The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders
Ernest Scott

Part 3 out of 8

be taken by storm. Bass's success, as Flinders wrote, "was not
commensurate to the perseverance and labour employed." After fifteen days
of effort, the baffled adventurers confessed themselves beaten, and,
their provisions being exhausted, returned to Sydney.

They had pushed research further than any previous explorers had done,
and had marked down the course of the river Grose as a practical result
of their work. But Bass now believed the mountains to be hopeless; and,
indeed, George Caley, a botanical collector employed by Sir Joseph Banks,
having seven years later made another attempt and met with repulse, did
not hesitate to tell a committee of the House of Commons, which summoned
him to appear as a witness, that the range was impassable. It seemed that
Nature had tumbled down an impenetrable bewilderment of rock, the
hillsides cracking into deep, dark crevices, and the crests of the
mountains showing behind and beyond a massed confusion of crags and
hollows, trackless and untraversable. Governor King declared himself
satisfied that the effort to cross the range was a task "as chimerical as
useless," an opinion strengthened by the fact that, as Allan Cunningham
had related,* the aboriginals known to the settlement were "totally
ignorant of any pass to the interior." (* On "Progress of Interior
Discovery in New South Wales," Journal of the Royal Geographical Society
1832 Volume 2 99.)

It was not, indeed, till 1813 that Gregory Blaxland, with Lieutenant
Lawson and William Charles Wentworth (then a youth), as companions,
succeeded in solving the problem. The story of their steady, persistent,
and desperate struggle being beyond the scope of this biography, it is
sufficient to say that after fifteen days of severe labour, applied with
rare intelligence and bushcraft, they saw beneath them waving
grass-country watered by clear streams, and knew that they had found a
path to the interior of the new continent.

Bass's eagerness to explore soon found other scope. In 1797, report was
brought to Sydney by shipwrecked mariners that, in traversing the coast,
they had seen coal. He at once set off to investigate. At the place now
called Coalcliff, about twenty miles south of Botany Bay, he found a vein
of coal about twenty feet above the surface of the sea. It was six or
seven feet thick, and dipped to the southward until it became level with
the sea, "and there the lowest rock you can see when the surf retires is
all coal." It was a discovery of first-class importance--the first
considerable find of a mineral that has yielded incalculable wealth to
Australia.* (* It is well to remember that the use of coal was discovered
in England in very much the same way. Mr. Salzmann, English Industries of
the Middle Ages, 1913 page 3, observes that "it is most probable that the
first coal used was washed up by the sea, and such as could be quarried
from the face of the cliffs where the seams were exposed by the action of
the waves." He quotes a sixteenth century account relative to Durham: "As
the tide comes in it bringeth a small wash sea coal, which is employed to
the making of salt and the fuel of the poor fisher towns adjoining."
Hence, originally, coal in England was commonly called sea-coal even when
obtained inland.) He made this useful piece of investigation in August;
and in the following month undertook a journey on foot, in company with
Williamson, the acting commissary, from Sydney to the Cowpastures,
crossing and re-crossing the River Nepean, and thence descending to the
sea a few miles south of his old resting place, Watta-Mowlee. His map and
notes are full of evidence of his careful observation. "Tolerably good
level ground," "good pastures," "mountainous brushy land," and so forth,
are remarks scored across his track line. But these were pastimes in
comparison with the enterprise that was now occupying his mind, and upon
which his fame chiefly rests.

Hunter's despatch to the Duke of Portland, dated March 1st, 1798,
explains the circumstances of the expedition leading to the discovery of
Bass Strait: "The tedious repairs which His Majesty's ship Reliance
necessarily required before she could be put in a condition for going
again to sea, having given an opportunity to Mr. George Bass, her
surgeon, a young man of a well-informed mind and an active disposition,
to offer himself to be employed in any way in which he could contribute
to the benefit of the public service, I enquired of him in what way he
was desirous of exerting himself, and he informed me nothing would
gratify him more effectually than my allowing him the use of a good boat
and permitting him to man her with volunteers from the King's ships. I
accordingly furnished him with an excellent whaleboat, well fitted,
victualled, and manned to his wish, for the purpose of examining the
coast to the southward of this port, as far as he could with safety and
convenience go."

It is clear from this despatch that the impulse was Bass's own, and that
the Governor merely supplied the boat, provisioned it, and permitted him
to select his own crew. Hunter gave Bass full credit for what he did, and
himself applied the name to the Strait when its existence had been
demonstrated. It is, however, but just to Hunter to observe, that he had
eight years before printed the opinion that there was either a strait or
a deep gulf between Van Diemen's Land and New Holland. In his Historical
Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (London,
1793), he gave an account of the voyage of the Sirius, in 1789, from Port
Jackson to the Cape of Good Hope to purchase provisions. In telling the
story of the return voyage he wrote (page 125):

"In passing at a distance from the coast between the islands of Schooten
and Furneaux and Point Hicks, the former being the northernmost of
Captain Furneaux's observations here, and the latter the southernmost
part which Captain Cook saw when he sailed along the coast, there has
been no land seen, and from our having felt an easterly set of current
and when the wind was from that quarter (north-west), we had an uncommon
large sea, there is reason to believe that there is in that space either
a very deep gulf or a strait, which may separate Van Diemen's Land from
New Holland. There have no discoveries been made on the western side of
this land in the parallel I allude to, between 39 and 42 degrees south,
the land there having never been seen."

Hunter was, therefore, quite justified, in his despatch, in pointing out
that he had "long conjectured" the existence of the Strait. He seems, not
unwarrantably, to have been anxious that his own share in the
discoveries, as foreseeing them and encouraging the efforts that led to
them, should not be overlooked. The Naval Chronicle of the time mentioned
the subject, and returned to it more than once.* (* See Naval Chronicle
Volume 4 159 (1800); Volume 6 349 (1801); Volume 15 62 (1806), etc.) But
if we may suppose Hunter to have inspired some of these allusions, it
must be added that they are scrupulously fair, and claimed no more for
him than he was entitled to have remembered. Bass's work is in every
instance properly appreciated; and in one article (Naval Chronicle 15 62)
he is characterised, probably through Hunter's instrumentality--the
language is very like that used in the official despatch--as "a man of
considerable enterprise and ingenuity, a strong and comprehensive mind
with the advantage of a vigorous body and healthy constitution." The boat
was 28 feet 7 inches long, head and stern alike, fitted to row eight
oars, with banksia timbers and cedar planking.

One error relating to this justly celebrated voyage needs to be
corrected, especially as currency has been given to it in a standard
historical work. It is not true that Bass undertook his cruise "in a
sailing boat with a crew of five convicts.* (* The Royal Navy: a History
Volume 4 567.) His men were all British sailors. Hunter's despatch
indicates that Bass asked to be allowed to man his boat "with volunteers
from the King's ships," and that she was "manned to his wish," and
Flinders, in his narrative of the voyage, stated that his friend was
"furnished with a fine whaleboat, and six weeks' provisions by the
Governor, and a crew of six seamen from the ships."

It is, indeed, much to be regretted that, with one exception to be
mentioned in a later chapter, the names of the seamen who participated in
this remarkable cruise have not been preserved. Bass had no occasion in
his diary to mention any man by name, but it is quite evident that they
were a daring, enduring, well-matched and thoroughly loyal band, facing
the big waters in their small craft with heroic resolution, and never
failing to respond when their chief gave a lead. When, after braving foul
weather, and with food supplies running low, the boat was at length
turned homeward, Bass writes "we did it reluctantly," coupling his
willing little company with himself in regrets that discovery could not
be pushed farther than they had been able to pursue it. Throughout his
diary he writes in the first person plural, and he records no instance of
complaint of the hardships endured or of quailing before the dangers

It is likely enough that the six British sailors who manned Bass's boat
had very little perception that they were engaged upon a task that would
shine in history. An energetic ship's surgeon whom everybody liked had
called for volunteers in an affair requiring stout arms and hearts. He
got them, they followed him, did their job, and returned to routine duty.
They did not receive any extra pay, or promotion, or official
recognition. Neither did Bass, beyond Hunter's commendation in a
despatch. He wrote up his modest little diary, a terse record of
observations and occurrences, and got ready for the next adventure.

We will follow him on this one.

On the evening of Sunday, December 3, 1797, at six o'clock, Bass's men
rowed out of Port Jackson heads and turned south. The night was spent in
Little Bay, three miles north of Botany Bay, as Bass did not deem it
prudent to proceed further in the darkness, the weather having become
cloudy and uncertain, and things not having yet found their proper place
in the boat. Nor was very much progress made on the 4th, for a violent
wind was encountered, which caused Bass to make for Port Hacking. On the
following day, "the wind headed in flurries," and the boat did not get
further than Providential Cove, or Watta-mowley, where the Tom Thumb had
taken refuge in the previous year. On the 7th, Bass reached Shoalhaven,
which he named. He remained there three days, and described the soil and
situation with some care. "The country around it is generally low and
swampy and the soil for the most part is rich and good, but seemingly
much subject to extensive inundation." One sentence of comment reads
curiously now that the district is linked up by railway with Sydney, and
exports its butter and other produce to the markets of Europe. "However
capable much of the soil of this country might upon a more accurate
investigation be found to be of agricultural improvement, certain it is
that the difficulty of shipping off the produce must ever remain a bar to
its colonisation. A nursery of cattle might perhaps be carried on here
with advantage, and that sort of produce ships off itself." Bass, a
farmer's son, reared in an agricultural centre, was a capable judge of
good country, but of course there was nothing when he saw these rich
lands to foretell an era of railways and refrigerating machinery.

On December 10th the boat entered Jervis Bay, and on the 18th Bass
discovered Barmouth Creek (probably the mouth of the Bega River), "the
prettiest little model of a harbour we had ever seen." Were it not for
the shallowness of the bar, he considered that the opening would be "a
complete harbour for small craft;" but as things were, "a small boat even
must watch her times for going in." On the 19th, at seven o'clock in the
morning, Twofold Bay was discovered. Bass sailed round it, made a sketch
of it, and put to sea again, thinking it better to leave the place for
further examination on the return voyage, and to take advantage of the
fair wind for the southward course. He considered the nautical advantages
of the harbour--to become in later years a rather important centre for
whaling--superior to those of any other anchorage entered during the
voyage. A landmark was indicated by him with a quaint touch: "It may be
known by a red point on the south side, of the peculiar bluish hue of a
drunkard's nose." On the following day at about eleven o'clock in the
morning he rounded Cape Howe, and commenced his westerly run. He was now
nearing a totally new stretch of coast.

From the 22nd to the 30th bad weather was experienced. A gale blew
south-west by west, full in their teeth. The situation must have been
uncomfortable in the extreme, for the boat was now entering the Strait.
The heavy seas that roll under the lash of a south-west gale in that
quarter do not make for the felicity of those who face them on a
well-found modern steamer. For the seven Englishmen in an open boat,
groping along a strange coast, the ordeal was severe. But no doubt they
wished each other a merry Christmas, in quite the traditional English
way, and with hearty good feeling, on the 25th.

On the last day of the year, in more moderate weather, the boat was
coasting the Ninety Mile Beach, behind the sandy fringe of which lay the
fat pastures of eastern Gippsland. The country did not look very
promising to Bass from the sea, and he minuted his impressions in a few
words: "low beaches at the bottom of heights of no great depth, lying
between rocky projecting points; in the back lay some short ridges of
lumpy irregular hills at a little distance from the sea."

Nowhere in his diary did Bass seize upon any picturesque features of
scenery, though they are not lacking in the region that he traversed. If
he was moved by a sense of the oppressiveness of vast, silent solitudes,
or by any sensation of strangeness at feeling his way along a coast
hitherto unexplored, the emotion finds scarcely any reflection in his
record. Hard facts, dates, times, positions, and curt memoranda, were the
sole concern of the diarist. He did not even mention a pathetic, almost
tragic, incident of the voyage, to which reference will presently be
made. It did not concern the actual exploratory part of his work, and so
he passed it by. The one note signifying an appreciation of the
singularity of the position is conveyed in the terse words: "Sunday 31st,
a.m. Daylight, got out and steered along to the southward, in anxious
expectation, being now nearly come upon an hitherto unknown part of the

But men are emotional beings after all, and an entry for "January 1st,
1798" (really the evening of December 31), bare of the human touch as it
is, brings the situation of Bass and his crew vividly before the eye of
the reader. The dramatic force of it must have been keenly realised by
them. At night there was "bright moonlight, the sky without a cloud." A
new year was dawning. The seven Englishmen tossing on the waves in this
solitary part of the globe would not fail to remember that. They were
near enough to the land to see it distinctly; it was "still low and
level." A flood of soft light lay upon it, and rippled silvery over the
sea. They would hear the wash of the rollers that climb that bevelled
shore, and pile upon the water-line creaming leagues of phosphorescent
foam. And at the back lay a land of mystery, almost as tenantless as the
moon herself, but to be the future home of prosperous thousands of the
same race as the men in the whaleboat. To them it was a country of weird
forms, strange animals, and untutored savages. If ever boat breasted the
"foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn," it was this, and if ever
its occupants realised the complete strangeness of their situation and
their utter aloofness from the tracks of their fellowmen, it must have
been on this cloudless moonlit summer night. There was hardly a stretch
of the world's waters, at all events in any habitable zone, where they
could have been farther away from all that they remembered with affection
and hoped to see again. About half an hour before midnight a haze dimmed
the distinctness of the shore, and at midnight it had thickened so that
they could scarcely see land at all. But they crept along in their
course, "vast flights of petrels and other birds flying about us," the
watch peering into the mist, the rest wrapped in their blankets sleeping,
while the stars shone down on them from a brilliant steel-blue sky, and
the Cross wheeled high above the southern horizon.

