ABC radio interview

This is an edited version of the interview that was recorded a few days ago at the ABC Southbank studio in Brisbane. It was broadcast this morning in the program series  ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler‘.

You can listen to the interview or download the mp3 file.

92 intact skeletons from the Mary Rose

Bones of more than 170 individuals were recovered from the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose. 92 individuals are almost entirely intact.





The ‘La Belle’ skeleton

Another comparable shipwreck mystery is presented by the skeleton recovered from the ‘La Belle‘ in Matagorda Bay, Tx

Someone who would have known….

Someone who would have known the names of the two men who died during the night before the Pandora sank was George Hamilton, the surgeon, who published a book about his voyage in the Pandora. No names given, he just told us how they died. Unfortunately for us, he apparently did not think that level of detail was important enough to include in his account. However, quite a lot of information is recoverable regarding Hamilton:

Hamilton was 36 years old when he joined the Pandora from the half pay list; by warrant dd. 10 Aug. 1790. He appeared on 13 Aug. 1790 with a ‘servant’ named George Augustus Hamilton (probably a nephew) and received £29.4s.6d advance pay and £97.12s.8d in ‘neat wages’ on 17 Oct. 1792, when the crew was ‘paid off’. His nephew was discharged -together with all other officers’ servants- on 25 Oct 1790 by Admiralty order; to make room for the extra seamen on board who would be required to crew the Bounty after it had been captured.

Hamilton’s wife was Jane Hamilton, née Bowie, of St Gabriel’s parish, Fenchurch, London, whom he had married (“by licence”) when “in the 37th year of his age” on 31st August 1790 (several months prior to the Pandora’s departure for the South Seas!) in St Margaret’s Pattens, London. (Adm. 6/335)

Although he was also living in St Gabriel’s parish before he married, Hamilton published a voyage account (based on his voyage journal) in 1793 with Wm. Phorsons in Berwick-on-Tweed.(Hamilton, 1793) [Was this his p.o.b; was there a family connection with Phorsons (??)]  

19 December 1792: after the court martial of the Bounty mutineers he was warranted as the surgeon of H.M.S. Lowestoff,  5th Rate,  32 guns (Adm. 36/11515 & Adm.118/191).

NB:  HMS Lowestoff joined Admiral Hood’s Mediterranean fleet (1793-94).   Hood was aware that French republicans in Corsica were short of provisions and stores.  He decided to take more active measures than a blockade to prevent supplies being landed; a small squadron, including the Lowestoff was sent from Porto Ferrajo in Elba.  The squadron arrived at Mortella Bay in Corsica on 7th February 1794.  Troops were landed that evening; and on the following day a combined attack by land and sea was  made on Mortella tower;  the  Fortitude  (74)  and  Juno  (32) battering  it  for  two and  a  half  hours.   The assault was unsuccessful and the ships had to disengage; the Fortitude lost six killed and fifty-six wounded, having also been set on fire.  The fire from the British artillery on shore, however, eventually forced the tower to surrender. The next post attacked was the “Convention Redoubt”, which mounted twenty-one heavy guns, and was considered the key to the town of San Fiorenzo.  Seamen from the British squadron manhandled several 18-pounder  guns into  a  commanding  position  which  was considered inaccessible; but after a bombardment on 16th and  17th February,  the  French defenses on the redoubt were  successfully breached.   The French garrison retreated to San Fiorenzo, where a few days later they put to the torch La Fortunée and allowed La Minerve (38) to sink as a result of the damage she had suffered from British guns. In this action British losses were considered minimal (Clowes, 1899, IV: 243) However, surgeon Hamilton was probably among the casualties.

15 March 1794 – Listed as “sick”, Hamilton was discharged from the Lowestoff at Livorno (Leghorn, Italy) (Adm. 36/11515)

26 Apr 1794 – A letter from the Navy Board to the Admiralty records that George Hamilton of the Lowestoff had lost his left arm (Adm.12/63:99.1). He was repatriated during April. It is likely that Hamilton suffered this loss during the action against La Fortunée and La Minerve.

1 May 1794 – Hamilton was examined at Surgeon’s Hall, certified as having lost an arm and recommended for superannuation.

2 May 1794 – Hamilton was declared superannuated (Adm.118/191)

1794 – Hamilton is listed in the half-pay register following “discharge” from the Lowestoff (Adm.25/126:57)

1794 – July to December: George Hamilton, “superannuated surgeon of 3rd rate ship, £23.19s. 8d. for six months.”  His name appears in following superannuation lists in the same volume; up to December 1796.  (Adm.22/17:156)

Invalided out of the RN in 1794 having lost an arm while serving in the Mediterranean fleet,  off Corsica, in HMS Lowestoff; he received “superannuation” benefits until his death on 30 Sept 1797 (Adm.6/335/15)  Died in London, cf. Adm. 6/335/15 regarding Jane Hamilton, widow of George Hamilton (surgeon RN) 

George Hamilton ca. 1793


He was buried on 5 Oct. 1797 in St Luke’s (Chelsea) (London Metropolitan Archives, St Luke’s register of burials P74/LUK-255) His widow received a navy pension of £30 per annum from the charity fund “Relief of Poor Widows of Commissioned and Warrant officers of the Royal Navy” to which Hamilton had been contributing at a ratio of ‘thruppence per pound’ he earned. (Adm. 6/335)

Engraving of George Hamilton (frontispiece Hamilton, 1793)


Reference : Adm. 6/335/15   Description: f. 70. Jane Hamilton, widow of George Hamilton, surgeon Royal Navy who died 30 Sep 1797. Papers submitted to the Charity for the relief of Officers’ Widows. Date: 1797


A similar situation: mystery of 200+ year old Coldstream guardsman

The 200-year-old skeletal remains of a British soldier have been discovered in sand dunes in North Holland. A contemporary of the Pandora’s Tom, Dick & Harry.  

