Sunday, July 14, 2013

'Bounty' Food Pounder

At the end of last year we reported that to celebrate the Museums 25th birthday this year we had secured the loan of a penu, or food pounder, from the Museum of Tropical Queensland and it is currently displayed in the Pier Store Museum. The connection between this late 18th Century object and Norfolk Island lies in the story of the ‘other’ Bounty mutineers who decided to stay in Tahiti when Christian and his crew sailed off to eventually find Pitcairn Island.

 Those fourteen mutineers were captured in Tahiti after Captain Edward had been sent by the British Admiralty to find the Bounty ‘pirates’ and bring them home for trial and punishment.  Sailing on the Pandora, Captain Edwards arrived at Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Within twenty-four hours eight of the mutineers had given themselves up leaving another six men at large (another two had been killed earlier in a feud). Armed parties were sent out to hunt them down and in a matter of days they were found.

On board the Pandora the mutineers were placed under arrest and shut in a specially built wooden box on the deck, measuring 11 by 18 feet (3.3 x 5.4 metres) and known as Pandora’s Box. This was unusually harsh treatment of prisoners at sea but Captain Edwards had a reputation amongst naval officers for brutality. On the return voyage to England the Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Thirty four men drowned including four mutineers, one of whom was unable to escape from the wooden box.

The pounder was recovered from the wreck site of the Pandora and is thought to have been confiscated from either of the mutineers Peter Heywood or George Stewart. Stewart was one of those drowned in the wrecking. All the survivors finally reached Timor in open boats, ironically following the route taken by Bligh in the longboats. When they arrived back in England the mutineers were imprisoned to await trial. Four were pardoned following written evidence by Bligh that they only remained on board the Bounty because there was no more room in the longboat. The remaining six were sentenced to death. Of them, Peter Haywood and William Morrison were pardoned and William Musprat was released on a technicality. Finally three Bounty mutineers, Thomas Ellison, Thomas Burkitt and John Millwood, were executed by hanging in October 1792.

In Tahiti the pounder is known as a ‘penu’, or in English a ‘pestle’.  It was used to mash taro which is cooked and then fermented to become a starchy food staple called ‘poi’. It was also used to pound breadfruit and bananas. Now this beautiful object provides a link between our islands mutineer forefathers and those others on board the Bounty at the time of the mutiny. It is displayed at the Pier Store and looks across the Bounty cannon to the display panel on the Pandora’s voyage – if only it could speak! The pounder is on display until the end of the year; make sure you don’t miss seeing it.

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