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Series 58: Correspondence, being mainly letters received by Banks from William Bligh while commander of HM Ships Calcutta, Director, Glatton, Irresistible and Warrior, 1795-1798, 1800-1801, 1803, 1805.Includes a letter received by Banks from Elizabeth Bligh, 1805.

Number of documents

34

Provenance note

Documents 1-11 and 13-26 in this series were previously located at ML C218. They were bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales by David Scott Mitchell in July 1907 and formed part of the Mitchell Library collection. They include small folio numbers written in ink in the top right hand corner, possibly in the hand of Banks, and larger folio numbers written in ink by a previous owner.

Document 12 was previously located at DL Q79/12. It forms part of the personal library of Sir William Dixson which was bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales in 1952. Dixson's bequest was formally handed over when the Dixson Library was opened in 1959.

Documents 27-33 were previously located at ML A84. They are part of an accession of Banks papers purchased for the Mitchell Library from Sotheby's, London, in May 1929.

Document 34, also from the collection of the Dixson Library, was previously located at DL MS Q158.

It is now not possible to reconstruct Banks' original arrangement, the series has therefore been arranged chronologically.

Background note

In April 1795 William Bligh was appointed commander of HMS Calcutta, a 24 gun vessel assigned to the North Sea fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan. This was an active military command for Bligh who was engaged in blockading the Dutch coast. In October 1795, Bligh was involved in recovering command of HMS Defiance, Captain Sir George Howe, following a mutiny on board.

It was during this period that Elizabeth Bligh approached Banks lobbying for her husband's appointment to a shore post as captain of Greenwich Hospital. While Banks did act on Bligh's behalf, he was unsuccessful in securing the position.

In January 1796 Bligh was transferred from the Calcutta to the larger HMS Director. He continued with the task of blockading the Dutch coast at Texel.

In April 1797 a general mutiny occurred in the British naval fleets mainly over conditions and pay. The mutiny began at Spithead and spread to Plymouth and the North Sea fleet eventually involving 119 ships. A settlement was reached in May but was quickly followed the same month by the Nore mutiny where the Director, moored for a refit, also became involved. In June the mutineers surrendered and Bligh and the other captains regained their commands.

Bligh remained in command of the Director until March 1801 when he was assigned to the 54 gun Glatton and fought alongside Lord Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen. In April 1801, following the British victory at Copenhagen, Bligh was promoted to the command of HMS Monarch, and in May to HMS Irresistible, both 74 guns.

From May 1802 Bligh was on shore leave at half pay. He was occupied during the latter part of 1803 in surveying and charting for the Admiralty.

His appointment to the command of HMS Warrior followed in May 1804. This command was punctuated by Bligh's court martial, in October 1804, of Lieutenant John Frazier for refusal of duty. The charges were dismissed following the court's verdict that Bligh, in ordering his surgeon, Robert Cinnamon, to remove Frazier from the sick list, had exceeded his authority.

In response Frazier brought Bligh to court martial in November on charges of tyrannical, oppressive and unofficer-like behaviour. The court martial took place on 25 and 26 February 1805 and the charges against Bligh were found to be partly proved. He was reprimanded but immediately resumed command of the Warrior.

In March 1805, Banks put forward Bligh's name to Lord Camden, nominating him for the governorship of New South Wales. Bligh accepted the position in April.