Cook, on his Endeavour voyage in 1770, first sighted the Australian coast
at Point Hicks, called Cape Everard on many current maps. His second
officer, Lieutenant Zachary Hicks, at six in the morning of April 20,
"saw ye land making high," and Cook "named it Point Hicks because
Lieutenant Hicks was the first who discovered this land." Point Hicks is
a projection which falls away landward from a peak, backed by a sandy
conical hill, but Bass passed it without observing it. The thick haze
which he mentions may have obscured the outline. At all events, by dusk
on January 1st he found that he had filled up the hitherto unexplored
space between Point Hicks "a point we could not at all distinguish from
the rest of the beach," and the high hummocky land further west, which he
believed to be that sighted by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773. It is,
however, to be observed that Flinders pointed out that all Bass's
reckonings after December 31st were ten miles out. "It is no matter of
surprise," wrote his friend indicating an error, "if observations taken
from an open boat in a high sea should differ ten miles from the truth;
but I judge that Mr. Bass's quadrant must have received some injury
during the night of the 31st, for a similar error appears to pervade all
the future observations, even those taken under favourable
circumstances." The missing of Point Hicks, therefore, apart from the
thick haze, is not difficult to understand.

On Tuesday, January 2nd, Bass reached the most southerly point in the
continent of Australia, the extremity of Wilson's Promontory. The bold
outlines were sighted at seven o'clock in the morning. "We were surprised
by the sight of high hummocky land right ahead, and at a considerable
distance." Bass called it Furneaux Land in his diary, in the belief that
a portion of the great granite peninsula had been seen by the captain of
the Adventure in 1773. Furneaux' name is still attached to the group of
islands divided by Banks' Strait from the north-east corner of Tasmania.
But the name which Bass gave to the Promontory was not retained. It is
not likely that Furneaux ever saw land so far west. "It cannot be the
same, as Mr. Bass was afterwards convinced," wrote Flinders. Governor
Hunter, "at our recommendation," named it Wilson's Promontory, "in
compliment to my friend Thomas Wilson, Esq., of London." It has been
stated that the name was given to commemorate William Wilson, one of the
whaleboat crew, who "jumped ashore first."* (* Ida Lee, The Coming of the
British to Australia, London 1906 page 51.) Nobody "jumped ashore first"
on the westward voyage, when the discovery was made, because, as Bass
twice mentions in his diary, "we could not land." Doubly inaccurate is
the statement of another writer that "the promontory was seen and named
by Grant in 1800 after Admiral Wilson."* (* Blair, Cyclopaedia of
Australia, 748.) Grant himself, on his chart of Bass Strait, marked down
the promontory as "accurately surveyed by Matthew Flinders, which he
calls Wilson's Promontory," and on page 78 of his Narrative wrote that it
was named by Bass. The truth is, as related above, that it was named by
Hunter on the recommendation of Bass and Flinders; and the two
superfluous Wilsons have no proper place in the story. The Thomas Wilson
whose name was thus given to one of the principal features of the
Australian coast--a form of memorial far more enduring than "storied urn
or animated bust"--is believed to have been a London merchant, engaged
partly in the Australian trade. Nothing more definite is known about him.
He was as one who "grew immortal in his own despight." Of the Promontory
itself Bass wrote--and the words are exceedingly apt--that it was "well
worthy of being the boundary point of a large strait, and a corner stone
of this great island New Holland."

Bass found the neighbourhood of the Promontory to be the home of vast
numbers of petrels, gulls and other birds, as is still the case, and he
remarked upon the seals observed upon neighbouring rocks, with "a
remarkably long tapering neck and sharp pointed head." They were the
ordinary Bass Strait seal, once exceedingly plentiful, and still to be
found on some of the islands, but unfortunately much fewer in numbers
now. The pupping time was passed when Bass sailed through, and many of
the females had gone to sea, as is their habit. This cause of depletion
accounts for his remark on his return voyage that the number was "by no
means equal to what we had been led to expect." But, he added, "from the
quantity I saw I have every reason to believe that a speculation on a
small scale might be carried on with advantage."

Foul winds and heavy breaking seas were experienced while the boat was
nearing the Promontory. To make matters worse, leaks were causing
anxiety. Water was gushing in pretty freely near the water-line aft. The
crew had frequently remarked in the course of the morning of January 3rd
how much looser the boat had become during the last few days. Her planks
had received no ordinary battering. It had been Bass's intention to
strike for the northern coast of Van Diemen's Land, which he supposed to
be at no very great distance. He may at this time have been under the
impression that he was in a deep gulf. As a matter of fact, the nearest
point southward that he could have reached was 130 miles distant. Anxiety
about the condition of the boat made him resolve to continue his coasting
cruise westward. Water rushed in fast through the boat's side, there was
risk of a plank starting, and ploughing through a hollow, irregular sea,
the explorers were, as Flinders reviewing the adventure wrote, "in the
greatest danger." Bass's record of his night of peril is
characteristically terse: "we had a bad night of it, but the excellent
qualities of the boat brought us through." He says nothing of his own
careful steering and sleepless vigilance.

It was on the evening of the third day, January 3rd, that an incident
occurred to which, curiously enough, Bass made no allusion in his diary,
presumably because it did not concern the actual work of navigation and
discovery, but which throws a dash of tragic colour into the story of his
adventure. The boat having returned to the coast of what was supposed to
be Furneaux Land, was running along "in whichever way the land might
trend, for the state of the boat did not seem to allow of our quitting
the shore with propriety." The coast line was being scanned for a place
of shelter, when smoke was observed curling up from an island not far
from the Promontory. At first it was thought that the smoke arose from a
fire lighted by aboriginals, but it was discovered, to the amazement of
Bass and his crew, that the island was occupied by a party of white men.
They were escaped convicts. The tale they had to tell was one of a wild
dash for liberty, treachery by confederates, and abandonment to the
imminent danger of starvation.

In October of the previous year, a gang of fourteen convicts had been
employed in carrying stones from Sydney to the Hawkesbury River
settlement, a few miles to the north. Most of them were "of the last
Irish convicts," as Hunter explained in a despatch, part of the bitter
fruit of the Irish Mutiny Act of 1796, passed to strike at the movement
associated with the names of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Wolfe Tone, which
encouraged the attempted French invasion of Ireland under Hoche. These
men seized the boat appointed for the service, appropriated the stores,
threatened the lives of all who dared to oppose them, and made their exit
through Port Jackson heads. As soon as the Governor heard of the escape
he despatched parties in pursuit in rowing boats. The coast was searched
sixty miles to the north and forty to the south; but the convicts, with
the breeze in their sail and the hope of liberty in their hearts, had all
the advantage on their side, and eluded their gaolers.

In April, 1797, news had been brought to the settlement of the wreck of
the ship Sydney Cove on an island to the southward. If the Irish
prisoners could reach this island, float the ship on the tide, and repair
her rents, they considered that they had an excellent chance of escape.
The provisions which they had on their boat, with such as they might find
on the ship, would probably be sufficient for a voyage. It was a daring
enterprise, but it may well have seemed to offer a prospect of success.

Some of the prisoners at the settlement, as appears from a "general
order" issued by Hunter, had "picked up somehow or other the idle story
of the possibility of travelling from hence to China, or finding some
other colony where they expect every comfort without the trouble of any
labour." It may have been the alluring hope of discovering such an
earthly paradise that flattered these men. As a matter of fact, some
convicts did escape from New South Wales and reached India, after
extraordinary perils and hardships. They endeavoured to sail up the River
Godavery, but were interrupted by a party of sepoys, re-arrested, and
sent to Madras, whence they were ordered to be sent back to Sydney.* (*
See Annual Register 1801 page 15.)

But the party whom Bass found never discovered the place of the wreck
upon which they reckoned. Instead, they drifted round Cape Howe, and
found themselves off a desolate, inhospitable coast, without knowledge of
their whereabouts, and with a scanty, rapidly diminishing stock of food.
In fear of starvation seven of them resolved to desert their companions
on this lonely island near Wilson's Promontory, and treacherously sailed
away with the boat while the others were asleep. It was the sad, sick,
and betrayed remnant of this forlorn hope, that Bass found on that
wave-beaten rock on the 3rd January. For five weeks the wretched men had
subsisted on petrels and occasional seals. Small prospect they had of
being saved; the postponement of their doom seemed only a prolongation of
their anguish. They were nearly naked, and almost starved to death. Bass
heard their story, pitied their plight, and relieved their necessities as
well as he could from his own inadequate stores. He also promised that on
his return he would call again at the island, and do what he could for
the party, who only escaped from being prisoners of man to become
prisoners of nature, locked in one of her straitest confines, and fed
from a reluctant and parsimonious hand.

Bass kept his word; and it may be as well to interrupt the narrative of
his westward navigation in order to relate the end of this story of
distress. On February 2nd, he again touched at the island. But what could
he do to help the fugitives? His boat was too small to enable him to take
them on board, and his provisions were nearly exhausted, his men having
had to eke out the store by living on seals and sea birds. He consented
to take on board two of the seven, one of whom was grievously sick and
the other old and feeble. He provided the five others with a musket and
ammunition, fishing lines and hooks, and a pocket compass. He then
conveyed them to the mainland, gave them a supply of food to meet their
immediate wants, and pointed out that their only hope of salvation was to
pursue the coastline round to Port Jackson. The crew of the whaleboat
gave them such articles of clothing as they could spare. Some tears were
shed on both sides when they separated, Bass to continue his homeward
voyage, the hapless victims of a desperate attempt to escape to face the
long tramp over five hundred miles of wild and trackless country, with
the prospect of a prolongation of their term of servitude should they
ever reach Sydney. "The difficulties of the country and the possibility
of meeting hostile natives are considerations which will occasion doubts
of their ever being able to reach us," wrote Hunter in a despatch
reporting the matter to the Secretary of State. It does not appear that
one of the five was even seen again.* (* What some convicts dared and
endured in the effort to escape, is shown in the following very
interesting paragraph, printed in a London newspaper of May 30th, 1797:
"The female convict who made her escape from Botany Bay, and suffered the
greatest hardships during a voyage of three thousand leagues [presumably
she was a stowaway] and who was afterwards retaken and condemned to
death, has been pardoned and released from Newgate. In the story of this
woman there is something extremely singular. A gentleman of high rank in
the Army visited her in Newgate, heard the details of her life, and for
that time departed. The next day he returned, and told the gentleman who
keeps the prison that he had procured her pardon, at the same time
requesting that she should not be apprized of the circumstances. The next
day he returned with his carriage, and took off the poor woman, who
almost expired with gratitude.")

To return to the discovery cruise: on January 5th, at seven in the
evening, Bass's whaleboat turned into Westernport, between the bold
granite headland of Cape Wollamai, on Phillip Island, and Point Griffith
on the mainland. The discovery of this port, now the seat of a naval base
for the Commonwealth, was a splendid crown to a remarkable voyage. "I
have named the place," Bass wrote, "from its relative situation to every
other known harbour on the coast, Western Port. It is a large sheet of
water, branching out into two arms, which end in wide flats of several
miles in extent, and it was not until we had been here some days that we
found it to be formed by an island, and to have two outlets to the sea,
an eastern and western passage."

Twelve days were spent in the harbour. The weather was bad; and to this
cause in the main we may attribute the paucity of the observations made,
and the defective account given of the port itself. It contains two
islands: Phillip Island, facing the strait, and French Island, the larger
of the two, lying between Phillip Island and the mainland. Bass was not
aware that this second island was not part of the mainland. Its existence
was first determined by the Naturaliste, one of the ships of Baudin's
French expedition, in 1802.

