The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra has acquired a portrait of William Bligh attributed to John Webber

Attributed to John Webber, Portrait of William Bligh, in Master’s Uniform ca. 1776 (Canberra: National Portrait Gallery)

Attributed to John Webber, Portrait of William Bligh, in Master’s Uniform ca. 1776 (Canberra: National Portrait Gallery)

The Portrait of William Bligh, in master’s uniform c. 1776, attributed to John Webber, is one of the earliest portraits of the contentious, historical figure, and extends the Gallery’s remarkable collection of early colonial portraits. The portrait can be found next to another John Webber painting: the Portrait of Captain James Cook RN 1782 acquired in 2000 by the Commonwealth Government with the generous benefaction of Mr Robert Oatley AO and Mr John Schaeffer AO. Webber spent three years at sea with Cook and was the artist on the H.M.S. Resolution were Bligh was appointed master in 1776.

William Bligh (1754-1817), naval officer and governor, was born on 9 September 1754 at Plymouth, England, where his father was a boatman and land waiter in the customs service. On 17 March 1776 he was appointed master of the Resolution, then setting out on James Cook’s third voyage. In 1787 Bligh was made captain of H.M.S. Bounty and sailed to Tahiti to collect breadfruit trees. However, on 29 April 1789, soon after leaving Tahiti, the crew mutinied and cast off their commander with 18 ‘loyalists’ in an open boat only 23 feet (7 m) long. With skilful seamanship Bligh navigated it 3618 miles (5822 km) to Timor in six weeks, during which he charted part of the ‘north-east coast of New Holland’. After his return to London, he was honourably acquitted by the court martial which tried him in October 1790 for the loss of his ship, though many, then and since, have alleged that his ‘tyranny’ had caused the mutiny. In 1806 he was made Governor of New South Wales. After going back to England, Bligh was made a Rear-Admiral and later a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy.

More information on William Bligh can be found here

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