HMS Pandora was a 24-gun Porcupine class frigate of the Royal Navy, built by Adams and Barnard at Deptford, England and launched on 17 May 1779. She was deployed in North American waters during the American Revolutionary War, but was best known for being sent in 1790 to search for the Bounty and the mutineers who had taken her. Wrecked on the return voyage in 1791.
After the news of the mutiny on the Bounty reached England on 15 March 1790, the Admiralty deliberated about the best response and eventually dispatched the Pandora to the South Pacific to recover the ‘pirated’ Bounty, capture the mutineers and bring them back to England for trial. The frigate sailed from Portsmouth on 7 November 1790 with Captain Edward Edwards in command of a crew of 134 men.
Unbeknown to Edwards, sixteen of the mutineers had by then already elected to return to Tahiti, after a failed attempt to establish a colony (Fort St George) under Fletcher Christian’s leadership on Tubuai, one of the Austral Islands. They were living in Tahiti as ‘beachcombers’, many of them having fathered children with local women. Fletcher Christian’s group of mutineers and their Polynesian followers had sailed off and eventually established their settlement on Pitcairn Island.
The Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791 via Cape Horn. Five of the men from the Bounty came on board voluntarily within 24 hours of the frigate’s arrival, and nine more were arrested by armed shore parties a few weeks later after fleeing to the mountains. These fourteen men were locked up in a makeshift prison cell on the Pandora’s quarter-deck, which they called Pandora’s Box. Edwards was told that two of them had already died before the Pandora’s arrival.
On 8 May 1791 the Pandora left Tahiti and subsequently spent three months visiting islands in the South-West Pacific in search of the Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without finding any traces of the pirated vessel. During this part of the voyage 14 crew went missing in two of the ship’s boats.
Heading west, making for the Torres Strait, the frigate ran aground on 29 August 1791 on the outer Great Barrier Reef. She sank the next morning claiming the lives of 31 of her crew and four of the prisoners. The remainder of the ship’s company (89 men) and ten prisoners – seven of them released from their cell as the ship was actually sinking – assembled on a small sand cay and after two nights on the island they sailed for Timor in four open boats; arriving in Kupang on 16 September 1791 after an arduous voyage across the Arafura Sea. Sixteen more died after surviving the wreck, many having fallen ill during their sojourn in Batavia (Jakarta). Eventually only 78 of the 134 men who had been on board upon departure returned home.
The Queensland Museum has been excavating the wreck according to a research design. Archaeologists and historians at the Museum of Tropical Queensland are still gradually fitting together pieces of the Pandora story puzzle, using the archaeological evidence as well as the extant historical evidence.
Research courtesy of Izak J H Hough, Member of The Nautical Research Guild
We are proud to offer this superb museum quality 1:48 scale sodel of the 6th Rate 24-Gun frigate HMS Pandora, 1779. Built in the second half of the 19th century and elaborately handcr