Thursday, 16 June 2011

Bligh's Second Visit, 1799

1814 Portrait of Rear-Admiral William Bligh by Alexander Huey. Bligh is depicted wearing the uniform of a Flag Officer and the Captain's Naval Gold Medal for the Battle of Camperdown. National Library of Australia.
A March blog post “Bligh, Banks and Breadfruit” described William Bligh’s December 1792 visit to St. Helena in HMS Providence en route from Tahiti to the West Indies carrying breadfruit plants which it was hoped would provide food for the slaves on the Caribbean sugar estates.  It was only on reading Ian Baker’s “St. Helena One Man’s Island”, a book written with a real passion for St. Helena, that I found that Bligh had paid a second visit in 1799.
Following his return to England and after a short period as Commander of HMS Calcutta, in January 1796 Bligh was given command of a 64-gun third rate ship of the line HMS Director.  In the spring of 1797 he was one of the captains whose crews mutinied over "issues of pay and involuntary service for common seamen" during the Spithead Mutiny and was again one of the captains affected during the mutiny at the Royal Navy anchorage of Nore.  These events were not triggered by any specific actions by Bligh as they "were widespread, and involved a fair number of English ships" but it was at this time that he learned that his common nickname among men in the fleet was 'that Bounty bastard'.  In October 1797 Director, under Bligh, was part of the British Fleet which defeated the Dutch Navy at the Battle of Camperdown.

H.M.S. Director raking the Dutch flagship Vrijheid, during the Battle of Camperdown, 11th October 1797

On Sunday 15th September 1799 Director sailed from Plymouth under sealed orders.  His log gives no details of the number of crew but does record "Beer on Board 27 tons, Water on Board 195 tons”.  On the 17th Bligh writes: “Conceiving myself fully within the situation intended by My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to open my sealed orders I have done so and will put them in execution without the least delay”.  The orders were to sail to St. Helena to escort an East India Merchant Fleet back to Britain.
High Resolution images of the complete Journal of this voyage in Bligh’s own hand, photographed in 1972, can now be accessed at:

What follows are some extracts from the Journal but seeing the images of the original log gives a real sense of what a trip to St. Helena, under sail, 210 years ago entailed.

The following Journal is an account of my proceedings in a voyage to St Helena and from thence back to England in his Majesty’s Ship Director.

16th September: Saw two Men of war in the SW.  In the course of getting ready for action I found Lieut. Tatham not capable or disposed to carry my orders into execution and therefore directed Lieut. Johnston to take his place in future and Mr. Tatham to take Mr. Johnston’s quarters.

