George Miller Bligh

Captain Bligh, aged about 28.

1780-1834. He was born on 4 May 1780 at Alverstoke, Hampshire, the only surviving son of Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh and of his first wife, Ann Worsley of Gatcomb Park, Isle of Wight.

Having entered the Navy in 1794, Bligh served with his father aboard the Alexander 74 and was present when she was captured on 6 November by five French 74’s and three heavy frigates under the flag of Rear-Admiral Joseph Marie Nielly. On 25 January 1795 he arrived at Plymouth aboard the Hamburg-registered vessel ‘Good Friendship’, having managed to get away from Brest with the Alexander’s purser and several other Britons. The newspapers later reported that the French National Convention had allowed women and children under the age of twelve to return home, suggesting that Captain Bligh had managed to dupe his captors over the age of his son, who although in his fourteenth year, was described in the newspaper accounts as being ‘about ten years old’. Another passenger was Lady Ann Fitzroy, the sister to the Wellesley brothers, who had been coming home aboard a packet from Lisbon when it was captured by a French frigate.

Bligh next saw service aboard the Brunswick 74, Captain Herbert Browell, flying the flag of his father, who had recently been exchanged and promoted rear-admiral. Initially employed in the Channel Fleet, she sailed from St. Helens in August 1796 for Jamaica where Admiral Bligh had been appointed the second-in-command. It seems likely that the younger Bligh returned home with his father in October 1797 to be further employed on the Newfoundland station in 1798 aboard the Agincourt 64 with his cousin, Captain John Bligh, and it has been reported that he also served at some time aboard the Quebec 32.

Bligh was commissioned lieutenant of the Endymion 40, Captain Philip Durham, on 6 March 1801, serving in the Mediterranean, and he was then employed as a junior lieutenant from the end of the year through to the peace aboard the Brunswick 74, Captain George Hopewell Stephens, which ship saw duty in the West Indies with Rear-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s fleet of twenty-eight sail of the line during January – September 1802.

Following the resumption of hostilities in May 1803, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson, appointed Bligh a lieutenant of the Victory 100, Captain Thomas Hardy, out of deference to his father. On 18 October 1805 Nelson promoted him to command the bomb Etna, but he was unable to join her before being badly wounded in his side by a musket ball at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October when serving as the Victory’s sixth lieutenant. Taken below and also suffering from a head wound, he was present in the cockpit when Nelson died.

The wounded Bligh is the officer on the far right in the depiction of Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Unfortunately, the Admiralty did not ratify Bligh’s promotion to the Etna, and after refusing an appointment to the Ocean 98, fitting for the flag of Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood, on account of his health he returned home to attend Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806. He then had the satisfaction of being officially promoted commander on 25 January, and after assuming command of the sloop Pylades 16, he took a convoy out from Falmouth to the Mediterranean in early February. On 12 May a Spanish brig that had been homeward bound from Vera Cruz to Cadiz arrived at Gibraltar after he had captured her off the Portuguese coast, on which occasion he was accused of breaching the latter country’s neutrality. During the late summer, the Pylades was in the Tagus before returning to Gibraltar in September and she thence sailed once more to Lisbon. In the early summer of 1807 she was to be found at Malta, and continuing in the Mediterranean, she captured the French privateer Grand Napoleon 10, but with only four cannons mounted, on 2 May 1808 near Cape Bon after a chase of five hours into the wind.

On 27 December 1808 Bligh was posted captain, and he was commanding the Glatton 54 as a guardship at Messina in the early part of 1809 before he sailed home with a convoy of forty-five sail from Malta on 22 May, his ship arriving at the Nore in early August and being paid off at Chatham shortly afterwards. Remaining ashore for some time, in January 1810 he was presented to the King in honour of his promotion and his return from the Mediterranean.

By the early months of 1811 he was in the Adriatic with the post sloop Acorn 18, and he was joined by the marines of the squadron in defence of the island of Lissa on 29 November when Captain Murray Maxwell set off in chase of a French squadron. He retained this vessel though to August 1812, having returned to the Downs with a convoy from Malta on 14 July.

On 25 July 1814 Bligh was appointed to the eighteen-pounder frigate Araxes 36, commissioning her for the first time. She was reported as ready for sea at the end of October, and she sailed from Portsmouth with other men-of-war and a two hundred and fifty ship convoy for the West Indies in early December, although she did so without her gunner who was brought to a court martial for drunkenness and dismissed. Having put into Falmouth when storms broke out, the Araxes was run aboard by a merchantman and sprung her bowsprit. After further long delays on account of the weather, the convoy eventually got away at the end of the year to reach Barbados in the last days of January 1815, and the Araxes departed that island shortly afterwards with the Jamaica trade.

At the end of February 1815, the Araxes arrived at Cuba before sailing for Port-au-Prince and then Bermuda, from where she was expected to depart for Martinique. By September she was off the American coast at Charleston prior to sailing for New York on the look-out for Napoleon, who it was believed might have headed for that coast following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. After a visit to the Azores the Araxes was back at Port Royal by the end of October, and she thereafter cruised in the Gulf of Mexico, visiting Havana on 28 December. In the last days of January 1816, she sailed with Army personnel for the Bahamas, and on 30 March she departed Port Royal for Honduras to return at the end of April conveying troops. Finally departing Port Royal on 15 June, she reached Portsmouth on 20 July with ten thousand pounds in specie, and following her arrival it was noted that during her period in the West Indies she had only lost one man to sickness. Days later she was paid off at Sheerness and Bligh saw no further employment.

Apart from attending a huge levee for the newly crowned King George IV in June 1820, Bligh appears to have lived a quiet retirement, and he died at Blighmont House near Millbrook, Southampton on 14 October 1834. He was buried at Alverstoke, Gosport, being borne to his grave by six newly attired and amply rewarded seaman.

On 2 December 1817 at Wotton, Surrey, he married Catherine Haynes of Lonesome Lodge, Dorking. The couple had no children.

The musket ball that hit Bligh at the Battle of Trafalgar was never extracted.