Biography: William Bligh
William Bligh was born on 9 September 1754 at Plymouth, a son of a Customs officer.
first appeared on a naval muster roll as Captain's Servant on HMS Monmouth at the age of 7.
On 27 July 1770, he
was entered as an Able Seaman on HMS Hunter
- although to all intents and purposes he
was being trained as a Midshipman.
was formally entered as a Midshipman on the same ship on 5 September.
A year later, he
transferred to HMS Crescent and spent three years learning navigation and seamanship.
made several important hydrographic surveys during his
training, which were submitted to the Admiralty.
After transferring to HMS Ranger, he
continued to learn his
craft, showing outstanding proficiency.
Captain Clerke in the Discovery assumed command of the expedition, and deputed Bligh
to assume the navigation for the remainder of the voyage.
However, on his
return to Britain, Bligh
was not promoted.
made a visit to the Isle of Man where he
had been stationed prior to the voyage and became acquainted with Elizabeth Betham, aged 27.
They became engaged and were married on 4 February 1781.
Shortly after their marriage, Bligh
was appointed as Master on HMS Belle Poule.
In April, the ship took part in an action with a Dutch convoy at Dogger Bank and Bligh's
handling of the ship led to an appointment in September to a large ship, HMS Berwick.
After serving only a few months on this vessel, he
transferred to HMS Princess Amelia and subsequently, in March 1782, he
was appointed to HMS Cambridge.
In October 1782, the ship left Britain as part of Lord Howe's fleet to relieve Gibraltar from siege by France and Spain.
After being paid off in January 1783, Bligh
was placed on half pay and took his
wife and daughter back to the Isle of Man. Elizabeth's uncle offered him employment in his
merchant fleet and for four years, Bligh
took command of several vessels in his
Bligh was to be the only commissioned officer and had no Marines appointed to the ship.
had been able to achieve promotion to Post-Captain prior to the voyage, he
would have been allocated a junior commissioned officer to extend the officer structure, other than warrant officers and midshipmen.
In essence, the ship was undermanned and in many cases, Bligh
did not have much say in who was enlisted.
Many were second - or even third - enlistments due to desertions prior to sailing.
set out from Deptford in October 1787 for Spithead, where he
was due to receive his
final orders from the Admiralty.
They were delayed in arriving and the crew lost three weeks of good sailing weather.
They finally departed Portsmouth on 23 December.
Bligh's orders were to approach Tahiti from the Cape Horn and head for the West Indies via the Cape of Good Hope.
knew that rounding Cape Horn would be difficult, but even more so with the delay in departure.
They reached Cape Horn in March 1788 and the ship made little progress in the face of the fierce weather.
Illness in the face of the conditions was inevitable and by April, eight out of the thirteen seamen were ill and not able to attend their duties.
By 22 April, Bligh
decided to abandon the Horn and set sail to the Cape of Good Hope, arriving on 22 May.
After the incident with Purcell, Bligh
kept a strict eye on his men.
made him publicly sign them, creating greater tensions.
The ship arrived at Matavai Bay at Tahiti on 26 October 1788.
The business of taking the breadfruit seedlings began and the ship remained at the island for six months.
During this period, the crew were able to enjoy the hot climate, food and company of the natives.
However, tensions between Bligh
crew increased and three of the lower deck tried to desert.
and eighteen of the crew were set adrift in the launch, with a few provisions.
Bligh's skill as a navigator came to the fore.
Even without a chart, he
was able to navigate the launch 3618 miles to Timor, off the coast of Java.
They arrived on 14 June, in a considerably weak state of health.
After recuperating, Bligh
purchased a schooner to take them back to Britain and eventually arrived on 14 March 1790.
After a short illness, he
was placed in temporary command of HMS Cambridge, although remained listed as being command of the Bounty.
As a normal naval procedure when a commanding officer has lost his
had to face a court martial on 22 October 1790.
He was, however, acquitted and was promoted to Captain on 15 December 1790.
In February 1791, Bligh
was again appointed to command a second expedition to transfer breadfruit from the Society Islands
to the West Indies.
This time, Bligh's experiences on the first voyage, led to the ship being better equipped and manned, including a party of Marines.
The ship was HMS Providence and was to be accompanied by another, HMS Assistant.
was now ranked as a Captain, this also ensured an adequate officer structure on board the ships.
The ships left Spithead on 3 August 1791.
During the first part of the voyage, Bligh
became ill and Lieutenant Portlock had to assume command until they reached the Cape of Good Hope.
They arrived at Tahiti on 9 April 1792.
They remained until July and left with over 2600 breadfruit plants.
They arrived at St Helena in December and deposited some of the plants, before continuing on to the West Indies, arriving at St Vincent on 23 January 1793.
They continued to Jamaica where they remained until June.
After a short delay caused by the outbreak of war with France, they returned to Britain on 7 August and was able to send a cargo of plants to Kew Gardens.
returned home to a tarnished reputation since, during his
absence, the trial of the Bounty mutineers had taken place and examples of his
hot temper had been circulated.
was placed on half pay and remained unemployed for eighteen months.
In 1794, he
was awarded the Society of Arts gold medal for the discoveries made during the voyage.
In March 1795, he
was appointed to HMS Warley which was renamed Calcutta and was serving under Admiral Adam Duncan in the North Sea, based at the Nore.
In October 1795, the crew of another ship, HMS Defiance, mutinied.
was ordered to embark 200 troops and take them alongside the mutinous ship in order for the troops to take it over.
The threat of the soldiers ended the mutiny.
In January 1796 he
left this ship to join HMS Director.
In 1797, the navy was caught up in two largescale mutinies.
The Spithead mutiny erupted in February when the fleet refused to put to sea over grievances of the sailor's pay.
This ended with Lord Howe personally intervening in the sailor's plight.
However, the discontent had spread to other fleets.
Bligh's ship, Director, was at the Nore for a refit in May 1797 when the mutiny spread to that fleet.
Each of the fleet's crews issued their demands to their Captain.
Demands were not met and the ringleaders of the mutiny, who serving in HMS Sandwich, clashed with Bligh
refusal to allow the ship's arsenal to be handed over to his
Bligh was sent on a secret mission to Yarmouth to see Admiral Duncan and gather intelligence on the state of the fleet and whether loyal ships could be used to against the mutineers.
returned to ship on 16 June and persuaded the Admiralty to pardon the majority of the mutineers on the ship.
Of those who were excluded from the pardon, none were hanged.
Bligh's distinguished conduct continued when he
fought at the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch fleet on 11 October 1797.
played a full and distinguished part in the conflict and his
meticulous reporting of the battle gave a detailed account of the battle.
continued to command the Director until July 1800.
was put on half pay until 13 March 1801, when he
took command of HMS Glatton.
was assigned to the squadron led by Nelson and the fleet set sail for the Dutch coast.
again distinguished himself during the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801, after which Nelson gave him a glowing testimonial.
After the battle, Bligh
transferred to HMS Monarch and returned to Britain, undertaking a personal favour for Nelson by taking a set of Copenhagen porcelain to Sir William and Lady Hamilton in London.
Frazier then demanded that Bligh
be court-martialled for improper behaviour towards himself and it was convened on 25-26 February 1805.
The court found the charges to be part proved and Bligh
was reprimanded but resumed command of the Warrior.
Soon after, Bligh
was offered the appointment of Governer and Captain-General of New South Wales.
In February 1806, he
left Britain with his
daughter, Mary, as his
wife's health was not good to withstand a long sea voyage.
Although the King eventually replaced Bligh
as Governor, those who had undertaken to displace him were arrested and returned to Britain for trial.
left for Britain on 12