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This Day in History

Australian History

Wednesday, August 13, 1806. :   Captain William Bligh becomes Governor of New South Wales.

     William Bligh was born in Plymouth, south-west England, on 9 September 1754. He is arguably best known for his role in the mutiny on the Bounty, which occurred after Bligh left Tahiti on his way to the Caribbean. For reasons undetermined by historical records, Master's Mate Fletcher Christian led the mutiny, with the support of a small number of the ship's crew. Bligh and his own supporters were provided with a 7m launch, a sextant and enough provisions to enable them to reach the closest ports, but no means of navigation. Nonetheless, they completed an impossible 41 day journey to Timor.

Bligh was honourably acquitted in a London court, and later assigned as Governor to the fledgling colony of New South Wales. He took up this position on 13 August 1806, replacing Philip Gidley King. He was selected as the new Governor because he was known to be a strong character, which was required to restore order in an increasingly difficult colony. Bligh sought to normalise trading conditions in the Colony by prohibiting the use of spirits as payment. He received criticism for his seemingly despotic ways, and apparent disregard for English law as opposed to his own law.

Bligh’s chief critic was grazier and wool grower John Macarthur, who convinced men from the New South Wales Corps to rebel against Bligh. Early in 1808, Governor Bligh was overthrown and replaced with a military Junta in an event later known as the Rum Rebellion. The name came about because Bligh asserted that Macarthur's main attack against the Governor came about because of his prohibition on Spirits for trading. The Rum Rebellion caused Bligh to be imprisoned from 1808 to 1810. Evidence suggested the catalyst to the event was more a clash of strong personalities than any real disregard for English laws. Bligh was known for his violent temper and tendency to alienate others, but his motives were honourable. Bligh was exonerated in 1811, after which he returned to England.

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