FORWARD TO FACSIMILE EDITION OF HAMILTON’S "VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD"
It seems very appropriate that the fourth volume in The Australian Maritime Series is this fascinating and delightful account by George Hamilton, the ship’s surgeon, of the voyage of the Pandora. Very appropriate not just because it takes forward one of the most famous stories in maritime history, the mutiny on the Bounty. But also because the book is full of so many wonderful and surprising observations about the voyage and Hamilton’s experiences; and full of references to people who played a role in Australia’s exploration and history: Bligh, Cook, Banks, Bougainville, Tasman and others.
This book is also of particular significance now that the wreck of the Pandora is one of the most important marine archeological sites in the Southern hemisphere. So the choice of Peter Gesner, Curator of Maritime Archeology at the Queensland Museum, to write the scholarly essay is equally appropriate. He has led the Pandora excavations and has already written widely on the subject. It is clear that Pandora will provide new insights into 18th century life and the role and interests of those who sailed on her, including Hamilton himself. And the support of the Pandora Foundation will enable many of the artifacts from Pandora to be displayed in a new wing of the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.
The book is a delight to read. Hamilton writes with a light touch, and brings to life some of the conditions on board with his turn of phrase. Right from the outset he conjures up the way the ship is overcrowded with stores: "like weevils we had to eat a hole in our bread before we had a place to lay down in." He takes a delight in describing food, drink, clothing. And there are some hilarious incidents—when an effort to pay tribute to the body of a local chief goes horribly wrong and his clothing is set on fire by the burning cartridge from a musket volley, thereby threatening the son’s inheritance; or when Hamilton fails to realise that when he is proclaimed a friend of another chief, he is supposed to sleep with his wife, finally repairing this with the comment "His Majesty’s service must be done."
The voyage of the Pandora is of course better known for its wrecking on the Barrier Reef and the arduous journey in open boats to Timor, as well as for the conditions the captured mutineers were kept in in ‘Pandora’s box’. Hamilton does not dwell much on the conditions faced by the mutineers—indeed, he sees a cage on the deck as being a positive advantage compared to the putrid conditions below deck—but he conveys vividly the fight for survival on the voyage to Timor with very little water and hostility from natives whenever they attempted to land to find provisions. It is an epic story of survival.
As British High Commissioner, there are a number of incidents in the book that brought me particular pleasure. I hope I won’t be accused of promoting too old-fashioned an image of Britain if I say I enjoyed Hamilton’s paean of praise to the benefits of drinking tea, for example! And his reaction at the shops in Timor made me feel how little things change:
"It was a pleasing and flattering sight to an Englishman, at this remotest corner of the globe, to see that Wedgewood’s stoneware … had found its way into the shops of Coupang."
So as someone who has a keen interest in the sea, both from a family connection with a 19th shipping line and from my personal interest in offshore sailing, I was delighted to be asked to write this forward. I congratulate Hordern House and the Australian National Maritime Museum on their choice of Hamilton’s book for the latest volume in a remarkable publishing venture.
|Home|Journal Index|Photo Index|Speech Index|