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Fanny Bligh's letter

Date: 1839-1845
Overall: 180 x 220 mm, 4.81 g
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Letter
Object No: 00044371

User Terms

    Written by Fanny Bligh to George Suttor during his visit to England (1839-1845), this letter documents the presentation of an intaglio ring originally owned by William Bligh. George Suttor gave testimony on Bligh's behalf in the court-martial of Major George Johnston - commander of the NSW Corps during the Rum Rebellion. It was given to Suttor for his support of her father during the rebellion.

    The letter reads:

    For Geo Suttor Esq sent with a small packet from the Misses Bligh


    32 Royal Crescent

    My Dear Sir

    It would have been a great gratification to me and my sister Jane, although a sad one, to have taken a personal farewell of you today. We would also have asked you to have allowed us to have put on your finger an antique ring which formerly belonged to our dear Father, as the most acceptable token we can think of as a memento of our grateful remembrance of you, your faithfulness and integrity.

    May I ask of you to do us the favour to accept of this ring, and to feel assured that we most heartily desire that the best blessings may be vouchsafed with you and your family.

    We would also by it wish you a prosperous voyage and happy meeting with your other children

    I remain

    My Dear Sir
    With affectionate regards
    Most truly yours
    Fanny Bligh

    SignificanceThis letter addressed to George Suttor is significant for the provenance it provides to the associated Bligh signet ring and the circumstances of its presentation by Bligh's daughter.
    HistoryWilliam Bligh was one of the most controversial officers in the Royal Navy in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Entering the navy in 1761 as a boy, Bligh first went to sea as an able seaman in 1770. He served as a midshipman before being made Master's Mate in 1775. The following year he was appointed Master of HMS Resolution for Cook's third voyage of exploration, to the Pacific north west. He was present when Cook was killed in Hawaii. On returning to England in 1780 he met Elizabeth Betham and they were married in 1781. Elizabeth bore Bligh six daughters: Harriet, Mary, Elizabeth, Frances (Fanny) and Jane (twins born after Bligh had left on the first breadfruit expedition), and Anne. She also bore him twin boys 1795, named William and Henry, but they died within twenty-four hours.

    Elizabeth Betham's uncle was Duncan Campbell, a wealthy and powerful ship-owner with plantations in the West Indies. From 1783 to 1787 Bligh commanded Campbell's ships on several voyages to the West Indies. In 1787, with the patronage of Joseph Banks, Bligh was appointed to command the Bounty on an expedition to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the West Indies, and it was during this voyage that the famous Bounty mutiny occurred.

    Surviving an open boat voyage lasting 43 days, Bligh successfully navigated the Bounty's launch containing 18 loyalists to Coupang in the Dutch East Indies, and subsequently returned to England where he was exonerated from any blame in the mutiny. His account of the mutiny became a best seller, and Bligh was lionized in the London press.

    In 1791 he successfully commanded a second breadfruit expedition in command of HMS Providence and HMS Assistant. By 1793 England was at war, and Bligh participated in a number of battles - notably the battle of Camperdown off the Dutch coast in 1797, and the battle of Copenhagen in 1801. In 1805 he was appointed as the fourth Governor of New South Wales (arriving in Sydney in August 1806), and it was during his term that a rebellion of the NSW Corps under Major George Johnston challenged his authority in 1808. On 26 January 1808, the NSW Corps marched to Government House and arrested Governor Bligh. Bligh was accused by Major Johnston of tyrannical behaviour threatening the stability of the young colony, and Johnston set up a provisional government pending authority from England.

    A prominent supporter of Bligh's throughout the rebellion was George Suttor, a small landholder who had arrived as a free settler in November 1800. In 1810 when Bligh sailed for England, he took George Suttor as a witness in the court -martial of Major Johnston. Johnston was found guilty and cashiered from the army, while Bligh was promoted Rear Admiral. In 1814 he was made Vice Admiral of the Blue. He died in December 1817 and is buried at St Mary's church, Lambeth.

    George Suttor returned to Sydney in 1812 and by the 1820s had taken up land on the Bathurst Plains. He later lived in Elizabeth Street, Sydney. In 1839 he sailed for Europe with his wife, remaining there for six years. During this time his wife died (1844) and Suttor returned to Sydney in November 1845. He died in 1859 and was buried at Kelso near Bathurst.

    The provenance of Bligh's ring is evidenced by an accompanying letter signed by Fanny Bligh. Based on the content of the letter, the date of William Bligh's death (1817), and the dates of George Suttor's travels to England, it is probable that the ring was gifted to Suttor between 1839 and 1845. The letter is addressed from 32 Royal Crescent, (Kensington). The 1851 census lists Frances Bligh and her sister Jane as occupants of this 'Funded property' with three servants [HO 107/1468]. In 1840 George Suttor was staying near Belgrave Square (Eaton Street/Place/Mews) a little over four kilometres from the sisters' residence and it may have been at this time that the ring and letter were delivered. [see Memoirs of George Suttor, 1948, p.66].

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