What became of the majority of the drowned men?

As the ship sank, rapid displacement of a massive volume of water would have created violent turbulence. The subsequent expulsion of trapped air and/or cargo combined with strong ocean currents in the area would have ensured the rapid removal of any bodies not securely trapped inside the ship's hull.

Pandora's surgeon, George Hamilton, mentions how rough the surface conditions were around the time of the sinking (Hamilton in Thompson 1915). Of the crewmen lost, it can be logically assumed that the majority would have drowned in open water before they could be picked up by the ship's boats. The vast majority of 18th-century seamen lacked the ability to swim; it has been suggested that the ability to swim was not encouraged because the sailors would work harder to save their ship (Coleman pers. comm.). Additionally, being unable to swim may have acted to deter any crewmen from 'deserting' whilst their ship was anchored in port.

In such conditions, exhaustion would have been a factor for anyone trying to swim, or even for those clinging to floating debris. Bounty mutineers Heywood and Morrison mention they were in the water for an hour-and-a-half before being picked up by one of the boats (Admiralty Records ML MS safe 1/33; Tagart 1835, 23-37). Four boats were used to rescue men from the water after Pandora sank, each probably with only a four-man crew (Coleman pers. comm.), and would themselves have been battling the conditions. Considering they were rowing around in circles attempting to rescue about 83 men scattered over a wide area, it is not surprising that it may have taken hours to recover some of the crew.

Therefore it could be suggested that the majority of the men lost in the wreck not only drowned, but did not remain in any proximity to the ship as it sank. Their bodies would have been dispersed over a wide area by ocean currents, during a relatively short period of time.


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Last updated: Thu Mar 28 2002