19th September.  The weather was so bad and the sea increased upon us so much that by 6 o’clock we had the fore and mizzen top gallant masts on deck.
20th September. Punished Daniel Diggins with 12 lashes for permitting water to be taken away from the scuttle cask contrary to any orders.  At noon fresh gales and cloudy.
23rd September. Punished Jasper Birches with 12 lashes for neglect in letting the reef out of the main Sail whereby it was split.
25th September. Began to serve lemon juice and sugar to the ship’s company.
26th September. The lemon juice will be continued every morning although I may not mention it.
28th September. I was under the necessity to put Lieut. Oxborough of the watch under an arrest for disobeying my orders.
6th October. Read the Articles of War and mustered the ship’s company in their hot-climate apparel.
8th October. Having prepared several butts for the purpose of holding the Great Coats and Thick Jackets of the seamen, they were now collected and tallied and stowed away until the return of the cold weather.
9th October. Fine weather but I could not today bear to be in the sun from headache and which prevented me from observing.
12th October. At ½ past 10 when I came out to leave my orders for the night to Lieut. Tathham I found a great part of the watch lying at full length asleep on the damp decks thereby endangering the health of the strongest men as well as not being prepared to execute any duty that might be suddenly required of them.  This is in direct disobedience of my public orders.
15th October. Saw several large brown boobies and Gannets a little before sunset. Porpoises and other fish seen.
18th October. Punished David Hood, XX Hopkins William Rowley and XX Davies with 2 dozen lashes each for gambling and one of them for throwing a stool at the Master at Arms.  Edward Lemon turned King’s Evidence after receiving 3 lashes.  Punished James Todd with 36 lashes and Clement Johnson with 18 lashes for theft.  Also Stephen Dempsey with 6 lashes for Insolence and John Heugh with 24 lashes for drunkenness and mutinous expressions.
21st October. Every attention to our sails but the swell from the Southward renders them almost useless by flapping with great violence.  Punished Thomas Romie with 12 lashes for selling his allowance of liquor.
25th October. Shoals of fish in sight and many birds flying about them.  Saw two Grampuses.
26th October. William White, seaman, fell out of the foretop and fractured his thigh and otherwise bruised himself in a very bad manner.
29th October. I now ordered the lemon juice to be mixed with the grog which made excellent punch.
1st November. Punished XX Williams with 12 lashes for drunkenness and William Creed with 9 lashes for quarrelling.
4th November. The Ship’s Steward Robert Pearson being detected in embezzling the Ship’s Rum I ordered him to be punished with 36 lashes and XX Scott (Cooper) with 24 lashes for being an accomplice and insolence. Also XX Kendrick with 12 lashes for uttering blasphemous words and getting drunk
16th November. Punished Thomas Davies with 12 lashes for disobedience of orders and Christopher Jay, George Millar with 12 lashes each and Joseph Ironmonger with 18 lashes for drunkenness.
28th November. At 10h anchored in James, Road, St. Helena with the Best Bower in 161/2 fathoms the Small Bower in 24 fathoms.  Returned the salute of 13 guns from Ladder Hill with the same Number.  No Ships in the Road and by an Officer who came off to wait on me, I found the convoy sailed on the 15th.  (As Bligh notes in his Journal he may have made the rendezvous had he not been obliged to sail to nearly 30 degrees south, about 1,000 nautical miles from the Island at his furthest point)
I landed and was saluted with 13 guns from the Hill
30th November. Departed this life Nicholas James from a fall down the main hatch.
1st December. Punished Geo Davies and XX Reid with 3 dozen lashes each for Drunkenness and disorderly behaviour and being old offenders.
2nd December. Buried Nicholas James on Shore.
The days spent moored in St. James’ Road were spent restocking the ship.  On the 5th 1,050 lbs of fresh beef, cabbage, watercress and 9 butts of water were received.  Fishing at Rupert’s was unsuccessful “caught a few small fish which did not repay the people for their trouble”.  The coopers were employed repairing casks “and they require much to be done to them.”
On Sunday the 8th Bligh records “Completed watering – received plants for Kew.”  This, in fact, may have been the principal reason for the voyage and the suggestion has been made that the whole trip was engineered by Bligh’s friend Joseph Banks who at this time was Kew’s unofficial Director.  In 1787 a garden had been established on St. Helena as a repository for specimens and managed by the Governor.  Banks had pioneered the movement of plants within the British Colonies and the island was used as a transfer station for plants being transported by ship from Australia, China and India.  Under Banks’ “benign superintendence” the Botanic Gardens at Kew became not simply a collecting house for botanical specimens, but the British centre for economic botany with a direct practical relevance to both Britain and her Colonies.
Sunday 8th. Read the articles of war and punished William Flinn with 10 lashes, XX Marr with 36 Lashes, XX Hexton with 24 lashes William Norris with 24 lashes for drunkenness and disorderly behaviour, XX Kenderick with 24 lashes for disobedience of orders and James Fancourt with 24 lashes for theft.
In his Journal Bligh writes “Remarks at St Helena”, a selection of which are transcribed below.
It has taken us 74 days to reach this place, which is longer than we at first expected, nevertheless it is, by the St. Helena people’s account a (indecipherable) passage as very few ships accomplish it under ten or eleven weeks.
Our run from the line has been 26 days the winds forced us into thirty degrees of latitude, nearly before we could get under the meridian of St. Helena.
I have formed a correct map to show the route of the ship and the direction of the wind
I should have attempted to have got to an anchor the night I lay to off the sand if I had not considered it hazardous on account of the shipping which I expected to have found lying in the Roads.  I was therefore extremely surprised at not finding any and more so, when by an officer who the Governor sent off to wait on me I was told that the ships had sailed without Convoy on the 15th inst (November)
As soon as the Ship anchored I went on shore and saw Governor Brooke. He told me he had permitted the ships to sail without convoys he was not at liberty to detain them longer than the 15th.  They were the Belvedere, Earl Wycombe’s Thetis, Worcester and Walpole’s regular ships, Seringapatam, Extra Indiaman with the Marquis Cornwallis’ packet and two Whalers – He had no intimation of any man of War coming out.
It was very uncertain when other ships might arrive – he knew not when to expect them.
We got fresh beef four days while we were here but we could not get any other species of provisions as the Garrison was in great want of these necessaries.
There is a plan under consideration with some of our merchants at home of making this island a depot for the Southern Skin Trade and Whale Fishery, the principal of which is to keep a class of ships here to be constantly employed while other Ships come from England to take home what may be lodged and prepared for the market.  The East India Company is amicable to the proposition.
The seasons at this place are become regular and a sufficiency of rain falls every year.  Our thermometer varied from 68 to 71 Degrees.
The anchoring place is as secure as any harbour, for the sea is free from tempestuous weather and ships may go in and out at all times of the year without any risk or trouble.
The watering is convenient, except sometimes when, from a great swell and little wind to landward of the island much surf runs on the piers.
The situation of Jamestown is Latitude 15.55 S Longitude 5. 49 West
On Monday 9th December at 1hr 15 Director weighed anchor and sailed towards England arriving in The Downs on the 28th January 1800.
Director was broken up at Chatham in January 1801.  In 1805 Bligh was offered the position as Governor of New South Wales by Sir Joseph Banks, arriving in Sydney in August 1806.  Conflict between Bligh and the Colonists culminated in another mutiny and he eventually returned to England where he died in December 1817.

From 14th February to 5th September 1781 Bligh was Master of the Belle Poule, a captured French frigate put into the King's service. Same name but a different ship to that which in October 1840 would carry the exhumed body of Napoleon from St. Helena back to France.

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