BLIGH, William (1754-1817). A Voyage to the South Sea. London: George Nicol, 1792.

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BLIGH, William (1754-1817). A Voyage to the South Sea, undertaken by command of His Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the Bread-Fruit Tree to the West Indies, in his Majesty's ship the Bounty, commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh. Including an Account of the Mutiny on Board the Said Ship, and the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew, in the Ship's Boat, from Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, to Timor, a Dutch Settlement in the East Indies. The whole illustrated with Charts, &c. Published by Permission of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. London: Printed for George Nicol, Bookseller to His Majesty, Pall-Mall. 1792.


4to., (12 x 9 1/8 inches). Engraved frontispiece portrait and 7 engraved plates, plans and charts, 5 of which folding (some offsetting of the plates, frontispiece portrait with light spotting). Fine contemporary English binding of scarlet crushed morocco, gilt, all edges gilt (hinges expertly strengthened, a bit scuffed).

Provenance: from the distinguished library of William Thomas Beckford ((1760–1844), writer and art collector), Fonthill Abbey, his sale, 9 September-27 October 1823, lot 3098, noted in manuscript on the recto of the rear free endpaper; with the engraved armorial bookplate of William Gott (1797-1863) on the front paste-down; the modern bookplate of Tristan Buesst (1894-1982) on the front free endpaper; sale Christie's London, 25 November 1981, lot 135 (described as "large paper")

First edition and a fine tall copy with wide margins. The official account of the Bounty's voyage and edited, at Bligh's request, by the historian James Burney under the direction of Sir Joseph Banks. One of the most incredible stories of high drama on the high seas, which Hollywood has brought the screen three times, and which lives on in the popular imagination to this day. An essential addition to any collection dealing with maritime history, or mutinous dogs.

The plates are listed as follows: Plan & Section of part of the Bounty Armed Transport, shewing the manner of fitting and stowing the Potts, for receiving the Bread-fruit plants (folding); Sections of the Bread Fruit; [Chart] Sketch From recollection and anchor-bearings of the North Part of Otaheite From Point Venus to Taowne Harbour (folding); A Copy of the Draught from within the Bounty's Launch was built (folding); Chart of Bligh's Islands discovered by Lt. William Bligh in the Bounty's Launch [with an inset of] Chart of the Northern Part of the New Hebrides discovered by Lt. William Bligh in the Bounty's Launch (folding); NW Coast of New Holland; Track of the Bounty's Launch from Tofoa to Timor (large folding).

In mid-1787, "as a consequence of Sir Joseph Banks's patronage, Bligh received the command of the Bounty, then being fitted to transport breadfruit and other plants from the islands of the central Pacific Ocean and from south-east Asia to the West Indies... With a crew of forty-four, Fletcher Christian among them, the Bounty sailed in December 1787. After failing to enter the Pacific Ocean round Cape Horn, Bligh reached Tahiti at the end of October 1788. Laden with more than 1000 young breadfruit plants, he sailed again at the beginning of April 1789. In the early morning of 28 April 1789, when off the island of Tofua (Tonga), Fletcher Christian led part of the crew in mutiny.

"Subsequent events, and their repeated evocation in literature and film, have made this mutiny the most famous in the history of the sea. The rebels set Bligh and eighteen men adrift in the ship's 23 foot long launch, with little food and only minimal navigational tools. Incredibly Bligh managed to reach Kupang in Timor two months later with the loss of only one man, after a harrowing 3500 mile voyage...The causes of the mutiny and the motives of the mutineers have been much debated. Bligh suggested that the rebels listened to Tahiti's siren song; Christian's supporters, on the other hand, argued that Bligh's harsh treatment had driven him mad. While puzzles remain, it is clear that Bligh and Christian became locked into a deeply ambivalent symbiosis that led to tragedy" (Alan Frost for DNB).

From the distinguished library of William Beckford, the scion of a family of Jamaican plantation owners of extreme wealth. A notorious and colourful character he spent a peripatetic life, travelling and collecting as he went. "In 1796–7 he bought Edward Gibbon's entire library for £950, ‘to have something to read when I passed through Lausanne … I shut myself up for six weeks from early in the morning until night … The people thought me mad. I read myself nearly blind’ (Redding, 2.332)" (Anita McConnell for DNB).

Beckford inherited Splendens and its contents, "a motley assemblage of ancient and modern art of many kinds, including a large organ [in 1781]. Three sales—held in 1801, 1802, and 1807—disposed of unwanted items (the organ, sold in 1807, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum). Beckford began collecting before he had even conceived [of building Fonthill] abbey, buying on his visits to Europe and storing his purchases of art and books in a rented house in Paris which was looked after by Auguste Chardin, his book dealer during the difficult years of the revolution, until 1797, when Beckford's agent collected the contents and further purchases. Beckford regularly attended sales, and profited hugely during the revolution, when much of the nobility hastily sold, or was forcibly deprived of, its possessions. From 1802 [Gregorio] Franchi acted as Beckford's agent, buying from dealers and at auction, as well as working with Beckford in the design of metalwork and mountings for hardstone pieces...

"Throughout his later years Beckford was in almost daily communication with his booksellers, dealing in London with William Clarke and then with his son George, from whom he ordered numerous books for examination and kept only those few that pleased him. In his description of Beckford's library the elder Clarke noted a long series of Spanish and Portuguese chronicles, Elzevier classics, Gibbon's library, voyages, and travels, and remarked on the fine bindings, both from private libraries and commissioned by Beckford. The library also held cabinets of folio prints of old masters, all choice impressions. It was notable for the absence of Greek and Latin classics (W. Clarke, Repertorium bibliographicum, 2 vols., 1819, 203–30). Beckford presented Gibbon's library of some 6000–7000 books to his physician, Frederic Schöll, and was still able to bequeath 10,000 books and 80 manuscripts to his daughter Susan. 

"By the 1820s Beckford's income from Jamaica had fallen catastrophically and was continuing to diminish... Arrangements were made for the auctioneers Christie's to sell the abbey and its contents. But after they had spent many months listing the valuables and publicizing the forthcoming event, the sale was withdrawn. Beckford then negotiated a private sale of the abbey through the auctioneers Phillips; it was bought by John Farquhar, a gunpowder millionaire, for £300,000—more than Beckford had dared to hope for. Later sales in 1823 attracted many visitors to this previously inaccessible building and disposed of much of his art. Two years later Farquhar saw his own investment collapse into ruins" (Anita McConnell for DNB). Ferguson 125; Hill Pacific Voyages p.27; Sabin 5910; Wantrup pp.128-130. For inquiries please contact Greg McMurray, MLS, Director, Rare Books.