William Bligh was born on this day, Monday 9th September 1754. As a sea captain he is invariably considered to be a tyrannical and cruel bully who brought a ships mutiny down on himself. But is that really true? There is a very good case for saying that that persona is not true and it is all, probably, down to the 1930s film ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’.
Bligh had gone to sea at an early age – some say the age was seven, others quote 15. Whatever his starting age, he learned his trade and, in 1776, was selected by Captain Cook for the position of sailing master of the ‘Resolution’. Throughout his career Bligh was intolerant of error and had no compunction in venting his anger in abusive terms – but if the job in hand was done as it should be done there was no problem. However, he is now best known for the events on HMS Bounty on Tuesday 28th April 1789. But – was he really at fault? Whatever we may think he, aged 35 with 13 years’ experience as a ship’s officer, together with eighteen others, were cast adrift in a longboat by sailors who objected to his style of ‘management’. Thanks to Bligh’s skills the castaways, after more than 40 days at sea, reached safety.
Back home the Admiralty treated him as a hero and gave him a new command. However in 1797 he was anchored with the rest of the British fleet off the Kent coast when his crew joined a fleet-wide mutiny of sailors and put Bligh ashore.
Once again no fault was found in Bligh’s actions and 8 years later – in 1805 – William Bligh was appointed Governor of New South Wales in Australia. However, in 1808, he suffered from a third mutiny – this time led by a British major who put Bligh in gaol. This mutiny was finally suppressed in 1810 and Bligh was released – the courts finding the mutineers guilty of conspiracy and that William Bligh was an innocent party.
Back in Britain the Napoleonic war was dragging on and, in 1811, William was promoted to Rear Admiral and to Vice Admiral in 1814. He died in 1817 aged 63 with a great many more plusses to his career than are normally given to him.