial in personality, he felt no need for friends and was incapable of empathizing with others. Numerous witnesses characterized him as caustic in tongue, avaricious, vindictive, and prone to explosive temper tantrums. Aboard ship he was an overbearing control freak, pedantic about protocol and obssessed with detail, and he was quick to humiliate anyone who failed to meet his perfectionist standards. A thick skin was needed to serve with Bligh...and Fletcher Christian didn't have one. Bligh began to lose his grip on the crew during the Bounty's layover in Tahiti (1788-89). The breadfruit plants had to be seeded and grown into saplings sturdy enough for transport, a process that took months, and while there was work to be done reconditioning the ship a lot of men were left with too much time on their hands. A number of them, including Christian, developed attatchments to native women on the island, making a return to duty under an unpopular Commander even less appealing. After Bligh had three sailors flogged for desertion the mood of the men grew openly resentful. When the Bounty finally left Tahiti in April 1789, it was a time bomb waiting to explode. Still, Christian's decision to seize the Bounty three weeks later remains puzzling because he had less personal grievance with Bligh than almost everyone aboard. He had been promoted to Acting Lieutenant early in the voyage, and the senior officers accused Bligh of giving him preferential treatment because he was a family friend. Their only serious squabble was over the theft of ten coconuts that allegedly occurred on Christian's watch, and Bligh blamed not only Christian but all the Midshipmen as well. This was a few days before the mutiny, and by that time Christian was already preparing to jump ship on a raft and head back for Tahiti. Circumstances dictated otherwise. Bligh described what happened to him on the morning of April 28, 1789: "Just before sunrise Mr. Christian and the Master at Arms [Charles Churchill] came into my cabin while I was fast asleep, and seizing me tied my hands with a cord and threatened me with instant death if I made the least noise. I however called sufficiently loud to alarm the Officers, who found themselves equally secured by sentinels at their doors...Mr. Christian had a cutlass and the others were armed with muskets and bayonets. I was now carried on deck in my [nightshirt] with a severe bandage round my wrists and behind my back, where I found no man to rescue me." After hours of being mocked and threatened by the mutineers Bligh was set adrift in the Bounty's launch with 18 men who remained loyal to him: John Fryer, John Norton, Peter Linkletter, William Cole, George Simpson, William Peckover, Lawrence LeBogue, William Purcell, John Samuel, Thomas Ledward, Thomas Hall, William Elphinstone, Thomas Hayward, John Hallett, Robert Tinkler, David Nelson, John Smith, and Robert Lamb. As he was put into the launch Bligh asked Christian how someone who had "bounced my children on your knee" could do this to him. All Christian could say was, "I am in hell." When the loyalists were set adrift, neither Bligh nor Christian imagined they would have to travel as far as they did. Tofua, one of the Tonga Islands, was only 30 miles away, and Bligh's party arrived there on May 2. They tried to gather desperately needed provisions, but the natives were hostile and they had to flee for their lives; John Norton was killed in the attack. Bligh now realized that the only place where they could expect help was the Dutch port of Coupang, Timor, over 3,500 miles east. The voyage was fraught with incredible hardships. The launch was shallow and in constant danger of sinking; the men often had to bail the boat with their hands. Rainfall supplied plenty of drinking water, but they were unable to catch any fish and the two weeks' supply of food aboard had to be rationed to mere morsels per day. Sailing through the Fiji Islands, the first Europeans to do so, they were pursued by cannibals on two fast sailing canoes; nevertheless Bligh managed to chart the islands and his findings were so accurate they could still be used today. Reading Bligh's account of the open boat voyage you'll find little hint of dissent, but in fact the loyalists split into two bickering groups: those who supported Bligh, led by David Nelson, and those who sided with John Fryer, Bligh's second-in-command, with William Purcell as their chief instigator. The rift nearly resulted in another mutiny on Sunday Island, an islet inside the Great Barrier Reef. Exasperated with Purcell's insubordination, Bligh challenged him to a duel, and Fryer ordered William Cole to arrest both men; Fryer backed down only after he saw that Bligh was ready to die rather than surrender his authority. The sick, weary, and disgruntled men finally reached Coupang on June 14, 1789. They had travelled 3,618 nautical miles in 47 days, one of the most remarkable feats in the history of navigation. After a month convalescing in Timor - Nelson died of a fever in the meantime - Bligh purchased a schooner and took his men to the port of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Java, Indonesia). If objective proof of Bligh's callousness was needed it could be found in his treatment of the loyalists there. When he secured passage to England he brought with him only his servant, John Smith, and the Clerk John Samuel, whose knowledge would be needed for the inevitable court of inquiry. The rest were left behind to fend for themselves. Thomas Ledward wrote to his family that Bligh even refused to loan them money