He first went to sea on the HMS Monmouth, aged 7 as the captains servant. After joining the Royal Navy in 1770 and serving on HMS Hunter he became a Midshipman a year later. With his natural seamanship and abilities, Bligh steadily rose through the ranks.
He sailed with Captain Cook on the latter’s second (and final) voyage around the world. In 1787 he captained the “Bounty” on a trip to obtain plant specimens from the West Indies. The story of the mutiny is well documented. It is said that this was due to the harsh treatment of his men by Bligh, but there is some dispute about this matter.
The actual entry into the Bligh's logbook for 28th April 1789 reads:
‘Just before Sunrise Mr Christian and the Master at Arms… came into my cabin while I was fast asleep, and seizing me tyed my hands with a Cord & threatened instant death if I made the least noise. I however called sufficiently loud to alarm the Officers, who found themselves equally secured by centinels at their doors… Mr Christian had a Cutlass & the others were armed with Musquets & bayonets. I was now carried on deck in my Shirt in torture with a severe bandage round my wrists behind my back, where I found no man to rescue me…’
As a result of the mutiny, Bligh and eighteen of his men were set adrift in a 23 foot long boat. After travelling over three thousand miles, they landed in Timor.
In 1805, Bligh was appointed governor of New South Wales. Once again, it was claimed that he treated people harshly and he was consequently arrested and imprisoned for two years. However on Bligh's return to England the arresting officer, Major George Johnston, was tried and subsequently cashiered.
Bligh was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue and in 1814 became a Vice Admiral of the Blue.
He died in London in 1817 and is buried in Lambeth cemetery