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  • Title
    Bligh Family Collection
  • Creator
  • Level of description
  • Date

    1611-approximately 1891
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Physical Description
    Textual Material

    William Bligh, 1754-1817, was born in Plymouth, England on 9 September 1754, the son of a customs officer. In 1770 he joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman, rising to Midshipman the following year. His aptitude for navigation earned him appointment as Master of HMS Resolution on Captain James Cook's third voyage to the South Seas (1776-1780). Cook's concern for the health of his crew and his innovative style of shipboard management were an important influence on Bligh.
    In 1781 Bligh married Elizabeth Betham at Douglas, Isle of Man, the niece of Duncan Campbell, merchant, ship owner and contractor to the Royal Navy. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1783. During the next four years he served in the merchant navy commanding various vessels plying between England and the British possessions in the West Indies. He also acted as Campbell's agent in Jamaica and learnt mercantile practices.
    On 16 August 1787 he was appointed commander of HMS Bounty on a voyage to Tahiti (Otaheite) to collect bread-fruit plants for use as a food crop in the West Indies. This voyage marks the beginning of Bligh's association with Sir Joseph Banks who was to prove a good friend and influential patron.
    The Bounty sailed from Spithead on 23 December 1787 and reached Matavai Bay, Tahiti on 26 October 1788. On 28 April 1789, soon after leaving Tahiti, some of the crew, led by Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, mutinied. Bligh and eighteen loyal crew members were cast adrift in the Bounty's seven metre launch. Without charts or adequate provisions Bligh successfully navigated the 6,705 km (3,618 nautical miles by his own reckoning) in the open boat to the Dutch settlement at Coupang (Koepang) in Timor, arriving there on 14 June 1789. His personal log book of this voyage was written up from a notebook which he states 'was kept in my bosom as a common memorandum of our time & transposed into my fair Journal every day when the Weather would admit with every material circumstance which passed.' The completed log is in the Mitchell Library, the notebook being in the possession of the National Library of Australia in Canberra.
    At Coupang Bligh purchased a schooner which he named Resource and with the launch in tow set off for Batavia (Djakarta) on 20 August 1789. From there he caught the Dutch packet Vlijdt sailing for the Cape of Good Hope. He transferred to a packet bound for England and reached Portsmouth on 14 March 1790. On 22 October he was honourably acquitted by court martial for the loss of the Bounty. He was promoted to Commander ( HMS Falcon) and a month later to Post-Captain assigned to HMS Medea.
    Bligh published two accounts of his voyage. A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty's Ship Bounty ... was published in 1790 and A Voyage to the South Sea ... was published in 1792.
    On 7 November 1790, HMS Pandora, commanded by Captain Edward Edwards, left England for Tahiti with orders to apprehend the Bounty mutineers. Fourteen were captured by Edwards at Tahiti, between 23 March and 8 May 1791, but Fletcher Christian was not among them. With eight others he had already left the island on board the Bounty, eventually to settle on Pitcairn Island.
    While returning to England the Pandora foundered on the Great Barrier Reef and four of the mutineers were drowned. The remainder reached Spithead on 18 June 1792 and were tried by court martial in September. Charges against Charles Norman, Joseph Coleman, Thomas McIntosh and Michael Byrne were dismissed, Bligh having previously exonerated them. Peter Heywood and James Morrison were found guilty and sentenced to death but were pardoned by the King. William Musprat was released on a legal technicality. Thomas Ellison, Thomas Burkitt and John Millward were hanged.
    Bligh was not present at the court martial as he had already left England in August 1791 in command of HMS Providence on a second bread-fruit voyage to Tahiti and Jamaica. Accompanying him was the tender HMS Assistant under the command of Lieutenant Nathaniel Portlock. The other officers included Lieutenants George Tobin and Bligh's relative, Francis Godolphin Bond as well as Midshipman Matthew Flinders. The ships' company also included two gardeners appointed by Sir Joseph Banks and a detachment of marines.
    This time Bligh successfully completed his mission. as well as making valuable hydrographic surveys of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), Fiji and Torres Strait. While at Tahiti he rescued the crew of the whaler Matilda which had been wrecked on a reef at Muroroa. On his return to England in August 1793 he received a gold medal from the Royal Society of Arts.
    Despite this honour he found that his reputation had been tarnished; the court martial of the mutineers had raised doubts about his ability to command. Then in 1794, Edward Christian publicly defended his brother, Fletcher Christian, by attacking Bligh in the appendix to a pamphlet published by mutineer William Musprat's lawyer, Stephen Barney. The information used in the appendix was supplied by mutineer Peter Heywood and two members of Bligh's open boat crew, John Fryer and William Purcell. Bligh counter-attacked in print with An Answer to Certain assertions.... and Edward Christian responded with A Short Reply to Captain W. Bligh's Answer.
    Bligh did not receive his next command, the 24-gun HMS Calcutta, until 1795. In 1796 he was promoted to HMS. Director, a 64-gun ship. Shortly afterwards he was involved in the mutiny at the Nore but there is no suggestion that he was in any way its cause. On 11 October 1797 he commanded the Director in the Battle of Camperdown when the British fleet under Admiral Diuncan defeated the Dutch under Admiral de Winter. Bligh captured de Winter's flagship, Vrijheid, during the battle.
    In 1801 Bligh was appointed captain of HMS. Glatton, another 64-gun ship, and fought in the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801 as part of the British fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker with Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson as second in command. After the battle Bligh was promoted to the 74-gun HMS Monarch which he sailed back to England. He was then given command of HMS Irresistible. Later that year he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for distinguished services in navigation and botany.
    In 1804 he was appointed to HMS Warrior. While commanding this ship he was charged by a junior officer with tyrannical behaviour. At the resulting court martial he was reprimanded and advised to use less abusive language in his running of the ship.
    In March 1805, under the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks, Bligh accepted the post of Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of the Territory of New South Wales and its dependencies in succession to Governor Philip Gidley King. Bligh left England in February 1806 on the transport Lady Madeleine Sinclair escorted by HMS Porpoise. He was accompanied by his daughter Mary and her husband Lieutenant John Putland. His wife, who was ill and suffered from sea sickness, remained behind.
