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« Warialda's Richard Bligh Bridge: The History »

By Ted Stubbins

The Richard Bligh Bridge in Stephen St, Warialda was opened on 30th May, 1970. It commemorates the best known person of the town and district in its early period.

A previous bridge (which did not carry Bligh’s name) was opened in March, 1900 and there was at least one earlier bridge than that at the site. Bligh’s name had earlier been given to the gully which runs through the Golf Course and across Long Street.

Richard Bligh played a big part in bringing the rule of law and public administration to this northern region.

Recently married to Maria Fennell at Scone, he was appointed in October 1846 as Assistant Commissioner of Crown Lands at the Liverpool Plains Squatting District. He was to be based in Warialda with new permanent headquarters.

On December 21, 1847, he was promoted to be Commissioner for the newly created squatting district of Gwydir maintaining his base at Warialda.

The Gwydir Squatting District probably extended from Pokataroo to the Dividing Range and from the vicinity of Narrabri to the McIntyre River.

Bligh had to police the district as far as Goondiwindi and beyond, distribute blankets and look after Aborigines, maintain records on assigned servants, settle disputes between squatters, chase runaways and keep law and order generally.

Bligh had control of the Border Police Force. These were recruited from ‘Ticket-of-Leave’ men and anyone else the authorities could entice or conscript. Some were successful officers but it was an uneven force, so far as discipline and effectiveness of its policing was concerned.

The force had been established in 1839 by Governor Gipps after the trials of the Myall Creek murderers with the aim of controlling violence against Aborigines and maintaining law and order.

An indication of Bligh’s status is to be found in a report in the “Town and Country Journal of 1873” which looks back to Bligh’s time at Warialda. An excerpt reads “Warialda was a great place in the old Commissioner’s time, when that kingly individual had two orderlies to travel with him and was head of the police, black trackers, etc. He was provided with capital quarters and a house, the best in the district in those days.

During Bligh’s time here, Warialda became the administrative and focal point of the region.

On December 22nd, 1846, Warialda was listed as a place where Courts of Petty Session was held.

In 1848, a complex construction of Court House, Police Office and Lock-up was erected on the site that is now occupied today by Community Mutual at the corner of Stephen and Hope Street. The buildings were of timber, probably slab-sided and bark roofed in their original form, and they served the community until a new court house was erected on the same site in 1869.

It seems that Warialda was an unruly place when Bligh arrived with his new bride.

In late 1846, a hired policeman refused to obey the Commissioner’s orders and struck him several times before he absconded. Bligh chased him for fifty miles and caught him without help.

The mutinous policeman was sentenced to six months in irons and afterwards was sent to Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney.

This display of mettle by Richard Bligh is consistent with his family history. His maternal grandfather (his parents were cousins) was Vice Admiral William Bligh.

William Bligh had command of HMS Bounty on April 28, 1789 when the first mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny near Tahiti. William Bligh and eighteen of his men were cast adrift in an open boat with a small stock of provisions and no chart. They reached Timor on June 14, having travelled almost 5,600 kilometres. William Bligh was later Governor of NSW and was imprisoned by mutinous soldiers during the Rum Rebellion of 1808-10. He was exonerated of all blame and retired in 1811.

Richard Bligh died at Richmond Terrace, Domain on August 20, 1869 and was buried in the Camperdown cemetery. The suburb of Camperdown was on land granted to William Bligh in 1806. It was named after the 1797 naval battle of Camperdown in which William Bligh had served with distinction.

(Information of this article was sourced from The Government Run, A History of Warialda 1827-1930 by Theo Barker, Published by the Warialda Historical Society in 1987)

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