Great barrier grief 

HMS Pandora with the captured Bounty mutineers on board came to grief on Great Barrier Reef, but they rescued the ship’s cat from the sinking ship. It’s gripping shipping news says Able Sea-cat Bart, story curator of seafaring felines, the sailors’ pest controllers, shipmates, mascots and pets.  

Pandora shipwrecked

Morning now dawned, and the sun shone out. A sandy key, four miles off, and about thirty paces long, afforded us a resting place; and when all the boats arrived, we mustered our remains, and found that thirty-five men [including] four prisoners were drowned.
Mr George Passmore retrieving the cat from the wreck of the Pandora in a row boat.Ships cats and seafaring felines were at a distinct disadvantage in times of shipwreck.
After we had a little recovered our strength, the first care was to haul up the boats. A guard was placed over the prisoners. Providentially a small barrel of water, a keg of wine, some biscuit, and a few muskets and cartouch boxes, had been thrown into the boat. The heat of the sun, and the reflection from the sand, was now excruciating; and our stomachs being filled with salt water, from the great length of time we were swimming before we were picked up, rendered our thirst most intolerable; and no water was allowed to be served out the first day. By a calculation which we made, by filling the compass boxes, and every utensil we had, we could admit an allowance of two small wine glasses of water a-day to each man for sixteen days.

A saw and hammer had fortunately been in one of the boats, which enabled us, with the greater expedition, to make preparations for our voyage, by repairing one of the boats, which was in a very bad state, and cutting up the floor-boards of all the boats into uprights, round which we stretched canvas, to keep the water from breaking into the boats at sea. We made tents of the boats’ sails; and when it was dark, we set the watch, and went to sleep. In the night we were disturbed by the irregular behaviour of one Connell, which led us to suspect he had stolen our wine, and got drunk; but, on further inquiry, we found that the excruciating torture he suffered from thirst led him to drink salt water; by which means he went mad, and died in the sequel of the voyage.

Next morning Mr. George Passmore, the master, was dispatched in one of the boats to visit the wreck, to see if anything floated round her that might be useful to us in our present distressed state. He returned in two hours, and brought with him a cat, which he found clinging to the top-gallant-mast-head; a piece of the top-gallant-mast, which he cut away; and about fifteen feet of the lightning chain; which being copper, we cut up, and converted into nails for fitting out the boats. Some of the gigantic cockle was boiled, and cut into junks, lest anyone should be inclined to eat. But our thirst was too excessive to bear anything which would increase it. This evening a wine glass of water was served to each man. A paper-parcel of tea having been thrown into the boat, the officers joined all their allowance, and had tea in the Captain’s tent with him. When it was boiled, every one took a salt-cellar spoonful, and passed it to his neighbour; by which means we moistened our mouths by slow degrees, and received much refreshment from it. 

Cartouch boxes
Boxes for cartridges.
CREDIT George Hamilton, Voyage of HMS ‘Pandora’: Despatched to Arrest the Mutineers of the ‘Bounty’ in the South Seas, 1790–1791. Pandora captured 14 of the 25 mutineers in Tahiti. On the return voyage in 1791, she was hulled on Great Barrier Reef, sinking 120 km east of Cape York. The survivors, 89 crew and 10 prisoners, made for a tiny sand cay about 4 km away in four open boats. The wreck was located in November 1977. Contact the Museum of Tropical Queensland for more information about the Pandora (one of the most significant shipwrecks in the Southern Hemisphere) and other historic shipwrecks in the Great Barrier Marine Park.

Thirst for adventure

My take on thisLapping and mapping the world was a perilous business. No occupational health and safety regs. Not much in the way of navigational aids. And the possibility of shipwreck and dying of thirst. The ancient mariner nailed it: “water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Open any seafarer’s journal and you’ll find the moment they find a shore to step on, they hot foot it to find fresh water. I’m luckier in the thirst department. A juicy mouse or three will generally wet my whistle and keep my fluids up because we felines have very efficient kidneys. But my shipmates need fresh drinking water. These days it comes on tap or in a plastic bottle. It wasn’t like that on the old sailing ships. The day’s water (which wasn’t very fresh unless it had rained) was in the scuttlebutt (scuttled-butt) – a barrel with a covered hole. Think of it as a water cooler without the cooler. And just as today’s office workers like to loiter around the cooler, sailors would have a bit of a natter around the scuttlebutt, which explains how it became slang for rumour or gossip. 


Claiming Australia

Pandora wasn’t the first ship to come to grief on the Reef. Twenty-one years earlier on 11 June 1770, HMS Endeavour ran aground and was holed by a large piece of coral. If all lives had been lost that day it might have changed the course of Australian history. But none were. Captain James Cook refloated her, beached her for repairs (removing the large piece of coral stuck in a hole that had prevented water “forceing its way in in great quantities”), then with two boats taking soundings ahead, nudged her through islands and shoals up the eastern coast to the northern-most point naming it Cape York and claiming the whole of the eastern coast of New Holland for the British Crown on 22 August 1770, having (he writes in his journal) “satisfied myself of the great Probability of a passage, thro’ which I intend going with the Ship, and therefore may land no more upon this Eastern coast of New Holland, and on the Western side I can make no new discovery, the honour of which belongs to the Dutch Navigators, but the Eastern Coast from the latitude of 38 degrees South down to this place, I am confident, was never seen or Visited by any European before us; and notwithstanding I had in the Name of his Majesty taken possession of several places upon this Coast, I now once More hoisted English Colours, and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern coast from the above latitude down to this place by the Name of New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours, Rivers, and Islands, situated upon the said Coast; after which we fired 3 Volleys of small Arms, which were answer’d by the like number from the Ship.”

Cook observes that as far as he could tell the country produced nothing that “can become an Article in trade to invite Europeans to fix a settlement upon it.” Less than 20 years later, New South Wales was a penal colony. On 24 January 1788, after a voyage of three months, the First Fleet of 11 ships dropped anchor in Botany Bay with more than 1480 men, women and children on board, along with provisions, livestock and kittens. The fleet relocated to Port Jackson and European Australia was officially established in a brief ceremony at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. And as Annabel Crabb says: “a perfectly innocent and sparsely distributed population of nomads minding its own business was violently displaced by a bunch of criminals brought here against their will by British authorities in creaky and pestilential boats to live in even worse conditions in an environment utterly foreign to them.”