Vic Keegan’s Lost London 39: Captain Bligh at the Garden Museum

by Victor Keegan

If you are having  lunch – and why not? – at the delightful Garden Museum in Lambeth, very close to Lambeth Palace, you can peer through its large glass window at two majestic tombs in the architect-designed garden.

One, quite properly, contains the Tradescant family, which was hugely important in the development of English gardens. The other is of someone else who lived locally but to whom history has been less kind: William Bligh.

Bligh will forever be known for the mutiny on the Bounty, the ship he commanded, when a minority of the crew, led by Fletcher Christian, cast him and a band of supporters adrift in the Bounty’s launch so those remaining could be left to savour the rumoured delights of Tahiti. 

Bligh and 18 crewmen with precious little food were crammed into a craft barely 23 feet long but managed to navigate the boat an astonishing 3,600 miles to Timor, the nearest European settlement, in what was surely one of the great journeys in history. 

For a man who served with distinction under Captain Cook and Lord Nelson and who, when later appointed Governor of New South Wales (1806- 1809), set about curbing the rampant corruption in Sydney, Bligh deserves a major reappraisal. This has already happen in Australia where in 1987 a statue was erected in his honour to “restore the proper image of a much maligned and gallant man”.

It is a wonder the Garden Museum doesn’t make more of him. Maybe they are worried it might become a destination for Australian tourists rather than a mecca for gardeners and foodies. Either way this beautifully reconstructed space is worth a visit. I ought to admit that I was against the reconstruction because the original garden had a pristine beauty that I still remember very fondly. But as reconstructions go this is definitely a hit. 

 Previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London are gathered here. You can buy a copy of Vic’s book of London poems here.

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