"The Indians fell flat into the bottom of the canoe, all except the man on the shed. The seventh musket was fired at him, and he fell also. During this time the canoe dropped astern; and, the three others having joined her, they all gave chase to the cutter, trying to cut her off from the ship; in which they would probably have succeeded, had not the pinnace arrived at that juncture to her assistance. The Indians then hoisted their sails and steered for Darnley Island." Flinders had watched the encounter from the deck of the Providence, and his seaman's word of admiration for the skill of the savages in the management of their canoes, is notable. "No boats could have been manoeuvred better in working to windward, than were these canoes of the naked savages. Had the four been able to reach the cutter, it is difficult to say whether the superiority of our arms would have been equal to the great difference of numbers, considering the ferocity of these people and the skill with which they seemed to manage their weapons."
Five days later, between Dungeness and Warrior Islands, there was a livelier encounter. A squadron of canoes attacked both ships in a daring and vigorous fashion. The Assistant was pressed with especial severity, so that Portlock had to signal for help. A volley of musketry had little effect upon the Papuans; and when one wing of the attacking squadron, numbering eight canoes, headed for the Providence, and a musket was fired at the foremost, the natives responded with a great shout and paddled forward in a body." Bligh had one of the great guns of the ship loaded with round and grape shot, and fired fair into the first of the long Papuan war canoes, which were full of savage assailants. The round shot raked the whole length of the craft, and struck the high stern. Men from other canoes, with splendid bravery, leaped into the water, and swam to the assistance of their comrades, "plunging constantly to avoid the musket balls which showered thickly about them." So hard was the attack pressed, that three of the Assistant's crew were wounded, one afterwards dying; and "the depth to which the arrows penetrated into the decks and sides of the brig was reported to be truly astonishing." But bows and arrows, on this as on many another occasion, were no match for gunnery; so that, after a hot peppering, the Papuans gave up the fight, paddling back to a safe distance as fast as they could, without exposing themselves to fire. They rallied beyond reach of musket balls, as though for a second onslaught, but a shot fired over their heads from the Providence served to convince them of the hopelessness of their endeavour, and they abandoned it.
An incident not without heroic pathos is recorded by Flinders. One native was left sitting alone in the canoe which the gun-shot of the Providence had raked and splintered. The men in the canoes which had made good their flight observed their solitary companion, and some of them returned to him; whereafter "with glasses, signals were perceived to be made by the Indians to their friends on Dungeness Island, expressive, as was thought, of grief and consternation." Whether the lone warrior was too severely wounded to be moved, or whether he was some Papuan Casabianca clinging to his shattered craft "whence all but he had fled" or been killed, or hurled into the sea, we are not told. But that canoe had been foremost in attack, perhaps the flagship of the squadron; and the memory of that solitary warrior still sitting upon the floating wreck while his defeated companions returned to him, and then left him, to explain his case with gestures of grief to those on the island, clings to the memory of the reader, as it did to that of the young observer and historian of the encounter.
No more natives were seen during the passage through Torres Strait, nor were there other incidents to enliven the narrative, unless we include the formal "taking possession of all the islands seen in the Strait for His Britannic Majesty George III, with the ceremonies used on such occasions" (September 16). The name bestowed upon the whole group of islands was Clarence's Archipelago.
Flinders described the natives whom he saw carefully and accurately; and his account of their boats, weapons, and mode of warfare is concise and good. Some friendly Darnley Islanders were described as stoutly made, with bushy hair; the cartilage between the nostrils cut away; the lobes of the ears split, and stretched "to a good length." "They had no kind of clothing, but wore necklaces of cowrie shells fastened to a braid of fibres; and some of their companions had pearl-oyster shells hung round their necks. In speaking to each other, their words seemed to be distinctly pronounced. Their arms were bows, arrows, and clubs, which they bartered for every kind of iron work with eagerness, but appeared to set little value on anything else. The bows are made of split bamboo, and so strong that no man in the ship could bend one of them. The string is a broad slip of cane fixed to one end of the bow; and fitted with a noose to go over the other end when strung. The arrow is a cane of about four feet long, into which a pointed piece of the hard, heavy, casuarina wood is firmly and neatly fitted; and some of them were barbed. Their clubs are made of casuarina, and are powerful weapons. The hand part is indented, and has a small knob, by which the firmness of the grasp is much assisted; and the heavy end is usually carved with some device. One had the form of a parrots head, with a ruff round the neck, and was not ill done.