Bass's men had great difficulty in procuring good water. He considered
that there was every appearance of an unusual drought in the country.
This may also have been the reason why he saw only three or four blacks,
who were so shy that the sailors could not get near them. There must
certainly have been fairly large families of blacks on Phillip Island at
one time, for there are several extensive middens on the coast, with
thick deposits of fish bones and shells; and the author has found there
some good specimens of "blackfellows' knives"--that is, sharpened pieces
of flat, hard stone, with which the aboriginals opened their oysters and
mussels--besides witnessing the finding of a few fine stone axes. Bass
records the sight of a few brush kangaroos and "Wallabah"; of black swan
he observed hundreds, as well as ducks, "a small but excellent kind,"
which flew in thousands, and "an abundance of most kinds of wild fowl."

By the time the stay in Westernport came to an end, Bass had been at sea
a month and two days, and had sailed well into the strait now bearing his
name, though he was not yet quite sure that it was a strait. His
provisions had necessarily run very low. The condition of the boat, whose
repair occupied some time, increased his anxiety. Prudence pointed to the
desirableness of a return to Port Jackson with the least possible delay.
Yet one cannot but regret that so intrepid an explorer, who was making
such magnificent use of means so few and frail, was not able to follow
the coast a very few more miles westward. Another day's sail would have
brought him into Port Phillip, and he would have been the discoverer of
the bay at the head of which now stands the great city of Melbourne.
Perhaps if he had done so, his report would have saved Hunter from
writing a sentence which is a standing warning against premature
judgments upon territory seen at a disadvantage and insufficiently
examined. "He found in general," wrote the Governor to the Secretary of
State, "a barren, unpromising country, with very few exceptions, and were
it even better the want of harbours would render it less valuable." The
truth is that he had seen hardly the fringe of some of the fairest lands
on earth, and was within cannon shot of a harbour wherein all the navies
of the world could ride.

Shortly after dawn on January 18th the prow of the whaleboat was "very
reluctantly" turned ocean-wards for the home journey. The wind was fresh
when they started, but as the morning wore on it increased to a gale, and
by noon there were high seas and heavy squalls. As the little craft was
running along the coast, and the full force of the south-westerly gale
beat hard on her beam, her management taxed the nerve and seamanship of
the crew. Bass acknowledged that it was "very troublesome," and his
"very" means much. This extremely trying weather lasted, with a few brief
intervals, for eight days. As soon as possible Bass steered his boat
under the lee of Cape Liptrap, not only for safety, but also to salt down
for consumption during the remainder of the voyage a stock of birds taken
on the islands off Westernport.

On the night of the 23rd the boat lay snugly under the shelter of the
rocks, where Bass intended to remain until the weather moderated. But at
about one o'clock in the morning the wind shifted to the south, blowing
"stronger than before," and made the place untenable. At daybreak,
therefore, another resting place was sought, and later in the morning the
boat was beached on the west side of a sheltered cove, "having passed
through a sea that for the very few hours it has been blowing was
incredibly high." When the wind abated the sea went down, so that Bass
was able to round the Promontory to the east, enter Sealers' Cove, which
he named, and lay in a stock of seal-meat and salted birds.

"The Promontory," wrote Bass, "is joined to the mainland by a low neck of
sand, which is nearly divided by a lagoon that runs in on the west side
of it, and by a large shoal inlet on the east. Whenever it shall be
decided that the opening between this and Van Diemen's Land is a large
strait, this rapidity of tide and the long south-west swell that seems
continually running in upon the coast to the westward, will then be
accounted for." It is evident, therefore, that at this time Bass regarded
the certainty of there being a strait as a matter yet to "be decided." He
was himself thereafter to assist in the decision.

Though Bass does not give any particulars of aboriginals encountered at
Wilson's Promontory, it is apparent from an allusion in his diary that
some were seen. The sentence in which he mentions them is curious for its
classification of them with the other animals observed, a classification
biologically justifiable, no doubt, but hardly usual. "The animals," he
wrote, "have nothing new in them worth mentioning, with these exceptions;
that the men, though thieves, are kind and friendly, and that the birds
upon Furneaux's Land have a sweetness of note unknown here," i.e., at
Port Jackson. He would not, in February, have heard the song-lark, that
unshamed rival of an English cousin famed in poetry, and the sharp
crescendo of the coach-whip bird would scarcely be classed as "sweet."
"The tinkle of the bell-bird in the ranges may have gratified his ear;
but the likelihood is that the birds which pleased him were the
harmonious thrush and the mellow songster so opprobiously named the
thickhead, for no better reason than that collectors experience a
difficulty in skinning it.* (* Mr. Chas. L. Barrett, a well known
Australian ornithologist, and one of the editors of the Emu, knows the
Promontory well, and he tells me that he has no doubt that the birds
which pleased Bass were the grey shrike thrush (Collyriocincla harmonica)
and the white-throated thickhead (Pachycephala gutturalis.))

The cruise from the Promontory eastward was commenced on February 2nd.
Eight days later, the boat being in no condition for keeping the sea with
a foul wind, Bass beached her not far from Ram Head. He had passed Point
Hicks in the night. Cape Howe was rounded on the 15th, and on the 25th
the boat entered Port Jackson.

Bass and his men had accomplished a great achievement. In an open boat,
exposed to the full rigours of the weather in seas that are frequently
rough and were on this voyage especially storm-lashed, persecuted
persistently by contrary gales, they had travelled twelve hundred miles,
principally along an unknown coast, which they had for the first time
explored. Hunter in his official despatch commented on Bass's
"perseverance against adverse winds and almost incessant bad weather,"
and complimented him upon his sedulous examination of inlets in search of
secure harbours. But there can be no better summary of the voyage than
that penned by Flinders, who from his own experience could adequately
appreciate the value of the performance. Writing fifteen years later,
when Bass had disappeared and was believed to be dead, his friend said:--

"It should be remembered that Mr. Bass sailed with only six weeks'
provisions; but with the assistance of occasional supplies of petrels,
fish, seals'-flesh, and a few geese and black swans, and by abstinence,
he had been enabled to prolong his voyage beyond eleven weeks. His ardour
and perseverance were crowned, in despite of the foul winds which so much
opposed him, with a degree of success not to have been anticipated from
such feeble means. In three hundred miles of coast from Port Jackson to
the Ram Head, he added a number of particulars which had escaped Captain
Cook, and will always escape any navigator in a first discovery, unless
he have the time and means of joining a close examination by boats to
what may be seen from the ship.

"Our previous knowledge of the coast scarcely extended beyond the Ram
Head; and there began the harvest in which Mr. Bass was ambitious to
place the first reaping-hook. The new coast was traced three hundred
miles; and instead of trending southward to join itself to Van Diemen's
Land, as Captain Furneaux had supposed, he found it, beyond a certain
point, to take a direction nearly opposite, and to assume the appearance
of being exposed to the buffeting of an open sea. Mr. Bass himself
entertained no doubt of the existence of a wide strait separating Van
Diemen's Land from New South Wales, and he yielded with the greatest
reluctance to the necessity of returning before it was so fully
ascertained as to admit of no doubt in the minds of others. But he had
the satisfaction of placing at the end of his new coast an extensive and
useful harbour, surrounded with a country superior to any other harbour
in the southern parts of New South Wales.

"A voyage especially undertaken for discovery in an open boat, and in
which six hundred miles of coast, mostly in a boisterous climate, was
explored, has not, perhaps, its equal in the annals of maritime history.
The public will award to its high-spirited and able conductor--alas! now
no more--an honourable place in the list of those whose ardour stands
most conspicuous for the promotion of useful knowledge."

Bass would have desired no better recognition than this competent
appraisement of his work by one who, when he wrote these paragraphs, had
himself experienced a full measure of the perils of the sea.

Was Bass at the time of his return aware that he had discovered a strait?
It has been asserted that "it is evident that Bass was not fully
conscious of the great discovery he had made."* (* F.M. Bladen,
Historical Records of New South Wales 3 327 note.) Bass's language, upon
which this surmise is founded, was as follows: "Whenever it shall be
decided that the opening between this and Van Diemen's Land is a strait,
this rapidity of tide...will be accounted for." He also wrote: "There is
reason to believe it (i.e., Wilson's Promontory) is the boundary of a
large strait." I do not think these passages are to be taken to mean that
Bass was at all doubtful about there being a strait. On the contrary, the
words "whenever it shall be decided" express his conviction that it would
be so decided; but the diarist recognised that the existence of the
strait had not yet been proved to demonstration. His reluctance to turn
back when he reached Westernport was unquestionably due to the same
cause. The voyage in the whaleboat had not proved the strait. It was
still possible, though not at all probable, that the head of a deep gulf
lay farther westward. The subsequent circumnavigation of Tasmania by Bass
and Flinders proved the strait, as did also Grant's voyage through it
from the west in the Lady Nelson in 1800.

Hunter had no more evidence than that afforded by Bass's discoveries when
he wrote, in his despatch to the Secretary of State: "He found an open
ocean westward, and by the mountainous sea which rolled from that
quarter, and no land discoverable in that direction, we have much reason
to conclude that there is an open strait through." Hunter's "much reason
to conclude" implies no more doubt about the strait than do the words of
Bass, but the phrase does imply a recognition of the want of conclusive
proof, creditable to the restrained judgment of both men. Flinders also
wrote: "There seemed to want no other proof of the existence of a passage
than that of sailing positively through it," which is precisely what he
set himself to do in Bass's company, as soon as he could secure an
opportunity. Still stronger testimony is that of Flinders, when summing
up his account of the discovery: "The south-westerly swell which rolled
in upon the shores of Westernport and its neighbourhood sufficiently
indicated to the penetrating Bass that he was exposed to the southern
Indian Ocean. This opinion, which he constantly asserted, was the
principal cause of my services being offered to the Governor to ascertain
the principal cause of it." Further, although Colonel David Collins was
not in Sydney at the time of the discovery, what he wrote in his account
of the English Colony in New South Wales (2nd edition, London, 1804), was
based on first-hand information; and he was no less direct in his
statement: "There was every appearance of an extensive strait, or rather
an open sea"; and he adds that Bass "regretted that he had not been
possessed of a better vessel, which would have enabled him to
circumnavigate Van Diemen's Land" (pages 443 and 444).

These passages, when compared with Bass's own careful language, leave no
doubt that Bass was fully conscious of the great discovery he had made,
though a complete demonstration was as yet lacking.* (* The reasons given
above appear also to justify me in saying that there is insufficient
warrant for the statement of Sir J.K. Laughton (Dictionary of National
Biography XLX 326) that "Bass's observations were so imperfect that it
was not until they were plotted after his return that the importance of
what he had done was at once apparent.")

An interesting light is thrown on the admiration felt for Bass among the
colonists at Sydney, by Francois Peron, the historian of Baudin's voyage
of exploration. When the French were at Port Jackson in 1802, the
whaleboat was lying beached on the foreshore, and was preserved, says
Peron, with a kind of "religious respect." Small souvenirs were made of
its timbers; and a piece of the keel enclosed in a silver frame, was
presented by the Governor to Captain Baudin, as a memorial of the
"audacieuse navigation." Baudin's artist, in making a drawing of Sydney,
was careful to show Bass's boat stayed up on the sand; and Peron, in his
Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes, respectfully described the
discovery of "the celebrated Mr. Bass" as "precious from a marine point
of view."


During the absence of Bass in the whaleboat, the repairing of the
Reliance was finished, and in February, 1798, Flinders was able to carry
out a bit of exploration on his own account. The making of charts was
employment for which he had equipped himself by study and practice, and
he was glad to secure an opportunity of applying his abilities in a field
where there was original work to do. The schooner Francis (a small vessel
sent out in frame from England for the use of the colonial government,
but now badly decayed) was about to be despatched to the Furneaux
Islands--north-east of Van Diemen's Land, and about 480 miles from
Sydney--to bring to Sydney what remained of the cargo of the wrecked
Sydney Cove, and to rescue a few of the crew who had been left in charge.
Flinders obtained permission from the Governor to embark in the schooner,
"in order to make such observations serviceable to geography and
navigation as circumstances might afford," and instructions were given to
the officer in command to forward this purpose as far as possible.

The circumstances of the wreck that occasioned the cruise of the Francis
were these:--

The Sydney Cove, Captain Guy Hamilton, left Bengal on November 10th,
1796, with a speculative cargo of merchandise for Sydney. Serious
leakages became apparent on the voyage, but the ship made the coast of
New Holland, rounded the southern extremity of Van Diemen's Land, and
stood to the northward on February 1st, 1797. She encountered furious
gales which increased to a perfect hurricane, with a sea described in a
contemporary account as "dreadful." The condition of the hull was so bad
that the pumps could not keep the inrush of water under control, and the
vessel became waterlogged. On February 8th she had five feet of water in
the well, and by midnight the water was up to the lower deck hatches. She
was at daybreak in imminent peril of going to the bottom, so the Captain
headed for Preservation Island (one of the Furneaux Group), sent the
longboat ashore with some rice, ammunition and firearms, and ran her in
until she struck on a sandy bottom in nineteen feet of water. The whole
ship's company was landed safely, tents were rigged up, and as much of
the cargo as could be secured was taken ashore.

