MS Pandora was a 24-gun Porcupine-class sixth-rate post ship of the Royal Navy launched in May 1779. She is best known as the ship sent in 1790 to search for the Bounty and the mutineers who had taken her.
In early August 1790, 5 months after learning of the mutiny on HMS Bounty, the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, decided to despatch her to recover the Bounty, capture the mutineers, and return them to England for trial.
The Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791 via Cape Horn. Fourteen men from the Bounty were initially recovered. These fourteen men were locked up in a makeshift prison cell, measuring eleven-by-eighteen feet, on the Pandora's quarter-deck, which they called "Pandora's Box".
On 8 May 1791 the Pandora left Tahiti and subsequently spent three months visiting islands in the South-West Pacific in search of the Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without finding any traces of the pirated vessel. Heading west, making for the Torres Strait, the frigate ran aground on 29 August 1791 on the outer Great Barrier Reef. She sank the next morning, claiming the lives of 31 of her crew and four of the prisoners. The remainder of the ship's company (89 men) and ten prisoners – seven of them released from their cell as the ship was actually sinking – assembled on a small sand cay and after two nights on the island they sailed for Timor in four open boats, arriving in Kupang on 16 September 1791 after an arduous voyage across the Arafura Sea. Sixteen more died after surviving the wreck, many having fallen ill during their sojourn in Batavia (Jakarta). Eventually only 78 of the 134 men who had been on board upon departure returned home.
The location of the wreck of the Pandora was first pin-pointed in November 1977. he 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.