Archival material at the National Maritime Museum

Research on Francis Godolphin Bond at the Caird Library, National Maritime Museum: Material concerning Captain William Bligh, Lieutenant Francis Godolphin Bond, and the HMS Providence 1791-1793.

 

The Caird Library holds three items specifically related to Bond and Bligh, listed as BND/1, BND/2, and BND/3.

BND/1 is a leather-bound volume containing original correspondence between Bligh and Bond which chiefly concerns the journey of the Providence and also refers to Bligh’s time on HMS Bounty. The letters were bought by the Caird Library in 1958 through Maggs Bros., from Lieutenant General Sir Lionel Bond, great-grandson of Francis Godolphin Bond.

BND/2 is a small booklet, ‘Some Correspondence between Captain William Bligh R.N. and John and Francis Bond’ which was published by George Mackaness O.B.E in Australia in 1949. In it Mackaness transcribed some letters he had accessed through their owner, Rex Nan Kivell. The original letters are now in the Nan Kivell Collection of the National Library of Australia, NLA MS 4038. The booklet includes an introductory essay which provides useful information about the family connections between Bligh and his nephew Bond, as well as many other contextual details in footnotes.

BND/3 is another booklet by Mackaness: ‘Fresh Light on Bligh: Being Some Unpublished Correspondence of Captain William Bligh R.N. and Lieutenant Francis Bond, R.N. with Lieutenant Bond’s Manuscript Notes on the Voyage of the Providence 1791-1795’. It was published in 1953 and in it Mackaness transcribed the letters found in BND/1, which were still in the possession of Bond’s great-grandson, Lieutenant General Sir Lionel Bond, at the time. This booklet also includes a useful biographical introductory essay and detailed footnotes throughout which add detail to specific incidents in the correspondence.

 

BND/1

The letters in BND/1(transcribed in BND/3) are of interest to RAMM in understanding Bond’s role on the Providence and his service under Bligh. In a paragraph marked ‘Secret’ in the first letter in the collection (BND/1, no.1) dated 8 Feb 1791, Captain Bligh invited his nephew, then aboard HMS Inconstant at Spithead, to consider accompanying him as a Lieutenant on ‘a long and very unpleasant Voyage’ to ‘Otaheite for the Breadfruit plant.’ He asks ‘Frank’ to consider the risks very carefully emphasising that promotion cannot be guaranteed. Nevertheless Bligh expresses his hope that

‘if I meet with success the Lieuts may be made Captains.’  

On 11 March 1791 Bligh wrote again to Bond, stressing a second time that Bond should himself

‘determine on the propriety of your going, but [I] do not press you to it, for fear you may not get promotion on your return’ (BND/1, no. 2).

In the event, none of the three lieutenants on the Providence received any promotion from the voyage; and indeed Bond had to wait nine years more before his successes off Spain and Portugal earned him the title of post-captain.

Once Bond had accepted the position on Providence the letters from Bligh are chiefly concerned with the planning of the trip, the necessary supplies, and visitors to the ship, for example (BND/1, no. 8, no date):

‘Mr Joseph Banks and some other people of consequence will be on board on Saturday morning- let the barge be with me at 8 o’clock without fail and borrow some cushions or cloaks off Mr Barnard in the yard.’

A few letters show Bligh to be angry or disappointed with Bond’s performance during the voyage, and in one case Bond responded with a respectful but firm self-defence (BND/1 nos. 14 and 15). Furthermore, Bond clearly resented Bligh’s request at the end of the voyage for officers to submit their ‘logs, journals and papers’ to the Captain on 2 August 1793 and he drafted a letter to the Admiralty explaining how he had felt unprepared for this and was inconvenienced because his private log was needed in order for Bond to apply for his pay (BND/1 nos. 23 and 24).

The letters Bligh wrote after the voyage were written in an amicable tone and indicate that Bligh wished to help further his nephew’s promotion and at least to get him off HMS La Prompte, ‘a ship that ought to  be broke up’ in Bligh’s  opinion (BND/1 no. 36, dated 14 Aug 1794).

