HMS Pandora (1779) - Wreck Site: Discovery and Archaeology

Wreck Site: Discovery and Archaeology

The location of the wreck of the Pandora was first pin-pointed in November 1977 by a RAAF P-2V Neptune which dropped a flare where it had detected the magnetic anomaly caused by the wreck; the wreck was subsequently sighted by a diver called Ron Bell, working with documentary filmmaker Ben Cropp. On that day under the radio guidance of Ben Cropp, searchers on the ground were initially unsuccessful in pinpointing the wreck at an expected location. Also on that day a second documentary filmmaker team, led by Steve Domm, joined the search. After the wreck site was located on the following day, it was immediately declared a protected site under the Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, Messrs.Cropp and Domm sharing the maximum reward payable under that legislation. It is located approximately 5 km north-west of Moulter Cay 11°23′S 143°59′E / 11.383°S 143.983°E / -11.383; 143.983Coordinates: 11°23′S 143°59′E / 11.383°S 143.983°E / -11.383; 143.983 on the outer Great Barrier Reef, approximately 140 km east of Cape York, on the edge of the Coral Sea.

The Queensland Museum has been excavating the wreck according to a research design. Archaeologists and historians at the Museum of Tropical Queensland are still gradually fitting together pieces of the Pandora story puzzle, using the archaeological evidence as well as the extant historical evidence. A large collection of artefacts is on display at the museum.

In the course of nine seasons of excavation during the 1980s and 1990s, the museum's marine archaeological teams established that approximately 30% of the hull is preserved as a more or less intact structure. The vessel came to rest at a depth of between 30 and 33 m on a gently sloping sandy bottom, slightly inclined to starboard; consequently more of the starboard side has been preserved than the port side of the hull. Approximately one third of the overburden in which the wreck is buried has been excavated by the Queensland Museum to date; it is estimated that the remainder to be excavated amounts to approximately 350 m³. This would probably require at least another ten full-blown seasons of excavation – assuming a similar methodology and level of technology is used as on previous museum expeditions. If an expedition were to be mounted from the 2008–09 summer – and subsequently at a rate of one excavation per summer (until 2017–18) – it is estimated that at least A$9.5 million would be required to complete ten seasons of fieldwork. Additional funds (approximately between $450,000 and $550,000 p/a) would also be required to provide for salaries of at least four additional full-time, 'back-of-house' professional contract positions at the museum, until at least 2020.

For strategic and financial reasons, there are no plans to continue excavation in the foreseeable future. However, if the Queensland Museum were to continue excavation, priority would be given to the area under the stern and to the bow section of the wreck; especially to the various petty officers' storerooms that were erected in the bow at platform deck level in vessels of the Pandora's design. In addition to exposing professional and personal items belonging to the ordinary sailors and to such crew members as the carpenter and the boatswain, the forward storerooms are expected to contain a range of extra spare stores and fittings which the Pandora was carrying in anticipation of the need to refit the Bounty after her recapture.

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