HER FATHER'S DAUGHTER
The Story of Mary Putland,
Captain Bligh's doughty daughter!
She left Government House after one rum Rebellion; then returned in triumph to face another!
Every bit as feisty as her seagoing father William Bligh, Mary Putland (together with her dashing young naval lieutenant husband John) sailed with him to New South Wales as the Governor's lady in 1806; after her mother, Elizabeth, declined to acompany him for fear of the ocean voyage. But Mary's stany in Sydney was to prove as tempeestuous as any storm at sea!
THE GOVERNOR'S LADY
The story of Mary Putland
When Captain William Bligh was offered the post of Governor of NSW in 1805, his wife Elizabeth declared that she had no intention whatsoever of facing the perils of a long ocean voyage. In her place, his daughter, the 22 year old Mary, agreed to accompany him as the lady of Government House. She was married to John Putland, a half-pay naval lieutenant and veteran of Nelson's recent victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile. Blight accepted the post on the understanding that Lt Putland would accompany them on full pay as his aide-de-comp.
In February 1806, Mary and her father sailed from England aboard the transport Lady Madeline Sinclair, escorted by HMS Porpoise under the cantankerous Captain Short, with Lt. Putland as first officer. A disagreement between Bligh and Short as to who actually commanded the expedition came to a head when Bligh peremptorily ordered a change in course, provoking Short to order Lt Putland to fire warning shots ahead and astern of the ship bearing his wife, a command which, to his great distress, he was forced to carry out. When the convoy arrived in Sydney in August 1806, Bligh relieved Short of command and sent him back to England in disgrace.
Mary delighted in her new role as chatelaine of First Government House and entertained widely, charming all who came in contact with her. One of her first duties was to organise the festivities for the Prince of Wales' birthday, at which the gusets were treated to a barbecue, complete with a bonfire and blazing torches. She also sent presents of bird plumes and precious stones back to her mother in England, who subsequently made a gift of some of the plumes to the mistress of the future King William IV.
At this time the residents of Elizabeth Farm, John and Elizabeth Macarthur, were regular diners at First Goverment House; Elizabeth writing to friends in England that: "Mrs Putland is a very accomplished person." But much as the two women enjoyed each other's company, it soon became obvious that Bligh's attempts to reform the excesses of the rum monopolists and the NSW Corps were generating ill feeling between the two men. Mary later wrote to her mother that: "We entertain everyone of importance, but I am sure many of them are secretly against my father."
Determined thather daughter be a credit to her position, Mary's mother continually sent out the latest fashions for her, which made her the envy of every lady in Sydney Town. But one dess, diaphanously transparent in the current French style, was particularly daring, even for Mary. Unsure if colonial society was quite ready for such a creation, she compromised by wearing pantaloons beneath the gossamer and wore the outfit to a church service with her father at the orphan school in Bridge Street.
In full naval uniform, Bligh entered the hall with mary on his arm, but the strong light behind them revealed her figure to the public gaze. The soldiers in the audience sniggered and within moment the whole hall exploded with laughter. Mary did the only sensible thing and fainted,whilst Bligh abused Colonel George Johnston and the whole of his "ill-mannered Corps", which only worsened his already icy relations with the military.
In early January 1808, John Putland died of tuberculosis and, barely three weeks later, the NSW Corps, instigated by John Macarthur, rose in revolt and marched on Government House. Mary met the soldiers on the front step, brandishing a parasol, crying: "Traitors! Rebels! You have just walked over my husband's grave! Now you come to murder my father!" and daring them to stab her to the heart. An officer picked her up and set her aside while the troops marked in to arrest Bligh.
Bligh and Mary were held virtual house prisioners in Government House for nearly a year, before being placed aboard HMS Porpoise to sail to England. Instead, Bligh sailed to Hobart to await the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie; returning to Sydney in 1810. There Colonel Maurice O'Connell quiety courted Mary, aided in his suit by Elizabeth, Governor Macquarie's wife. Unaware of this blooming romance, Bligh began to arrange for Mary and himself to return to England aboard the Hindostan in May 1810. A few days before they were due to sail, O'Connell proposed to Mary; she accepted, and an astonished Bligh could only give his relunctant consent. He gave Mary away at the ensuing wedding, before sailing sadly back to England, alone.
Niow once more in a position of influence within Sydney society, Mary proceeded to give an increasingly hard time to the anti-Bligh members of the colony, who were undoubtedly relieved when the O'Connellls and the 73rd were transferred to Ceylon in 1814. But Sydney had not seen the last of Governor Bligh's daughter. In 1838, she returned as Lady Mary O'Connell with her newly knighted husband, now Major-General of all the troops in Australia. Promoted to Lieutenant General in 1841, O'Connell acted as Governor in 1845-6 between the terms of Governors Gipps and Fitzroy, and Mary once more entertained as the Governor's lady; this time in the grand new Government House.
During their time there, the troops of the 99th Regiment staged a second Rum Rebellion; a "sit-in" mutiny to protest at the watering down of their rum rations. O'Connell ordered the 11th Regiment up from Hobart to confront them, and the revolt collapsed without violence.
In May 1848, Mary lost her second husband when Maurice died, just before returning to England. Mary later went home; living in Paris for many years, and returned to London to die in 1864.
But Mary's connection with Australia didn't end there. Her son, the young Maurice O'Connell, later returned to Australia after leaving the army, and settled in Queensland. There he filled the post of Acting Governor four times and, like his father was later honoured with knighthood.
This article was printed in the Site Gazette
Volune 8 Number 3 July 2003 ISSN 1326-2017