Curator with gloves holding historic images. "Help Save Queensland's Stories 2024 Appeal" graphic overlay.

Digitising a shipwreck: HMS Pandora

Our 2024 Appeal aims to preserve and share more of our collections through digitisation. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and your donation will help save Queensland’s heritage for future generations.

Two scientists uploading images for digitisation

At Queensland Museum Tropics in Townsville, the team is working on digitising HMS Pandora collection. 

HMS Pandora was a 24-gun Royal Navy warship sent to the South Pacific to hunt down the infamous mutineers of HMS Bounty. After months at sea, Pandora hit the Great Barrier Reef and sank on 29th August 1791—35 men lost their lives. The wreck lay undetected for nearly 200 years until its discovery in 1977. 

Across nine Queensland Museum expeditions over many years, maritime archaeologists collected artefacts and information from the remote site 120 kilometres east of Cape York. Queensland Museum Tropics, Townsville, is home to the world’s largest collection of artefacts from the shipwreck, with more than 6,000 stored in archives.

Pandora exhibition, diver in the deep ocean discovering an artefact

Digitisation is not just about the story of Pandora itself. Thousands of underwater films, photographs, x-rays, hand-drawn maps and illustrations, dive logs, field journals and other unseen archive material could be digitised to tell the discovery, archaeologist's story, and reveal details about the excavation itself. While it is painstaking work to catalogue and convert hundreds of hours of archive material stored on outdated devices like cassette tapes and analogue slides, the digitised material will be invaluable for future archaeological research, continued care of the site, exhibitions and education resources.

Scientist digitising negatives of the HMS Pandora shipwreck

Senior Curator of Maritime Archaeology at Queensland Museum Tropics, Dr Maddy McAllister, is leading the project.

“HMS Pandora is Queensland’s oldest shipwreck and the best-preserved shipwreck ever to be found on the reef. After the last expedition to the wreck in 1999, the site has remained undisturbed leaving the ship itself and other invaluable artefacts to remain resting beneath the sand at a depth of 30m on the Great Barrier Reef.”

“Since the 1990s, archaeology and technology has made leaps and bounds, leaving behind the archaeological archive inaccessible in analogue format. This digital project is a huge endeavour – to transform 40 years of research into accessible online archives. No other shipwreck excavation and archive has successfully completed this in the world, we’re hoping to lead the way.”


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