Governor Bligh, Loyalists and Usurpers

Signatures to a petition to Lieutenant Governor Paterson 'disapproving of the present measures', April 1808. <a href="https://search.sl.nsw.gov.au/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=ADLIB110579470&amp;context=L&amp;vid=SLNSW&amp;search_scope=EEA&amp;tab=default_tab&amp;lang=en_US" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Banks Papers/Series 40.114</a>, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Signatures to a petition to Lieutenant Governor Paterson ‘disapproving of the present measures’, April 1808. Banks Papers/Series 40.114, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

A long history of petitions

When then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked his parliamentary colleagues to sign a petition over his leadership in August 2018, the connection may have been lost on many, but petitions have some long historical parallels in the Turnbull family, going back to the so-called ‘Usurpation’ of Governor Bligh in 1808.

Among a list of signatures from Hawkesbury settlers in support of Governor Bligh, who was deposed in the ‘Rum Rebellion’ of January that year, there is one John Turnbull. So dear to his heart was the deposed Bligh that John and his wife began a tradition of giving the middle-name ‘Bligh’ to their children — a tradition that went on through the family including Australia’s 29th Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull.

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Life and death in paradise

Pitcairn Island from the sea. Image: Nigel Erskine/ANMM.

Pitcairn Island from the sea. Image: Nigel Erskine/ANMM.

The Bounty mutineers and their descendants on Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn is a small volcanic island rising abruptly out of the deep waters of the eastern South Pacific Ocean. The nearest inhabited centres are Easter Island 1,770 km to the east, and the Gambier Islands 480 km to the northwest.  The island is cliff-bound and open to full ocean swell, limiting access to the island to small boats capable of negotiating the surf.  There is no safe anchorage and little flat land, indeed the island lacks almost every convenience conducive to settlement.

But in January 1790 a small British naval vessel arrived at Pitcairn carrying 28 people aboard – His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty.

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