Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dead Man Secrets

When I met Peter Gesner at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival a few years back, we discovered mutual interests related to William Bligh & the island of St Vincent, where my Young forebears pioneered British settlement in the mid-18th century.

Bligh’s first attempt to fulfil his official mission of collecting the breadfruit tree from its Pacific habitat and transporting specimens to St Vincent (and other places) was thwarted by the famous mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.

Bligh’s second attempt was more successful and my forebear Dr George Young, the first curator of the new Botanic Garden on St Vincent in 1765, was present when Bligh reached St Vincent in January 1793, delivering his precious cargo.

Meanwhile, the British government had sent the Royal Navy frigate Pandora from England to find the Bounty and its mutineers. On its return voyage to England, with some of the mutineers aboard, Pandora foundered on a reef off the Queensland coast in 1791, with the loss of 35 lives.

Two hundred years later, three skeletons were recovered from Pandora’s wreck. They were quickly given the names Tom, Dick and Harry.

But who were Tom, Dick and Harry? This is the 64-million-dollar question for a marine archaeologist like Peter, who’s seeking to identify them by means of a reverse genealogical project.

Data for most of the dead men is very sparse - the Pandora's clerk generally did not bother to record ages & birthplaces (note the empty columns in the photo supplied by Peter Gesner). So how does one decide which of the numerous men bearing the same names as the Pandora's 35 victims and born in the UK during the relevant time frame was actually a Pandora crewman?

Limited 'vital data' has survived for eight crew members, so Peter has identified them as the best place to start the identification process. Peter is searching for any living descendants of these eight men. If your surname is Bowler, Cullimore, Croy, Eglington, Fea, Mackey, Millar or Stewart and you can trace your male forebears with this name in a direct line back to a presence in London or the Orkney Islands in the 1780s, Peter would love to hear from you. It’s all explained on his website Dead Man Secrets.