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William Bligh (1754-1817) and thence by descent to the present owners.
William Bligh (1754-1817)
The son of a Cornish customs officer, William Bligh was on the roll of HMS Monmouth as Captain's servant at seven, and at fifteen was rated AB on the roll of HMS Hunter. Literate and with a flair for mathematics, he was promoted to midshipman on HMS Crescent, a 36-gun frigate, serving in the West Indies for four years. He transferred to HMS Roger in Septemebr 1774, policing contraband traffic in the Irish Sea out of Douglas, Isle of Man. His first major appointment came in March 1776 when, aged just twenty-two, he was picked by the Admiralty to be sailing-master on HMS Resolution, serving under Cook on his third and fatal voyage (1776-1779). Bligh's surveys and charts were published with Cook's journals after the voyage but he was not promoted.
He returned to the Isle of Man, married Elizabeth Betham, from a wealthy and influential Manx family, and found temporary employment with her relative, Duncan Campbell, a West Indian trader and shipping contractor to the Royal Navy. After naval and merchant service between 1781-1787, which saw him promoted to Lieutenant in 1781 after participating in an action on the Dogger Bank, and four years in Jamaica as Campbell's agent, he returned to England to find he had been recommended by Sir Joseph Banks to the Admiralty to command an expedition to transplant breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies in the Bounty.
The infamous Bounty voyage concluded with Fletcher Christian's mutiny on 28 April 1789. Bligh and eighteen men were cast adrift in the Bounty's launch in the largely uncharted seas of the South Pacific, all but one making it to safety after a remarkable open boat journey which took them over 3618 nautical miles from the Friendly Islands (Tongan group) to Timor.
Bligh commanded a second and successful breadfruit voyage in the Providence in 1791. His subsequent naval service included actions at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 (see lot 65) and at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Recommended again by Banks, he was offered the governorship of New South Wales in 1805, serving as fourth governor in the colony from 1806 until rebels ousted him in 1808 (see lots 66 and 67). Bligh returned to England in 1809, was promoted Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron aged 57, and died of cancer in London in 1817.
THE MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, 28 APRIL 1789
'... But I am now unhappily to relate one of the most atrocious acts of Piracy ever comitted.
Just before sunrise Mr. Christian & the Master of Arms came into my cabbin while I was fast asleep, and seizing me tyed my hands with a cord & threatened instant death if I made the least noise, I however called sufficiently loud to alarm the officers, who found themselves equally secured by centinels at their Doors. -- There were now three men at my cabbin door & four inside -- Mr Christian had a cutlass & the others were armed with Musquets & Bayonets -- i was now carried on Deck in my shirt, in torture with a severe bandage round my wrists behind my back, there I found no men to rescue me, I ask'd the reason for such a violent act but I was threatened to be put to death if I said a word.' (W. Bligh, 'Log of the Proceedings of His Majesty's Ship Bounty....,' original autograph manuscript, Mitchell Library, Z safe 1/46).
The Bounty had sailed from Spithead in December 1787. Bligh made valient attempts to round the Horn, but a delayed departure meant he was too late in the season and impassible seas eventually forced him to turn for the Cape. He made his way to Tahiti via the southern ocean and Tasmania. The Bounty arrived in Tahiti on 26 October 1788 and Bligh spent five months collecting breadfruit plants, sailing for the West Indies with his cargo on 4 April 1789.
Twenty-four days later Fletcher Christian mutinied, taking Bligh by complete surprise.
Discipline had been problematic throughout the voyage. It had been compromised from the outset with the ship's arrangements altered to carry the breadfruit, breaking down the usual hierarchy of officer's and crew's quarters. Lack of space on an already small ship also reduced the complement of officers and meant no marines were taken. On top of this, Bligh's aversion to flogging meant discipline depended almost entirely on Bligh's command. Highly critical, quick tempered and prone to 'bad language', respect for his authority diminished as the voyage progressed. Five months in luxuriant Tahiti with minimal naval routine led to desertions, talk of mutiny and Fletcher Christian, the acting lieutenant, embarking on 4 April with his buttocks entirely blackened by tatooing, the sign of an initiated Polynesian male.
Bligh saw no signs of danger. Ironically, the very same shortsightedness in the commander, which left him and eighteen men adrift off Tonga on 28 April, would be instrumental in their salvation. In impossible circumstances, Bligh focussed on the minutiae of survival and saw all but one of his eighteen men to safety in Timor. The following four lots, the literal measures of this boat journey, tell the story of what Bligh called 'a Voyage of the most extraordinary nature that ever happened in the world'.
Rev.T.B.Murray, Pitcairn: The Island, The People and the Pastor..., London, 1885 ed., p.32, illustrated p.33 'Lieut. Bligh's gourd, cup, bullet-weight, and book.' [For the 'book' (Bligh's 'rough account' of the boat journey, now in the National Library of Australia) see Christie's, 24 Nov. 1976, lot 242]: 'The annexed engraving, from a drawing made expressly for this work from the originals, shows the bowl, or gourd, out of which the commander took his meals; the bullet-weight; the little quarter of a pint mug for serving out the water, and, though last not the least interesting, Bligh's own log-book. They were all much treasured by his family, who permitted them to be sketched for this work. There are, perhaps, few genuine relics of the past more interesting ... the diameter of the gourd is rather more than five inches; the depth nearly four inches. The following words are cut with a knife under the string:-
'W.Bligh, April, 1789.'
Written in ink round the gourd:
'the cup I eat my miserable allowance out of'
Greenwich, National Maritime Museum, Mutiny on the Bounty, April-Oct. 1989, no.88 (part).