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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Edward Edwards

Edward Edwards

1790 to 1791

The return of William Bligh to England in 1790 with the news of the mutiny on the Bounty caused the Admiralty to send the frigate Pandora with 24 guns and 160 men under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, R.N., to search for the mutineers and bring them back to justice. Apparently, no regular journal of the voyage was kept by Edwards, and most of the information concerning it was derived from interim reports sent back by him to the Admiralty. However, George Hamilton, the surgeon on the Pandora, published an account of "A voyage round the world" which supplies some additional details.

The Pandora sailed from Jack-in-the-Basket on November 7, 1790, bound for the south seas via Cape Horn. It passed Easter Island on March 4, 1791, and a new atoll was discovered on March 16 which Edwards named Ducie Island after Lord Ducie. However, there is some suspicion that it is the Encarnacion of Quiros. Had Edwards continued west on this parallel of latitude, he should have found the most mutinous of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island only 300 miles away, but he turned northward. He thus missed discovering the Mangarevan Islands, but on March 16 he discovered an atoll to the north which he named Lord Hoods Island (Marutea). Two days later he discovered Tureia, which he named Carysfort Island. No other islands seem to have been encountered until they reached Meetia and anchored in Matavai Bay, Tahiti on March 23.

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Of the sixteen mutineers who had been left on Tahiti, two had been killed, four gave themselves up, and ten were captured without resistance. A great deal of grief was caused because the prisoners had wives and children from whom they were to be parted forever. A round house was built on the quarter deck of the ship to confine the fourteen chained and handcuffed prisoners. It was eleven feet in diameter, with an access opening in the roof, and was alluded to as "Pandora's Box."

The mutineers had built a fast schooner in Tahiti in which they hoped to escape in time of need. This, Edwards took over and equipped for use as a tender in his search. He put on a prize crew, consisting of midshipman Renouard, petty officer Oliver, and seven men.

The Pandora and her tender sailed from Tahiti on May 8 and, after passing Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Borabora, and Maurua, sailed to Aitutaki to search for the mutineers who had taken the Bounty. The Pandora sailed on to Palmerston Island and then to Duke of York Island (Atafu) in the Tokelaus which had been discovered by Byron in 1765. A few days later, on June 12, they discovered a new island which Edwards named Duke of Clarence Island (Nukunono). Edwards then sailed south and, on June 18, came to Savaii which he named Chatham Island, stating that the native name was Otewhy. He passed on to Upolu and gave the native name as "Oattooah." If the prefix O is left out, attooah is a good phonetic rendering of Atua, the eastern district of Upolu. The search was continued south to the Haapai group of the Tongan islands which Edwards termed the Happy Islands. The ship anchored at Annamooka (Nomuka) where a rendezvous had been arranged with the tender. Unfortunately, the tender, which had been attacked off the island of Upolu and was desirous of avoiding further attacks, had sailed on to the west. The Tongan high chiefs Fattahfahe (Fatafehi) and Toobou (Tubou) went as passengers on a visit to Tofua, but the inhabitants did not reveal the visit of the tender.

The wind was against a visit to Tongatabu, so Edwards turned north for another call at Upolu. He saw the Vavau group but did not call in. On July 14 he sighted the three Manua Islands of Eastern Samoa. The next day he came to a larger island, which he learned from the people in canoes was "Otootooillah." With the prefix O discarded, this is a perfect rendering of Tutuila. He ran along the south side of Upolu, and sailed for Vavau. Not knowing that Maurelle had discovered the group in 1780, he named it Howes Islands, and also gave names to a number of smaller islands in the vicinity. Edwards went south again, and this time he reached Eua and Tongatabu, on July 26. He left for Nomuka to find trace of the tender and, after getting a supply of wood and water, sailed north. He sighted the island of Niuafou and, ignorant that it was the Good Hope Island of Schouten, named it Probys Island. He passed on to Wallis Island (Uvea) and traded with the natives. page 41He bore west for the Santa Cruz Islands, and, on August 8, discovered Rotuma, which he named Grenville Island. He saw some other islands, one of which was a new discovery which he named Cherry Island (Anuda). He saw smoke on Pitt Island (Vanikoro); and had he called in, he should have rescued the survivors of La Perouse's expedition and solved the mystery which was not cleared up until thirty-six years later.

Edwards sighted New Guinea on August 23 but, in trying to find a passage through numerous reefs at night, he was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef on August 28. Through the humanity of a member of the crew, ten of the prisoners were freed of their shackles and saved. Four were drowned in their chains. Of the crew, eighty-nine were saved and thirty-one drowned.

The survivors of the crew and the ten mutineers were distributed among four boats which were launched on August 31. They set out for Timor, which they sighted on September 13, and landed at Coupang two days later. Edwards and his company were given transport by a Dutch ship, which later called in at Samarang. Here they found the tender had arrived and been detained because Oliver could produce no commission or papers. However, the tender and crew were handed over to Edwards. The tender was sold and the money used to buy clothes for the men. Edwards reached Batavia on November 7, where the crew and mutineers were sent back to Europe on three Dutch ships. Edwards transferred his own party to H.M.S. Gorgon at the Cape and arrived at Spithead on June 18, 1792. The ten mutineers were transferred to H.M.S. Hector two days later.

The court martial assembled on September 12 and four were acquitted after a five-day trial. Of the remaining six, three were later pardoned and the others were hanged on board the ship Brunswick in Portsmouth Harbor on October 29, 1792. Among those pardoned was the midshipman Heywood, the hero of the popular book "Mutiny on the Bounty" by Nordhoff and Hall. Heywood reentered the Navy, and when he retired in 1816, he was nearly at the head of the list of Captains.

Edwards gave a list of his discoveries including those which had been discovered previously. His actual discoveries in Polynesia consisted of Ducie, Lord Hood (Marutea), and Carysfort (Tureia) in the Tuamotus, and Duke of Clarence (Nukunono) in the Tokelaus. Outside of Polynesia, he discovered Rotuma and Cherry (Anuda) Islands, where the people have Polynesian affinities.