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The Sword in the Store – A real Pandora’s Box story

User AvatarPosted by Penelope Lovesy at 07/09/2020 14:23:57

Some time ago, while updating object locations on our Collections Management System, I found a box of swords, as you do. Inside was a sword labelled ‘sword of Edward Edwards’. I know right! How did Poole Museum get its hands on that? Surely this was a mistake, and, you’ll be surprised to hear, mistakes do occur in the hallowed halls of museums. And so, a fascinating quest for more information began.

I should probably rewind a little and explain a bit about why this discovery was so interesting. Captain Edward Edwards was the Royal Naval commander tasked with hunting down the mutineers from the infamous HMS Bounty and, as far as I know, not related to this handsome Collections Officer… At the time, Captain Edward Edwards was commander of the naval frigate HMS Pandora and he and his crew made the long journey to the south Pacific in search of those who seized control of the Bounty from its captain,  Lieutenant Bligh. Before taking command of HMS Pandora, Edwards served aboard ten other Royal Navy vessels, including captaining HMS Narcissus, itself the victim of a mutiny. Six of the crew were hanged and an additional fourteen were severely flogged for their actions. It is perhaps astonishing then that Edward Edwards was tasked with hunting down further mutineers on the other side of the world. Now this must have come as a huge relief to Edward Edwards to be back in command of ship, as he had been stuck on half pay for six years following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War.

It will not come as a shock to hear that things didn’t exactly go to plan. With the help of Thomas Haywood, a loyalist Bounty crewman, HMS Pandora made it across vast oceans and collected four other loyalists who were unable to travel home and ten mutineers. Disaster struck when HMS Pandora was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Four mutineers and 31 of the Pandora’s crew perished during the incident, and only 78 of the initial 138 crew returned with the surviving mutineers.

The Royal Navy didn’t look kindly on Edwards and he faced court-martialled for the destruction of HMS Pandora. Lucky luck must have been smiling that day; all his officers supported his testimony that the ship was lost as a result of an uncontrollable situation. The crew were exonerated, and Edward Edwards continued to have a gleaming career, even reaching the heights of Admiral of the White; the third highest post in the Royal Navy.


So how did the sword find its way into Poole Museum’s collection? This tale is just as fascinating as the life of the sword’s former owner. The ivory handled, George III era spadroon wasn’t alone and part of larger offer of donation.

Back in the 1970s, a Poole resident, and descendant of Admiral Edward Edwards, offered Poole Museum several personal items belonging to her ancestor. Amongst the effects were Edward’s invitation to Nelson’s funeral, a sea chest and signal book. She was intending to donate the collection to the National Maritime Museum but was willing to loan some items and donate others to Poole Museum on one condition; Poole Museum created a model of HMS Pandora.

It just so happened that at the time the Poole Maritime Museum had amongst its staff an incredibly talented model boat maker and I’m certain many of you will remember Ron Burt fondly. The museum has many of his creations in our collection and he won many awards for his work. Ron worked for over 1600 hours making the ship, half of which was spent on the rigging alone! He worked in a workshop on the ground floor and visitors were able to watch the genius at work.

There was a special unveiling ceremony and the personal items of Edward Edwards were put on display. As previously mentioned, some of these items were donated to the Maritime Museum, which became part of what we now know as Poole Museum.

Pictured above are the George III spadroon, naval signal book, buttons and sea chest that once belonged to Admiral Edward Edwards of the Royal Navy.

Now where did I put that family tree?

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