    The voyage was uneventful except for a series of furious quarrels between Bligh and Captain Joseph Short, commander of the Porpoise, over a question of naval precedence.
    Bligh arrived in Sydney on 6 August 1806. King departed a week later but not before granting his successor 240 acres (97 hectares) at Camperdown, 105 acres (42 hectares) near Parramatta and 1000 acres (40 hectares) near Rouse Hill on the Hawkesbury Road.
    Bligh's attempts to reform the colony antagonized the New South Wales Corps whose officers had monopolised the lucrative rum trade and indulged in irregular land transactions. His policies also brought him into conflict with a number of powerful self-made men, notably John Macarthur. The result was rebellion. On 26 January 1808 Major George Johnston at the head of the New South Wales Corps marched to Government House, placed Bligh under arrest and assumed control of the colony. In July Johnston was relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Foveaux who in turn was superseded by Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson in January 1809.
    Throughout this period Bligh remained in confinement in Sydney. In February 1809 he agreed to return to England on HMS Porpoise, commanded by Captain John Porteous. However once Bligh and his widowed daughter Mary had embarked, he assumed command of the ship and refused to leave the colony until he had received instructions from the
    British Government. He sailed to Hobart hoping to win support from Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land. Collins, however, declined to denounce the rebel government. Meanwhile Johnston and Macarthur had sailed for England on the Admiral Gambier to argue their case before the British authorities.
    In London, news of the overthrow of Governor Bligh led to the appointment of a new Governor, Lieutenant-Colonel Lachlan Macquarie and the recall of the New South Wales Corps to be replaced by Macquarie's own regiment, the 73rd. Macquarie arrived in Sydney on 28 December 1809 and took up his commission as Governor on 1 January 1810. On 17 January Bligh returned to Sydney on HMS Porpoise to an official reception and a guard of honour made up of the 73rd regiment.
    Bligh sailed for England on 12 May 1810 on HMS Hindostan arriving there on 25 October. He left behind his daughter Mary who had married Macquarie's second-in-command, Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice O'Connell.
    In May and June 1811 Johnston was court martialled, convicted of mutiny and cashiered. He returned to New South Wales where he took up farming. On 12 November Bligh published his account of the court martial, Proceedings of A General Court-Martial held at Chelsea Hospital ...
    Macarthur being a civilian could not be tried for treason in England but was liable to arrest in the colony. However in 1817 he received permission to return on condition that he took no part in public affairs.
    After vindication by the court martial Bligh received a governor's pension and routine promotion to Rear-Admiral of the Blue Squadron backdated to 31 July 1810. In 1812 he was gazetted Rear-Admiral of the White Squadron, in 1813, Rear-Admiral of the Red Squadron and in 1814, Vice-Admiral of the Blue. He settled in Lambeth, London but following the death of his wife in 1812 he moved to a manor house in Farningham, Kent with his unmarried daughters. On 7 December 1817 Bligh collapsed and died. He was buried next to his wife in St Mary's Churchyard, Lambeth. His six surviving daughters, Harriet Maria Barker, Mary O'Connell, Elizabeth Bligh, Frances Bligh, Jane Bligh and Anne Bligh inherited his estate including his land grants in New South Wales.
    Alpin, Graeme (ed.). A Difficult Infant: Sydney Before Macquarie. Sydney, New South Wales University Press, 1988.
    Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.1: 1788-1850. Carlton, Victoria, Melbourne University Press, 1967.
    Bach, John (ed.). The Bligh Notebook 28 April to 14 June 1789. Sydney, Allen & Unwin in association with the National Library of Australia, 1987.
    Fitzgerald, Ross and Mark Hearn. Bligh, Macarthur and The Rum Rebellion. Kenthurst, New South Wales, Kangaroo Press, 1988.
    Kennedy, Gavin. Bligh. London, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 1978.
    Mackaness, George. The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, R.N., F.R.S. 2 vols, Sydney, Angus & Robertson Ltd, 1931.
  • Collection history
    The papers, pictures, relics, charts and books of Vice-Admiral William Bligh and his family described in this Guide comprise all those original items which can be considered to have remained in their personal possession. Letters sent by the Bligh family have not been included except where copies were kept by the writer for his or her own personal records. Many of the Bligh family papers, principally those of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, were presented to the then Public Library of New South Wales on the 29 October 1902 by Bligh's grandson William Russell Bligh. These papers were subsequently transferred from the Public Library to the Mitchell Library in June 1910, four months after the opening of the Library building on its present site in Macquarie Street on 8 March 1910. This donation included the logs of HMS Bounty, the first volume of the log of HMS. Providence, a manuscript version of Bligh's `Bounty narrative', numerous notes, books, legal documents and letters. Later additions to the collection during the period 1915-1933 were primarily from family sources in New South Wales or by purchase at auction. Sometime prior to 1934, the canvassing for funds for the renovation of Vice-Admiral William Bligh's tombstone in St Mary's Churchyard, Lambeth, London, resulted in the re-establishment of contact between family members in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The Mitchell Librarian at that time, Ida Leeson, while pursuing the question of the possible existence of a rough notebook kept by Bligh on board HMS Bounty's launch, was able to make contact with a much wider circle of Bligh descendants than had previously been possible and to state the Library's interest in adding to an already valuable collection of Bligh family material. The response from members of the Bligh, Oakes and Nutting families in the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s enabled the Library to acquire a number of additional items, including the second volume of the log of HMS Providence, the family Bible, family portraits, pictures and relics, notably Bligh's telescope and the sword belonging to Admiral de Winter of the Dutch flagship Vrijheid which surrendered to HMS Director, commanded by Bligh, during the Battle of Camperdown. Further material was included in the bequest in 1952 of Sir William Dixson, which formed the Dixson Library. Prominent among this material were Bligh's sword, his signet ring and seal, and charts from the Providence voyage. For large records where there are multiple sources, provenance details are provided within the item entry in the series records. Reference: Guide to the papers of William Bligh and the Bligh Family / arranged and described by Warwick Hirst of the Manuscripts Section, based on an earlier work by Elizabeth Egan of the Manuscripts Section, 1989. Sydney : State Library of New South Wales, 2001.
  • Scope and Content