unless they made him sole beneficiary in their wills as "security". In the end, 11 of the 18 loyalists made it safely to England; Elphinstone, Hall, Lamb, and Linkletter all died of malaria in the East Indies, and Ledward presumably drowned in a shipwreck on the way home....The mutiny won Bligh immediate notoriety. Ironically, the incident might have been forgotten had it not been for Bligh's own vanity. After reporting to the British Admiralty on March 16, 1790, Bligh wrote a best-selling book, "The Mutiny On Board the HMS Bounty". In it he portrayed himself as the ideal Commander of a happy ship, only to be betrayed by "hedonists" who wanted to lead a carefree life in Tahiti. This proved too much for John Fryer, who published his own account of the Bounty in 1792 and then helped Christian's brother Edward mount a campaign to discredit Bligh. Sir Joseph Banks came to Bligh's defense and Bligh responded to Fryer's charges in a series of angry open letters, but public opinion turned against him. His personal reputation was permanently tarnished and his authority was considered suspect for the rest of his life....For all the controversy the mutiny generated, it was barely a blip in Bligh's naval career. He was promoted to Captain in November 1790 and the following year Banks sent him on a second (this time successful) breadfruit expedition to Tahiti. In 1795 Bligh was given his most important command, the HMS Director, a 54-gun warship with a crew of 500. It was on this ship that Bligh found himself involved in the mutiny of the Nore, an estuary of the Thames, in May 1797. To protest harsh conditions in the Royal Navy, the crews of 14 vessels overthrew their captains and tried to blockade the river; the Director, which had just moored at the Nore, was involved. Once again Bligh was put off his own ship, though this was a more civil affair and he only had to be rowed a few hundred yards to shore. The crew of the Director later said Bligh was blameless in the incident and called his behavior "exemplary"....The high-water mark of Bligh's naval service was as Captain of the HMS Glatton in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Having spotted a Dutch frigate maneuvering to attack the HMS Elephant, the flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson, Bligh sailed directly into the line of fire and caught most of the enemy's broadside. The Glatton was severely damaged but remained afloat; the Elephant was saved. After the battle Nelson personally thanked Bligh for his bravery....In 1805 Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales (now part of Australia) on the recommendation of Banks. Needless to say he was no politician and he was soon at odds with the New South Wales Corps, a military detatchment under the tyrannical influence of pioneer wool merchant John Macarthur. Bligh felt the Corps' use of rum as a form of currency was causing widespread corruption in the colony and tried to outlaw this practice; this led to the so-called "Rum Rebellion" of January 27, 1808. The Corps' 102nd Foot Brigade, under the command of Major George Johnston, stormed the Governor's House in Sydney and arrested Bligh on charges of "oppressive behavior and cowardice"; the last charge came about because the soldiers discovered Bligh hiding under a bed in a back room. (Bligh claimed he was trying to elude his captors so he could rally support later, and this was probably true. It may not have occurred to him that his conduct would appear to others as less than courageous). He was put on a ship and ordered to return to England, but after a week at sea he turned around and went back - and was arrested again. This time he was imprisoned in Sydney for a year. The British Government ended the impasse by dissolving the Corps and appointing a new Governor; Major Johnston was court-martialled in England (though he received only a dishonorable discharge). Bligh went home, his days of active service over. The Admiralty kicked him upstairs, promoting him to Rear Admiral in 1810 and to Vice Admiral in 1814, but he was never given another command. After four decades at sea Bligh looked forward to a peaceful retirement, but his final years were clouded by the death of his devoted Betsy in 1812. In 1815 the fate of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers on Pitcairn Island was announced to the British public; if Bligh was aware of this it could hardly have brought him much comfort. He was respected, well-off, and very much alone when he died of cancer at 63. In the final analysis Bligh emerges as a tragic figure. He was a seaman of uncommon skill and proven courage, but a deeply flawed personality prevented him from achieveing true greatness, and gave him a reputation for tyranny that has withstood 200 years of debate. (bio by: Bobb Edwards) 
Family links: 
  Elizabeth Betham Bligh (1753 - 1812)*
  Mary Bligh O'Connell (1783 - 1864)*
*Calculated relationship
St Mary Churchyard
London Borough of Lambeth
Greater London, England
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Jan 01, 2001
Find A Grave Memorial# 1895
William Bligh
Added by: Bobb Edwards
William Bligh
Added by: Alan Scott
William Bligh
Added by: Richard McArdle
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Best regards to a man who was a monster NOT. One of the finest seamen to ever stand behind a ship's wheel, and most maligned by history in error. Rest well, England's good and faithful servant.
- Larry Caplin
 Added: Mar. 26, 2017
 Added: Dec. 7, 2016

- sjm
 Added: Dec. 7, 2016
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