"Their canoes are about fifty feet in length, and appear to have been hollowed out of a single tree; and the pieces which form the gunwales are planks sewed on with fibres of the cocoanut and secured with pegs. These vessels are low forward, but rise abaft; and, being narrow, are fitted with an outrigger on each side to keep them steady. A raft, of greater breadth than the canoe, extends over about half the length, and upon this is fixed a shed or hut, thatched with palm leaves. These people, in short, appeared to be dexterous sailors and formidable warriors, and to be as much at ease in the water as in their canoes."
On September 19th the two ships, with caution and perseverance, had threaded their dangerous way through the intricate maze of reefs and shoals of Torres Strait, and found open sea to the westward. In latitude 10 degrees 8 1/2 minutes "no land was in sight, nor did anything more obstruct Captain Bligh and his associates in their route to the island Timor."
It is easy to imagine the delight with which these experiences thrilled the young midshipman on the Providence. His eighteenth birthday was spent in the Pacific, in the early Autumn of a hemisphere where the sea was not yet cloven by innumerable keels, and where beauty, enchantment and mystery lay upon life and nature like a spell. A few years previously he had been a schoolboy in the flattest, most monotonous of English shires. Broad fields, dykes and fen had composed the landscape most familiar to his eye. In these surroundings he had dreamed, as a boy will, of palm-fanned islands in distant climes, of adventures with savage peoples, of strange seas where great fishes are, and where romance touches all that is with its purple light. Far horizons steeped in marvels had bounded the vision of his imagining eye. His passion was to see and do in realms at the back of the sunrise. He wanted to sail and explore in parts represented by blank spaces on the map.
These dreams of the boy, basking with Robinson Crusoe under remote skies, were suddenly translated into a reality as dazzling-bright and wonderful as anything pictured in pages often and fondly conned. This was his first voyage, and he was serving under a commander who had lived the romance that other men wrote and read about, who was himself a living part of an adventure whose story will be told and re-told to the centuries, and who had served under as great and noble a captain as ever trod an English deck.
The very nature of the voyage was bound to stimulate that "passion for exploring new countries," to use Flinders' own phrase, the hope for which was a strong factor in prompting him to choose the sea as a career. It was a voyage whose primary object involved a stay in two of the loveliest regions on the earth, the paradise of the Pacific and the gem-like Antilles. The pride and pleasure of participation in discovery were his forthwith. A new passage through an intricate and dangerous Strait was found and charted; a whole archipelago was delineated, named, and taken possession of for the British nation. The world's knowledge was increased. There was something put down on the map which was not there before. The contact with the islanders in the Strait gave a brisk element of adventure to the expedition; and certainly Papuan warriors are foes as wild and weird as any adventurer can desire to meet. The rescuing of wrecked mariners at Tahiti added a spice of adventure of another sort. From beginning to end, indeed, this voyage must have been as full of charm as of utility.
The effect it had upon the future life of Matthew Flinders was very striking. The whole of the salient features of his later career follow from it. He made the most of his opportunities. Captain Bligh found him a clever assistant in the preparation of charts and in making astronomical observations. Indeed, says an expert writer, although Flinders was as yet "but a juvenile navigator, the latter branch of scientific service and the care of the timekeepers were principally entrusted to him."* (* Naval Chronicle Volume 32 180.) These facts indicate that he was applying himself seriously to the scientific side of his profession, and that he had won the confidence of a captain who was certainly no over-indulgent critic of subordinates.
The Providence and the Assistant returned to England in the latter part of 1793. Before Flinders once more sighted the Australian coastline he was to experience the sensations of battle, and to take a small part in the first of the series of naval engagements connected with the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era.
CHAPTER 4. THE BATTLE OFF BREST.
