Hunt to find mutineers’ descendants in Orkney

The wreck of the HMS Pandora
The wreck of the HMS Pandora
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IT IS one of the greatest sea stories of all time and now investigators are travelling to Orkney in an attempt to trace relatives of those who died on the mission to capture the men responsible for the Mutiny on the Bounty.

At least seven Orcadians perished in the capture of the mutineers. In a new project, islanders with the same surname are being asked to volunteer their DNA to discover if three bodies that have been recovered from the ocean off Australia are those of the missing men from Orkney.

The mutiny happened aboard the British Royal Navy ship on 28 April 1789 – famously led by Fletcher Christian against commanding officer Lieutenant William Bligh.

One of the suspected ringleaders was George Stewart from Stromness. He was captured but died when the ship sent to bring him to justice struck part of the Great Barrier Reef. Also aboard HMS Pandora were fellow Orcadians William Croy, Robert Fea, James Gordon, Richard Mackay, James Miller and George Eglington, who all perished.

The skeletal remains of three bodies were recovered from the wreck of HMS Pandora between 1995 and 2000 – but remain unidentified.

However, a new breakthrough in DNA analysis made by an Australian PhD student has made it possible to sequence DNA from heavily waterlogged remains.

Now, Australian archaeologist Peter Gesner will deliver a talk on the subject at the Orkney International Science Festival on 12 September.

Physicist Mr Howie Firth, a director of the festival, said: “It is very possible that at least one of more of the remains that have been found are Orcadians.

“All the Orcadians lost in the tragedy match the age profile of the skeletons. Genealogy is the next step in the process – tracing the ancestors that are still here on Orkney. The three front runners are the Croys, the Mackays and the Millers because there are a good local pool of those names to work from.

“We want to find people with the right surnames still living on the island. The men from Orkney who died in the tragedy were all unmarried and are unlikely to have had children. But they may have had brothers and cousins.

“Once we have found the links, DNA tests can be carried out to make the link and identify those from the Pandora.”

The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, reaching Tahiti in March 1791.

These 14 were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck.

But Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. Six were the Orcadians.

Details of the project can be found at www.oisf.org