Captain William Bligh, Mutiny on the Bounty fame

Captain William Bligh, Mutiny on the Bounty fame

Captain William Bligh Born in 1754 at St Tudy between Bodmin and Camelford. The Bligh family had lived in the parish of St. Tudy for at least 70 years at that point. A John Bligh (or Blygh) of Bodmin had been a commissioner for the suppression of monasteries in reign of Henry VIII.

William Bligh was born at Tinten Manor St. Tudy on September 9th 1754. He was the only son of Francis Bligh (died 27 Dec 1780) and his wife Jane Pearce, a widow whose maiden name was Balsam. His mother died when he was 14 years old.

His baptism is registered at St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth where his parents were married in 1853 but it is possible that he was actually baptised either at St. Tudy Church,( where there is a family plaque) or in St Nicholas Chapel which was part of Tinten Manor.

‘A Guide to the Ancient Parish Church of St. Tudy’ says

‘William Bligh was born at Tinten Manor on 9th September 1754 but was baptised at St. Tudy on 13th February 1757 with his sister Mary. There are several theories for this delay. The most probable being that, as his father was an Excise Officer based at Plymouth, the family waited until the birth of the next child before coming back to the ancestral home for baptism. (The baptism could have taken place at St Nicholas Chapel and later recorded in the parish church registers) This delay in baptism has led to Plymouth, St. Kew and St. Teath, variously claiming to be the birthplace of William Bligh but without proof. Other branches of the family who lived at these places also had off-spring named William, but the Admiral’s birthplace at St. Tudy is recorded by his own testimony. ‘

Rev. Richard Polwhele records in his ‘Biographical Sketches’ that “Bligh (as he himself informed me) was a native of St. Tudy” During the Napoleonic wars, Captain Bligh was carrying out research for the Admiralty in the Helford River and was arrested as a suspected spy. He was locked in the coal cellar of the Rev. Richard Polwhele, but eventually released when he was able to prove his identity. Despite his treatment Bligh and Polwhele became friends and remained in touch for several years.

There is a memorial plaque on the south wall of the church to the Bligh family, which could possibly be his grandfather, it reads:

‘ In memory of Charles Bligh son of Mr John Bligh of Tinten in this Parish who departed this life ye 7th Day of July 1770 in the 74th year of his Age’

Bligh first went to sea in 1762 – at the age of 7, as a Captain’s personal servant on board HMS Monmouth. Whether he went to sea at this tender age is not certain, as it was common practice to sign on a "young gentleman" simply in order to rack up the required years of service for quick promotion. He joined the Royal Navy in 1770 where he served on HMS Hunter and became a Midshipman. He alter became Sailing Master on the Resolution, commanded by Captain James Cook, when only 22 years of age. A ship's master was the chief navigator; it was also the highest rank attainable without a commission from the Admiralty. Commissioned ranks were generally reserved for the sons of established naval families. Cook himself was an exception, having been a ship's master before being promoted to captain. This voyage ended with the death of Cook on February 14th 1779 in Hawaii (known at that time as the Sandwich Islands).

Bligh returned to England and appears to have had a year off until he was appointed Master: HMS Belle Poule on Feb. 14, 1781. It is difficult to know whether he need employment during this time, but there is a local legend that he had taken a job as an "enforcer" or "keeper of the peace" at the Cornish Arms pub in St. Tudy. This is not substantiated.

During this 12 month break from active duty he met his future wife and on February l4th 1781 at the parish church of Onchan, Isle of Man, Bligh married Elizabeth Betham, the daughter of a Collector of Customs.

In 1787 he was chosen to command The Bounty.

After that he had his action filled life seeing he mutiny on the Bounty, adrift on an open boat for thousands of miles, Governor of New South Wales, imprisonment in another mutiny there, many sea battles and eventual promotion in 1814 to Vice Admiral of the Blue.

Bligh lived finally at the Manor House, Farningham, Kent and died on 7th December 1817, aged 64, in Bond Street, London. He is buried in the eastern part of Lambeth churchyard, by the side of his wife by whom he had six daughters.

Captain Bligh biography

The Real Captain Bligh

William Bligh - comprehensive service record

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