When Bligh's expedition returned, Europe was staggering under the shock of the French Revolution. The head of Louis XVI was severed in January; the knife of Charlotte Corday was plunged into the heart of Marat in July; Marie Antoinette, the grey discrowned Queen of thirty-eight, mounted the scaffold in October. The guillotine was very busy, and France was frantic amid internal disruption and the menace of a ring of foes.
The English governing classes had been clamouring for war. It seemed to many political observers that it was positively needful to launch the country into an international struggle to divert attention from demands for domestic reform. "Democratic ambition was awakened; the desire of power, under the name of reform, was rapidly gaining ground among the middling ranks; the only mode of checking the evil was by engaging in a foreign contest, by drawing off the ardent spirits into active service and, in lieu of the modern desire for innovation, rousing the ancient gallantry of the British people."* (* Alison, History of Europe, 1839 2 128.) French military operations in the Netherlands, running counter to traditional British policy, were provocative, and the feeling aroused by the execution of Louis immediately led Pitt's ministry to order the French Ambassador, Chauvelin, to leave London within eight days. He left at once. On February 1st, acting on Chauvelin's report of the disposition and preparations of Great Britain, France formally declared war.
Flinders was with Bligh, peacefully landing breadfruit trees in the West Indies, when this momentous opening of a twenty-two years' conflict occurred. When the expedition reached England, every port and dockyard on the south coast was humming with preparations for a great naval struggle. The Channel Fleet, under Lord Howe's command, was cruising in search of the enemy's ships of war. Flinders' patron, Pasley, who had hoisted his broad pennant as commodore on the Bellerophon, was actively engaged in this service. In October, 1793, he was detached by Howe to look for five French vessels that had some time before chased the British frigate Circe into Falmouth. Howe himself, with a fleet of 22 sail, put to sea later in the same month. On November 18 his squadron sighted six French ships of the line and some frigates, and gave chase. But they were seen late in the day, and soon darkness prevented an engagement. On the following morning the enemy was again sighted by the chasing squadron under Pasley; but the Latona signalled that the French were in superior strength, and the British detachment retired.* (* James, Naval History, 1837 1 60.) Howe's cruise was barren of results, and the British fleet returned to Torbay. Naval operations were suspended for several months.
Flinders naturally took advantage of the earliest opportunity to report himself to the friend who had first helped him into the King's Navy. Pasley, who was promoted on April 12th, 1794, to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the White, again welcomed him on board the Bellerophon and, hearing from Captain Bligh excellent accounts of his diligence and usefulness, appointed him one of his aides-de-camp. It was in this capacity that he took part in the great battle off Brest on June 1st, 1794, signalised in British naval history as "the glorious First of June."
Lord Howe, with the Channel Fleet (thirty-four ships of the line and fifteen frigates) put to sea on May 2nd with two purposes: first, to convoy to a safe distance from the probable field of hostilities a squadron of 148 British merchantmen bound for various ports; second, to intercept and destroy a French fleet which was known to be convoying a large company of provision-ships from America. War, bad harvests, the disorganization of industry, and revolutionary upheavals, had produced an acute scarcity of food in France, and the arrival of these vessels was awaited with intense anxiety. To prevent their arrival, or to destroy the French squadron, would be to strike a serious blow at the enemy. Howe had under him a fleet eager for fight; against him, a foe keenly aware how vitally necessary to their country was the arrival of the food-ships.
The French fleet (twenty-six ships of the line) under the command of Villaret-Joyeuse, put to sea from Brest on May 16. Some foggy days intervened. On the 28th Howe sighted them. The French admiral formed his ships in a close line. Howe's plan was first to get his fleet to windward of the enemy, then to sail down, pierce his line, and engage his vessels to leeward.
