ONE BLIGH OF THE BOUNTY, TWO OF BLACKHEATH
In 1910, Governor Bligh’s grandson, William Russell Wilson Bligh (1827-1914), bought a house called Whiteleaf Cross, in Tourmaline Street, Blackheath (now Park Avenue).
By then William was an elderly man. He had arrived in Sydney in 1837 aged ten, under the guardianship of his uncle, Sir Maurice O’Connell. O’Connell had married Governor Bligh’s daughter, Mary. One of William’s boyhood memories was of fishing in the Tank Stream, long since vanished under city buildings. Home for the lad until his late teenage years was Sir Maurice’s mansion at Potts Point.
William had been a part-time resident of Blackheath for many years, based at the Ivanhoe Hotel. He was a foundation member of the Civilian Rifle Club, in 1894.
In 1902 he donated the famous Mutiny of the Bounty log books to the Library of New South Wales, along with many other family papers.
He never married, and when he died in 1914 he left a considerable estate of £26,000.
WILLIAM O’CONNELL BLIGH
William O’Connell Bligh inherited Whiteleaf Cross and its contents from his uncle. This William was very active in the community and served on the Blackheath Council. He was an early member of the School of Arts, and his name appears on their honour roll at the Community Hall.
In 1930 he was visited by a Mr Purcell, who was holidaying in Blackheath. Purcell was thrilled to find so many items once owned by ‘Bligh of the Bounty’. He wrote; ‘I was unaware there were such treasures to be seen and handled simply for the asking. Were it known, I think, Whiteleaf Cross would be as popular a visiting place in Blackheath as is Govett’s Leap.’ Govett’s Leap is the town’s spectacular look-out, visited and admired by Charles Darwin.
In 1934 William donated a number of major Bligh relics to the Mitchell Library (the original part of the Library of NSW). Among them were the 300 year old family bible, Bligh’s telescope, and his dress sword. Amazing to think what the old Admiral must have spied through the telescope’s lens.
He also donated a miniature portrait of his famous ancestor, dating from 1814. It was a bit damaged, as it had been kept in a damp bank vault for some time.
He said he was happy to part with the heirlooms, because he knew they would be safe. Also, someone told him that if word got out he might be knocked on the head and robbed!
At one point there was a move to have Governor Bligh’s tomb brought to Australia from Lambeth, in London. William disapproved, saying he didn’t think his great-grandfather would have any wish to be back in Sydney. I suspect he was right.
William O’Connell Bligh died in 1950 aged 91. He was the last direct, male descendant.
Well, the house is no longer a Bligh ‘museum’, but it still stands, albeit much altered. Every time I walk past now I think of Blackheath’s two William Blighs, and how two elderly batchelors became custodians of their ancestor and namesake’s precious relics. The gardener, William O’Connell Bligh, would be delighted to see how beautiful the property looks.
NB – Blackheath was named by Governor Bligh’s successor, Lachlan Macquarie.
UPDATE – a descendant of Bligh who enjoyed holidays at the property years ago has just become my neighbour. He tells me the family sill have some interesting relics so I’m looking forward to seeing them.
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