Some years ago, I wrote a book called Cook’s Cannon and Anchor about an incident that took place during James Cook’s voyage of exploration to Australia.
In researching that book, I learned quite a bit about the life of James Cook and his voyages of discovery, including the fact that Cook had signed on William Bligh as the sailing master of HMS Resolution on the third and last of these voyages.
None of that research, except the knowledge that Cook was Bligh’s captain, contributed in any way to this clerihew. So it came as a surprise when I discovered from the Dictionary of Australian Biography that the clerihew actually does reflect reality. According to the Dictionary, James Cook was “a good-looking man over six feet in height” while William Bligh was “below average height, somewhat heavily built, with black hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion”.
Now a pop psychologist might be tempted at this point to suggest that Bligh’s lack of height may have contributed to his well known … difficulties … with some of the people under his command.
The most famous of those difficulties was the mutiny aboard HMS Bounty, where a relatively mundane voyage to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies turned into a ripping yarn of romance, treachery and desperate survival. (The story has been turned into a movie no less than five times.)
Less well known is the Rum Rebellion in 1808, where Bligh was deposed as governor of New South Wales in an act provoked by the opposition of the colony’s leading citizens to Bligh’s policies.
William Bligh’s gravesite in England bears the stone figure of a breadfruit.
“The real use of gunpowder is to make all men tall.”
– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)