The Bellerophon was in action shortly after coming within striking distance, on the 28th May. Pasley, at six o'clock in the evening, attacked the French rear, his immediate antagonist being the Revolutionnaire, 110 guns. A hot duel, maintained with splendid intrepidity by the British rear-admiral, continued for over an hour and a quarter, for the other ships of the British fleet were unable to get up to support the fast-sailing Bellerophon. She was severely handled by her large antagonist, and was hampered in her ability to manoeuvre by a shot which injured her mainmast. Pasley therefore, on a signal from the Admiral, bore up. The Revolutionnaire was now attacked from a distance by the Russell, the Marlborough and the Thunderer, and endeavoured to make off, but was blocked by the Leviathan. The Audacious (74) took up the work which the Bellerophon had commenced, and, laying herself on the lee quarter of the Revolutionnaire, poured a rain of shot into her. The fight was continued in a rough sea far into the twilight of that early summer evening; until, about 10 o'clock, the Revolutionnaire was a mere floating hulk. Her flag had either been lowered or shot down, but she was not captured, and was towed into Rochefort on the following day. The Audacious was so badly knocked about that she was of no use for later engagements, and was sent home.
This was Matthew Flinders' first taste of war.
Howe's plan for the big battle that was imminent involved much manoeuvring, and, as Nelson wrote in his celebrated "plan of attack" before Trafalgar, "a day is soon lost in that business." The British manoeuvred to get the weather gauge; Villaret-Joyeuse to keep it. On May 29th Howe in the Queen Charlotte pierced the French line with two other ships, the Bellerophon and the Leviathan, and there was some fighting. The Bellerophon got to windward of the enemy by passing in front of the French Terrible (110), and put in some excellent gunnery practice. She sailed so close to the French ship to starboard as almost to touch her, and brought down the enemy's topmast and lower yards with a broadside, whilst at the same time she raked the Terrible with her larboard guns.* (* There is an interesting engraving of the Bellerophon passing through the French line and firing both her broadsides in the Naval Chronicle Volume 1, and a plan of the manoeuvre, showing the course of the Bellerophon, in James's Naval History.)
May 30 and 31 were foggy days, and neither fleet could see the other. On June 1st there was a blue sky, a brilliant sun, a lively sea, and a wind that favoured the plans of the British Admiral. The signal for close action was flown from the masthead of the Queen Charlotte. Howe ordered his ships to sail on an oblique course down upon the French line, the two fleets having during the night lain in parallel lines stretching east and west. The intention was to break the French line near the centre, each British captain sailing round the stern of his antagonist, and fighting her to leeward, thus concentrating the attack on the enemy's rear, cutting it off from the van, and preventing flight.
The Bellerophon was the second ship in the British line, next after the Caesar. Flinders was upon the quarterdeck as she steered through her selected gap, which was on the weather quarter of the Eole; and an anecdote of his behaviour on that memorable occasion fortunately survives. The guns on the quarterdeck were loaded and primed ready for use, but Pasley did not intend to fire them until he had laid himself on the lee of his chosen adversary, and could pour a broadside into her with crushing effect. There was a moment when the gunners were aloft trimming sails. As the Bellerophon was passing close under the stern of the French three-decker—within musket-shot, James says—* (* Naval History 1 154.) Flinders seized a lighted match and rapidly fired as many of the quarterdeck guns as would plump shot fairly into her.* (* Naval Chronicle 32 180.) Pasley saw him and, shaking him by the collar, said, sternly: "How dare you do that, youngster, without my orders?" Flinders replied that he "thought it a fine chance to have a shot at 'em." So it was, though not in conformity with orders; and probably Pasley, as good a fighter as there was in the fleet, liked his young aide-de-camp rather the more for his impetuous action.
The guns of the Bellerophon were opened upon the Eole at 8.45, and battered her severely. The British vessel was subjected in turn, however, not only to the fire of her chosen victim, but also to that of the Trajan. At ten minutes to eleven o'clock a shot from the Eole took off Pasley's leg, and he was carried down to the cockpit, whereupon the command devolved upon Captain William Hope. It must have been a distressing moment for Flinders, despite the intense excitement of action, when his friend and commander fell; it was indeed, as will be seen, a crucial moment in his career. A doggerel bard of the time enshrined the event in a verse as badly in need of surgical aid as were the heroes whom it celebrates:
"Bravo, Bowyer, Pasley, Captain Hutt, Each lost a leg, being sorely hurt; Their lives they valued but as dirt, When that their country called them!"*
(* Naval Songs and Ballads, Publications of the Navy Record Society, Volume 33 270.)
