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THE WRECK OF THE PANDORA

 

The hunter and the hunted never met in their lifetimes. Pandora sought Bounty among the South Sea isles for three months without success. Mutineer Fletcher Christian, conscious of the Admiralty's long reach, cut his anchor cable and sailed in the night from Tahiti. With eight shipmates, Tahitian women, and some Polynesian men, Christian settled on uninhabited Pitcairn Island.

 

        

The Bounty mutineers, under Fletcher Christian, had cast adrift their Captain, William Bligh, and eighteen officers and seamen who stood by him. The mutineers sailed the Bounty back to Tahiti, the island they had reluctantly left a few weeks earlier, and where their Tahitian sweethearts waited patiently. Bligh, meanwhile, navigated his longboat 5,000km through open seas to what was then Dutch Timor where he managed to negotiate passages home on various Dutch ships.

A little more than a year after the mutiny, the Admiralty Lords commanded Captain Edwards to set sail. The Pandora left Portsmouth in November 1790, rounded the Cape and put into Bay, Tahiti, in March 1791. It didn't take him long to track down 14 of the Bounty's former crewmen; the rest had decamped with Christian and their Tahitian wives and children to Pitcairn Island, a spot so remote that even Polynesian sailors were uncertain as to its whereabouts. Despite the wailing of their wives left ashore, the 14 manacled prisoners were held aboard Pandora, where the "box" awaited them - a cell built on the quarterdeck and open to the searing sun.  

 

From a prison box on the stern of the British man-of-war Pandora, 14 Bounty crewmen look their last on wives and children.

Peggy, consort of George Stewart, holds aloft their daughter, Charlotte, while her companion gashes her scalp in grief.

 

On August 29th, 1791, as the Pandora slid through the darkening waters of the outer reef off the tip of Australia, she struck a submerged outcrop of coral and began to take water. As the ship sank, the prisoners begged to be freed and a seamen, William Moulter, took pity and unbolted most of the occupants of Pandora's box; ten mutineers survived, along with 89 of the ship's company. They were rescued and eventually the mutineers were sent to trial: four were acquitted, three hanged, two pardoned and one freed on a technicality. The wreck of the H.M.S. Pandora lies about 5km northwest of Moulter's Cay, 120km east of Cape York.  

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Polynesian war clubs
salvaged from the Pandora

Divers sift through material at the site
of the Pandora wreck, off Cape York

A marbled mortar located in the wreck of the Pandora

An artist's impression of the Pandora foundering in 1791

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(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 5th January 2011)   

 

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