The four mutineers lost

After Captain Edwards had consulted his officers and they all agreed that nothing more could be done to save the ship (Hamilton in Thompson 1915, 144), preparations were made to leave Pandora. Mutineers Coleman, Norman and McIntosh had already been released from their cell in order to help with the pumps. The bow of the ship was now underwater to the level of the mainmast where the pumps were located, rendering them useless. Edwards ordered that the remaining prisoners be released and brought on deck before Pandora sank (Hamilton in Thompson 1915, 144; Morrison 1935, 127; Tagart 1835, 23-37). Following Edward's order, ship's corporal Rodrick (who was lost with the ship) and Armourer's Mate Hodges entered the cell to remove the mutineers' irons. While the cover was off the entrance, the panic was such that Skinner was hauled out of the cell with his irons still on and mutineers Muspratt and Byrne, who had already slipped out of their irons in sheer terror, closely followed. Master at Arms, Grimwood, quickly slammed shut and barred the scuttle before an uncontrollable rush of prisoners spilled out onto the deck and to keep them where the armourer could work on their irons. Hodges, who was still in the cell, removed Morrison's and Stewart's manacles. Heywood and most of the others had managed to slip out of theirs, leaving only Burkitt and Hildebrant still in Pandora's Box in irons. Morrison begged Grimwood to leave the scuttle open, but Hodges had not finished removing their irons, and Grimwood answered 'never fear, my boys, we'll all go to Hell together' (Morrison 1935).

Edwards had been standing on top of the prison, with his officers and some other crew, watching the boats struggling to come closer in the rough conditions, and waiting until the last possible moment before they took their chances in the sea. One of the officers then told Edwards that the ship was about to go under, bade him farewell, and leaped off the quarterdeck into the water. He was followed by the captain and several others (Hamilton in Thomson 1915, 144). The remaining prisoners could see Edwards through the stern ports swimming away, and water was beginning to flow in through the cell's forward ports (Morrison 1935).

As Pandora rolled over to the port side, just moments prior to sinking, Boatswain's Mate Moulter scrambled into the roof of the cell, answering the mutineer's cries for help. At this point in time, the roof of the cell was the only part of the ship not yet underwater. He pulled out the bar securing the scuttle, allowing anyone inside to escape before he leapt into the sea to save himself (Morrison 1935). All remaining in the cell managed to get out except Hildebrant, who could not free himself of his irons. Morrison apparently had difficulty getting through the scuttle, and once out recalls seeing one of the large, buoyant, wooden gangways as it popped to the surface and fell back into the water with Muspratt clinging to it. It crashed down on the heads of several men, including Stewart and Sumner, sending their bodies under water (Morrison 1935). The top of the cell had detached and was seen floating off and on it were Heywood, Burkitt (who was still in irons), Coleman, and First Lieutenant Larkan.

By analysing these critical events around the time of Pandora's sinking, it is possible to eliminate all four of the lost mutineers from the likelihood of being trapped beneath Pandora's decks as she sank. This type of analysis can be crucial to the potential identification of the Pandora dead.

Richard Skinner was one of the first to be released from the cell and, as mentioned above, was in such a panic that he did not wait to have his irons removed (Morrison 1935). He was freed from Pandora's Box only brief moments before the ship sank. He may or may not have had time to rid himself of his manacles, considering that others had managed to do so. Skinner either jumped over the side into the water or was washed away as the ship sank. Keep in mind that, at the time Pandora struck the reef, it was a flood tide (Coleman pers. comm.), and whether he could swim in his irons or not, upon departing the ship's deck, currents would have swiftly carried him some distance away before his body could slowly sink 30m to the bottom where Pandora was laid to rest. Today, divers frequently keep one hand on a shot line attached to some part of the wreck as they descend from the surface, otherwise strong currents may cause them to miss the site. At best, Skinner may have been sucked down several metres by turbulent water as the ship plunged down; if so, his body would have still been carried away from the wreck within minutes. Pandora had two stabilising anchors out at the time and currents seemed to have had little or no effect on her as she sank, sending her almost straight down and narrowly missing the bow anchor (Coleman pers. comm.). Regardless of Skinner's fate, it is highly unlikely that his body resided below decks in Pandora's final resting place.

George Stewart and John Sumner were also released together from the cell in the moments prior to the sinking (Morrison 1935). They made it into the water and it is likely that both men had the ability to swim quite well after spending two years with the natives at Tahiti. Morrison makes mention of seeing a large wooden gangway come crashing down on the heads of several men in the water, Stewart and Sumner included (Morrison 1935). Thus we are left with a last eye-witness account indicating both men were in fact killed in the water, in Pandora's final moments. Morrison did not see Stewart and Sumner after that incident. Again, since they were not picked up by the searching boats, one can assume that their bodies met a similar fate to Skinner's, and that they were anywhere but trapped within the confines of the ship as it sank.

The fourth mutineer lost was Henry Hildebrant. He was the only prisoner left manacled in the cell when the ship sank. The top of Pandora's Box was seen floating in the water, and it was presumably near to the surface as men were soon clinging to it (Morrison 1935; Tagart 1835, 23-37). It would not have been simple for the roof of the cell to dislodge itself. First it had to free itself from the mizzen mast which was directly forward to it, the driver boom directly above and also the boom halliards directly aft (behind). The removal of the roof may have been facilitated by the fact that Pandora had taken a steep roll to the port side before she sank, helping the top of the cell to slide off to one side of the ship. Since Hildebrant remained chained inside the cell, depending on which side of the cell he was located, it is possible the port side roll of Pandora made the water in the cell deep enough to have drowned him. Considering he would have been in extreme terror, with no way to save himself, whether he drowned then, or shortly after when the ship was completely submerged, he probably died in less than two minutes. The cell itself was constructed hurriedly at Tahiti, and probably lacked some structural integrity; we also know that the cell suffered damage before the ship sank. It is little wonder that it did not survive. Assuming Hildebrant went down inside the cell with Pandora, and because the cell's roof was no longer in place, his body would have been directly exposed to the ocean. It is highly likely that he was dismembered and scattered by large reef scavengers such as sharks (very common in the area) within a short period of time. Unless immediately protected by burial, and left undisturbed, any skeletal elements from his body would have been broken down by the taphonomic effects of the ocean, leaving no further evidence.


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Last updated: Thu Mar 28 2002