The fight was continued with unflagging vigour, in the absence of the gallant rear-admiral, who, as another lyrist of the event informs us, smiled and said:
"Fight on my lads and try To make these rebel Frenchmen know That British courage still will flow To make them strike or die."
At a quarter before noon the Eole had received such a hammering that she endeavoured to wear round under shelter of her leader; but in doing so she lost mainmast and foretopmast. The Bellerophon, too, had by this time been sufficiently hard hit to cause Hope to signal to the Latona for assistance. Her foretopmast and maintopmast had gone, and her mainmast was so badly damaged as to be dangerous. Her rigging was cut to pieces, all her boats were smashed, and she was practically as crippled as was her brave commander, upon whom the surgeons had been operating down below, amid the blood of the cockpit and the thunder and smoke of the cannon.
The battle ended about 1 p.m. The French fleet was badly beaten, and Villaret-Joyeuse at the end of the day drew back to Brest only a battered, splintered and ragged remnant of the fine squadron which he had commanded. Still, the French provision ships slipped by and arrived safely in port. The squadron had been sent out to enable them to get in, and in they were, though it had cost a fleet to get them in. Nelson used the phrase "a Lord Howe victory" disparagingly. Nothing short of a complete smashing of the enemy and the utter frustration of his purposes would ever satisfy that ardent soul.
For the sake of clearness, the general scheme of the battle has been described, together with the part played in it by the Bellerophon; but we fortunately have a detailed account of it by Flinders himself. Young as he was, only a few weeks over 20 years of age, he was evidently cool, and his journal is crowded with carefully observed facts, noted amidst the heat and confusion of conflict; and it is doubtful whether there is in existence a better story of this important fleet action. The manuscript of his journal occupies forty foolscap pages. It is much damaged by sea-water, the paper in some parts having been rendered quite pulpy. But the sheets relating to the 1st of June are entirely legible. As the reader will see, there is here no rhetoric, no excited use of vivid adjectives to give colour to the story. It is a calmly observed piece of history. Read attentively, it enables one to live through the stirring events with which it deals in a singularly thrilling style. We feel the crash and thunder and hustle of battle far more keenly from the detailed accumulation of occurrences here presented than any scene-painting prose could make us do. The journal begins on September 7th, 1793, when Flinders joined the Bellerophon, and continues till August 10th, 1794, when he quitted her. In the early part it deals principally with cruising up and down the Channel looking for the enemy's ships. Occasionally there was a skirmish. We may select a few instances from this period, before coming to what immediately preceded the great day:
"Wednesday, 11th (September, 1793) a.m. Hoisted a broad pennant by order of Lord Howe, Capt. Pasley being appointed a commodore of the fleet. Weighed and anchored in our station in Torbay.
"Monday, November 18th.* (* See note below.) Saw nine or ten sail, seemingly large ships, standing towards us. The admiral made the Russell and Defence signals to chase, also the Audacious; and soon after ours. By this time the strange ships had brought to, hull down, to windward, seemingly in some confusion. The Ganges' signal was also made to chase. At 9 the Admiral made the sign for the strange fleet being an enemy, and for our sternmost ships to make more sail. At 10 the signal to engage as the other ships came up was made. The enemy had now hauled their wind, and standing from us with as much sail as they could carry. Split one jib; got another bent as fast as possible. We were now the headmost line of battle ship and gaining fast upon the enemy; but the main part of our fleet seemed rather to drop from them. St. Agnes north 34 degrees east 89 miles. Ship all clear for action since 9 o'clock.
