Select Bligh/Bly Surname Genealogy

The first sighting of Bligh as a surname was in SW England in the 15th century.  The origin of these Blighs was apparently the Breton de Bloins, John Bloye or Blyghe being granted lands at Botadon near South Petherwin in Cornwall at that time.  Bligh usually became Bly in America.

Select Bligh/Bly Resources on The Internet

Select Bligh/Bly Ancestry

England.  The Bligh family originated on the Cornwall/Devon border in SW England.  The first traceable ancestor was Robert Bligh of Lanrake in Cornwall, who died in 1554.  It was a family of lesser gentry, owners of modest estates.  There were also other Bligh lines in Devon at that time.  Benjamin Bligh was born in Holsworthy around 1590 (his descendants were still in Devon in the early 19th century, although a number – as Blights – subsequently emigrated to Canada).

From the Robert Bligh line came William Bligh, a Plymouth merchant, and John Bligh who moved to London and, after acting as an agent for English interests after the failed Irish rebellion in 1641, acquired Irish estates himself.   John Bligh of this family married the heiress Theodosia Hyde in 1713. Through her he came into possession of Cobham Hall in Kent.  He was made the Earl of Darnley in 1725.

The naval Blighs were also from this line:

  • Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh, born in the west country in 1737, who descended from the 16th century Richard Blighe and his first wife Susan.   Richard’s son George also served in the Navy and was present on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • and Admiral William Bligh of mutiny on the Bounty fame, born in St. Tudy parish in Cornwall in 1754, who descended from the same Richard Blighe, although from his second wife Elizabeth.  William had no male descendants.   But many descended through his father’s brothers.

By the time of the 1881 census, Blighs were few left in Cornwall and Devon and most were to be found in Kent and the southeast.

Kent.  The Earl of Darnley’s home was at Cobham Hall near Gravesend in Kent.  Ivo Bligh, who was to become the 8th Earl of Darnley, led an English cricket team to Australia in 1882 to recapture the mythical Ashes.  The Bligh family was to remain at Cobham Hall until 1957.  Jasmine Bligh, a niece of the 9th Earl of Darnley, was one of the first TV presenters on the BBC in the late 1930’s.  She stayed on the air until the 1970’s.

The Rev. Michael Bligh was pastor of the Baptist church in Sevenoaks from 1764 to 1798.  The Bligh name continued in the town with Samuel Bligh, a hop grower, and his son John who ran a farmhouse and hotel.  The site of his farmhouse is now known as Bligh’s Meadow, a small shopping precinct in Sevenoaks.

Blys.  There have been some Blys in England.  One Bly family were porcelain workers in Lowestoft, Suffolk in the 1770’s.  Another have been antiques dealers in Tring, Hertfordshire since 1831.   A descendant, John Bly, is a presenter on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.

John Bligh purchased estates in county Meath from Cromwell’s government in 1654.  The size of his landholding was substantial, around 25,000 acres, and was later expanded upon.  The family seat was at Rathmore.  Although these Blighs were very much focused on English affairs, there were Bligh descendants as well in Ireland.

America.  Bligh tended to become Bly in America.  The first was
probably John Bly, the Salem brickmaker in Massachusetts who got caught up in the Salem witch trials.  There were also Blys from Rhode Island who migrated to Connecticut and upstate New York and, in some cases, west to Michigan.  The Blys of Massachusetts and Rhode island were probably both connected to John Bly the brickmaker.

Blys in America could also be of German or Scandinavian origin.  Philip Bley came from Germany in 1749 and settled with his American Bly family in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia.  Daniel Bly’s 1992 book A History of the Bly Family recounted the family history.  The poet Robert Bly was born in Minnesota in 1926 to parents of Scandinavian stock.  His forebear in America was Jacob Bleje who came from Norway in 1855.

Nelly Bly was a minstrel song about a kitchen girl, written by Stephen Foster in 1850.  Bly did feature as an African American name in Virginia and Tennessee.

Australia.  Francis Bligh, a nephew of Admiral William Bligh, came to Melbourne in 1854.  His son Francis established a position for himself in the wine and spirits business.  Anna Bligh, the Premier of
Queensland from 2007 to 2012, has sought to separate herself from this Bligh name – not because of her long-distant links with the Admiral, who was Governor of Australia at the time of the Rum Rebellion, but because of her estrangement from her alcoholic father.

Select Bligh/Bly Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bligh/Bly Names

William Bligh became famous or infamous for his role in the mutiny of the Bounty in 1789.
Ivo Bligh, the 8th Earl of Darnley, was the English captain who was said to have been victorious in bringing the cricket Ashes back from Australia in 1883.
Robert Bly is an American poet.

Select Blighs/Blys Today

  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous in Norfolk)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 1,500 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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