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 and put his side of the story regarding the infamous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’.  

1789 – 28 April: At gun-point in the early hours of 28 April 1789 while 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, all but one (1) castaway survived forty-eight (48) days in their open boat. John Norton was stoned to death when the group watered on Tofura Island and were attacked by locals

Bligh made the lives of his men a misery as they rowed and nudged their drifting craft towards land however it must be said  without Bligh’s excellent celestial navigating skills it is doubtful any-one would have survived the 3600 miles (6400km) voyage to Dutch Timor.

1789 – 14 June, Timor: After seven (7) weeks the starving survivors reached Coupang, west Timor in the early hours of the 14th June 1789. William Van Este, the ailing Dutch Governor, fed, clothed and cared for the stranded Englishmen but botanist David Nelson, Joseph Bank’s protege 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 bring Fletcher Christian and the mutineers before a court-martial and, put his case without hinder, he took passage on Vlydte a Dutch vessel with only John Samuels his secretary and cook John Smith

Of those Bounty crew who remained at Batavia to make their own way home three (3) – master’s mate William Elphinstone, Quartermaster Peter Linklater and Thomas Hall died there.

The remaining fourteen (14) managed to survive fever-ridden Batavia and took passage to Cape Town but two (2) 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 the twelve (12) who made the next hop to the Cape of Good Hope and were awaiting a passage to England when a French frigate towed disabled HMS Guardian into Table Bay. See: The Twelfth Man Lieutenant Edward Riou

1790 – 14 March, Portsmouth: Captain William Bligh RN, who left Cape Town in January 1790, arrived in En gland in mid-March 1790. He hurried to London eager to regale, without fear of contradiction, the Admiralty, press and public with his version of the infamous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and its aftermath.

1790 – November, England: Towards the end of 1790 the Admiralty gave Captain Edwards;‘ a cold, hard man devoid of sympathy and imagination’ who a decade earlier had dealt brutally with mutineers on his ship HMS Narcissus, command of HMS Pandora with orders to hunt down, arrest and bring Lieutenant Fletcher Christian RN and all the Bounty mutineers 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. But by then Fletcher Christian, who always knew the Navy would come after him, had fled. Eight (8) crew members and their Tahitian wives sailed with him to Pitcairn Island where the Bounty was scuttled.

Captain Edwards arrested fourteen (14) mutineers who had settled happily on Tahiti. Some had married into local families, two (2) had fathered a child and resisted arrest. Others, among them William Morrison and midshipman Peter Heywood, surrendered willingly but Edwards treated both groups with 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 and its ‘iron lid’ closed tight and padlocked.

1791 – 28 August, Great Barrier Reef: Captain Edwards described by some peers as ‘a stupid, brutal officer and an ever worse sailor’ had their 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, thirty-one (31) of her crew of one hundred and twenty-one (121) drowned. Locked down the Bounty prisoners 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 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, four (4) had been lost, others near death, along with Pandora’s surviving crew faced a formidable task – ahead lay 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.

They had escaped 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

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, the eleven (11) convict 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. 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 the convicts, chained in the dark below deck, feared for their lives.

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

1791 – 1 December, Jakarta: 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 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 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. Surely the latter being the most extraordinary of the three (3). See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees

‘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

1792 – March, Cape Town: Unbelievably 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 overdue 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

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) condemned to die and on appeal only three (3) paid the ultimate price.

1792 – 24 October: William Morrison with Peter Heywood who, at the behest of the Christian family anxious to defend their absent son, had first-class legal representation, their efforts supported by the family’s connection with the Wordworths had their sentence forgiven on the 24th of October along with William Muspratt, a lowly cook’s assistant, included perhaps so as not to make ‘forgiven’ appear so lopsided.

1792 – 29 October: An air of expediency and vindictiveness however swirls over the three (3) able seamen John Millward and William Burkett, both had fathered a child on Tahiti, and Thomas Ellison, at fourteen (14) years youngest of Bounty’s crew ‘Suffer[ed] Death by being hung by the Neck’ from HMS Brunswick’s yard-arm at the end of October 1792

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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