"Tuesday, November 19th, 1793. Judge six of the enemy's ships to be of the line, two frigates and two brigs...On the wind shifting at 4 in a squall, tacked, as did the Latona, which brought her near the rear of the enemy's ships, at which she fired several shot; she tacked again at 5, and fired, which the sternmost of their ships returned. At dark the enemy passed to windward of us, about 5 or 6 miles...12, set top-gallant-sails, but obliged to take them in again for fear of carrying away the masts. Sundry attempts were made during the night to set, but as often obliged to take them in. At 12 lost sight of all our ships except one frigate. The weather very hazy, with squalls at times, and at 2 a heavy shower of rain, which lasted a considerable time. When it cleared a little, saw two or three of the enemy's ships ahead of the others on the lee bow. Very thick and hazy, with much rain. Made the signal that the enemy had bore away. Saw the Latona and Phoenix, who seemed suspicious of each other, but on discovering they were friends both bore away after one of the enemy's ships...About 9 the Phoenix and Latona being the only friends in sight, the latter made the signal for the enemy being superior to the ships chasing. Soon after we made the signal to call the frigates in...In the firing the preceding evening the Latona received a shot between wind and water in the breadroom, and another in the galley; but happily no one was hurt and but little injury received."
An amusing example of an attempt to "dodge," under false colours, is related on the following day. The trick did not succeed.
"Wednesday, November 27th, 1793, a.m. Hazy weather. Squadron in company. Saw a strange ship to the southward, who hoisted an Union Jack at the main topmast head and a red flag at the fore. The Phoenix being ahead made the private signal, but the stranger not answering she made the signal for an enemy. We immediately made the general signal to chase. At 10 the Phoenix and Latona fired a few shots at her, upon which she hoisted French colours, discharged her guns, and struck. She proved to be La Blonde of 28 guns and 190 men. The squadron brought to. The French captain came on board and surrendered his sword to the commodore. Separated the prisoners amongst the squadron. An officer of the Phoenix sent to take charge of the prize and a party of men from each ship.
"Tuesday, December 1st, 1793. Brought to. The Phoenix sent into Falmouth, Mr. Waterhouse, Lieutenant, sent in her to take charge of the Blonde prize."
The French fleet, as related above, put out of Brest on May 16, 1794. Flinders tells us how they were sighted, and what happened during the days preceding the great battle:
"Friday, May 23rd. The Southampton brought a strange brig into the fleet and destroyed her...a.m. A fine little ship, called the Albion, of Bermuda, set on fire by the Glory. The Aquilon brought a strange ship into the fleet. A galliot, with Dutch colours inverted, passed through the fleet, having been set on fire by the Niger...A French man-of-war, captured and brought into the fleet by the frigates, was set on fire.
"Saturday, May 24. The ship brought into the fleet by the Aquilon left us and stood to the eastward. She was bound to Hull, and was part of a Dutch convoy, most of which had been taken and destroyed by the French fleet on Wednesday last.
"Sunday, May 25th. At daybreak saw four sail to windward; our squadron sent in chase. Fired a shot and brought to a French brig, man-of-war. Made signal that the prize was not secure, and chased a large ship further to windward, apparently of the line, and with another ship in tow. Tacked as soon as she was on our beam. She had cast off her prize as soon as we fired at the brig. In passing, fired at and brought to a French corvette; but left her for the fleet to pick up. Passed to leeward of the ship the chase had in tow. She appeared to be a large merchantman and had up American colours. The frigates in chase picked her up soon after. At 10 the chase was nearly hull down, and gained upon us. Stood back to the fleet, being recalled by signal. Saw one of the prizes in flames, and found the three had been destroyed at noon; 162 leagues west by south of Ushant."
In the ensuing pages we are brought into the thick of the battle.
"Wednesday, May 28th. Saw two strange sail, one of which the Phoenix spoke, and soon after made signal for a strange fleet south-south-west. About 8, we counted 33 sail, 24 or 25 of which appeared to be of the line, and all standing down towards us. At 8.30 our signal was made to reconnoitre the enemy—as we were now certain they were. A frigate of their's was likewise looking at us. At noon the enemy's fleet south-west to west-south-west, on the larboard tack under an easy sail in line ahead, and distant 3 or 4 leagues. Our fleet 3 or 4 leagues to leeward in the order of sailing or under a press of sail. Ushant north 82 degrees east 143 leagues.
