Hero or Villain? That is the question posed about William Bligh by an exhibition currently at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 2 Feb.). It’s a question that would not be posed were it not for the mutiny on board his ship the Bounty in 1789. In all other respects his career should be considered a distinguished one. His governorship of New South Wales (1805-1810) was marred by the ‘Rum Rebellion’ but Bligh was vindicated by the subsequent trial, in London, of Major George Johnston, the commander of the rebels, who was cashiered from the army. Meanwhile Bligh was received at Court by the Prince Regent and went on to reach the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue.
The exhibition at the Maritime Museum handsomely presents many remarkable and fascinating objects from the Museum’s and other collections. It charts Bligh’s extraordinary career and its intersection with so many significant events and people. Born in 1754, he enlisted as an able seaman in 1770, yet by 1776, he was appointed master HMS Resolution on Captain Cook’s third and fatal voyage of exploration. In 1781 he married Elizabeth Bentham on the Isle of Man. Theirs was a love match producing six surviving daughters.
Visitors have the opportunity to express their view of Bligh – hero or villain, or something in between. It’s profoundly instructive and beautifully presented. My view: not perfect but a hero.
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