It was necessary to communicate with Sydney to procure assistance. The
long-boat was launched, and under the direction of the first mate, Mr.
Hugh Thompson, sixteen of the crew started north on February 28th. But
fresh misfortunes, as cruel as shipwreck and for most of these men more
disastrous, were heaped upon them. They were smitten by a violent storm,
terrific seas broke over the boat, and on the morning of March 2nd she
suddenly shipped enough water to swamp her. The crew with difficulty ran
her through the surf that beat on the coast off which they had been
struggling, and she went to pieces immediately. The seventeen were cast
ashore on the coast of New South Wales, hundreds of miles from the only
settlement, which could only be reached by the crossing of a wild, rough,
and trackless country, inhabited by tribes of savages. They were without
food, their clothing was drenched, and their sole means of defence
consisted of a rusty musket, with very little ammunition, a couple of
useless pistols, and two small swords.

The wretched band commenced their march along the coast northwards on
March 25th. They had to improvise rafts to cross some rivers; once a
party of kindly aboriginals helped them over a stream in canoes; at
another time they encountered blacks who hurled spears at them. They
lived chiefly on small shell-fish. Hunger and exposure brought their
strength very low. On April 16th, after over a month of weary tramping,
nine of the party dropped from fatigue and had to be left behind by their
companions, whose only hope was to push on while sufficient energy
lasted. Two days later, three of the remainder were wounded by blacks. At
last, in May, three only of the seventeen who started on this
heart-breaking struggle for life against distance, starvation and
exhaustion, were rescued, "scarcely alive," by a fishing boat, and taken
to Sydney. The others perished by the way.

Captain Hamilton, who had stayed by his wrecked ship, was rescued in
July, 1797; and, as already stated, in January of the following year,
Governor Hunter fitted out the schooner Francis to bring away a few
Lascar sailors and as much of the remaining cargo as could be saved. "I
sent in the schooner," wrote the Governor in a despatch, "Lieutenant
Flinders of the Reliance, a young man well-qualified, in order to give
him an opportunity of making what observations he could among those
islands." The Francis sailed on February 1st.

The black shadow of the catastrophe that had overtaken the Sydney Cove
crossed the path of the salvage party. The Francis was accompanied by the
ten-ton sloop Eliza, Captain Armstrong. But shortly after reaching the
Furneaux Islands the two vessels were separated in a storm, and the Eliza
went down with all hands. Neither the boat nor any soul of her company
were ever seen or heard of again.

Flinders had only twelve days available for his own work, from February
16th till the 28th, but he made full and valuable use of that time in
exploring, observing and charting. The fruits of his researches were
embodied in a drawing sent to the British Government by Hunter, when he
announced the discovery of Bass Strait later on in 1798. The principal
geographical result was the discovery of the Kent group of islands, which
Flinders named "in honour of my friend" the brave and accomplished
sailor, William Kent, who commanded the Supply.

The biological notes made by Flinders on this expedition are of unusual
interest. Upon the islands he found "Kanguroo" (his invariable spelling
of the word), "womat" (sic), the duck-billed platypus, aculeated
ant-eater, geese, black swan, gannets, shags, gulls, red bills, crows,
parrakeets, snakes, seals, and sooty petrels, a profusion of wild life
highly fascinating in itself, and, in the case of the animals, affording
striking evidence of connection with the mainland at a comparatively
recent period. The old male seals were described as of enormous size and
extraordinary power.

"I levelled my gun at one, which was sitting on the top of a rock with
his nose extended up towards the sun, and struck him with three musket
balls. He rolled over and plunged into the water, but in less than half
an hour had taken his former station and attitude. On firing again, a
stream of blood spouted forth from his breast to some yards distance, and
he fell back senseless. On examination the six balls were found lodged in
his breast; and one, which occasioned his death, had pierced the heart.
His weight was equal to that of a common ox...The commotion excited by
our presence in this assemblage of several thousand timid animals was
very interesting to me, who knew little of their manners. The young cubs
huddled together in the holes of the rocks and moaned piteously; those
more advanced scampered and bowled down to the water with their mothers;
whilst some of the old males stood up in defence of their families until
the terror of the sailors' bludgeons became too strong to be resisted.
Those who have seen a farmyard well stocked with pigs, with their mothers
in it, and have heard them all in tumult together, may form a good idea
of the confusion in connection with the seals at Cone Point. The sailors
killed as many of these harmless and not unamiable creatures as they were
able to skin during the time necessary for me to take the requisite
angles; and we then left the poor affrighted multitude to recover from
the effect of our inauspicious visit."

Flinders' observations upon the sooty petrels, or mutton birds, seen at
the Furneaux Islands, are valuable as forming a very early account of one
of the most remarkable sea-birds in the world:

"The sooty petrel, better known to us under the name of sheerwater,
frequents the tufted grassy parts of all the islands in astonishing
numbers. It is known that these birds make burrows in the ground like
rabbits; that they lay one or two enormous eggs in the holes and bring up
their young there. In the evening they come in from the sea, having their
stomachs filled with a gelatinous substance gathered from the waves, and
this they eject into the throats of their offspring, or retain for their
own nourishment, according to circumstances. A little after sunset the
air at Preservation Island used to be darkened with their numbers, and it
was generally an hour before their squabbling ceased and every one had
found its own retreat. The people of the Sydney Cove had a strong example
of perseverance in these birds. The tents were pitched close to a piece
of ground full of their burrows, many of which were necessarily filled up
from walking constantly over them; yet notwithstanding this interruption
and the thousands of birds destroyed (for they constituted a great part
of their food during more than six months), the returning flights
continued to be as numerous as before; and there was scarcely a burrow
less except in the places actually covered by the tents. These birds are
about the size of a pigeon, and when skinned and smoked we thought them
passable food. Any quantity could be procured by sending people on shore
in the evening. The sole process was to thrust in the arm up to the
shoulder and seize them briskly; but there was some danger of grasping a
snake at the bottom of the burrow instead of a petrel."

The remark that the egg of the sooty petrel is of enormous size is of
course only true relatively to the size of the bird. The egg is about as
large as a duck's egg, but longer and tapering more sharply at one end.
For the rest the description is an excellent one. The wings of the bird
are of great length and strength, giving to it wonderful speed and power
of flight. The colour is coal-black. Flinders saw more of the
sooty-petrel on his subsequent voyage round Tasmania; and it will be
convenient to quote here the passage in which he refers to the prodigious
numbers in which the birds were seen. It may be added that, despite a
century of slaughter by mankind, and after the taking of millions of
eggs--which are good food--the numbers of the mutton-birds are still
incalculably great.* (* The author may refer to a paper of his own, "The
Mutton Birds of Bass Strait," in the Field, April 18, 1903, for a study
of the sooty petrel during the laying season on Phillip Island. An
excellent account of the habits of the bird is given in Campbell's Nests
and Eggs of Australian Birds.) Writing of what he saw off the extreme
north-west of Tasmania in December, 1798, Flinders said:--

"A large flock of gannets was observed at daylight to issue out of the
great bight to the southward; and they were followed by such a number of
sooty petrels as we had never seen equalled. There was a stream of from
fifty to eighty yards in depth and of three hundred yards, or more, in
breadth; the birds were not scattered, but flying as compactly as a free
movement of their wings seemed to allow; and during a full hour and a
half this stream of petrels continued to pass without interruption at a
rate little inferior to the swiftness of a pigeon. On the lowest
computation I think the number could not have been less than a hundred

He explained how he arrived at this estimate, the reliableness of which
is beyond dispute, though it may seem incredible to those who have not
been in southern seas during the season when the sooty petrels "most do
congregate." Taking the stream of birds to have been fifty yards deep by
three hundred in width, and calculating that it moved at the rate of
thirty miles* an hour, and allowing nine cubic yards for each bird, the
number would amount to 151,500,000. The burrows required to lodge this
number would be 75,750,000, and allowing a square yard to each burrow
they would cover something more than 18 1/2 geographical square miles. (*
Flinders is calculating in nautical miles of 2026 2/3 yards each.)

The mutton-bird, it will therefore be allowed, is the most prolific of
all avian colonists. It has also played some part in the history of human
colonisation. When, in 1790, Governor Phillip sent to Norfolk Island a
company of convicts and marines, and the Sirius, the only means of
carrying supplies, was wrecked, the population, 506 in all, was reduced
to dire distress from want of food. Starvation stared them in the face,
when it was discovered that Mount Pitt was honeycombed with mutton-bird
burrows. They were slain in thousands. "The slaughter and mighty havoc is
beyond description," wrote an officer. "They are very fine eating,
exceeding fat and firm, and I think (though no connoisseur) as good as
any I ever eat." Many people who are not hunger-driven profess to relish
young mutton-bird, whose flesh is like neither fish nor fowl, but an oily
blend of both.

On this cruise Flinders came in sight of Cook's Point Hicks; and his
reference to it has some interest because Bass had missed it; because
Flinders himself did not on any of his other voyages sail close enough
inshore on this part of the coast to observe it, and did not mark it upon
his charts; and because the more recent substitution of the name Cape
Everard for the name given by Cook, makes of some consequence the
allusion of this great navigator to a projection which he saw only once.
The Francis on February 4th "was in 38 degrees 16 minutes and (by
account) 22 minutes of longitude to the west of Point Hicks. The schooner
was kept more northward in the afternoon; at four o'clock a moderately
high sloping hill was visible in the north by west, and at seven a small
rocky point on the beach bore north 50 degrees west three or four
leagues. At some distance inland there was a range of hills with wood
upon them, though scarcely sufficient to hide their sandy surface." That
describes the country near Point Hicks accurately.

The largest island in the Furneaux group, now called Flinders Island, was
not so named by Flinders. He referred to it as "the great island of
Furneaux." Flinders never named any of his discoveries after himself, not
even the smallest rock or cape. Flinders Island in the Bight
(Investigator Group) was named after his brother Samuel.

It is a little curious that no allusion to the useful piece of work done
by Flinders on this cruise was made by the Governor in his despatches.
The omission was not due to lack of appreciation on his part, as the
encouragement subsequently given to Bass and Flinders sufficiently
showed. But it was, in truth, work very well done, with restricted means
and in a very limited time.

The question whether the islands examined lay in a strait or in a deep
gulf was occupying the attention of Flinders at just about the same time
when his friend Bass, in his whaleboat on the north side of the same
stretch of water, was revolving the same problem in his mind. The reasons
given by Furneaux for disbelieving in the existence of a strait did not
satisfy Flinders. The great strength of the tides setting westward could,
in his opinion, only be occasioned by a passage through to the Indian
Ocean, unless the supposed gulf were very deep. There were arguments
tending either way; "the contradictory circumstances were very
embarrassing." Flinders would have liked to use the Francis forthwith to
settle the question; but, as she was commissioned for a particular
service, and not under his command, he had to subjugate his scientific
curiosity to circumstances.

Throughout his brief narrative of this voyage we see displayed the
qualities which distinguish all his original work. Promptness in taking
advantage of opportunities for investigation, careful and
cautiously-checked observations, painstaking accuracy in making
calculations, terse and dependable geographical description, and a fresh
quick eye for noting natural phenomena: these were always characteristics
of his work. He recorded what he saw of bird and animal with the same
care as he noted nautical facts. We may take his paragraph on the wombat
as an example. Bass was much interested in the wombats he saw, and with
his surgeon's anatomical knowledge gave a description of it which the
contemporary historian, Collins, quoted, enunciating the opinion that
"Bass's womb-bat seemed to be very oeconomically made"--whatever that may
mean. Flinders' description, which must be one of the earliest accounts
of the creature, is true:

"Clarke's Island afforded the first specimen of the new animal, called
wombat. This little bear-like quadruped is known in New South Wales, and
is called by the natives womat, wombat, or womback, according to the
different dialects--or perhaps to the different rendering of the
wood-rangers who brought the information. It does not quit its retreat
till dark; but it feeds at all times on the uninhabited islands, and was
commonly seen foraging amongst the sea refuse on the shore, though the
coarse grass seemed to be its usual nourishment. It is easily caught when
at a distance from its burrow; its flesh resembles lean mutton in taste,
and to us was acceptable food."

