PANDORA’S BOX & 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 of the infamous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’.  

1789 – 28 April: At gun-point in the early hours of 28 April 1789 in mid-ocean Captain William Bligh RN on the orders of Lieutenant Fletcher Christian Bligh’s second-in-command, together with fourteen (14) other crewmen, was forced 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 their open boat. Bligh made the lives of his fellow castaways a misery as they rowed and nudged their drifting craft towards land. But without Bligh’s excellent celestial navigating skills it is doubtful any-one would have survived the 6400 km voyage to Timor.

1789 – 14 June, Timor: The starving survivors reached Coupang West Timor in mid-June 1789. William Van Este, the Dutch Governor, fed and clothed the Englishmen. When strength returned Bligh hired a Dutch vessel and made for England via Cape Town.

Captain Bligh, anxious to bring Fletcher Christian before a court-martial, made haste to England leaving some surviving Bounty crew – William Peckover, John Fryer, William Purcell, Robert Tinkler – at Cape Town to make their own way home. See: HMS Guardian – Australia’s Titanic

1790 – November, England: Towards the end of 1790 the Admiralty gave Captain Edwards;‘ a cold, hard man devoid of sympathy and imagination’ command of HMS Pandora with orders were to hunt down, arrest and bring Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN to England for court-martial and death at the end of a rope.

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

Captain Edwards arrested fourteen (14) mutineers who had settled happily on Tahiti. Some married into local families and resisted while others surrendered willingly but Edwards treated both groups alike.

‘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.

Into this small box all Bounty prisoners were shackled to the floor and its heavy iron hatch was slammed shut.

1791 – 28 August, Great Barrier Reef: Captain Edwards has been described as ‘a stupid, brutal officer and an ever worse sailor’. An observation borne out when 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, fifty-six (56) crew drowned. The Bounty prisoners locked into Pandora’s Box would certainly have drowned but for the heroic efforts of two (2) crew members, Joseph Hodges and James Moulter who defied Edwards to rescue 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, some near death, along with Pandora’s surviving crew, fetched up at Coupang in the middle of September 1791.

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

Wanjon had a surprise for Captain Edwards, there were some English convicts on the island. They had escaped with help from Deter Smidt the Dutch master of Waaksamheyd, a 300 ton brig chartered from 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

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 they 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, eleven (11) escapees and seventy-eight (78) Pandora survivors to Batavia.

1791 – 6 October, Coupang: Remberg sailed from Coupang on 6 October 1791. The ship encountered fierce storms and turbulent seas. The mutineers, again locked in a cage on deck, were exposed to the fury of the sea. The convicts, chained in the dark below deck, feared for their lives and especially so, when off the island of Flores, Remberg was battered by a cyclone and came near to capsizing.

1791 – 7 November, Batavia: After a tough month at sea Remberg reached Jakarta where all Edward’s captives remained heavily chained.

1791 – 1 December, Batavia: At that time the Dutch trading post was notorious for its ‘fatal climate’.  So it proved for two (2) Botany Bay ‘escapees’. At the beginning of December 1791 baby Emanuel, Mary and William Bryant’s youngest child, died. By the end of December Will 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 Cape Town 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 mutineers 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, 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  See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees

1792 – March, Cape Town: Riding at anchor in Table Bay was HMS Gorgan. Three (3) months earlier, December 1791, Gorgan had sailed from Sydney Cove with Major Robert Ross and the Sydney garrison marines returning to England for repatriation.

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

EPILOGUE

‘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.

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”. Museum of tropical Queensland, www.mtq.qld.gov.au

 

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