australian colonial history
meg dillon
© Meg Dillon 2008
Australian Colonial History

Moments in Australian History

Bligh, Hero or Villain: Session 1

Social mix of Sydney Town

Convicts, emancipists and settlers: Even as early as 1791 a mix of free and unfree settlers graced Sydney town. Convicts were mostly left to their own devices to build their wattle and daub huts, work in the brickworks, water carriers, timber cutters, herdsmen, hunters and assisted to layout the town and construct some public buildings. Mostly found their own accommodation and had free time in the late afternoon to sell their labour for cash. Married convicts were allowed Fridays and Saturdays to work for cash for their families. By 1791 some convicts had already finished their 7 year sentences and were emancipists. Their numbers rapidly grew after this date. Many took up small land grants as farmers or resumed their trades or became shop keepers or merchants. Some convicts were professional men, architects, lawyers etc These emancipists were generally known as settlers. Female convicts had married or were working as domestic servants for the elites. Lots of babies being born who would grow up stronger and bigger than their parents – cornstalks – also in settler group. Orphans. Many children were abandoned but taken into the Orphan School. A growing number of free emigrants were attracted by the possibility of getting land and improving themselves.

Three groups came to be known as the Exclusives

Military men with their wives & children (but not their concubines). Wealthy free settlers Elite government officers, governor, chief magistrate and minor magistrates, colonial secretary, ministers and doctors and a few other professionals.

Early careers of William Bligh

Served in Merchant Navy captaining his father-in-law’s trading vessels to the Caribbean. 1776 Master of the Resolution on Cook’s 3 rd voyage to the Pacific. 1783 – 87. First Breadfruit voyage. Bounty mutiny. Navigated small whaleboat with 18 crew back to Timor. 1790 Acquitted at his Court Marshall for losing the Bounty. 1790 - 93 Set out on second breadfruit voyage and successfully delivered plants to the Caribbean slave owners. 1793 Returned to London. Given Gold medal by Royal Society of Arts. 1795 – 1801 Captained Navy ships engaged in war with France. 1801 – 1805 Minor commissions only. 1805 Joseph Banks lobbied for Bligh to be made Governor of NSW. 1806 Arrived NSW. Deposed by coup in 1808. Prisoner in NSW & Tas. Returned to London 1810.

What really happened on the Bounty Mutiny?

Some historians views Interested in reading more about this? These are a good start. Greg Denning, Mr Bligh’s Bad Language, 1992. Very readable and detailed. A.G.L. Shaw in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online edition, solid but brief biography of Bligh.

Let’s look at The Bounty Mutiny in Rogue Nation , Screen Australia, ABC DVD.

The Bounty Mutiny –the film we will view - dramatizes events but uses historians to suggest at various points some reasons for what is happening. The following five commercial films were made. Almost all present Bligh as a cliché for misused power. Some are available on DVD or U-Tube. 1916, Australian Film. Mutiny on the Bounty. Producer Raymond Longford. 1933. Australia. In the Wake of the Bounty. Producer Charles Chauvel. Errol Flynn as Christian. 1935. Mutiny on the Bounty, MGM. Christian Bligh – Charles Laughton, Christian - Clarke Gable. A Cruel Bligh and honourable Christian; tyranny and a just cause. 1962. Mutiny on the Bounty, Trevor Howard – Bligh and Marlon Brando as a lisping Christian. The mutiny was a political struggle. 1984. The Bounty, Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. Mutiny was a psychological struggle.

Group discussion of film:

Your task is to decide which, if any, of the above explanations seems most relevant. Does the film offer any other explanations? Ask group for their perceptions about the reasons for the mutiny.

Session concludes with the following discussion:

Do these further facts not canvassed by the film make you change your mind? Bligh accepted a commission in which his expected salary of £500 was reduced to £50 for a voyage of between 2 to 3 years. Why did he accept this condition? Bligh was purser as well as captain and so had control over the purchasing and distribution of food for the voyage. He had no other senior officer (ie Lieutenant ) to mediate between him and the crew so that unpopular decisions could be passed onto to the Lieutenant to deliver. Bligh was particularly parsimonious with food for the crew. As purser he was hoping to make a profit from the food allowance calculated by the Navy Board. This was a common practice of pursers, but usually the captain intervened if real injustices about the rations were imposed by the purser. This was a long and boring voyage in which crew had plenty of time to nurse injustices. Hot tropical weather. Bligh had a crew of 45 men of which 24 were mid-shipmen. These were junior officers in training and able seaman skilled in all aspects of sailing and navigating. However only about 12 of them were really fully qualified. This put a greater burden on the 12 skilled men. Both captain and other trained midshipmen should have been engaged in providing a regular training program for the less able mid ship-men and enforcing their compliance in working to acquire these skills. Bligh was not a flogger. Dening shows from the logs that he rarely used flogging to punish misdemeanours. He also gave fairly lenient sentences eg 20 lashes or fewer. Bligh had a dreadfully inconsistent temper and used strong language to express his displeasure. Crew and mid- shipmen never quite knew where they stood with him or when he might turn on them for a trivial issue. The Bounty was an overcrowded ship with far less personal space than was customary on Navy ships. It was refitted for its purpose of transporting plants at cost of round £6000. Great cabin totally fitted out as a breadfruit nursery. The Captain had a cramped room beside it. Crew separated from Bligh’s quarters by a canvas wall. Bosun separated from the crew in the hold. Bosun could not keep order amongst the crew from there. Midshipmen a motley crew with no lieutenant to lead and supervise them. Notes by Meg Dillon, Presenter. U3A Benalla, 2018.
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© Meg Dillon 2008
Australian Colonial History
australian colonial history
history of australia