The original manuscript containing Flinders' narrative of the expedition
to the Furneaux Islands is in the Melbourne Public Library. It is a
beautiful manuscript, 22 quarto pages, neat and regular, every letter
perfect, every comma and semi-colon in place: a portrait in calligraphy
of its author.


Flinders arrived in Sydney in the Francis about a fortnight after Bass
returned in the whaleboat. It was, we may be certain, with delight that
he heard from the lips of his friend the story of his adventurous voyage.
The eye-sketch of the coastline traversed by Bass was, by the Governor's
direction, used by him for the preparation of a chart to be sent to
England. He was able to compare notes and discuss the probability of the
existence of a strait, and it was but natural that the two men who had so
recently been exploring, the one on the north the other on the south side
of the possible strait, should be eager to pursue enquiry to the point of
proof. Flinders acknowledged, in relating these events, his anxiety to
gratify his desire of positively sailing through the strait and round Van
Diemen's Land, and he chafed under the routine duties which postponed the
effort. The opportunity did not occur till September.

In the meantime, Flinders had to sail in the Reliance to Norfolk Island
to take over the surgeon, D'Arcy Wentworth, father of that William
Wentworth whose name has already figured in these pages, and who was then
a boy of seven. This trip took place in May to July.

In August he sat as a member of the Vice-Admiralty Court of New South
Wales to try a case of mutiny on the high seas. Certain members of the
New South Wales Corps were accused of plotting to seize the convict ship
Barwell, on her voyage between the Cape and Australia, and of drinking
the toast "damnation to the King and country." The Court considered the
evidence insufficient, and the men were acquitted, after a trial lasting
six days.

At last Flinders had an interview with the Governor about completing the
exploration of the seas to the southward, and offered his services.
Hunter, too, was anxious to have a test made of Bass's contention, which
Flinders' own observations supported. On September 3rd he wrote to the
Secretary of State that he was endeavouring to fit out a vessel "in which
I propose to send the two officers I have mentioned," Bass and Flinders.
Later in the month the Governor entrusted the latter with the command of
the Norfolk, a sloop of twenty-five tons burthen, built at Norfolk Island
from local pine. She was merely a small decked boat, put together under
the direction of Captain Townson of Norfolk Island for establishing
communication with Sydney. She leaked; her timbers were poor material for
a seaboat in quarters where heavy weather was to be expected; and the
accommodation she offered for a fairly extended cruise was cramped and
uncomfortable. But she was the best craft the Governor had to offer, and
Flinders was too keen for the quest to quarrel with the means. In those
days fine seamanship and endurance often had to make up for deficiencies
in equipment.

There were not two happier men in the King's service than these fast
friends, when they received the Governor's commission directing them to
sail "beyond Furneaux' Islands, and, should a strait be found, to pass
through it, and return by the south end of Van Diemen's Land." The
affection that existed between them is manifest in every reference which
Flinders made to Bass in his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis. "I had
the happiness to associate my friend Bass in this new expedition," he
wrote of the Norfolk's voyage; and it was a happiness based not only on
personal regard, but on kindred feeling for research work, and a
similarity in active, keen and ardent temperament.

The sloop was provisioned for twelve weeks, and "the rest of the
equipment was completed by the friendly care of Captain Waterhouse of the
Reliance." A crew of eight volunteers was chosen by Flinders from the
King's ships in port. It is likely that some of them were amongst the six
who had accompanied Bass to Westernport, and Flinders to the Furneaux and
Kent Islands, but their names have not been preserved.

The Norfolk sailed on October 7, 1798, in company with a sealing boat,
the Nautilus.* (* There are three accounts of the voyage: (1) that of
Flinders in diary form, printed in the Historical Records of New South
Wales Volume 3 appendix B; (2) that of Flinders in his Voyage to Terra
Australis Volume 1 page 138; and (3) that of Bass, embodied in Collins'
Account of New South Wales. It is probable that Bass's diary was lent to
Collins for the purpose of writing his narrative. The original is not
known to exist.) The plan was to make the Furneaux Group, then steer
westward through the strait till the open ocean was reached on the
further side; and, that accomplished, and the fact of strait's existence
conclusively demonstrated, to turn down the western coast of Van Diemen's
Land, round the southern extremity, and sail back to Port Jackson up the
east coast. This programme was successfully carried out.

An amusing incident, related by Flinders with dry humour, occurred in
Twofold Bay, which was entered "in order to make some profit of a foul
wind," Bass undertaking an inland excursion, and Flinders occupying
himself in making a survey of the port. An aboriginal made his

"He was of middle age, unarmed, except with a whaddie or wooden scimitar,
and came up to us seemingly with careless confidence. We made much of
him, and gave him some biscuit; and he in return presented us with a
piece of gristly fat, probably of whale. This I tasted; but, watching an
opportunity to spit it out when he should not be looking, I perceived him
doing precisely the same thing with our biscuit, whose taste was probably
no more agreeable to him, than his whale was to me." The native watched
the commencement of Flinders' trigonometrical operations, "with
indifference, if not contempt," and after a little while left the party,
"apparently satisfied that from people who could thus occupy themselves
seriously there was nothing to be apprehended."

It was not until November 1st that the Norfolk sailed from the Furneaux
Islands on the flood-tide westward. The intervening time had been
occupied with detailed exploring and surveying work. Soundings and
observations were made, capes, islands and inlets were charted and named.
The part of Flinders' narrative dealing with these phases abounds in
detail, noted with the most painstaking particularity. Such fulness does
not make attractive literature for the reader who takes up a book of
travel for amusement. But it was highly important to record these details
at the time of the publication of Flinders' book, when the coasts and
seas of which he wrote were very little known; and it has to be
remembered that he wrote as a scientific navigator, setting down the
results of his work with completeness and precision for those interested
in his subject, not as a caterer for popular literary entertainment. He
preferred the interest in his writing to lie in the nature of the
enterprise described and the sincerity with which it was pursued rather
than in such anecdotal garniture and such play of fancy as can give charm
to the history of a voyage. His book was a substantial contribution to
the world's knowledge, and it is his especial virtue to have set down his
facts with such exactitude that our tests of them, where they are still
capable of being tested, earn him credit for punctilious veracity in
respect of those observations on wild life and natural phenomena as to
which we have to rely upon his written word. He never succumbs to the
common sin of travellers--writing to excite astonishment in the reader,
rather than to tell the exact truth as he found it. He was by nature and
training an exact man.

On the afternoon of November 3rd the sloop entered the estuary of the
river Tamar, on which, forty miles from the mouth, now stands the fine
city of Launceston. It was a discovery of first-class importance. Apart
from the pleasure which they derived from having made it, the two friends
were charmed with the beauty of their surroundings. They derived the most
favourable impression of the quality of the land and its suitableness for
settlement. They worked up the river for several miles, but time did not
permit them to follow it as far as it was navigable. Thus they did not
reach the site of the present city, and left the superb gorge and
cataract to be discovered by Collins when he entered the Tamar again in
1804. The harbour was subsequently named Port Dalrymple by Hunter, after
Alexander Dalrymple, the naval hydrographer.

The extent of the survey, with delays caused by adverse weather, kept the
Norfolk in the Tamar estuary for a full month. On December 3rd her
westward course was resumed. From this time forth Bass and Flinders were
in constant expectancy of passing through the strait into the open ocean.
The northern trend of the coast for a time aroused apprehensions that
there was no strait after all, and that the northern shore of Van
Diemen's Land might be connected with the coast beyond Westernport. The
water was also discoloured, and this led Flinders to think that they
might be approaching the head of a bay or gulf. But on December 7th the
vigilant commander made an observation of the set of the tide, from which
he drew an "interesting deduction." "The tide had been running from the
eastward all the afternoon," wrote Flinders, "and, contrary to
expectation, we found it to be near low water by the shore; the flood
therefore came from the west, and not from the eastward, as at Furneaux'
Isles. This we considered to be a strong proof, not only of the real
existence of a passage betwixt this land and New South Wales, but also
that the entrance into the southern Indian Ocean could not be far

On the following day the deduction was confirmed. After the Norfolk had
rounded a headland, a long swell was observed to come from the
south-west, breaking heavily upon a reef a mile and a half away. This was
a new phenomenon; and both Bass and Flinders "hailed it with joy and
mutual congratulation, as announcing the completion of our
long-wished-for discovery of a passage into the southern Indian Ocean."
They were now through the strait. What Bass months before had believed to
be the case was at length demonstrated to a certainty. "The direction of
the coast, the set of the tides, and the great swell from the south-west,
did now completely satisfy us that a very wide strait did really exist
betwixt Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales, and also now that we had
certainly passed it."

No time was lost in completing the voyage. The Norfolk sped rapidly past
Cape Grim and down the western coast of Van Diemen's Land. Amateur-built
as she was, and very small for her work in these seas, she was proving a
useful boat, and one can enjoy the sailors' pride in a snug craft in
Flinders' remark concerning her, that "upon the whole she performed
wonderfully; seas that were apparently determined to swallow her up she
rode over with all the ease and majesty of an old experienced petrel."

The wild and desolate aspect of the west coast, as seen from the ocean,
seems to have struck Flinders with a feeling of dread. He so rarely
allows any emotion to appear in his writing that the sentences in his
diary wherein he refers to the appearance of the De Witt range are
striking evidence of his revulsion. "The mountains which presented
themselves to our view in this situation, both close to the shore and
inland, were amongst the most stupendous works of nature I ever beheld,
and it seemed to me are the most dismal and barren that can be imagined.
The eye ranges over these peaks, and curiously formed lumps of adamantine
rock, with astonishment and horror." He acknowledged that he clapped on
all sail to get past this forbidding coast. The passage is singular.
Flinders was a fenland-bred man, and, passing from the low levels of
eastern England to a life at sea in early youth, had had no experience of
mountainous country. He had not even seen the mountains at the back of
Sydney, except in the blue distance. Now, the De Witt range, though
certainly giving to the coast that it dominates an aspect of desolate
grandeur, especially when, as is nearly always the case, its jagged peaks
are seen under caps of frowning cloud, would not strike a man who had
been much among mountains as especially horrid. Flinders' burst of
chilled feeling may therefore be noted as a curious psychological fact.*
(* The reader will perhaps find it interesting to compare this reference
with a passage in Ruskin's Modern Painters Volume 3 chapter 13: "It is
sufficiently notable that Homer, living in mountainous and rocky
countries, dwells thus delightedly on all the flat bits; and so I think
invariably the inhabitants of mountain countries do, but the inhabitants
of the plains do not, in any similar way, dwell delightedly on mountains.
The Dutch painters are perfectly contented with their flat fields and
pollards: Rubens, though he had seen the Alps, usually composes his
landscapes of a hay-field or two, plenty of pollards and willows, a
distant spire, a Dutch house with a mast about it, a windmill and a
ditch...So Shakspere never speaks of mountains with the slightest joy,
but only of lowland flowers, flat fields, and Warwickshire streams."
Ruskin's citation of the Lincolnshire farmer in Alton Locke is apt, with
his dislike of "Darned ups and downs o'hills, to shake a body's victuals
out of his inwards.")

The naming of Mounts Heemskirk and Zeehan, the latter since become a
mineral centre of vast wealth, were the most noteworthy events of the run
down the western coast. They were named by Flinders after the two ships
of Tasman, as he took them to be the two mountains seen by that navigator
on his discovery of Van Diemen's Land in 1642.

The Derwent, whose estuary is the port of Hobart, was entered on December
21. Bass's report on the fertility of the soil led to the choice of this
locality for a settlement four years later.

On the last day of the year the return voyage was commenced, and on
January 1st, 1799, the Norfolk was making for Port Jackson with her prow
set north-easterly. The winds were unfavourable, and prevented Flinders
from keeping close inshore, as he would have liked to do in order to make
a survey. But the prescribed period of absence having expired, and the
provisions being nearly exhausted, it was necessary to make as much haste
as possible. On January 8th the Babel Isles were marked down, and named
"because of the confusion of noises made by the geese, shags, penguins,
gulls, and sooty petrels." Anyone who has camped near a rookery of sooty
petrels is aware that they are quite capable of maintaining a
sufficiently "babelish confusion"--the phrase is Camden's--without any
aid from other fowls.

A little later in the month (January 12) the Norfolk sailed into harbour,
and was anchored alongside the Reliance. "To the strait which had been
the great object of research," wrote Flinders, "and whose discovery was
now completed, Governor Hunter gave at my recommendation the name of Bass
Strait. This was no more than a just tribute to my worthy friend and
companion for the extreme dangers and fatigues he had undergone in first
entering it in the whaleboat, and to the correct judgment he had formed,
from various indications, of the existence of a wide opening between Van
Diemen's Land and New South Wales."

