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

1790 –  Portsmouth, March: 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.

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

And it was a story of headlines. In mid-ocean at gun-point in the early hours of 28 April 1789,Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, Captain Bligh’s second-in-command on HMS Bounty,forced his commander with eighteen (18) fellow crew off the ship and 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.

It must be said however without Bligh’s excellent celestial navigating skills none might 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 – Timor, 14 June: After seven (7) weeks of drifting 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, protégé of Sir Joseph Bank’s from Kew Gardens, died a few days after reaching Coupang.

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

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

The remaining Bounty castaways were left at Batavia to make their own way home.Three (3) of them 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 – Cape Town, February: 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. All were relieved to find Captain Bligh, their tormentor, had sailed from Cape Town a month earlier – .January.

As they waited for a suitable ship to take them onto England a French frigate towed HMS Guardian, a disabled British warship – Australia’s Titanic – into Table Bay. See: The Twelfth Man Lieutenant Edward Riou

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

1790 – England, November: Towards the end of 1790 the Admiralty gave Captain Edward 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 his then command HMS Narcissus.

Perhaps Bligh had a say in his selection.Edward’s orders were 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 – Tahiti, 23 March: 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 the ship 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. Both were desperate the stay on Tahiti and resisted arrest.

Others, among them William Morrison and Peter Heywood, a young midshipman, 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, Tahiti: So when Pandora left Tahiti all Bounty prisoners were not only cruelly manacled and shackled to the floor of the box its ‘iron lid’ was shut and padlocked.

1791 – Great Barrier Reef, 28 August:  Edwards, regarded by some peers 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 the one hundred and twenty-one (121) crew drowned.

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

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 [10] 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 [4] boats in which the exacting crossing to Timor was made’. C.H. Curry. ibid.

1791 – Timor, 17 September: 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. The survivors fetched up at Coupang, West Timor in the middle of September 1791.

Governor Timotheus Wanjon, took care of them as had his recently deceased father-in-law Governor William Van Este did 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 Charlotte and, her brother baby Emanuel, had escaped from Sydney Cove with help from Deter Smidt the Dutch master of a Dutch ship Waaksamheyd.

She was a 300 ton brig chartered at Jakarta by Lieutenant Ball of HMS Supply. Ball had  purchased urgently needed supplies to the starving settlement at Sydney Cove and he Ball had paid to have them fast-tracked to Sydney.. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove From January 1788 to July 1790

Captain Edwards interrogated the now the famous Botany Bay 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 they were kept in irons and closely confined.

1791 – Coupang, 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 – Flores, 6 October: Remberg sailed from Timor 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 in the dark below deck, feared for their lives.

1791 – Batavia, 7 November: 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 his father William too was dead.

Africa: 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.

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

The other convicts 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 – Cape Town,11 to 23 March: 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 – Cape Town, March: 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 – Portsmouth,18 June: HMS Gorgan reached Portsmouth the port from where five (5) years earlier – 13 May 1787 -the ‘First Fleet’ had sailed for Botany Bay. Mary and her companions were taken off and lodged in Newgate gaol.

1792 – Spithead, September: To Bligh’s intense satisfaction (10) surviving mutineers appeared before a court-martial convened at the Royal Navy’s base at Spithead 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) men were acquitted, six (6) were condemned to death. However only three (3) paid the ultimate price.

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

Fletcher Christain’s 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.

On the 24th of October 1792 Morrison and Heywood had their death sentences forgiven. 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 whose  death sentence was 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 required.

‘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 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  wool enterprise and build his wealth.

Banks influenced government to recall Governor Phillip Gidley King RNand give Bligh the governorship of  New South Wales. Banks would rid himself of Bligh and a grateful Bligh would keep a sharp eye on that very ‘strange person’ John Macarthur ‘the man who made enemies’.

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

 

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