PANDORA’S BOX – THE BOUNTY MUTINEERS & THE BOTANY BAY ESCAPEES

On 17th March 1790, a small paragraph appeared in the Times announcing that William Bligh, fresh from his remarkable voyage across the Pacific, was expected in London later that afternoon. He had arrived in Portsmouth three days earlier’. John Toohey, Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare, 1998

1790 –  March, Portsmouth: Captain William Bligh RN arrived in England on the 14th March 1790 eager to give testimony to the Admiralty  putting his side of the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ story.

1789 – 28 April: At gun-point in the early hours of 28 April 1789 in mid-ocean Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, Captain Bligh’s second-in-command, forced his commander and eighteen (18) fellow crew off HMS Bounty into a small oared cutter.

Despite having little food and water, scorched by sun and wind, they survived forty-eight (48) days in an open boat. Bligh made the lives of his fellow castaways a misery as they rowed and nudged their drifting craft towards land.

But It must be said without Bligh’s excellent celestial navigating skills they might not have survived the 3600 miles (6400km) voyage to Dutch Timor.

Only John Norton did not make it to Timor. He was stoned to death when the group landed to collect water at Tofura Island.

1789 – 14 June, Timor: After seven (7) weeks the starving survivors reached Coupang at west Timor in the early hours of the 14th June 1789.

William Van Este, Timor’s ailing Dutch Governor, fed clothed and cared for the stranded Englishmen. David Nelson, Sir Joseph Bank’s protégé from Kew Gardens, died a few days after reaching Coupang.

When strength returned Bligh hired a Dutch vessel renamed it HMS Resource and made for England via Surabaya, Jakarta and Cape Town.

1789 – 2 October, Batavia: But so anxious was Bligh to prosecute his case against Fletcher Christian and the mutineers he took passage on Vlydte a Dutch vessel, taking with him only two (2) men, John Samuels his secretary and cook John Smith.

Bligh left the remaining Bounty castaways at Batavia to make their own way home. Three (3) men; William Elphinstone master’s mate, Quartermaster Peter Linklater and Thomas Hall contracted malaria and died there.

The remaining fourteen (14) managed to survive fever-ridden Batavia and took passage to Cape Town. Thomas Ledward and William Lamb died en-route to Africa.

1790 – February, Cape Town: John Fryer, William Peckover, William Purcell, Robert Tinkler and William Cole were among twelve (12) Bounty crew who made the next hop to the Cape of Good Hope. They were relieved to find Captain Bligh, their tormentor, had sailed from Cape Town a month earlier – .January.

While awaiting a suitable ship to take them onto England a French frigate towed HMS Guardian, a disabled British warship, into Table Bay. See: The Twelfth Man Lieutenant Edward Riou

1790 – 14 March, Portsmouth: Captain William Bligh RN had departed Cape Town in January 1790 and arrived in England in mid-March 1790. He hurried to London eager to regale the Admiralty press and public without fear of contradiction his own version of the infamous mutiny and its aftermath.

1790 – November, England: Towards the end of 1790 the Admiralty gave Captain Edwards command of HMS Pandora. A decade earlier Edwards characterised as  ‘a cold, hard man devoid of sympathy and imagination’ had dealt brutally with mutineers on HMS Narcissus his then command. Bligh may well have a hand in his selection.

Edwards had orders to hunt down, arrest and bring Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN and all the Bounty mutineers to England for court-martial and, what Bligh believed would be inevitable, death at the end of a rope.

1791 – 23 March, Tahiti: Edwards reached Tahiti towards the end of March 1791. But by then Fletcher Christian, who always knew the Navy would come after him, had fled. Taking eight (8) crew members and their Tahitian wives with him Christian sailed ‘Bounty’ to Pitcairn Island where she was scuttled.

Meanwhile Captain Edwards found and arrested fourteen (14) mutineers who had settled happily on Tahiti. Some had married into local families. Two (2) John Millward and William Burkett had fathered a child, desperate the stay on Tahiti they resisted arrest.

Others, among them William Morrison and midshipman Peter Heywood, surrendered willingly but Edwards treated both groups with the same savage brutality.

‘He [Edwards] secured his captives in a structure about eleven feet [3.35 metre] long and eighteen feet [5.49 metre] wide…built [on] the quarter deck….Admission…to “Pandora’s Box”, as Edwards called it was by an iron lid in the top of it about 18 inches [45cm] square.

On the floor of it, midway between the walls, was a line of fourteen heavy ringbolts to which the leg-irons of the handcuffed men were secured’. C.H. Curry, The Transportation Escape and Pardoning of Mary Bryant, 1963.

