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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

William Bligh, c. 1776

John Webber (attributed)

oil on canvas (frame: 95.0 cm x 83.0 cm depth 8.0 cm, support: 76.0 cm x 62.0 cm)

William Bligh (1754–1817), naval officer and governor, first went to sea as a boy and later joined the Royal Navy. Aged 16, he joined the Royal Navy, and at age 22, he was appointed to Cook’s third voyage as Master of HMS Resolution. On the voyage he honed the exceptional navigational skills that would become, along with volatility and authoritarianism, his best-known characteristics. In 1787, he was appointed to command HMS Bounty on a voyage to Tahiti, a journey that ended for Bligh in April 1789 in mutiny. According to Bligh’s account, he was dragged from his cabin at sunrise, bound and repeatedly threatened with death before being set adrift in the ship’s launch with his supporters. The voyage that ensued is considered one of history’s most remarkable feats of seamanship, as Bligh, with minimal provisions and no maps, successfully navigated the open boat over 3000 miles to Timor, losing only one of his men and during the voyage charting part of the coast of Australia. In 1805, on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks, Bligh was appointed governor of New South Wales, taking up the post in August 1806 with a brief to curb the trade in rum and the influence of powerful, wealthy colonists. Again, despite his general integrity, Bligh’s abrasive manner and rigid adherence to orders created conflict over issues such as land, planning and convict labour. This led ultimately to Australia’s first and only military coup, the so-called ‘Rum Rebellion’ of January 1808, wherein Bligh was deposed by the New South Wales Corps and held under house arrest in Sydney for more than a year. After returning to England in 1810, Bligh was eventually promoted to Vice Admiral. He died in London, survived by his six daughters.

In this portrait Bligh is shown wearing the naval uniform of master and lieutenant, shortly before he was posted to Cook’s HMS Resolution, on which Webber also sailed.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by the Liangis family 2015

Accession number: 2015.30

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

John Webber (age 25 in 1776)

William Bligh (age 22 in 1776)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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Unbuttoning uniforms

Magazine article by Sharon Peoples, 2017

Sharon Peoples contemplates costumes and the construction of identity.

William Bligh, c. 1776 John Webber
William Bligh, c. 1776 John Webber
William Bligh, c. 1776 John Webber
William Bligh, c. 1776 John Webber

Old Blighty

Magazine article by Angus Trumble, 2016

Angus Trumble ponders the many faces of William Bligh.

William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes

William Bligh

by John Webber

Portrait story

Twice rebelled against, and twice vindicated, William Bligh occupies an ambivalent space in Australian history. Angus Trumble, former Director of the National Portrait Gallery, explains.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.