William Bligh - captain of the ship Bounty and admiral and governor of Australia - 1754.

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1 year ago

William Bligh was an outstanding sailor, an excellent navigator and cartographer. But because of his uncompromising attitude, bad will and tyrannical leadership style, he is most often remembered as Captain Bounty when his crew rebelled, and as a failed governor of New South Wales who was overthrown by the military.

Born in England on September 9, 1754, Bligh may have inherited his sea legs from his father - a shipowner and customs officer. Bligh joined the Navy in 1770, and sailed with Captain James Cook on his third, fateful voyage in 1776. During that voyage Bligh became skilled in drawing shores.

He returned to England and fought against the French before he was also appointed commander over the Bounty ship, with the task of taking Tahitian bread plants to the Caribbean to feed the slaves.

But shortly after leaving Tahiti in 1789, Fletcher Christian and crew rebelled, driving their commander off the ship and 18 of his supporters into an open boat just 7 feet long. The boat was so loaded that the sides were only 17 centimeters above sea level. They were given a sextant, a compass and five days of food and water.

During an extremely difficult, six-week voyage — with high-level tensions — Bligh steered the boat brilliantly to Timor, 5,800 kilometers away, drawing along part of Australia’s northeast coast. The narrow passage through the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait was therefore named Bligh Boat Entrance.

Upon his return to England, Bligh was tried militarily but honorably released for the loss of his ship. He was promoted to captain and sent to Providence for a second attempt to transport bread from Tahiti to the West Indies. This time he succeeded and along the way drew a part of the southeastern coast of Tasmania (which was then called Van Diemen's Land).

After a long stay in England, during which he served as captain on various ships (one of which the crew also rebelled), he was given the post of governor of New South Wales in 1806, with the task of curbing the fierce ghost trade.

Bligh’s consequent ill-treatment of the military (the so-called ‘Rum Corps’), among other mismanagement, led to his overthrow in 1808 — the only successful armed takeover of government in Australian history.

Admiral Bligh died in 1817 at the age of 63. He was buried in the family tomb in London.

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