On 25 Jan 1795 Bligh drafted a letter for Bond to copy appealing to the Admiralty regarding his promotion. Lieutenant Portlock, who had managed the Providence’s brig, HMS Assistant on the second breadfruit voyage, had received promotion; Bligh suggested that Bond should write again and remind the Admiralty that that the plants which were so successfully carried to Jamaica, were cared for by the Providence’s officers and not by those on the Assistant; therefore these men deserved recognition at least equal to that of Portlock (BND/1, no. 38).

A good many of the letters are also concerned with the allegations that dogged Bligh after his voyage on the Bounty. Bligh wanted Bond to interview a shipmate on the Prompte, called Michael Byrne, who had also served on the Bounty. Bond was asked to write down any allegations Byrne might make against Bligh and pass them on to his uncle. Bond’s acquiescence in this task was much appreciated by Bligh who was clearly troubled by the coming inquiry into the mutiny on the Bounty (BND/1 no. 36, dated 14 August 1794; Bond’s reply, BND/1 no. 37, no date).

However a personal letter drafted a year before this, suggests that Bond found his uncle a difficult and bad-tempered captain to serve under. This draft letter, written to his brother Tom while Bond was in his second year on the Providence was intended to be private. Bond warned his brother to keep the contents to himself as the ‘tenor’ of his complaints against Bligh could influence his future promotion (BND/1, no. 46). The draft was written as Providence was heading for St. Helena after safely delivering the breadfruit plants to the Caribbean in December 1792. Bond may have exaggerated his complaints to entertain his older brother (Francis was twenty-seven at the time, his brother was ten years older) but his narrative implies that Bond found Bligh a frustrating captain:

Yes Tom, our relation had the credit of being a tyrant in his last expedition, where his misfortunes and good fortunes have elevated him to a situation he is incapable of supporting with decent modesty. The very high opinion he has of himself makes him hold every one of our profession with contempt, perhaps envy… I don’t mean to depreciate his extensive knowledge as a seaman and nautical astronomer, but condemn that want of modesty in self-estimation… Soon after leaving England I wished to receive instruction from this imperious master, until I found out he publicly exposed any deficiency on my part in the Nautical Art etc…

Tired heartily with my present situation and even the subject I am treating of I will conclude it by inserting the most recent order. Every officer is expected to deliver their private logs ere we anchor at St. Helena…

Bond completed this section of his letter by adding this summary:

‘[U]nparalleled pride is the principle ingredient of his composition. The future will determine whether promotion is the reward of this voyage…’

As well as these insights into the Bligh/Bond relationship, the Caird Library correspondence also gives a little information about ethnographic material collected on the voyage of the Providence.

In a letter written after the ship had returned to London, Bligh made a brief allusion to a collection of bows and arrows from Tahiti that were intended for Joseph Banks. Writing to Bond, who was still on board the Providence, Bligh requested that

‘This evening at all events the Two Otaheite Bows and Quiver with 17 arrows directed to Mr. Banks must be brought up to me’.

Bligh stressed his impatience to receive these, adding that

‘’they were to have been with me by 8 this morning… I must not be disappointed in the bows and arrows this night’ (undated memorandum, August 1793, BND/1 no.  26).

Clearly the bows and quiver were items of value to the captain and his sponsor Banks, but no further comment is made about their destination or their future purpose.

Another object which was keenly anticipated from the voyage was a Tahitian canoe (presumably a model) sought by James Guthrie (senior) in Craigie, near Dundee. Guthrie was the father of Bond’s fellow-lieutenant on the Providence, James Guthrie. On 3 January 1794 Guthrie (senior) wrote to Bond:

‘Dear Sir

I have delay’d acknowledging your obliging favour of the 30th Novr., until the Otaheitan canoe should arrive. It is come and tho’ incomplete yet it is sufficient to convey the idea to us of what is should be. Many thanks for all the trouble you have taken about it.’[1] (BND/1, no. 47).

Again we have no record of the Tahitian canoe’s future life.

