Draft report of HMS Pandora’s voyage

Draft report on the voyage of HMS PANDORA in search of HMS BOUNTY mutineers.

By Edward Edwards.

Folio, 4 pages. Holograph manuscript with several corrections and amendments.

Document regarding the arrest of the Bounty mutineers, in the hand of Captain Edward Edwards of the frigate PANDORA, who was dispatched by the Admiralty to arrest them. The four pages present here include the very important account of the events on Tahiti, where some fourteen of the mutineers were arrested. The document bears explicit comparison with the finished report Captain Edwards submitted to the Admiralty, which was drafted on his arrival at Batavia. Indeed, the signs of hasty production, much rewriting, and elisions in the text (usually of proper names that were added in the finished version), suggest that these pages were most likely written while the events were being sifted by Edwards at sea or Batavia a hypothesis that is supported by the coarseness of the paper itself (it does not seem, that is, the sort of paper that might have been expected from a London stationer). It is possible, nonetheless, that the document dates from the court martial of the mutineers that took place toward the end of 1792.

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By the time the Pandora arrived at Tahiti, Fletcher Christian and six others had long since left for Pitcairn Island, but sixteen of the mutineers had chosen to remain. In the intervening period two had been murdered, but the rest were quickly apprehended and imprisoned in the infamous ‘PANDORA’s Box’, a makeshift prison rigged on the quarterdeck. Ultimately, only ten of the prisoners made it back to England, four being drowned along with thirty one of the crew when the PANDORA wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Notoriously, Edwards is reported to have refused to open the locks to their prison despite clear signs the ship would founder, and it was only due to the quick thinking of the master at arms who dropped the keys through the scuttle, that any survived.

The section of Edwards’ report present here begins at the passage where he proudly records his doubling of Cape Horn and the discovery of three small islands (Ducie, Lord Hood and Carysfort). After these preliminaries, Edwards describes their arrival at Tahiti, where, “Jos. Coleman Armourer of the Bounty and Several of the Natives come onboard from whom we learnt that Christian had left 16 of his men on the Island some of whom were then in Matavy (Matavai) & some had sailed from there in the morning previous to our arrival for Papara (Opare) a distant part of the Island in a Schooner…”. In turn, Edwards continues, Lieutenant Heywood (formerly of the Bounty), found these mutineers: “on the opposite side of a River they submitted on being summoned to lay down their arms Lieut. Corner marched across the Mountains to Papara with his party & a boat was sent for them & brought them to the Ship…I put the Pirates in a Round House which I build on the after part of the Q.D. for their more effectual security & airy & healthy situation…”.

Although in part a log of his own actions during this time, the report also gives an account of what he learned of events of the Bounty once Bligh and the launch were set adrift, and includes Edwards’ own version of events such as the building of the fort at Toobouai and the departure of Christian. His finished report has been published in Basil Thomson (ed.), ‘Voyage of HMS Pandora‘ (London, 1915, see pp. 29 37). A comparison with this text shows that the pages present here lack communication, and the text breaks off very near the end of the section on Tahiti. It is interesting to note that the manuscript pages present here are only about one sixth of the final report, but represent almost the entire section of Tahiti. The most telling point to be made about the present manuscript is that it bears a good deal of rewriting and deletions, and also has several elisions in the text, usually where proper names occur. These names were supplied in the submitted report, clearly suggesting that this is the earlier of the two (this habit of leaving spaces for details to be supplied was a common practice with nautical logs and journals). These facts strongly support the hypothesis that this is Edward’s draft, and it is even possible that the rest of his report to the Admiralty, which returns to a more traditional narrative format, was taken directly from the logs or journals of Pandora.

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Edward Edwards


Ink (iron gall ink), Paper