1791 – 8 May: When Pandora left Tahiti all Bounty prisoners were not only cruelly manacled they were shackled to the floor of the box its ‘iron lid’ closed tight and padlocked.

1791 – 28 August, Great Barrier Reef: Captain Edwards some peers  regarded as ‘a stupid, brutal officer and an ever worse sailor’ had their observations borne out when, at dusk in fading light, he took his ship too close to shore and ran aground on a coral reef.

Torn below the water line Pandora began to sink, thirty-one (31) of her crew of one hundred and twenty-one (121) drowned.

The Bounty prisoners locked in the cage would certainly have gone down with the ship but for the heroic efforts of two (2) crew members, Joseph Hodges and James Moulter, who defied Edwards and rescued them.

The armourer’s mate [Hodges] leapt into the “Box” to remove their irons. Three, one with his handcuffs still on, had got out, when the exit scuttle was again slammed down and barred. The remainder would have drowned like rats, in a trap had not the boatswain’s mate [Moulter] hearing their urgent entreaties, not risked his own life…to unbar this man-hole and thus given them a chance.

Ten of them were picked up, parched, and exposed almost naked to the pitiless sun, they were treated with even more naked barbarity by Edwards, before being put to the oars in one or other of the four boats in which the exacting crossing to Timor was made’. C.H. Curry. ibid.

1791 – 17 September, Timor: Naked exhausted the Bounty mutineers, four (4) had been lost and others near death, along with Pandora’s surviving crew faced a formidable task – ahead lay a thousand (1000) miles of ocean. They fetched up at Coupang, West Timor in the middle of September 1791.

Governor Timotheus Wanjon, took care of them as his recently deceased father-in-law Governor William Van Este had done for Captain Bligh when, in June 1789, those cast adrift from HMS Bounty arrived at Coupang in similar condition.

Wanjon had a surprise for Captain Edwards, there were some English convicts living on the island. See: The Great Escape – From Botany Bay

Nine (9) convicts and two (2) children had escaped from Sydney Cove with help from Deter Smidt the Dutch master of Waaksamheyd, a 300 ton brig chartered at Jakarta by Lieutenant Ball of HMS Supply to deliver urgently needed supplies to the starving settlement at Sydney Cove. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove From January 1788 to July 1790

Captain Edwards interrogated the escapees. One, James Martin wrote; ‘we told him we were prisoners and had made our escape from Botany Bay. He told us we were his prisoners’. From then on the escapees were kept in irons and closely confined.

1791 – October: When strength allowed, Captain Edwards chartered Remberg a Dutch vessel to take ten (10) surviving Bounty men, the eleven (11) ‘First Fleet’ escapees and seventy-eight (78) Pandora survivors to Batavia.

1791 – 6 October, Flores: Remberg sailed from Coupang on 6 October 1791. The ship encountered fierce storms and turbulent seas. Off the island of Flores, Remberg was battered by a cyclone and came near to capsizing.

The mutineers, locked in a cage on deck, were exposed to the fury of the sea. While every hour the convicts, chained below in the dark, feared for their lives.

1791 – 7 November, Batavia: After a tough month at sea Remberg reached Batavia, modern-day Jakarta, where all Edward’s captives remained heavily chained. At that time the Dutch trading post was notorious for its ‘fatal climate’. See: Captain Cook Caught Short

1791 – 1 December, Jakarta: So it proved for two (2) Botany Bay ‘escapees’. Baby Emanuel, Mary and William Bryant’s youngest child, died at the beginning of December 1791. By the end of the month William too was dead.

Captain Edwards chartered three (3) Dutch vessels – Hoonwey, Horssen, Vreedenberg – to take his surviving crewmen and assorted prisoners to Cape Town.

Mary Bryant and Charlotte, now four (4) years old, along with James Cox and William Allen aged fifty-five (55) years, the oldest of the escaped convicts, boarded Horssen.

At sea, somewhere between Batavia and Africa James Cox, Mary’s long-time Cornish friend, either jumped or was washed overboard.

John Simms, William Morton, John Butcher, James Martin, William Allen and Nathaniel Lilley, boarded Hoonwey. Simms and Morton died at sea. Captain Edwards with Pandora’s remaining crew and surviving Bounty men sailed to Cape Town in Vreedenberg.

1792 – 11 to 23 March, Cape Town: Between 11th to 23rd of March 1792 survivors of these three (3) remarkable voyages HMS Bounty, HMS Pandora and a small un-named row boat, Governor Phillip’s own cutter, reached Cape Town.