Bond made some notes about the people he encountered in the Pacific. These loose notes, which appear to have been drafts for later use, are collected a wallet in the back of the leather bound volume BND/1.[2] On one undated page Bond described the people and the acquisition of material culture of the easternmost islands of Fiji, which he and the third Lieutenant, George Tobin, had named the ‘Sunday Islands’.[3]

The natives of Sunday Island are well made but of middling stature. Their hue is nearly the same with the darkest of those observed at Whytootakee;[4] and what appears singular in the natives of the Friendly Isles is the amputation of the little finger also practised here.[5] Four Natives at daylight came off to the ship in a Canoe shaped like a Weaver’s Shuttle, with the stern curved like that of a Gondola – the outrigger also is, in some measure, difft. from those I already described at Otaheite; those forming bars at right angles are shown in the sketch taken at the time.[6] I observed they were tatowed in a very small degree so that without inspection it might escape the observation of a person not particularly attentive on that head. The hair was in a kind of frizzle, two had it short, one had it hanging down behind…  we expected our Otaheitan friends would make them understand, but here we were wofully disappointed…

The kind of ferocity observed of the Whytootakeeans was also to be seen with them – their language was harsh and dissonant, but one of the sons of Hibernia on bd. our own vessel assured us they spoke like Irishmen. Many on bd believed and affinity of sound to exist, and in this I readily agree….

In the night a Canoe with men came on bd., from whom our Captain got some Cocoa Nuts, a breastplate made of Pearl Shell, and some spears for striking fish. In the other he got two curious clubs, but we were assured by our Commander they existed in at the Friendly Isles in a superior degree of elegance – this I can declare, that the one exceeded the workmanship of some skilful artists among our English brethren. A few rude spears were purchased.

The next loose pages describe some of the many islands of Fiji to which Bligh had assigned letters of the alphabet. Bond sailed to these in the Assistant’s cutter.[7]

Anchored near C and D and sent two boats to find a passage. Mr Tobin’s encounter with canoes and their visit when at anchor to the West of A, among the reefs.[8] Curiosities obtained and their character. Ran a few miles to the west and anchored again etc., off E. Visited by another canoe… passed F, a Woody key like E but saw many natives and cocoanut trees and a dog… Saty., anchored near H… at even about 42 natives came fr. the other side and we sent two boats armed. A friendly intercourse and brought on board Dates and shell beads. Women covered at pudenda- men nothing in general. They sent away their bows etc. to encourage our people, and held a branch of a tree as an emblem of peace… the natives were exceedingly importunate to possess Turick as they called it (Iron, hatchets, or Nails).

Although Bond does not state the nature of the transactions with the islanders it appears that items were exchanged between the sailors and the local people. There is no mention of Bond’s trade with Tahitians in BND/1, BND/ 2 or BND/3.

 

BND/2.

BND/2 does not contain any writing by Bond himself but is mainly concerned with Captain Bligh’s career after the voyage of the Providence. Mackaness transcribed these documents, accessed through Rex Nan Kivell, before he had seen those now contained in BND/1.

In 1805, Bligh was commissioned to go to New South Wales as Governor. He returned five years later after a troubled time. His letters in BND/2 refer mainly to this Australian work. The chief significance of these letters to the RAMM is that they confirm where Bond was living in Devon from 1803 to 1817, after his time on Providence. In July 1803 Bligh wrote to Bond to announce his new appointment New South Wales and addressed his letter to

‘Lieut Fras. G. Bond R.N., Sea Fencibles, at Cleave, near Exeter, Devon.’[9]

The address at Cleave was probably the home of Bond’s wife’s family. His wife, Sophia Snow, was the daughter of a wine merchant in Portugal, Thomas Snow. Her father was from Devon and had been working in Oporto when Bond was defending British trade on that coast, between 1799 and 1800. After 1803 the Bonds appear to have had an address in the Teignmouth area as their children’s births were registered at Teignmouth from 1803 to 1811; and at Kenton (for Starcross) from 1811 to 1817. Between 1819 and 1829 the Bond’s children were registered in Exeter.

