Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Blighted man!

Today on the 9th September 1754 William Bligh, infamous captain of The Bounty was born. Possibly the greatest navigator in British naval history, whose reputation is forever tarnished by the events of 1787.

Yet, a knowledge of sea-faring life in the eighteenth century shows Bligh was no worse than any other captain, in the way he punished his crew. Indeed, he took very great interest in his crew's diet, ensuring fruit and vegetables were available, and that regular exercise was undertaken. He did have a reputation for failing to punish, when it was often felt he should, and was very reluctant to use the death penalty. His great weakness was he tended to favouritism, and set it on Fletcher Christian, who as we know led the mutineers.

The films give the impression that Bligh was overwhelmed by mutineers, but in fact he had the majority of the crew on his side, but as Bligh was already bound, they didn't put up resistance. The crew were then cast adrift, and all Bligh had was a sextant, and a pocket watch.

After losing a man in a skirmish on Tofua, in order to gain supplies, they sailed to Timor, a voyage of some 3,600 miles. Bligh, who had perfected his skills under Cook, amazingly got his men to Timor after 47 days, without losing another. A truly remarkable tale of seamanship and discipline. Not what you would expect of a tyrant.

Although he suffered more than his share of bad fortune during his career, being one of many captains whose crews mutinied in 1797, yet he had a very successful career. That same year, he lost only seven men on The Director, when they engaged three Dutch ships simultaneously. He was part of Nelson's fleet at Copenhagen, and became a vice-Admiral.

He became Governor of New South Wales in 1805, when the so called 'Rum rebellion' occurred. Yet Bligh's time was considered to be a good one, especially in his attitude and treatment of new settlers, who named many of their children after him.

William Bligh is probably only matched by Richard III is having an unfairly besmirched reputation, and his feat in sailing his small ship, loaded with eighteen men over three and a half thousand miles is possibly remarkable act of seamanship in naval history.

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