Heritage Talk: William Bligh’s Open boat voyage.

Talk – Open boat voyage

Retired master mariner, Martin Kenny, will talk about the navigational skills of Commanding Lieutenant Captain William Bligh who completed a voyage of more than 3,500 nautical miles in an open boat after a mutiny on his ship, the Bounty, in 1789.

The talk will take place at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre on Saturday 8 April at 11am. Places at £4pp (Old Low Light members and children under 18 free) can be booked online by clicking the button above.

Old Low Light volunteer and maritime expert, Martin will describe how Bligh who went to sea at the age of seven as a junior seaman, and then as a young man served under Captain James Cook, was a highly skilled navigator who completed the gruelling journey despite extreme challenges.

The Bounty was in the South Pacific Ocean during a return trip from Tahiti, when disaffected crewmen seized control and set Captain Bligh and 18 loyalists adrift in a 23ft open launch, four of whom were forced to stay behind as the boat was overloaded.  They had four cutlasses, a small amount of food and water, a quadrant and a compass but no charts or marine chronometer.

One of the loyalists was Thomas Macintosh, who was born in North Shields and joined the Bounty at the age of 26 as a Carpenter’s Mate.


Bligh’s prowess as a navigator was recognised by his crew, leading one of the mutineers to make this altercation as the open boat was being loaded:

“I’ll be damned if he does not find his way home, if he gets anything with him.”

Bligh headed for Timor, the nearest European colonial outpost in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), which was 3,618 nautical miles – over 4,000 miles – away. They encountered hostile natives when they stopped for supplies and did not chance stopping at the next islands they passed (the Fiji islands) as they did not have the necessary weapons to defend themselves.

As he undertook what seemed like an impossible journey to Timor, Bligh kept a logbook and sketched a rough map of his discoveries in a notebook. The weather was often stormy and they were in constant fear of sinking since the boat was so overloaded. After a 47-day journey they reached Timor during which time they had very little food.

Martin, who regularly leads guided historical walks from the fish quay to Tynemouth, was coxswain at the Tynemouth lifeboat station for 16 years. He spent 13 years at sea before becoming a lecturer at the South Shields Marine and Technical College for almost 30 years and then providing consultancy services to a major shipping company.

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