An additional letter from George Tobin to Bond, confirms that Bond did not move from his later home at Starcross until 1818. This, the final letter in BND/2, was written in December 1817. It was addressed to his friend ‘My dear Bond’ from Teignmouth and the contents indicate that Bond was still living in Starcross at this time.[10] This allows us to date the Bond family’s move to Colleton Crescent in Exeter in or after 1818.

The letter is also significant because it looks back on the voyage of the Providence with some perspective. Tobin notes that he and Bond are the only surviving officers from the voyage of the Providence. He remarks that the ‘Grim Tyrant’ has been ‘very industrious’ in the twenty-seven years since the Providence left England and admits that he takes a ‘retrospect of the Voyage with a very great satisfaction’. Tobin also comments on the death of Bligh and assesses the faults and strengths of their former captain. Tobin’s assessment of Bligh in this letter to Bond is worth recording:

I am sure, dear Friend, that in the Providence there was no System of Tyranny exercised by him likely to produce dissatisfaction. It was in those violent Tornadoes of temper when he lost himself, yet, when all in his opinion went right, when could a man be more placid and interesting? For myself I feel that I am indebted to him… Let our old Captain’s frailties be forgotten and view him as a man of Science and excellent practical Seaman…

 

BND/3

BND/3 is largely made up of the transcriptions of the letters above in BND/1, and it includes a detailed family history in the introduction. Mackaness also added some images, including photograph of portraits of William Bligh, Mrs. Bligh, Lt. Portlock, and Joseph Banks. There is also a photograph of a page from the Bligh/Bond family Bible in which both William Bligh’s and Francis Godolphin’s births are poignantly recorded on the same page, indicating the closeness of the two families at the time (Mackaness 1953, p.9). The only image that is known of Bond is a silhouette and this was reproduced in the booklet on p. 4, courtesy of Bond’s great-grandson Lionel Vivian Bond.[11]

Footnotes

[1] In the same letter Guthrie reflects on the Providence’s lieutenants’ lack of promotion. His insights are interesting:

 ‘I hoped you would and expect you will get your well-earned promotion before you go again to sea; and I cannot help thinking that the officers of the Providence have been very hardly dealt by. I believe it is the first instance of any such voyage, even when unsuccessful, not being followed by promotion- how much more do Capt. Bligh and his officers deserve it who accomplished every object upon which they were sent’.

[2][2] The undated document describing ‘the natives of the Sunday Islands’ has been crossed through and may indicate that these notes were copied out neatly elsewhere.

[3] Mackaness, 1953, p. 49, fn. 14. Mackaness claims that ‘the accounts of the Fiji Islanders by Bligh, Portlock and Bond are the earliest in existence’. Mackaness, 1953, p. 49, fn. 19.

[4] Whytootacki was the name given at the time to Aitutaki Atoll in the Cook Islands. Captain Bligh ‘found’ Aitutaki after the Bounty left Tahiti.

[5] Captain Cook called Tonga the Friendly Islands because if the reception he received there in 1773.

[6] A sketch was made by George Tobin. See Mackaness 1953, p. 49, fn. 15.

[7] Mackaness 1953, p.50, fn. 23.

[8] Mackaness explains that Tobin’s encounter is described in the Journal of Lieutenant Portlock under the date of the date Thursday 6 September and was illustrated by Tobin. Mackaness 1953, p.50, fn. 23.

[9] Mackaness 1949, pp. 21-23. Addressing his nephew as lieutenant at this point might have been taken as a slight, since Bond had been given his commission as post-captain in 1802 and he was acting as Commander of the Sea Fencibles at the time, protecting the coast from Puncknole in Dorset to Teignmouth in Devon.

[10] Mackaness, 1949, p.32-32.

[11] Lionel Vivian Bond, born 1884, received the papers from his great-aunts, Francis Godolphin Bond’s two unmarried daughters, Emily and Katherine, who lived from 1815 to 1916 and 1826 to 1924 respectively. Mackaness, 1953, p. 5.