Moments in Australian

History

Bligh, Hero or Villain: Session 1

Social mix of Sydney Town

Convicts, emancipists and settlers: Even as early as 1791 a mix of free and unfree settlers graced Sydney town. Convicts were mostly left to their own devices to build their wattle and daub huts, work in the brickworks, water carriers, timber cutters, herdsmen, hunters and assisted to layout the town and construct some public buildings. Mostly found their own accommodation and had free time in the late afternoon to sell their labour for cash. Married convicts were allowed Fridays and Saturdays to work for cash for their families. By 1791 some convicts had already finished their 7 year sentences and were emancipists. Their numbers rapidly grew after this date. Many took up small land grants as farmers or resumed their trades or became shop keepers or merchants. Some convicts were professional men, architects, lawyers etc These emancipists were generally known as settlers. Female convicts had married or were working as domestic servants for the elites. Lots of babies being born who would grow up stronger and bigger than their parents – cornstalks – also in settler group. Orphans. Many children were abandoned but taken into the Orphan School. A growing number of free emigrants were attracted by the possibility of getting land and improving themselves.

Three groups came to be known as the

Exclusives

Military men with their wives & children (but not their concubines). Wealthy free settlers Elite government officers, governor, chief magistrate and minor magistrates, colonial secretary, ministers and doctors and a few other professionals.

Early careers of William Bligh

Served in Merchant Navy captaining his father- in-law’s trading vessels to the Caribbean. 1776 Master of the Resolution on Cook’s 3 rd voyage to the Pacific. 1783 – 87. First Breadfruit voyage. Bounty mutiny. Navigated small whaleboat with 18 crew back to Timor. 1790 Acquitted at his Court Marshall for losing the Bounty. 1790 - 93 Set out on second breadfruit voyage and successfully delivered plants to the Caribbean slave owners. 1793 Returned to London. Given Gold medal by Royal Society of Arts. 1795 – 1801 Captained Navy ships engaged in war with France. 1801 – 1805 Minor commissions only. 1805 Joseph Banks lobbied for Bligh to be made Governor of NSW. 1806 Arrived NSW. Deposed by coup in 1808. Prisoner in NSW & Tas. Returned to London 1810.

What really happened on the Bounty Mutiny?

Some historians views Interested in reading more about this? These are a good start. Greg Denning, Mr Bligh’s Bad Language, 1992. Very readable and detailed. A.G.L. Shaw in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online edition, solid but brief biography of Bligh.

Let’s look at The Bounty Mutiny in Rogue

Nation , Screen Australia, ABC DVD.

The Bounty Mutiny –the film we will view - dramatizes events but uses historians to suggest at various points some reasons for what is happening. The following five commercial films were made. Almost all present Bligh as a cliché for misused power. Some are available on DVD or U-Tube. 1916, Australian Film. Mutiny on the Bounty. Producer Raymond Longford. 1933. Australia. In the Wake of the Bounty. Producer Charles Chauvel. Errol Flynn as Christian. 1935. Mutiny on the Bounty, MGM. Christian Bligh – Charles Laughton, Christian - Clarke Gable. A Cruel Bligh and honourable Christian; tyranny and a just cause. 1962. Mutiny on the Bounty, Trevor Howard – Bligh and Marlon Brando as a lisping Christian. The mutiny was a political struggle. 1984. The Bounty, Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. Mutiny was a psychological struggle.

Group discussion of film:

Your task is to decide which, if any, of the above explanations seems most relevant. Does the film offer any other explanations? Ask group for their perceptions about the reasons for the mutiny.

Session concludes with the following

discussion:

Do these further facts not canvassed by the film make you change your mind? Bligh accepted a commission in which his expected salary of £500 was reduced to £50 for a voyage of between 2 to 3 years. Why did he accept this condition? Bligh was purser as well as captain and so had control over the purchasing and distribution of food for the voyage. He had no other senior officer (ie Lieutenant ) to mediate between him and the crew so that unpopular decisions could be passed onto to the Lieutenant to deliver. Bligh was particularly parsimonious with food for the crew. As purser he was hoping to make a profit from the food allowance calculated by the Navy Board. This was a common practice of pursers, but usually the captain intervened if real injustices about the rations were imposed by the purser. This was a long and boring voyage in which crew had plenty of time to nurse injustices. Hot tropical weather. Bligh had a crew of 45 men of which 24 were mid-shipmen. These were junior officers in training and able seaman skilled in all aspects of sailing and navigating. However only about 12 of them were really fully qualified. This put a greater burden on the 12 skilled men. Both captain and other trained midshipmen should have been engaged in providing a regular training program for the less able mid ship-men and enforcing their compliance in working to acquire these skills. Bligh was not a flogger. Dening shows from the logs that he rarely used flogging to punish misdemeanours. He also gave fairly lenient sentences eg 20 lashes or fewer. Bligh had a dreadfully inconsistent temper and used strong language to express his displeasure. Crew and mid-shipmen never quite knew where they stood with him or when he might turn on them for a trivial issue. The Bounty was an overcrowded ship with far less personal space than was customary on Navy ships. It was refitted for its purpose of transporting plants at cost of round £6000. Great cabin totally fitted out as a breadfruit nursery. The Captain had a cramped room beside it. Crew separated from Bligh’s quarters by a canvas wall. Bosun separated from the crew in the hold. Bosun could not keep order amongst the crew from there. Midshipmen a motley crew with no lieutenant to lead and supervise them. Notes by Meg Dillon, Presenter. U3A Benalla, 2018.