William Bligh

The old Admiral and Governor


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.

Tarmons, Potts Point

Tarmons, 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 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.

Admiral Bligh's telescope

A rare and wonderful relic

Governor Bligh's telescope

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.

Miniature portrait of William Bligh circa 1814

The miniature of Bligh; a precious gift.

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.

In May 1946  a journalist  called James Taylor visited Whiteleaf Cross.  William was then 86, but  very sprightly. He did all his own housework and was  a dedicated gardener.  There were still many mementoes of the old Admiral  in the house.

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.

Whiteleaf Cross

The garden at Whiteleaf Cross in spring.

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.


  1. Pauline,
    I always enjoy your articles when I discover them. This one on Bligh’s descendants is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing itvin such an interesting manner. Robyne

  2. Pauline,
    I always enjoy your articles when I discover them. This one on Bligh’s descendants is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing it in such an interesting manner. Robyne

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to leave a message, Robyne, I really appreciate it. I love social history.

  3. Fascinating story….thanks Pauline !!

    • Pauline

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading it, Lorraine. Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a message,

  4. Very interesting, Pauline. I grew up very close to Blackheath, and it’s always interesting to read about matters “close to home”. Thank you.

    • Pauline

      I adore the history of the village and the surrounding towns, Carolyn; sad, funny and sometimes just very odd.

  5. I have visited Gov. Bligh’s tomb, quite by accident, whilst walking around London. He is buried in the grounds of what is now a “Garden Museum” a very interesting place. The church was going to be demolished and it was saved and turned into the museum.

    • Pauline

      Ah yes, Chris…St Mary’s at Lambeth. Lovely spot for morning tea. He has a fine tomb. Buried there due to his wife’s family I believe.

  6. Most interesting. Whiteleaf Cross (unusual name) garden looks lovely.

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