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


Surviving in the ship’s boats

The Pandora’s log (Adm. MS 180) also makes for interesting reading, especially on days when the officers -usually the captain- report on  ‘out of the ordinary’ events that were happening during the voyage. The ‘remarks’ for the two days following the wreck focus on the preparations for the open boat voyage to Timor.

Remarks on Tuesday 30th August 1791

Took an account of the provisions etc. saved out of the wreck and spread them to dry. There was about 350 lb of bread, a small cask of wine and a few bottles. Meat not sufficient to make a division for a day,  ? gallons of water, two canisters of portable soup, 1 keg of essence of malt. The island or rather key for it was only 32 yards across at high water and about double the distance in length, there was not a single tree, shrub or blade of grass upon it. Nor could we catch any fish, a few shell fish was all we could procure here. 

 Began to prepare our boats and make arrangements for our return to England. Put our people to the following allowance of provisions per day, 3 ounces of bread, two wine glasses of water and a glass of wine, ½ an ounce of essence of Malt, ½ an ounce of portable soup, but the last two articles were not issued until we left the island. We also saved 3 loaves of sugar, three bottles of tea, a few guava cakes and about 2 lb of chocolate and a keg of tripe. This was all we had to feed 99 men. A voyage of such considerable length in open boats before we could expect to get any material supply of provisions.

Remarks on Escape Island Wednesday 31st August 1791

Moderate and hazy weather – launched the two yawls and sent one to the wreck to see if anything could be procured from her. She returned with the head of one of the TG masts, part of the lightning chain and a little of the TG rigging, but not one article of provisions. The other boat was sent to examine more thoroughly the channel from the reef which she found sufficient for any ship. She was afterward sent fishing and unfortunately lost her grapnel and rope without catching any fish. Artificers were busily employed in fitting the boats, all of these 24 hours.

The boats were completed and launched, and everything we had saved was put onboard them and at ½ past 10 we embarked and steered NW by W. 29 men in the launch, 24 in the pinnace and 23 in each of the yawls – two men were put out of the blue yawl into the launch

Lat obs’d 10º 22’ S

Long ?

The open boat voyage to Kupang would take 17 days. For Lt. Thomas Hayward, the only so-called Bligh ‘loyalists’ from the Bounty’s launch assigned to the Pandora, this was the second time within as many years that he found himself in the same waters, in the same arduous circumstances, making a perilous open boat voyage to safety.