Richard Rodney Bligh
1737-1821. Baptised at Gosport on 8 November 1737, he was the son of Richard Bligh who came from a family long established in Looe, Cornwall, and served as a lieutenant under his patron, Captain George Brydges Rodney. He was the uncle of Rear-Admiral John Bligh and a distant cousin of Admiral William Bligh. The future Admiral Lord Rodney became his godson and was hugely instrumental in fostering his early career.
Bligh entered the Navy in 1750 aboard the Rainbow 44 commanded by Captain Rodney, and was present aboard the flagship Ramillies 90, Captain Arthur Gardiner, at the action off Minorca on 20 May 1756 that led to the court-martial and execution of the unfortunate commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byng. On 30 September 1757 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Nightingale 24, Captain James Campbell, and on 22 October 1762 was promoted commander of the sloop Virgin 12 by Vice-Admiral Rodney, having gone out with his patron to the Leeward Islands.
After serving aboard the sloop Wasp 8 off Ireland from November 1774, Bligh was posted captain of the store ship Camel 24 on 6 December 1777, this representing a considerable delay of fifteen years since his previous promotion. Going out to Jamaica at the beginning of 1778, he returned to home waters in the following year and was with Commodore Charles Fielding’s squadron that controversially detained a Dutch convoy in the Channel on 31 December 1779. He commissioned the brand new frigate Nemesis 28 in January 1780, serving off Ireland where he captured the Alliance 18 on 5 June. In March 1782 he recommissioned the Asia 64 for service in the Channel, being present in Admiral Lord Howe’s relief of Gibraltar on 18 October 1782, and remaining with her until she was paid off at the peace of 1783.
In October 1787 he recommissioned the Pegase 74, paying her off in the following February, and on the occasion of the Spanish Armament of 1790 he commanded the Dictator 64 as flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King in the Downs during August, retaining her for the following eight months.
At the start of the French Revolutionary war Bligh was initially destined for the Excellent 74, but in the spring of 1794 he joined the fifteen year-old Alexander 74 at Chatham, being attached to the Channel fleet. He served under the orders of Rear-Admiral George Montagu in the campaign surrounding the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 and thus did not share in that engagement.
On 6 November 1794 whilst in company with the Canada 74, Captain Charles Powell Hamilton, his command was attacked by five French 74’s and three heavy frigates under the flag of Rear-Admiral Joseph Marie Nielly. In order to allow the Canada time to escape Bligh decided to sacrifice the Alexander and she was forced to strike her colours after being overwhelmed and almost totally wrecked. He was taken to Brest and held in Spartan if humane conditions aboard a prison hulk, whilst his men were apparently treated as little worse than dogs during their confinement. In the course of his imprisonment he learned of his advancement to rear-admiral with effect from 4 July 1794.
In May 1795 he was released to the joy of his countrymen who applauded his arrival in Plymouth, his return being further celebrated by the recapture of the Alexander at the Battle of Lorient in the following month. Following his honourable acquittal at the court martial into the loss of the Alexander, Bligh raised his flag two months later aboard Brunswick 74, Captain Herbert Browell, under the orders of the port admiral at Portsmouth, Sir Peter Parker.
In August 1796 he sailed from St. Helens’ with his flag aboard the Brunswick 74, Captain Browell, in company with Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s grand convoy, and after parting from his senior he continued south with the East India and West India trade. It had been intended that after delivering the convoy he become second-in-command to Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Harvey in the Leeward Islands, but upon reaching Martinique he received further orders to proceed to Jamaica and assume the chief command until the arrival, in the event just one month later, of Vice-Admiral Parker.
Thereafter Bligh served as second in command at Jamaica, whilst following Browell’s death in 1797 William Rutherford became his flag-captain. Relations were never easy with his superior, Admiral Parker, and they culminated in Bligh’s decision to pardon two mutineers from the Hermione including a twelve-year-old boy. As a consequence he was ordered home, and he returned to Europe in October 1799 with a convoy of one hundred and thirteen West Indiamen with his flag aboard the Regulus 44, Captain George Eyre, losing a great number of these vessels in a ferocious storm.
On 14 February 1799 he had been promoted vice-admiral, and from 1803 was commander-in-chief at Leith under the overall orders of Admiral Lord Keith, retaining this position until his promotion to the rank of admiral on 23 April 1804, and flying his flag aboard the Roebuck 44, Captain George M’Kinley. He did not serve again but participated in Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806.
In 1815 Bligh’s fury at not having received a K.C.B. or C.B., as had been enjoyed by eighty other officers, led to a polite, eloquent but clearly outraged correspondence with the first lord of the Admiralty. Small recompense came on 16 May 1820 with his nomination as a G.C.B.
Admiral Bligh died on 30 April 1821 at his home, Belle Vue, Southampton.
He married firstly Ann Worsley of Gatcomb Park, Isle of Wight, by whom he had issue a son and four daughters. The son, George Miller Bligh, died as a captain in 1835, and Maria, the youngest of their daughters, was married to Vice-Admiral Charles Carter. Following his first wife’s death in July 1797 at the age of fifty-three Bligh married fifty-five year-old Mary Golighty of Ham Common, Surrey, on 28 June 1800.
Bligh was a zealous officer who attended fully and quietly to his duty and was of a straightforward, if blunt disposition. He was open and honest, respected by his contemporaries and solicitous to his officers and men, being of a robust and vigorous personage.