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Note: In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, online entry for Gov. Wiliam Bligh (accesssed 12 October 2006) it is stated incorrectly in the entry on Bligh by A. G. L. Shaw that Bligh's “uncle in law”, overseer of the Thames Prison Hulks, Duncan Campbell (1726=-1803), had owned the ship (which was named Bethia) which became HMAV Bounty. This is incorrect. For that first breadfruit voyages, Campbell had unsuccessfully tendered his own ship usually sent to Jamaica, Lynx, which Bligh had once sailed, which was an ex-naval vessel.

William Bligh and the Bounty - revisited

The Bounty's mission with its disastrous mutinous ending in April 1789 was only one voyage of many for British ships newly sailing into the Pacific - read now a major article on British whalers entering the Pacific from 1786... "Outlooks for the South Whale Fishery", already print-published in an academic journal

This page updated 12 October 2006

The William Bligh problem

Vice-Admiral William Bligh

Capt William Bligh (at age 60)
of HMAV Bounty

William Bligh is famously famous, for being "one of Captain Cook's men", for being the victim of "the Mutiny on the Bounty", for his magnificent open boat voyage to Timor, and later for being deposed as governor of New South Wales.

Probably no vice-admiral of the British Navy has ever been so closely inspected as Bligh. Yet the mystery of the man - and his life as seen by a variety of historians - is that writers seem to be unable to interpret his family history. Why would this be?

From one angle of vision, and the simplest, human, angle, Bligh was the husband of a niece of the overseer of the Thames Prison Hulks, and a West Indian merchant, Duncan Campbell (d. 1803). It would have been very simple from the 1930s, and even earlier, if Campbell's name in this respect, and his role as hulks overseer, had been kept attached to the growth of the "legend of William Bligh".

But as it happened, the names of Campbell and Bligh, who were good friends, became dissociated. The historian most responsible for this weird divorcement of information, which continued down the generations, was Sydney historian, Bligh's biographer, George Mackaness.

Duncan Campbell (1726-1803)

Thames hulks overseer,
Duncan Campbell (1726-1803)

In most books on Bligh that are available today, Campbell is given only as "an influential West India merchant". And the impression usually given is that writer after writer on Bligh has found it impossible to find out anything further about this "West India merchant." When in fact, the extra information on Bligh's friend has been awaiting readers in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, since the early 1950s! Inkwell gif

In fact, Mackaness by the time he finished his two-volume biography of Bligh (the late 1920s-early 1930s) had been in possession of the Duncan Campbell Letterbooks for some years. If Mackaness read these Letterbooks, it must be questioned: why did he downplay the status of Campbell as "hulks overseer"? And downplay Campbell's status as an absentee owner of a Jamaica plantation? It can only be said, that Mackaness either censored certain information, or, he simply did not read all the Letterbooks of Bligh's "uncle-in-law", Duncan Campbell. In either case, an offense was given to proper history.

See George Mackaness, The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, RN, FRS. Two Vols. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1931. George Mackaness, (Ed.), 'Fresh Light On Bligh: some unpublished correspondence', Australian Historical Monographs, Vol. 5, (New Series). Review Publications, Dubbo, NSW, Australia, 1976 (Reprint). George Mackaness, (Ed.), 'Some correspondence of Captain William Bligh RN with John and Francis Godolphin Bond, 1776-1811', Australian Historical Monographs. Reissued by Review Publications Pty. Ltd., Dubbo, NSW, Australia. Orig., 1949.

One result of this near century-long, falsely-paradoxical lack of information is that HMAV Bounty is often seen as a lone sailor, not as part of an extended burst of British shipping going into the Pacific from 1786; including convict transport shipping.

In such senses, the legend of "Bligh and the Bounty" has served as much to distract attention from better historical study of Britain's entry into the Pacific, and also the business of shipping convicts to Australia, as it has done to advertise the mystique of the Pacific, and the sensual charms of younger Tahitiian women (as in the movie on the Bounty mutiny starring Mel Gibson).

