Biography of William Bligh

Portrait of William Bligh

William Bligh was an eighteenth century naval captain caught up in the Mutiny on the Bounty as well as later becoming Governor of New South Wales in Australia..

When and Where was he Born?

9th September 1754, St Tudy, Cornwall, England. (possibly Plymouth Devon).

Family Background:

William Bligh came from a local Devon family.


Local Schools. He went to sea at the age of fifteen.

Timeline of William Bligh:

1754: Bligh is baptised at St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, the church where his parents had got married a year previously.

1770: He joins the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman on 27th July on the ship HMS Hunter.

1776-79: His first major appointment is on James Cook’s third and last voyage when he served as Master of HMS Resolution.

1781: On 4th February 1781 Bligh marries Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a customs collector at Orchan Paris Church, near Douglas, Isle of Man. He is promoted to Lieutenant on 5th August after action after the Battle of Dogger Bank against the Dutch. (the Dutch republic had been supplying the American colonists with French and Dutch supplies during the War of American Independence).

1782: He takes part in the relief of Gibraltar on 13th October against the French and the Spanish.

1783-87: Bligh enters the Merchant service after the declaration of peace.

1787: He takes command of HMS Britannia where Midshipman Fletcher Christian sailed with him. On 16th August he is appointed to command H.M.S. Bounty on an expedition organised by Sir Joseph Banks and the Admiralty. The mission is to sail to Tahiti to collect breadfruit plants for transplantation in the West Indies to feed the slave population. The ship left Spithead on the Solent near Portsmouth on 23rd December but failed to round Cape Horn due to storms and goes instead via the Cape of Good Hope off southern Africa.

1788: Bligh finally arrives in Tahiti on 26th October.

1789: He leaves Tahiti on 4th April with his cargo. On 28th April a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian is staged. The revolt came to a head when Christian was accused by Bligh of stealing his coconuts and stopped the rum ration of the entire crew in retaliation. Many of the crew were already not happy that they had had to leave their easy life with the Tahitians behind. Bligh and 18 loyal members of the crew were cast adrift in the Bounty’s launch. They reach the Dutch Island of Timor on 12th June after 41 hazardous days at sea, a journey of 6,705 kilometres. Once there he buys a Dutch Schooner and sails for Jakarta (modern day Indonesia) and then home to England.

1790: Bligh reaches Portsmouth on 13th March with only 11 crew members surviving.

1791: On 3rd August he embarks on a second breadfruit voyage in H.M.S. Providence taking another ship with him.

1793: Returns to England on 7th August after a successful voyage.

1797: Bligh commands a ship at the Battle of Camperdown on 11th October against the Batavian (Dutch) fleet off the Dutch coast.

1801: He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He commands a ship at the Battle of Copenhagen with Lord Nelson against a combined Danish and Norwegian force.

1806: He is offered a post as Captain General and Governor of New South Wales, Australia and sets sail in February. His wife is too ill to travel but his daughter Mary and her husband Lieutenant John Putland (who became his aide-de-camp) accompany him.  Bligh arrives at Port Jackson on 6th August.

1808: Bligh’s reforms in New South Wales brought him into conflict with the leading men of the colony, notably John MacArthur. On 26th January MacArthur sends Major George Johnston to arrest Bligh and assumes control of the colony.

1811: Johnston was subsequently arrested and tried for this offence. Bligh is promoted to Rear Admiral.

1812: On 15th April his wife dies. Bligh and unmarried daughters move from London to a Manor House in Farningham, near Maidstone, Kent.

1814: Bligh is promoted to Vice Admiral but did not again take command of a ship.

When and Where did he Die?

7th December 1817, on visit to London, England of cancer.

Age at Death:



4th February 1781 to Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a customs collector at Orchan Paris Church, near Douglas, Isle of Man.

Site of Grave:

St. Mary’s Church, Lambeth, London, England next to his wife. This is now the site of the National Garden Museum.

Bligh's Grave
Grave of William Bligh in the grounds of the ‚Ä®Museum of Garden History, Lambeth, London  (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Garden Museum, Lambeth. See article on Topiary in the United Kingdom.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.


Mansion where Bligh retired to still stands, Farningham, near Maidstone. (See more here)

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