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Pitcairn Islands Study Center

Book Review

Black and white sketch of the ship Pandora foundering
Image used by permission of National Library of Australia
A Voyage Round the World in His Majesty's Frigate Pandoraby George Hamilton

Book Review by Herbert Ford, Director

Those who confine their interest in the Bounty saga to the mutiny on the ship and Bligh's perilous small boat voyage across the western Pacific afterward are missing an equally gripping "rest of the story." This is the voyage, shipwreck and aftermath of HMS Pandora, the ship sent to capture and bring the Bounty mutineers to justice.

The story of the voyage has been most completely told in a book published in 1793 by George Hamilton, Pandora's surgeon. The book enjoyed only a limited circulation. Now comes the first faithful reproduction of Hamilton's account in a limited printing. Many similarities between the voyages of the Bounty and the Pandora will be found in this new, rare volume.

Australian National Maritime Museum in conjunction with Hordern House, publishers and dealers in rare books and manuscripts, have joined in publishing Dr. Hamilton's 1793 account in a 205-page edition that contains an exact facsimile of the 165-page original edition. It is handsomely bound in quarter cherry Scottish calf with marbled paper sides. While available, the book may be obtained from Hordern House, 77 Victoria Street, Potts Point, Sydney NSW 200l, Australia.

Titled A Voyage Round the World in His Majesty's Frigate Pandora, it is the fourth book in the Australian Maritime Series that makes available facsimile printings of important rare books which are either unobtainable today or which would sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

The book includes a forward by British High Commissioner Alex Allan, and a most instructive summary of the Pandora's place in the Bounty saga by Peter Gesner of the Queensland Museum, who is considered the leading expert on the Pandora's voyage.

The surgeon's account reveals that, like BountyPandora was an overly crowded ship as she sailed from England. " Weevils, we had to eat a hole in our bread, before we had a place to lay down in," writes Hamilton.

Both Bounty and Pandora encountered serious trouble shortly after sailing: Bounty was storm-struck; 35 of Pandora's crew came down with a lingering malignant fever, the surgeon's only assistant being one of the first to become ill.

Living quarters on Bounty were rearranged to accommodate breadfruit plants that were to be taken to the West Indies. The same arrangement was made on Pandora and for the same purpose. "Our officers here ... showed the most manly and philanthropic disposition, by giving up their cabins ... in accommodating boxes with plants of the Bread-fruit tree, that the laudable intentions of government might not be frustrated from the loss of his majesty's ship Bounty," Dr. Hamilton writes.

The similarities continue with uncanny regularity, particularly after Pandora is wrecked and her survivors make their trouble-plagued way in small boats to the same Dutch East-India settlements that the Bligh-led Bounty survivors reached.

As would be expected, Hamilton pays careful attention to medical matters about the voyage. But his interest also runs to such trivia as the taste of native puddings, and the fact that on the back of a picture of Captain Cook owned by Tahitian King Ottoo it was customary for visiting navigators to record the arrival and departure of their ships.

The surgeon also intimates that he himself was not above succumbing to the feminine charms (and the resulting venereal disease) that surrounded him while at Tahiti. Some time after leaving the island, he records, "We now began to discover, that the ladies of Otaheite had left us with many warm tokens of their affection."

A faithful recorder of the many islands, reefs, shoals, sounds, capes, bays and mountains discovered after leaving Tahiti, Hamilton's precise observation that "A sandy key, four miles off, and about thirty paces long" from the sinking Pandora, gave present-day marine archaeologists the clues needed to find the deeply submerged wreckage of the ship.

This volume is filled with previously hidden information about Pandora's voyage and her place in the Bounty saga. Those wise enough to add it to their libraries will find themselves returning to it time and again to discover or rediscover the myriad facts Pandora's surgeon has told in a refreshingly light and humorous way about the ship, the crew, the island people, and the voyage to reach safety after the ship's destruction.

[Pandora Encyclopedia] [HMS Pandora]

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