Throughout this voyage we find Bass expending his abundant energies in
the making of inland excursions whenever an opportunity occurred. To take
a boat up rivers, to cut through rough country, to climb, examine soil,
make notes on birds and beasts, and exercise his enquiring mind in all
directions, was his constant delight.

The profusion of wild life upon the coasts and islands explored during
the voyage astonished the travellers. Seals were seen in thousands,
sea-birds in hundreds of millions. Flinders' calculation regarding the
sooty petrels has already been quoted. Black swans were observed in great
quantities. Bass, for example, stated that he saw three hundred of these
stately birds within a space a quarter of a mile square. The Roman poet
Juvenal could think of no better example of a thing of rare occurrence
than a black swan:

"Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno."

But here black swans could have been cited in a simile illustrating
profusion. Bass quaintly stated that the "dying song" of the swan, so
celebrated by poets, "exactly resembled the creaking of a rusty ale-house
sign on a windy day." The remark is not so pretty as, but far more true
than, that of the bard who would have us believe that the dying swan:

"In music's strains breathes out her life and verse,
And, chaunting her own dirge, rides on her watery hearse."

The couplet of Coleridge is vitiated by the same error, but may merit
commendation for practical wisdom:

"Swans sing before they die; 'twere no bad thing
Should certain persons die before they sing."

Flinders also saw from three to five hundred black swans on the lee side
of one point; and so tame were they that, as the Norfolk passed through
the midst of them, one incautious bird was caught by the neck.

Bass went ashore on Albatross Island to shoot. He was forced to fight his
way up the cliffs against the seals, which resented the intrusion; and
when he got to the top he was compelled "to make a road with his club
among the albatross. These birds were sitting upon their nests, and
almost covered the surface of the ground, nor did they otherwise derange
themselves for their new visitors than to peck at their legs as they
passed by."

In the Derwent Bass and Flinders encountered Tasmanian aboriginals, now
an extinct race of men. A human voice was heard coming from the hills.
The two leaders of the expedition landed, taking with them a swan as an
offering of friendship, and met an aboriginal man and two women. The
women ran off, but the man stayed and accepted the swan "with rapture."
He was armed with three spears, but his demeanour was friendly. Bass and
Flinders tried him with such words as they knew of the dialects of New
South Wales and the South Sea Islands, but could not make him understand
them, "though the quickness with which he comprehended our signs spoke in
favour of his intelligence." His hair was either close-cropped or
naturally short; but it had not a woolly appearance. "He acceded to our
proposition of going to his hut; but finding from his devious route and
frequent stoppings that he sought to tire our patience, we left him
delighted with the certain possession of his swan, and returned to the
boat. This was the sole opportunity we had of communicating with any of
the natives of Van Diemen's Land."

The results of the cruise of the Norfolk were of great importance. From
the purely utilitarian point of view, the discovery of Bass Strait
shortened the voyage to Sydney from Europe by quite a week. It opened a
new highway for commerce. Turnbull, in his Voyage Round the World (1814)
discussing the advantages of the new route, mentioned that "already has
the whole fleet of China ships, under the convoy of a 64, passed through
these Straits without the smallest accident;" and he pointed out that
ships which were late in the season for China, and availed themselves of
the prevailing winds by taking the easterly route round Australia, were
thus enabled to avoid the tempestuous weather which generally faced them
to the south of Van Diemen's Land. Governor King, too, writing to the
Governor of Bombay in 1802, sent him a chart of the strait, and pointed
out that the discovery would "greatly facilitate the passage of ships
from India to this colony."

The discovery also revealed a fresh and fertile field for the occupation
of mankind. Geographically no discovery of such consequence had been made
since the noble days of Cook. It brought the names of Bass and Flinders
prominently before the scientific world, and the thoroughness with which
the latter had done his work won him warm praise from men competent to
form a judgment. Intimations concerning the discovery published in the
Naval Chronicle and other journals valued the work very highly; and it
had the advantage of bringing the commander of the Norfolk under the
notice of Sir Joseph Banks, that earnest and steadfast supporter of all
sincere research work, who thus became the firm friend of Flinders, as he
had been the friend and associate of Cook thirty years before.

The turbulent state of Europe in and about 1799, with Napoleon Bonaparte
rising fast to meridian glory on the wings of war, did not incline
British statesmen to attach much significance to such events as the
discovery of an important strait and the increased opportunities for the
development of oversea dominions. Renewed activity in that direction came
a little later. There is a letter from Banks to Hunter, written just
after the return of the Norfolk, but before the news reached England
(February, 1799), wherein he conveys a concise idea of the perturbation
in official circles and the difficulty of getting anything done for
Australia. "The political situation is so difficult," said Banks, "and
His Majesty's Ministers so fully employed in business of the deepest
importance, that it is scarce possible to gain a moment's audience on any
subject but those which stand foremost in their minds; and colonies of
all kinds, you may be assured, are now put into the background."

But that was no more than a passing phase. The seeds of a vaster British
Empire than had ever existed before had already germinated, and when the
years of crisis occurred, the will and power of England were both ready
and strong enough to protect the growing plant from the trampling feet of
legions. Meanwhile, the work on the Norfolk secured for Flinders such
useful encouragement and help as enabled him very little later to crown
his achievements with a task that at once solidified his title to fame
and ultimately ended his life.


It has been already mentioned that Bass Strait was named by Governor
Hunter on the recommendation of Flinders. There is no reason to suppose
that George Bass himself made any claim that his name should be applied
to his discovery. One derives the impression, from a study of his
character as revealed in his words and acts, that he would have been
perfectly content had some other name been chosen. He was one of those
rare men who find their principal joy in the free exercise of an intrepid
and masculine energy, especially in directions affording a stimulus to
intellectual curiosity. He did not even write a book or an essay about
the work he had done. The whaleboat voyage was tersely recorded in a
diary for the information of the Governor; his other material was handed
over to Collins for the purposes of his History of New South Wales, and
Bass went about his business unrewarded, officially unhonoured.

It is curiously significant of the modesty of this really notable man
that when, in 1801, he again sailed to Australia, he mentioned quite
casually in a letter that he had passed through Bass Strait without any
reference to his own connection with the passage. It was not, to him,
"the strait which I discovered," or "my strait," or "the strait named
after me," but simply Bass Strait, giving it the proper geographical name
scored on the map, just as he might have mentioned the name of any other
part of the globe traversed during the voyage. The natural pride of the
discoverer assuredly would have been no evidence of egotism; but Bass was
singularly free from all semblance of human weakness of that kind. The
difficulties battled with, the effort joyfully made, the discovery
accomplished, he appears hardly to have thought any more about his own
part in it. Not only his essential modesty but his affectionate nature
and the frank charm of his manner are apparent in such of his letters as
have been preserved.

The association of Bass with Flinders was fruitful in achievement, and
their friendship was perfect in its manliness; it is pathetic to realise
that when they parted, within a few weeks after the return of the Norfolk
to Sydney, these two men, still young in years and rich in hope, ability
and enterprise, were never to meet again.

As from this time Bass disappears from the story of his friend's life,
what is known of his later years may be here related. His fate is a
mystery that has never been satisfactorily cleared up, and perhaps never
will be. He returned to England "shortly after" the voyage of the
Norfolk. So wrote Flinders; but "shortly after" means later than April,
1799, for in that month Bass sat on a board of inquiry into the Isaac
Nicholls case, to be mentioned again hereafter.

In England, Bass married Elizabeth Waterhouse, sister of his old shipmate
Henry Waterhouse, the captain of the Reliance. With a wife to maintain,
he was apparently dissatisfied with his pay and prospects as a naval
surgeon. Nor was he quite the kind of man who would, in the full flush of
his restless energy, settle down to the ordinary practice of his
profession. Confined to a daily routine in some English town, he would
have been like a caged albatross pining for regions of illimitable blue.

Within three months of his marriage Bass had become managing owner of a
smart little 140-ton brig, the Venus, in a venture in which a syndicate
of friends had invested 10,890 pounds. In the early part of 1801 he
sailed in her with a general cargo of merchandise for Port Jackson. The
brig, which carried twelve guns--for England was at war, and there were
risks to be run
--was a fast sailer, teak-built and copper-sheathed, and was described as
"one of the most complete, handsome and strong-built ships in the River
Thames, and will suit any trade." She was loaded "as deep as she can swim
and as full as an egg," Bass wrote to his brother-in-law; and there is
the sailor's jovial pleasure in a good ship, with, perhaps, a suggestion
of the surgeon's point of view, in his declaration that she was "very
sound and tight, and bids fair to remain sound much longer than any of
her owners."

But the speculation was not an immediate success. The market was "glutted
with goods beyond all comparison," in addition to which Governor King,
who succeeded Hunter in 1800, was conducting the affairs of the
settlement upon a plan of the most rigid economy. "Our wings are clipped
with a vengeance, but we shall endeavour to fall on our feet somehow or
other," wrote Bass early in October, 1801.

A contract made with the Governor, to bring salt pork from Tahiti at
sixpence per pound, provided profitable employment for the Venus. Hogs
were plentiful in the Society Islands, and could be procured cheaply. The
arrangement commended itself to the thrifty Governor, who had hitherto
been paying a shilling per pound for pork, and it kept Bass actively
engaged. He was "tired of civilised life." There was, too, money to be
made, and he sent home satisfactory bills "to stop a few holes in my
debts." "That pork voyage," he wrote to his brother-in-law, "has been our
first successful speculation"; and he spoke again in fond admiration of
the Venus; "she is just the same vessel as when we left England, never
complains or cries, though we loaded her with pork most unmercifully."
While he was pursuing this trade, the French expedition under Baudin
visited Sydney, and they, on their chart of Wilson's Promontory gave the
name of Venus Bay to an inlet on the west side of Cape Liptrap. They also
bought goods to the extent of 359 pounds 10 shillings from "Mr. George
Basse."* (* Manuscript accounts of Baudin, Archives Nationales BB4 999.)

Bass now secured fishing concessions in New Zealand waters, from which he
hoped much. "The fishery is not to be put in motion till after my return
to old England," he wrote in January, 1803. Then, he said playfully, "I
mean to seize upon my dear Bess, bring her out here, and make a poissarde
of her, where she cannot fail to find plenty of ease for her tongue. We
have, I assure you, great plans in our heads, but, like the basket of
eggs, all depends upon the success of the voyage I am now upon." It was
the voyage from which he never returned.

There is another charming allusion to his wife in a letter written from
Tahiti: "I would joke Bess upon the attractive charms of Tahiti females
but that they have been so much belied in their beauty that she might
think me attracted in good earnest. However, there is nothing to fear
here." He speaks of her again in writing to his brother: "I have written
to my beloved wife, and do most sincerely lament that we are so far
asunder. The next voyage I have she must make with me, for I shall badly
pass it without her." The pathos of his reference to her in a letter of
October, 1801, can be felt in its note of manly sympathy, and is deepened
by the recollection that the young bride never saw him again. "Our dear
Bess talks of seeing me in eighteen months. Alas! poor Bess, the when is
uncertain, very uncertain in everything except its long distances. Turn
our eyes where we will, we see nothing but glutted markets around us."

The pork-procuring ventures continued till 1803. In that year Bass
arranged to sail beyond Tahiti to the Chilian coast, to buy other
provisions for the use of the colony. Whether he intended to force the
hand of fortune by engaging in the contraband trade can only be inferred.
That there was certainly a large amount of illicit traffic with South
America on the part of venturesome captains who made use of Port Jackson
as a harbour of refuge, is clear from extant documents.

The position was this. The persistent policy of Spain in the government
of her South American possessions was to conserve trade exclusively for
Spanish ships and Spanish merchants; and for this purpose several
restrictions were imposed upon unauthorised foreign traders. Nevertheless
the inhabitants of these colonies urgently required more goods than were
imported under such excessive limitations, and wanted to get them much
cheaper than was possible while monopoly and heavy taxation prevailed.
There was, consequently, a tempting inducement to skippers who were
sufficiently bold to take risks, to ship goods for Chili and Peru, and
run them in at some place along the immense coast-line, evading the lazy
eyes of perfunctory Spanish officials, or securing their corrupt
connivance by bribes. Contraband trade was, in fact, extensively
practised, and plenty of people in the Spanish colonies throve on it. As
a modern historian writes: "The vast extent of the border of Spain's
possessions made it impossible for her to guard it efficiently. Smuggling
could therefore be carried on with impunity, and the high prices which
had been given to European wares in America by the system of restriction,
constituted a sufficient inducement to lead the merchants of other
nations to engage in contraband trade."* The profits from success were
great; but the consequences of detection were disastrous. (* Bernard
Moses, Spanish Rule in America, 289.)