‘They [escapees] had miscarried in a heroic struggle for liberty after having combated every hardship and conquered every difficulty’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench aboard HMS Gorgan at Cape Town, March 1792. Cited in Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, ed. F.L Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Surely their ‘heroic struggle’ was the most extraordinary of the three (3) voyages. See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees

1792 – March, Cape Town: HMS Gorgan, unbelievably was riding at anchor in Table Bay. Earlier, December 1791, Gorgan had sailed from Sydney Cove with the First Fleet’s Major Robert Ross and the marines of the Sydney garrison returning to England.

These soldiers five (5) years earlier – 13 May 1787 – left England for Botany Bay. Marine Captain Watkin Tench had sailed to Australia in the transport Charlotte as had Mary and Will Bryant. See: HMS Gorgan & the Botany Bay Escapees

1792 – 18 June: England: HMS Gorgan reached Portsmouth the port from where five (5) years earlier – 13 May 1787 -the ‘First Fleet’ had sailed left for Botany Bay. Mary and her companions were taken off and lodged in Newgate gaol.

1792 – September, Spithead: To Bligh’s intense satisfaction (10) surviving mutineers appeared before a court-martial convened on HMS Duke. Headed by Admiral Lord Hood and eleven (11) post-captains it began taking evidence on the 12th of September 1792.

1792 – 18 September: The mixed verdict delivered six (6) days later however dismayed Bligh. Four (4) were acquitted, six (6) were condemned to death but of these only three (3) went on to pay the ultimate price.

1792 – 24 October: Although the Christian family was not wealthy their advantage lay elsewhere. Fletcher’s elder brother Edward, a friend of William Wilberforce from their student days at Cambridge, went on to become a Professor of Law.

The family was determined to defend their absent son. At Edward’s behest William Morrison with Peter Heywood had first-class legal representation. Some weight must also be given to the family’s connection with the literary William Wordworths.

Morrison and Heywood had their death sentences forgiven on the 24th of October 1792. Perhaps in an effort to make the result appear not so lopsided William Muspratt, a lowly cook’s assistant, was also ‘forgiven’ death.

1792 – 29 October: An air of expediency and vindictiveness however swirls over the three (3) able seamen John Millward and William Burkett and Thomas Ellison, their death sentence upheld.

Millward and Burkett had fathered a child on Tahiti. Thomas Ellison, aged fourteen (14) years, was the youngest of Bounty’s crew. At the end of October 1792 they ‘suffer[ed] Death by being hung by the Neck’ [from] HMS Brunswick’s yard-arm.

EPILOGUE

It would be a massive understatement to say William Bligh was unimpressed by the decision of such a high profile court-martial that he no doubt attributed to the Wordsworth ‘daffodil effect’.

At first glance it may appear to be far-fetched to say the ‘daffodil’ impacted on the history of the Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples. Lest conspiracy theory springs too readily to mind and to save the hours required to wade through the Joseph Bank’s Papers and Bligh Archive a short-cut is needed.

‘Banks had ample need to satisfy himself about this new colonial phenomena…Macarthur was in arrest and under a cloud for shooting his commanding officer William Paterson…This was altogether a strange person to be advancing the floating of a large pastoral Company with English capital’. H.B. Carter, His Majesty’s Spanish Flock, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1964 

Of course John Macarthur was not to know that Sir Joseph Banks had for years been in regular communication with Captain William Paterson on subjects botanical.

Now, with Bligh determined to regain his hero status, Banks had the very man with which to kill two birds with one stone. A deflated William Bligh in search of advancement was pestering Banks with an ever increasing number of his letters arriving at Soho Square.

At the same time Lieutenant ‘MacMafia’ Macarthur was itching to return to New South Wales with ‘English capital’ and begin his new enterprise and build his wealth.

Banks influenced government to recall Governor Phillip Gidley King and give Bligh the governorship of that far-off place. Banks would rid himself of Bligh and a grateful Bligh would keep a sharp eye on that very ‘strange person’ John Macarthur.

ADDENDUM

‘Moulter Cay…this sand cay is on the outer Great Barrier Reef, approximately 140 km east of Cape York, on the edge of the Coral Sea….first named “Entrance Cay” by Captain Edwards. But it was officially renamed in 1984, in recognition of William Moulter’s humane deed towards the trapped [Bounty] prisoners in “Pandora’s Box”.

‘In November 1977 the wreck of the Pandora was located – 186 years after the loss. Its rediscovery by Steve Domm, John Heyer and Ben Cropp was the result of a methodological search based on analysis of historical information compiled by John Heyer…It is one of the most significant shipwrecks in the Southern Hemisphere’.

A magnetometer carried by an RAAF [Neptune] maritime reconnaissance aircraft indicated the approximate location [and] dropped a flare. Museum of Tropical Queensland, www.mtq.qld.gov.au

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply