In early August 1790, 5 months
after learning of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, the
First Lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, decided to
dispatch Pandora to recover the Bounty and capture
the mutineers for trial. She was refitted with four
more 18-pounder carronades.
Pandora was commanded by
Captain Edward Edwards and manned by a crew of 134
men. Among the crew were Thomas Hayward, who had
been on the Bounty at the time of the mutiny, and
left with Bligh in the open boat, and John Brown,
who had been left on Tahiti by an English merchant
Unbeknown to Edwards, twelve
of the mutineers, along with four sailors who had
stayed loyal to Bligh, had by then already elected
to return to Tahiti. They were living in Tahiti as
'beachcombers', many of them having fathered
children with local women. Fletcher Christian's
group of mutineers and their Polynesian followers
had sailed off and eventually established their
settlement on then uncharted Pitcairn Island. By the
time of Pandora's arrival, fourteen of the former
Bounty men remained on Tahiti.
The Pandora reached Tahiti
on 23 March 1791 via Cape Horn. All fourteen
men either surrendered or captured. They were
locked up in a makeshift prison cell, measuring
eleven-by-eighteen feet, on the Pandora's
quarter-deck, which they called "Pandora's Box".
On 8 May 1791 the Pandora
left Tahiti and subsequently spent three months
visiting islands in the South-West Pacific in search
of the Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without
finding any traces of the pirated vessel.
During this part of the voyage fourteen crew went
missing in two of the ship's boats. In the
meantime the Pandora visited Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga
and Rotumah. They also passed Vanikoro Island, which
Edwards named Pitt's Island; but they did not stop
to explore the island and investigate obvious signs
of habitation. If they had done so, they
would very probably have discovered early evidence
of the fate of the French Pacific explorer La
Perouse's expedition which had disappeared in 1788.
From later accounts about their fate it is evident
that a substantial number of crew survived the
cyclone that wrecked their ships Astrolabe and
Boussole on Vanikoro's fringing reef.