Elizabeth Betham

Elizabeth Betham, wife of Bligh,
niece of Duncan Campbell.

So behind the literary busy-ness of the Bligh industry, which includes three Hollywood films by now, stands a very simple question.

How did it happen that the role in life of Bligh's employer, friend, uncle-in-law and mentor, Duncan Campbell, was misinterpreted throughout the entire Twentieth Century by writers and their reviewers, as well as film makers, and film critics?

As the reader guesses by now, this website book, The Blackheath Connection, will try to answer this question, along with many others, as entertainingly as possible.


Select Bibliography on William Bligh

Kenneth S. Allen, That Bounty Bastard: The True Story of Capt William Bligh. London, Robert Hale and Co., 1976.

Ernest Betham, A House of Letters. London, Jarrolds Pub., 1904.

Paul Brunton, (Ed.), Awake, Bold Bligh: William Bligh's Letters Describing the Mutiny on HMS Bounty. Sydney, Allen and Unwin and the New South Wales State Public Library, 1990.

Geoffrey Callender, 'The Portraiture of Bligh', The Mariner's Mirror, Vol. 22, No. 2, April, 1936.

J. E. Chandler, Beloved, respected and lamented: a story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. MGM Bounty's Exhibit, 1983.

Madge Darby, Captain Bligh in Wapping. London, HIstory of Wapping Trust Pub, 1990.

Greg Dening, Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty. Sydney. CUP, 1992. reviewed Sydney Morning Herald 19-9-1992.

H. V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion: A Study of the Overthrow of the Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps. Sydney, Angus and Robertson Classics Edition, 1975.

R. F. Gillespie, `Mary Bligh - Putland - O'Connell: an Australian dynasty', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society Newsletter, New Series, No. 1, January 1981.

Rolf Harris, Mutiny on the Bounty: Captain Bligh, hero or villain? Sydney, Rolf Harris Prod, 1998.

Arthur Hawkey, Bligh's Other Mutiny. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1975.

Richard Hough, Captain Bligh and Mr Christian. London, Hutchinson, 1972.

Warwick Hirst, My Dear, Dear Betsy: A Treasury of Australian Letters. Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1993.

Richard Humble, Captain Bligh. London, A. Baker Ltd., 1976.

Gavin Kennedy, Bligh. Duckworth, London, 1978.

Gavin Kennedy, 'Bligh and the Defiance mutiny', The Mariner's Mirror, Vol. 65, 1979., pp. 65-69.

Gavin Kennedy, A Book of the "Bounty": William Bligh and others. Edited by George Mackaness, with a new introduction by Gavin Kennedy, Ph.D London, Dent/Everyman, 1981.

Gordon N. Kniveton, The Onchan Story: Douglas, Isle of Man: The Manx Experience. 1992.

George Mackaness, The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, RN, FRS. Two Vols. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1931. (Which book, Vol. 1, supplied the three illustrations given above)

H. S. Montgomerie, William Bligh of the `Bounty' in Fact and Fable. London, Williams and Norgate Ltd., 1937.

Alan Morehead, The Fatal Impact: An Account of the Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767-1840. Middlesex, England, Penguin, 1976.

Douglas Oliver, Return to Tahiti: Bligh's Second Breadfruit Voyage. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1988.

Owen Rutter, Turbulent Journey: A Life of William Bligh, Vice-Admiral of the Blue. London, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1936.

Roy E. Schreiber, The Fortunate Adversities of William Bligh. New York, Peter Long, 1991.

Unknown, William Bligh: Extraordinary Seaman: A Look At His Life And Times. London, The Pitcairn Press, 1982.

Sven Wahlroos, Mutiny and Romance in the South Seas: A Companion to the Bounty Adventure. Topsfield, Salem House Pub., 1989.

R. C. Watkin, Mutiny On The Bounty. Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Kendal, 7, 1970., pp. 374-400.

Phillip Weate and Caroline Graham, Captain William Bligh: An Illustrated History. Sydney, Hamlyn, 1972.

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