Now Bass, as already related, had brought out to Sydney in the Venus a
large quantity of unsaleable merchandise. He could not dispose of it
under conditions of glut. He had hoped that the Governor would take the
cargo into the Government store and let it be sold even at a 50 per cent
reduction. But King declined to permit that to be done. Here, then, was a
singularly courageous man, fond of daring enterprises, in command of a
good ship, with an unsaleable cargo on his hands. On the other side of
the Pacific was a country where such a cargo might, with luck, be sold at
a bounding profit. He could easily find out how the trade was done. There
was more than one among those with whom he would associate in Sydney who
knew a great deal about it.

One or two sentences in Bass's last letters to Henry Waterhouse contain
mysterious hints, which to him, with his experience of Port Jackson,
would be significant. He explained that he intended taking the Venus to
visit the coast of Chili in search of provisions, "and that they may not
in that part of the world mistake me for a contrabandist, I go provided
with a very diplomatic-looking certificate from the Governor here,
stating the service upon which I am employed, requesting aid and
protection in obtaining the food wanted. And God grant you may fully
succeed, says your warm heart, in so benevolent an object; and thus also
say I; Amen, say many others of my friends."

But was the diplomatic-looking paper intended rather to serve as a screen
than as a guarantee of bona fides? "In a few hours," wrote Bass at the
beginning of February, 1803, "I sail again on another pork voyage, but it
combines circumstances of a different nature also"; and at the end of the
same letter he added: "Speak not of South America to anyone out of your
family, for there is treason in the very name." What did he mean by that?
He spoke of "digging gold in South America," and clearly did not mean it
in the strict literal sense.

It is true that the Governor was anxious to get South American cattle and
beef for the settlement in Sydney, but can that have been the only motive
for a voyage beyond Tahiti? "If our approaching voyage proves at all
fortunate in its issue, I expect to make a handsome thing out of it, and
to be much expedited on my return to old England," Bass wrote in January.
He would not have been likely to make so very handsome a thing out of
beef in one voyage, to enable him to expedite his return to England.

The factors of the case are, then, that Bass had on his hands a large
quantity of goods which he had failed to sell in Sydney; that there was a
considerable and enormously profitable contraband trade with South
America at the time; that he expected to make a very large and rapid
profit out of the venture he was about to undertake; that he warned
Waterhouse against mentioning the matter outside the family circle, "for
there is treason in the very name"; and that he was himself a man
distinguished by dash and daring, who was very anxious to make a
substantial sum and return to England soon. The inference from his
language and circumstances as to the scheme he had in hand is

The "very diplomatic-looking certificate" which the Governor gave him was
dated February 3, 1803. It certified that "Mr. George Bass, of the
brigantine Venus, has been employed since the first day of November,
1801, upon His Britannic Majesty's service in procuring provisions for
the subsistence of His Majesty's colony, and still continues using those
exertions;" and it went on to affirm that should he find it expedient to
resort to any harbour in His Catholic Majesty's dominions upon the west
coast of America, "this instrument is intended to declare my full belief
that his sole object in going there will be to procure food, without any
view to private commerce or any other view whatsoever."

Notwithstanding the terms of this certificate, however, there is clear
evidence that Governor King was fully aware of the nature of the trade
conducted with the Spanish-American colonies by vessels using Port
Jackson; and though it may be that Bass did not tell him in so many words
what his whole intentions were, King knew that Bass had a large stock of
commodities to sell, and could hardly have been ignorant that a
considerable portion of them were re-shipped on the Venus for this
voyage. In a later despatch he alluded to vessels which carried goods
"from hence to the coasts of the Spanish possessions on the west side of
America," and he observed "that this must be a forced trade, similar to
that carried on among the settlements of that nation and Portugal on the
east side of America, and that much risk will attend it to the

Bass sailed from Sydney on February 5th, 1803. He never returned, and no
satisfactory account of what became of him is forthcoming.* (* The writer
of the article on Bass in the Dictionary of National Biography says that
"except that he left Australia in 1799 to return to England nothing
certain is known of Bass's subsequent history." But we know fairly fully
what he was doing up till February, 1803, as related above. The Bass
mystery commences after that date. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th
edition) finds no space for a separate article on this very remarkable
man.) Later in 1803 the brig Harrington, herself concerned in the
contraband trade, reported that the Venus had been captured and
confiscated by the Spaniards in Peru, and that Bass and the mate, Scott,
had been sent as prisoners to the silver mines. In December, 1804,
Governor King remarked in a despatch to the Secretary of State that he
had been "in constant expectation" of hearing from Bass, "to whom, there
is no doubt, some accident has occurred." The Harrington had reported the
capture of the Venus before King wrote that. Why did he not mention the
circumstance to the British Government? Why did he not allude to the
country to which he well knew that Bass intended to sail? It would seem
that King carefully avoided referring in his official despatches to an
enterprise upon which he had good reason to be aware that Bass had

War between Great Britain and Spain did not break out till December,
1804, after the seizure of the Spanish treasure fleet by British frigates
off Cadiz (October 5th). But in previous years, while Spain, under
pressure from Napoleon, lent her countenance to his aggressive policy,
English privateers had freely plundered Spanish commerce in the south
Pacific, and some of them had brought their prizes to Sydney. That this
was done with the knowledge of the authorities cannot be doubted.
Everybody knew about it. When the French exploring ships were lying at
Sydney in 1802, Peron saw there vessels "provided with arms, fitting out
for the western coast of America, stored with merchandise of various
kinds. These vessels were intended to establish, by force of arms, a
contraband commerce with the inhabitants of Peru, extremely advantageous
to both parties."

It would not, therefore, be wonderful that the Spanish authorities in
Chili or Peru should regard Port Jackson as a kind of wasp's nest, and
should look with suspicion on any vessel coming thence which might fall
into their hands, however much her commander might endeavour to make of
his official certificate declaring the Governor's "full belief" in his
lawful intentions. The irritation caused by the use that was being made
of Sydney as a privateering and contraband base of operations can be well
imagined. As early as December, 1799, indeed, Governor Hunter related
that a captured Spanish merchant vessel had been brought into port, and
he acknowledged that "this being the second Spanish prize brought hither,
we cannot be surprised, should it be known that such captures make a
convenience of this harbour, if it should provoke a visit from some of
the ships of war from the Spanish settlements on that coast." The
Spaniards would naturally be thirsting for revenge; and a ship sailing
direct from the port of which the raiders made a "convenience" would be
liable to feel their ire, should there be the semblance of provocation.
The authorities would have been justified in holding up the Venus if they
suspected that she carried contraband goods; and their treatment of her
officers and crew might be expected to reflect the temper of their
disposition towards Port Jackson and all that concerned it.

If, as the Harrington reported, Bass and his companions were sent to the
mines, the Spanish officials managed their act of punishment, or revenge,
very quietly. But at that time there was not a formal state of
belligerency between England and Spain, though the tension of public
feeling in Great Britain concerning Spanish relations with France was
acute. If it were considered that such an act as the seizure of the Venus
would be likely to precipitate a declaration of war, the motive for
secrecy was strong. Secrecy, moreover, would have been in complete
conformity with Spanish methods in South America. It is not recorded
whether the seizure of the Venus occurred at Callao, Valparaiso or
Valdivia; but a British lieutenant, Fitzmaurice, who was at Valparaiso
five years later, heard that a man named Bass had been in Lima some years

A friend of the Bass family residing at Lincoln in 1852 wrote a letter to
Samuel Sidney, the author of The Three Colonies of Australia, stating
that Bass's mother last heard of him "in the Straits of China." But this
was evidently an error of memory. If Bass ever got out of South America,
he would have written to his "dear Bess," to Waterhouse, and to Flinders.
The latter, in 1814, wrote of him as "alas, now no more." There is on
record a report that he was seen alive in South America in that year, but
the story is doubtful. He was a man full of affectionate loyalty to his
friends, and it is not conceivable that he would have left them without
news of him if any channel of communication had been open, as would have
been the case had he been at liberty as late as 1814. His father-in-law
made enquiries, but failed to obtain news. The report of the Harrington
was probably true, but beyond that we really have no information upon
which we can depend. The internal history of Spanish America has been
very scantily investigated, and it is quite possible that even yet some
diligent student of archives may find, some day, particulars concerning
the fate of this brave and adventurous spirit.

The disappearance of Bass's letters to his mother is a misfortune which
the student of Australian history must deplore. He was observant, shrewd,
an untiring traveller, and an entertaining correspondent. He probably
related to his mother, to whom he wrote frequently, the story of his
excursions and experiences, and the historical value of all that he wrote
would be very great. The letters, said the Lincoln friend, were long,
"containing full accounts of his discoveries." His mother treasured them
till she died, when they came into the possession of a Miss Calder. She
kept them in a box, and used occasionally to amuse herself by reading
them. But some time before 1852 Miss Calder went to the box to look at
them again, and found that they had disappeared. Whether she had lent
them to some person who had failed to return them, or had mislaid them,
is unknown. It is possible that they may still be in existence in some
dusty cupboard in England, and that we may even yet be gratified by an
examination of documents which would assuredly enable us to understand
more of the noble soul of George Bass.

It has been mentioned that Flinders and Bass did not meet again after the
voyage of the Norfolk and Bass's return to England. Though Sydney was the
base of both Flinders in the Investigator and Bass in the Venus in 1802
and 1803, they always had the ill-luck to miss each other. Bass was at
Tahiti while Flinders lay in port from May 9th to July 21st, 1802. He
returned in November, and left once more on his final voyage in February,
1803. Flinders arrived in Sydney again, after his exploration of the Gulf
of Carpentaria, in June, 1803. A farewell letter from him to his friend
is quoted in a later chapter.


Two more incidents in the career of Flinders will concern us before we
deal with his important later voyages. The first of these is only worth
mentioning for the light it throws upon the character of the man. In
March, 1799, he sat as a member of a court of criminal judicature in
Sydney, for the trial of Isaac Nichols, who was charged with receiving a
basket of tobacco knowing it to have been stolen. The case aroused
passionate interest at the time. People in the settlement took sides upon
it, as upon a matter of acute party politics, and the Governor was hotly
at variance with the Judge Advocate, the chief judicial officer.

Nichols had been a convict, but his conduct was good, and he was chosen
to be chief overseer of a gang employed in labour of various kinds. On
the expiration of his sentence, he acquired a small farm, and by means of
sobriety and industry built himself a comfortable house. Through his very
prosperity he became "an object to be noticed," as the Governor wrote,
and by reason of his diligent usefulness securing him official
employment, "he stood in the way of others." In Hunter's opinion, the
ruin of Nichols was deliberately planned; and he was convicted on what
the Governor believed to be false and malicious evidence.

The striking feature of the trial was that the Court (consisting of seven
members--three naval officers and three officers of the New South Wales
Corps, presided over by the Judge Advocate) was sharply divided in
opinion. The three naval men, Flinders, Waterhouse, and Lieutenant Kent,
were convinced of the accused man's innocence; the three military men,
with the Judge Advocate, voted for his conviction. There was thus a
majority against Nichols; but the Governor, believing that an injustice
was being done, suspended the execution of the sentence, and submitted
the papers to the Secretary of State. Bass came into the matter in the
month after the trial, as a member of a Court of Inquiry into the
allegation that certain persons had carried the tobacco to Nichols' house
with the object of implicating him.

The only point that need concern us here, is that Flinders wrote a
memorandum analysing the evidence with minute care, in justification of
his belief in the prisoner's innocence. It was a skilfully drawn
document, and it exhibits Flinders in a light which enhances our respect
for him, as the strong champion of an accused man whom he believed to be
wronged. In the result, the Crown granted a pardon to Nichols; but this
did not arrive till 1802, so tardy was justice in getting itself done.
Apart from Flinders' share in it, the case is interesting as revealing
the strained relations existing between the principal officials in the
colony at the time. The Judge Advocate was a bitter enemy of the
Governor, and the very administration of the law, affecting the liberties
of the people, was tinctured by these animosities.

It is pleasant to turn from so grimy a subject to the work for which
Flinders' tastes and talents peculiarly fitted him. The explorations
which he had hitherto accomplished were sufficient to convince Hunter
that he had under him an officer from whom good work could be expected,
and, the Reliance not being required for service, he readily acquiesced
when Flinders proposed that he should take the Norfolk northward, to
Moreton Bay, the "Glasshouse Bay" of Cook, and Hervey Bay, east of
Bundaberg. On this voyage he was accompanied by his younger brother,
Samuel Flinders. He also took with him an aboriginal named Bongaree,
"whose good disposition and manly conduct had attracted my esteem."

He sailed on July 8th. The task did not occupy much time, for the sloop
was back in Sydney by August 20th. The results were disappointing. It had
been hoped to find large rivers, and by means of them to penetrate the
interior of the country; but none were found.

