The latest additions to TheGenealogist’s ever expanding resources for family historians, are useful for revealing names, dates and information about ancestors that belonged to that level of society that ranged from Freemen of various towns and cities, Liverymen, Aldermen and members of organisations such as the Masons and Oddfellows. Also in this classification are a number of book records for people classed as being Worthies including volumes covering London and two for Cornwall. Gathered together under the Guilds, Societies and People of Note section of TheGenealogist’s Occupational Records, this diverse collection can spark some fascinating research clues.
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As an example, the first volume of Cornish Worthies provides us with some great leads on an interesting life story of the famous Vice-Admiral Bligh as he later became. It is uncertain where the famous seafarer was born but what we do know is that his ancestral home was in Cornwall in the Manor of Tinten that is in the Parish of St Tudy. This lead could be used for further research into the Bligh family in these parts.
Bligh’s name is always associated with the Mutiny of the Bounty and the events following his crew’s rebellion against his authority. He was the Captain of the Royal Navy armed transport vessel, HMS Bounty, in the South Pacific Ocean, though only a Lieutenant at the time. The insurrection, led by Acting-Lieutenant Fletcher on 28 April 1789 and the settlement of the mutineers on Pitcairn and other of the South Sea Islands has gone down in history. But many of us will only know a small amount about the man who was cast adrift in a launch with eighteen sailors. This entry in the Worthies of Cornwall vol 1 explains that a young Bligh sailed with Captain Cook as sailing-master in the Resolution, on one of his voyages round the world. Bligh’s name is oft-associated with the discovery of bread-fruit on one of Cook’s expeditions and this book record explains that the young Bligh was often called Bread-Fruit Bligh.
The “soft Savages, its interesting inhabitants”
Written in the style of the mid 1840s, this mini-biography reports that Bligh “…having obtained a high reputation as a skilful navigator, was appointed by George III to command the Bounty, of 250 tons, on a voyage to Otaheite, in December 1787. After one or two ineffectual attempts to round Cape Horn, she arrived at her destination ten months after leaving England, and remained there for five or six months, the crew revelling in the natural beauty of the place, and enjoying an intercourse (which appears unfortunately to have been totally unrestricted) with the soft savages, its interesting inhabitants. On the homeward voyage, however, laden with plants and specimens of the bread-fruit, which it had been the object of the voyage to secure, with a view to its acclimatisation in the British West India Islands, Bligh—who had made himself, by his irascible and overbearing disposition, obnoxious to many of those who sailed with him—was secured and bound by the majority of his crew; and, together with eighteen luckless sailors, was cast adrift on the 28th April, 1789, in an open boat only twenty-three feet long, and deeply laden within ‘eight inches of the water’s edge,‘ in which small, frail craft they sailed 3,618 miles. They had on board 32 lbs. of pork, 150 lbs. of bread, some wine, some spirits, and some water—but no chart.”
Our Cornishman took nearly twelve months to get back to England, reaching the Dutch settlement of Timor, to the east of Java, on 14th June, 1789. It was here that he and the sailors that had been cast adrift with him obtained a schooner. Bligh and twelve out of the original eighteen companions arrived home on the 14th March, 1790; the remainder having died on their exhausting and miserable endeavour. It was down to Bligh’s seamanship, resource, and courage that the lives of those that did survive made it home. At the time the horrendous journey sparked a great deal of interest throughout the country and Bligh was immediately promoted to the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy, and soon afterwards to that of Post-Captain. With his new rank, in 1791, he then gained the command of another ship, HMS Providence and set off on a similar expedition to the Society Islands, an undertaking that was more successful than the voyage of the Bounty had been.
Other details contained in this book record on TheGenealogist gives more details of his time in the Navy. He was, we learn, present at the memorable battle off the Dogger Bank, 5th August, 1781; fought under Lord Howe at Gibraltar in 1782 and it gives us the names of some of the ships that he commanded with relevant dates.
While we may be aware of the Mutiny on the Bounty, many of us may be surprised to learn from this resource that this was not the only time that he faced mutineers. We learn that Bligh “also displayed great courage at the mutiny at the Nore, in 1797; on which occasion he was deputed to negotiate with the rebellious seamen, and is said to have performed that dangerous duty with singular intrepidity and address.”
Mutiny would again face Bligh in Australia some eleven years later when this time, as a Colonial administrator, he was ousted by those under his authority. In 1805 he had been appointed Captain-General and Governor of New South Wales, taking up this office in the following year. Bligh’s very arbitrary disposition and harsh notions of discipline, learned on ship’s quarter-decks, and which was said to be part of his character throughout life, were strongly resented by many of his subordinate officials, both civil and military in the colony where he was Governor. The Rum Rebellion, where his efforts to curtail the unlimited importation of alcoholic spirits into the colony saw Bligh deposed from his authority on the 26th January, 1808 by Major George Johnston of the 102nd Regiment and those who served under him. Bligh was imprisoned by them until March, 1810. Having returned to England, he became the Rear-Admiral of the Blue on 31st July, 1811 and then he received a promotion to be Vice-Admiral of the Blue, in June, 1814.
Going even further
In his later life he lived in the quiet village of Farningham, in Kent, but died in Bond Street, London, on the 7th December, 1817. Vice Admiral Bligh was buried (next to his wife at Lambeth, in the east part of the ground enclosing the church. An image of his will can be found in TheGenealogist’s Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills (PCC) for probate granted on the 20th April 1818 with his place of abode at the time being in Lambeth, Surrey.
A search for William Bligh on TheGenealogist will also return an entry in The Concise Dictionary of National Biography 1654-1930. He is also to be found in Peerage Gentry and Royalty records on TheGenealogist where he is mentioned in The Book of Dignities Rolls of Official Personages of the British Empire 1649-1846 as one of the Admirals of Great Britain.
The new release of Guilds, Societies and People of Note records, which included the first volume of Cornish Worthies, provides us with some great leads to an interesting life story of the famous Vice-Admiral Bligh and helped us to understand that he was actually involved in more than just the Mutiny on the Bounty. As part of TheGenealogist’s Occupational records, an ever expanding resource for family historians, these records can help the family history researcher to find names, dates and information about ancestors who may have been Worthies, Freemen, Liverymen, Aldermen or members of organisations such as the Masons and Oddfellows.