Dead Reckoning: William Bligh 2005

Latitude (detail) David Cotterrell, 2005

Dead Reckoning (installation) 2005

A temporary exhibition mounted to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Captain William Bligh, who is buried in the Museum of Garden History’s grounds, Dead Reckoning linked visual art practice, historical research and museological display with critical, investigative writing and curatorial practice.

Continuing Parabola and the Museum of Garden History’s dedication to producing multi disciplinary displays, publications and contemporary art commissions, the exhibition aimed to explore both the fact and fantasy surrounding Bligh’s life. Artist David Cotterrell constructed a simulation of Bligh’s historic 5,800km open boat journey taken in the HMS Bounty’s lifeboat. Directly informed by the anecdotal and navigational notes taken from Bligh’s log, Cotterrell’s panoramic first-person view, not unlike a flight simulator, charted the shifting horizon witnessed by Bligh and his companions on their travels. This work formed the visual focal point of the exhibition. Displayed on a prismatic screen material that enables the viewer to see projections in full daylight, the installation allowed visitors to experience an immersive space merging with the several separate elements of the entirety of the exhibition.

Local Historian Jon Newman researched and developed a core text relating Bligh’s unique story for this exhibition. This writing was developed for display alongside relevant archival images taken from collections at the Museum, the Minet Library, the RHS Lindley Library, the National Maritime Museum, London and the Mitchell Library, New South Wales, Australia. As well, some unusual artefacts complemented the projection, images and text. These included eighteenth century nautical instruments from HQS Wellington, a rare English comic book detailing the Mutiny on the Bounty and an early edition of ‘The Island’ by Lord Byron, the first romantic adaptation of the event, which added to the debate between historical fact and myth making.

Two small publications were produced to further enrich the exhibition. One fully documented the exhibition, including the entirety of Newman’s text, images of ephemera and artefacts and documentation of Cotterrell’s artwork. The second booklet was a re-print of a text owned by the Museum, ‘Beloved, Respected and Lamented’, by JE Chandler.

An Education and Outreach programme developed by Parabola targeted local residents, schools and senior citizens including Blackfriars Settlement and the London Nautical School to help invigorate interest in the exhibition’s themes for local people.

The exhibition was supported by Arts Council England, the Museum of Garden History, Awards for All, South Tyneside College and The Peter Minet Trust.