    SERIES 1
    William Bligh, papers

    SERIES 2
    Elizabeth Bligh, wife of Vice-Admiral William, nee Betham, papers

    SERIES 3
    Richard Bligh, K.C., letters received

    SERIES 4
    Elizabeth Bligh, wife of Richard Bligh K.C., nee Bligh, papers

    SERIES 5
    Mary, Lady O'Connell, wife of Sir Maurice, formerly Mrs Lieutenant John Putland nee Bligh, papers

    SERIES 6
    Sir Maurice O'Connell, legal document, indenture of conveyance

    SERIES 7
    Harriet Maria Barker, wife of Henry Aston nee Bligh, Frances Bligh, Jane Bligh and Anna Bligh, letters received

    SERIES 8
    William Russell Bligh, papers

    SERIES 9
    Reverend James Bligh, papers, 'Bligh's Mutiny Bounty'

    SERIES 10
  • System of arrangement
    This collection contains manuscript, pictorial, realia and cartographic material. You may navigate to a more detailed description of this material from this collection record.
  • Copying Conditions
    Out of copyright:
    Please acknowledge:: State Library of New South Wales; Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales.
  • General note

    Most items were microfilmed in 1973. After microfilming, certain items were re-numbered, this numbering is used in the Guide to Papers of William Bligh and the Bligh Family. Where there are discrepancies, this is noted in the record.
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