Captain Bligh: A “Historical Villain Who Was Actually An Okay Guy”

By Craig Sheehan

Detail of Fletcher Christian and the Mutineers Turn Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 Others Adrift by Robert Dodd

When published a list of 6 Historical Villains Who Were Actually OK Guys, Captain Bligh came in at #2. I’m sharing because I love Cracked and the entry about him is both informative and hilarious. Also full of bad language, so be warned!

Hitler. Stalin. Ivan the Terrible. We all love these guys. Which is to say, we hate them and everything they stand for, but we’re secretly glad they existed. Otherwise we’d have to learn about the cultural and political tensions behind world history, as opposed to boiling it down to “there was a bad guy who made crap happen because he was evil.”

But sometimes in our haste to find a villain in every situation, we wind up painting some people as cackling cartoon villains when they were really just random guys, or even pretty awesome. Here are a few names you might want to give a second chance:


2. Captain William Bligh

You Know Him As: If you’ve read Mutiny on the Bounty, or seen one of the several movie adaptations (including the 1984 version featuring Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins and lots of titties) then you know Bligh as the evil, shitty captain they were mutinying against.

Bligh was a classist bully who did typical evil captain stuff like work his crew half to death on a scant ration of rancid food. If any of them stepped out of line, by voicing dissatisfaction or passing out from exhaustion or what have you, he would have them flogged within an inch of their life. Also, he looked like a giant warthog who’d just fallen down a few flights of stairs.

Eventually Bligh’s handsome and dashing first mate (the Mel Gibson character) had had enough and led a mutiny against him, leaving him adrift in the ocean to die, which is OK because it turns out he didn’t. Hooray for the common man!

But In Reality: Bligh certainly wasn’t lovable; he was known to constantly subject his men to a torrent of hurtful, hurtful words. But that’s about as mean as he got.

Far from wearing his men to nothing, records show that Bligh was almost obsessive about building them up into godlike paragons of health and vigor. To that end he provided them with a strict exercise regimen which, OK, would’ve blown. But also he made sure they had a highly nutritious diet, and organized their shifts so that they got plenty of rest. Sure, there were floggings–pretty much the first rule the British navy gave their captains was “if your crew so much as sneezes, flog the living shit out of them”–but it’s all about context. Bligh was considerably less flog-happy than his peers, preferring to give his men a stern talking-to and send them off to think about what they’d done.

So why did such a well-fed, well-rested, relatively unflogged crew go apeshit? There are two schools of thought:

1. Despite Bligh’s efforts, life aboard the Bounty was still pretty miserable. The ship had been officially classed as a cutter, giving it a small crew and limited supplies, meaning that the men were still overworked and underfed and the whole “godlike paragon” plan was fucked. This wasn’t anything to do with Bligh, of course, but when you’re generally pissed off about everything and the nearest authority figure keeps shouting at you and has a face like a squashed cabbage, it’s human nature to decide it’s all his fault and toss the bastard to the sharks.

2. The second version is a lot simpler. The crew had just spent several weeks of leave on Tahiti, lazing in the sun, getting wasted and screwing licentious young natives. Faced with another few months of scrubbing decks and eating hard tack, they simply said “Fuck this shit,” dumped Bligh and his cohorts overboard, and went steaming back for more sweet Tahitian booty.

At this point, in what is frequently regarded as the most brilliant piece of seamanship in history, Bligh navigated the crappy raft they set him adrift on nearly 4,000 miles back to civilization, battling illness, hunger and at one point even hostile natives. Considering he went through all this, and later was also innocently involved in the Spithead Mutiny and the Rum Rebellion, only to wind up being remembered as the bad guy, Bligh would also be at home on a list of People the Universe Just Plain Hated.

The rest of the article is also hilarious; check it out here. Courtesy of Craig Sheehan and

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