Flinders missed the Clarence, though he actually anchored off its
entrance. Nor did he find the Brisbane, though, ascending the Glasshouse
Mountains, he saw indications of a river, which he could not enter with
the Norfolk on account of the intricacy of the channel and the shortness
of the time available.

Uneasiness of mind respecting the condition of the sloop must have had
much to do with the missing of the rivers. She sprung a leak two days out
of Port Jackson, and this was "a serious cause of alarm," the more so as
grains of maize, with which the Norfolk had been previously loaded, were
constantly choking up the pump. Weather conditions, also, did not favour
taking the vessel close inshore on her northward course, and it would
have been almost impossible to detect the mouths of the New South Wales
rivers without a close scrutiny of the coastline. Those considerations
are quite sufficient, when duly weighed, to account for the omissions. It
certainly was a rash statement, after so imperfect an examination, that
"however mortifying the conviction might be, it was then an ascertained
fact that no river of importance intersected the east coast between the
24th and 39th degrees of south latitude." But it is equally certain that
he could not have found these rivers with the means at his disposal. They
could not well have been observed from the deck of a vessel off the
coast.* (* See Coote, History of Queensland, 1 7, and Lang, Cooksland,
page 17.) A closer inspection of the shore-line was required. In fact,
the rivers were not found by seaward exploration; they were discovered by
inland travellers.

The most interesting features of the voyage lay in the meeting with
aboriginals in Moreton Bay. Some of the incidents were amusing, though at
one time there seemed to be danger of a serious encounter. Flinders went
ashore to meet a party of the natives, and endeavoured to establish
friendly relations with them. But as he was leaving, one of them threw a
spear. Flinders snatched up his gun and aimed at the offender, but the
flint being wet missed fire. A second snap of the trigger also failed,
but on a third trial the gun went off, though nobody was hurt. Flinders
thought that it might obviate future mischief if he gave the blacks an
idea of his power, so he fired at a man who was hiding behind a tree; but
without doing him any harm. The sound of the gun caused the greatest
consternation among the natives, and the small party of white men had no
more serious trouble with them while they were in the bay. Flinders was
"satisfied of the great influence which the use of a superior power has
in savages to create respect and render their communications friendly";
but he was fortunately able to keep on good terms without resort to

An effort to tickle the aboriginal sense of humour was a failure. Two of
the crew who were Scotch, commenced to dance a reel for the amusement of
the blacks. "For want of music," it is related, "they made a very bad
performance, which was contemplated by the natives without much amusement
or curiosity." The joke, like Flinders' gun, missed fire. There have
been, it is often alleged, other occasions when jokes made by Scotsmen
have not achieved a shining success; and we do well to respect the
intention while we deplore the waste of effort.

An example of cunning which did not succeed occurred shortly after the
first landing. Flinders was wearing a cabbage-tree hat, for which a
native had a fancy. The fellow took a long stick with a hook at the end
of it, and, laughing and talking to divert attention from his purpose,
endeavoured to take the hat from the commander's head. His detection
created much laughter; as did that of another black with long arms, who
tried to creep up to snatch the hat, but was afraid to approach too near.
The account which Collins, writing from Flinders' notes, gave of the
Queensland natives seen at Moreton Bay, is graphic but hardly attractive.
Two paragraphs about their musical attainments and their general
appearance will bear quotation:--

"These people, like the natives of Port Jackson, having fallen to the low
pitch of their voices, recommenced their song at the octave, which was
accompanied by slow and not ungraceful motions of the body and limbs,
their hands being held up in a supplicating posture; and the tone and
manner of their song and gestures seemed to bespeak the goodwill and
forbearance of their auditors. Observing that they were attentively
listened to, they each selected one of our people and placed his mouth
close to his ear, as if to produce a greater effect, or, it might be, to
teach them the song, which their silent attention might seem to express a
desire to learn." As a recompense for the amusement they had afforded him
Flinders gave them some worsted caps, and a pair of blanket trousers,
with which they seemed well pleased. Several other natives now made their
appearance; and it was some time before they could overcome their dread
of approaching the strangers with the firearms; but, encouraged by the
three who were with them, they came up, and a general song and dance was
commenced. Their singing was not confined to one air; they gave three.

"Of those who came last, three were remarkable for the largeness of their
heads, and one, whose face was very rough, had much more the appearance
of a baboon than of a human being. He was covered with oily soot; his
hair matted with filth; his visage, even among his fellows, uncommonly
ferocious; and his very large mouth, beset with teeth of every hue
between black, white, green and yellow, sometimes presented a smile which
might make anyone shudder."

The Norfolk remained fifteen days in Moreton Bay. The judgment that
Flinders formed of it was that it was "so full of shoals that he could
not attempt to point out any passage that would lead a ship into it
without danger." The east side was not sounded, and he was of opinion
that if a good navigable channel existed it would be found there. His
visit to Hervey Bay, further north, did not lead to any interesting
observations. He left there on his return voyage on August 7th, and
reached Port Jackson at dusk on the 20th.


Flinders sailed from Port Jackson for England in the Reliance on March
3rd, 1800. The old ship was in such a bad condition that Governor Hunter
"judged it proper to order her home while she may be capable of
performing the voyage." She carried despatches, which Captain Waterhouse
was directed to throw overboard in the event of meeting with an enemy's
ship of superior force and being unable to effect his escape. She lived
through a tempestuous voyage, making nine or ten inches of water per
hour, according to the carpenter's report, and providing plenty of
pumping exercise for a couple of convict stowaways who emerged from
hiding two days out of Sydney. At St. Helena, reached at the end of May,
company was joined with four East India ships, and off Ireland H.M.S.
Cerberus took charge of the convoy till the arrival at Portsmouth on
August 26th.

When Flinders left England six years before, he was a midshipman. He
passed the examination qualifying him to become lieutenant at the Cape of
Good Hope in 1797, and was appointed provisionally to that rank on the
return of the Reliance to Sydney from the South African voyage in that
year. The prompt confirmation of his promotion by the admiralty he
attributed to the kind interest of Admiral Pasley.

When he quitted his ship at Deptford in October, 1800, he was a man of
mark. His name was honourably known to the elders of his profession,
whilst he was esteemed by men concerned with geography, navigation, and
kindred branches of study, for the importance of the work he had done,
and for the thorough scientific spirit manifested in it.

Chief among those who recognised his quality was Sir Joseph Banks, the
learned and wealthy squire who was ever ready to be to zealous men of
science a friend, a patron, and an influence. Banks was, indeed,
memorable for the men and work he helped, rather than for his own
original contributions to knowledge. During his presidency of the Royal
Society, from 1777 to 1820--a long time for one man to occupy the
principal place in the most distinguished learned body in the world--he
not only encouraged, but promoted and directed, a remarkable radiation of
research work, and was the accessible friend of every man of ability
concerned in extending the bounds of enquiry into phenomena.

Banks took a special interest in the young navigator, who was a native of
his own bit of England, Lincolnshire. He knew well what a large field for
geographical investigation there was in Australia, and recognised that
Flinders was the right man to do the work. Banks had always foreseen the
immense possibilities of the country; he was the means of sending out the
naturalists George Caley, Robert Brown, and Allan Cunningham, to study
its natural products. That he was quick to recognise the sterling
capacity of Matthew Flinders constitutes his principal claim to our
immediate attention. The spirit of our age is rather out of sympathy with
the attitude of patronage, which, as must be confessed, it gratified
Banks to assume; but at all events it was, in this instance, patronage of
the only tolerable sort, that which helps an able man to fulfil himself
and serve his kind.

Before he went to sea again, Flinders was married (April 1801) to Miss
Ann Chappell, stepdaughter of the Rev. William Tyler, rector of
Brothertoft, near Boston. She was a sailor's daughter, her own father
having died while in command of a ship out of Hull, engaged in the Baltic
trade. It is probable that there was an attachment between the pair
before Flinders left England in 1794; for during the Norfolk expedition
in 1798 he had named a smooth round hill in Kent's group Mount Chappell,
and had called a small cluster of islands the Chappell Isles. He does not
tell us why they were so named, as was his usual practice. He merely
speaks of them as "this small group to which the name of Chappell Isles
is affixed in the chart." But a tender little touch of sentiment may
creep in, even in the making of charts; and we cannot have or wish to
have, any doubt as to the reason in this case.

In his Observations, published in the year of his marriage, Flinders
remarks (page 24) that the hill "had received the name of Mount Chappell
in February, 1798, and the name is since extended to the isles which lie
in its immediate neighbourhood." The fact that the name was given in
1798, indicates that a kindly feeling, to say the least of it, was
entertained for Miss Chappell before Flinders left England in 1795. The
lover in As You Like It carved his lady's name on trees:

"O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I'll character."

Here we find our young navigator writing his lady's name on the map. It
is rather an uncommon symptom of a very common complaint.

Miss Chappell and her sister, the sisters of Flinders, and the young
ladies of the Franklin family, were a group of affectionate friends who
lived in the same neighbourhood, and were constantly together. The boys
of the families were brothers to all the girls, who were all sisters to
them. Matthew on the Reliance wrote to them letters intended to be read
by all, addressing them as "my charming sisters." In one of these
epistles he told the girls: "never will there be a more happy soul than
when I return. O, may the Almighty spare me all those dear friends
without whom my joy would be turned into sorrow and mourning." But that
he nourished the recollection of Ann Chappell in his heart with especial
warmth is apparent from a letter he wrote to her very shortly after the
Reliance returned to England (September 25th, 1800):* (* Flinders'
Papers.) "You are one of those friends," he assured her, "whom I consider
it indispensably necessary to see. I should be glad to have some little
account of your movements, where you reside, and with whom, that my
motions may be regulated accordingly...You see that I make everything
subservient to business. Indeed, my dearest friend, this time seems to be
a very critical period of my life. I have long been absent--have done
services abroad that were not expected, but which seem to be thought a
good deal of. I have more and greater friends than before, and this seems
to be the moment that their exertions may be most serviceable to me. I
may now perhaps make a bold dash forward, or may remain a poor lieutenant
all my life." And he ended this letter, which Miss Chappell would not
fail to read "between the lines," by assuring "my dear friend Annette,"
that "with the greatest sincerity, I am her most affectionate friend and
brother, Matthew Flinders."

From this point the comforting understanding between the two young people
developed in ways as to which there is no evidence in correspondence; but
shortly after Flinders received promotion he must have proposed marriage.
He wrote a short time afterwards in these terms:

"H.M.S. Investigator, at the Nore, April 6, 1801.

"My dearest friend,

"Thou hast asked me if there is a POSSIBILITY of our living together. I
think I see a PROBABILITY of living with a moderate share of comfort.
Till now I was not certain of being able to fit myself out clear of the
world. I have now done it, and have accommodation on board the
Investigator, in which as my wife a woman may, with love to assist her,
make herself happy. This prospect has recalled all the tenderness which I
have so sedulously endeavoured to banish. I am sent for to London, where
I shall be from the 9th to the 19th, or perhaps longer. If thou wilt meet
me there, this hand shall be thine for ever. If thou hast sufficient love
and courage, say to Mr. and Mrs. Tyler* (* Her mother and stepfather.)
that I require nothing more with thee than a sufficient stock of clothes
and a small sum to answer the increased expenses that will necessarily
and immediately come upon me; as well for living on board as providing
for it at Port Jackson; for whilst I am employed in the most dangerous
part of my duty, thou shalt be placed under some friendly roof there. I
need not, nor at this time have I time to enter into a detail of my
income and prospects. It will, I trust, be sufficient for me to say that
I see a fortune growing under me to meet increasing expenses. I only want
a fair start, and my life for it, we will do well and be happy. I will
write further to-morrow, but shall most anxiously expect thy answer at 86
Fleet Street, London, on my visit on Friday; and, I trust, thy presence
immediately afterwards. I have only time to add that most anxiously I am,
Most sincerely thine,


He appended a postscript which covertly alludes to the manner in which
Sir Joseph Banks might be expected to regard the marriage on the eve of
commencing the new voyage: "It will be much better to keep this matter
entirely secret. There are many reasons for it yet, and I have also a
powerful one: I do not know how my great friends might like it."

But, taking all the risks in this direction, he snatched the first
opportunity that presented itself to hurry down to Lincolnshire, get
married, and bring his bride up to London, stuffing into his boot, for
safe keeping, a roll of bank notes given to him by Mr. Tyler at the
moment of farewell.

In a letter* to his cousin Henrietta, (* Flinders' Papers.) he relates
how hurriedly the knot matrimonial was at length tied, on the 17th of

"Everything was agreed to in a very handsome manner, and just at this


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