Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bligh, Edward

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BLIGH or BLIGHE, EDWARD (1685–1775), general, was a member of an old Yorkshire family settled in Ireland. He was second son of Thomas Blighe, of Rathmore, county Meath, one of the knights of the shire, and an Irish privy councillor, and was born on 16 Jan. 1685. His elder brother was subsequently created Earl Darnley, which circumstance probably suggested the 'honourable' frequently prefixed to his name by contemporary writers. Particulars of the early years and first military commissions of Edward Bligh are wanting, but it appears that he was returned to the Irish parliament as member for Athboy, county Meath, in 1715, on the Irish establishment, and was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 6th horse, now 5th dragoon guards, of which his uncle, Lieutenant-general Robert Napier, then was colonel. In 1737 he married Elizabeth, sister of W. Bury, of Shannon Grove, Limerick, and by this lady, who died in 1759, had an only child, who died young. In 1740 Bligh was appointed colonel of the 20th foot, in 1745 he became a brigadier-general, and commanded in a very sharp action at the causeway of Melle when marching to reinforce the garrison of Ghent (Cannon, Hist. Rec. 4th Lt. Drags. p. 38). In 1740 he was transferred from the 20th foot to the 12th dragoons, in 1747 he became a major-general, and in December the same year was transferred to the colonelcy of his old regiment, the 5th dragoon guards, which had then become the 2nd Irish horse, and in 1754 became a lieutenant-general. In 1758 preparations were made on an extensive scale for another descent on the French coast, to create a diversion in favour of the army under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick in Germany, and Lieutenant-general Bligh, then in his seventy-fourth year, was appointed to command the troops, Horace Walpole speaks of Bligh as 'an old general routed out of some horse-armoury in Ireland' (Walpole, Letters, vol. iii.), but he appears to have been respected in the service, and, in spite of his years, to have been noted for a command in Germany (Chatham Corresp. vol. i.) The fleet under Howe, with the troops on board, quitted England at the beginning of August 1758, and in seven days arrived in Cherbourg roads. The troops were landed, the town of Cherbourg was captured, the harbour, pier, and forts were destroyed, and the troops re-embarked, bringing away with them the brass ordnance as trophies, In September a landing was effected on the coast of Brittany, as a preliminary to the siege of St. Malo; but, the latter being found impracticable, the troops, after marching a short way up the country, returned and re-embarked in the bay of St. Cas. A strong force of the enemy, under the Duke d'Aguillon, followed and' attacked the British rear, which was most gallantly defended by Major-general Alexander Dury (not Drury as generally written) of the Guards, and inflicted very severe loss upon them. The most recent and most discriminating accounts of the transaction will be found in Sir F. Hamilton's ‘Hist. Grenadier Guards,’ vol. ii., and Burrows's ‘Life of Lord Hawke.’ Like other unsuccessful commanders of the period, Lieutenant-general Bligh was bitterly censured for his conduct of the affair, and soon after the return of the expedition to England resigned all his commissions and retired to his property in Ireland. His name is omitted from the Army Lists of 1759 and subsequent years. Some time after his retirement Bligh married a second wife, Frances, daughter of Theophilus Jones, of Leitrim, by whom he had no issue. He died at Brittas, near Dublin, in the summer of 1775, at the age of ninety, and was buried at Rathmore. His ample fortune of 100,000l. he bequeathed to his younger brother, the Dean of Elphin.

Collins's Peerage (ed. 1812), vii. 60–1; Cannon's Hist. Records 4th Dragoon Guards, 4th Dragoons, 12th Dragoons, 20th Foot; Chatham Corresp. vols. i. and ii.; Brit. Mus. Gen. Cat., see B——h; Entick's Hist. of the War, vol. iii.; Hamilton's Hist. Grenadier Guards, vol. ii.; Burrows's Life of Hawke; Hist. MSS. Com. Reps. 2, 3; Cal. State Papers (Home Off. 1766–69), pp. 340, 344; Scots Mag. xxxvii. 525.]

H. M. C.