Who was he?  Archaeologists and historians have been finding out. >

Most likely Orcadians

Of the 8 Orcadians names in the Pandora’s muster, some are ‘more likely’ on historical / archaeological grounds to be Tom, Dick or Harry:

  •  Houston survived the voyage so he can immediately be eliminated;
  •  Murray and Scott died during other voyage events, so they are also ruled out;
  •  Croy, Eglington, Fea, Mackey and Miller are left as the primary candidates among the Orcadians who were part of the crew and died during the wreck;
  • Stewart (a prisoner, not-Pandora crew, not mentioned in the muster) should not be forgotten nor eliminated as he too died during the wrecking – but on historical and archaeological grounds it can be argued that it is less likely that he is one of T D or H because eyewitness accounts put him ‘in the water’ before the Pandora sank – i.e. he jumped off the ship and drowned after being hit on the head by a gangway that smashed down on him while he was swimming away from the sinking ship. Therefore it is likely that he ‘floated or drifted away’ to be consumed by the denizens of the deep (so to speak) whereas T D & H were found within the confines of the wreck remains.

Indeed I have always argued that two of the skeletons (Tom & Dick) were most probably the 2 men who –surgeon Hamilton says- died during accidents on board while the crew were trying to keep afloat the ship. They would probably have been taken below to be ‘buried at sea’ after the crew had saved the ship AND they may even have been sown into makeshift ‘body bags’ which would have protected the bodies somewhat; at least kept the bones together.

Harry’s location within the wreck makes him more of “a mystery” – although of course a hypothetical scenario can be posited to account for his apparent whereabouts (in the officers’ store) during the wrecking    (‘Harry the thief or Harry the confused, scared sailor’ or Harry the first casualty’)



William Miller of Buckland parish, Eday

A sheet inserted in the Pandora’s pay book (Adm 35/1360)

The Pandora‘s James Miller was likely from Eday; in 1793 his brother (or was it his father, uncle or cousin?) William was paid out more than five pounds of James’ ‘neat wages’.

Any Miller genealogists out there with a late 18th C William Miller from Buckland parish (Eday, Orkney) in their family tree? I would appreciate hearing from you.

NB: Buckland = Backaland ?



Dr Sheree Hughes-Stamm

Read about Dr Hughes-Stamm’s research  into teeth from the Pandora‘s Tom, Dick & Harry  She’s the Bond University scientist -now working in Texas- who managed to sequence DNA from the human remains recovered from the Pandora wreck during the late 1990s.

Another model on display in the Pandora Inn

There’s apparently another model (a different one) of the Pandora (frigate b t w !) on display in the Pandora Inn in Mylor (near Falmouth, Cornwall) I’ve sent a question in a comment to the Falmouth Packet enquiring where the ‘old one’  got to.

George Mackay Brown2

The story called ‘Lieutenant Bligh and two midshipmen’ is among a collection of short stories published in 1995 as ‘Winter Tales’.  This story is about William Bligh’s first meeting with the Stewart family during the visit to Stromness of Cook’s Resolution, when on the home stretch of its return journey from the South Pacific in 1780. Bligh was master of the Resolution, as such he was responsible for navigation.

George Mackay Brown sets the scene by stating that George Stewart had had ‘no active part’ in the mutiny in 1789 but returned to Tahiti in the Bounty, after Bligh had been cast adrift, because he wanted to be with his ‘native wife’ and his daughter, ‘little’ Peggy. But all that -Tahiti, ‘native women’, the Bounty mutiny etc. -lies in the future. The story is about what Bligh first saw in the then 14 year old George Stewart.

It depicts George’s father Alexander Stewart as an unctuous, fawning ‘gold sweater’ – a successful merchant who owns several ships and has business interests in Newcastle and as far afield as Gothenburg and other Baltic ports. Alexander is aware of his own ‘uncouth northern accent’ when speaking English but has high hopes for his educated son George, who has already proved himself on one of his father’s ships as a competent seaman, well skilled in the art of navigation.Bligh recognises this.

The story contrasts George with one of Bligh’s junior lieutenants (Briscoe) – a scion of gentry who owes his rank to several ‘fops’ in the Admiralty. Bligh is disappointed, although he initially suspected as much, that Briscoe would prove incapable of minding his manners and not drink too much during dinner at the Stewarts’ table. Briscoe is portrayed as a roguish philanderer who, given half a chance, would even seduce and have his rakish way with the 12 year old Miss Elizabeth Stewart; whom he flatters and teases as the evening unfolds. Bligh steps in and ends the evening, which for him would have been a complete wash-out, but for being put in a position to observe young Stewart’s ‘steadiness of purpose’. The young man reminds him of the youth he once had been; he sees ‘great promise’ in the lad who unwittingly reveals to him that he is desperate to heed the call of the sea, as if -like Admiral Nelson- he harbours a deep-seated psychological compulsion to toy with Death.

The story also touches on Peter Linklater, another Orcadian who was involved in the Bounty saga; who was recruited from Stromness by one of Bligh’s officers to replace one of the Resolution’s carpenter’s mates who had died on the voyage.