"Thursday, May 29th, 1794. Fresh gales with rain at times, and a swell from the westward. Repeated the general signals for chase, battle, etc. Kd.* ship occasionally, working to windward under a press of sail, our squadron and the frigates in company, and our fleet a few miles to leeward.
(* "Kd. ship" is an expression which puzzled Professor Flinders Petrie, who appended a note to the Flinders papers, suggesting that it could hardly mean kedged. Captain Bayldon supplies an exceedingly interesting explanation:
"Without the least doubt 'Kd. ship' means 'tacked ship.' 'Kd.' is either a private abbreviation of Flinders' for 'tacked' or else he intended to have written 'Tkd.' There is no nautical term beginning with K which would make the least sense under the circumstances. 'Kedged' is utterly inadmissable; both fleets were under way in pretty heavy weather. 'Working to windward' practically means 'tacking ship.' So why did Flinders mention an obvious fact, 'tacked ship'? Because the weather was bad, strong breezes, heavy swell, and therefore it was very hazardous to tack ship (on account of throwing the sails aback) and also many ships could not be forced into tacking with a heavy head swell. Consequently it is usual to wear ship under these conditions (turn her round before the wind). So he then mentions 'under a press of sail,' to force her up into the wind (also making it a risky manoeuvre, for they could easily lose their masts—foremast especially). Hence he was proud of the manoeuvre, so mentions, 'tacked ship occasionally, under a press of sail.' On the 29th May at 8 a.m., the French van wore in succession. (Fresh wind, heavy head sea). Soon after noon (Flinders' old nautical time gives May 30th) Lord Howe signalled the British fleet to tack in succession. The leading ship, the Caesar, instead of obeying, made the signal of inability and wore round. The next ship, the Queen, also wore. So (at 1.30 p.m.) Lord Howe set the example in the Queen Charlotte and tacked. Pasley's Bellerophon followed him, and tacked also; the Leviathan tacked and followed her. These three ships were the only ones to tack. All the remainder wore, and so did the French. Either their captains would not take the risk, or else could not force their ships through the heavy head sea. So I expect Flinders and the 'Bully ruffians' felt elated at their performance and he intended to record 'Tkd. ship.'")
"About 3 the Russell, being a mile or two to windward of us, began to fire on the enemy's rear, as they were hauling on the larboard tack, and continued to stand on with the Thunderer and frigates, to get into their wake. We tacked a little before the rear ship was on our beam, which enabled us to bring them to action a considerable time before the other ships could come up to our assistance. Our first fire was directed on a large frigate which brought up the enemy's rear, but she soon made sail and went to windward of the next ship (a three-decker)* (* The Revolutionnaire.) on whom we immediately pointed our guns. In a few minutes she returned it with great spirit, our distance from her being something more than a mile. My Lord Howe, seeing us engaged with a three-decked ship, and the next ahead of him frequently giving us a few guns, made the Russell and Marlborouqh's signals to come to our assistance, they being on the weather quarter. About dusk more of the fleet had got up with us, the signal having been made to chase without regard to order. The Leviathan and Audacious, particularly, passed to windward of us, and came to close engagement; the first keeping as close to him to leeward as she could fetch, and the latter fetching to windward of him, laid herself athwart his stern and gave a severe raking. The headmost of the French fleet were apparently hove to, but made no effort to relieve their comrade. At this time our maincap was seen to be so badly sprung as to oblige us to take in the main topsail; the larboard topsail sheet block was likewise shot away. Got down the top-gallant yard and mast, and, the ship being scarcely under command, we made the signal for inability. Soon after the Admiral called us by signal into his wake. The enemy's rear ship about 9 had his mizzenmast gone and he bore down towards us, the Russell and Thunderer striking close to his weather quarter and lee bow, keeping up a severe fire, but he scarcely returned a shot. Having got clear of them he continued coming down on us, apparently with the intention of striking to our flag, but firing a shot now and then. He was intercepted by one of our ships, who running to leeward of him soon silenced his guns, and, we concluded, had obliged him to strike. The enemy's fleet were now collected about 3 miles to windward, carrying lights, as did ours. We were in no regular order, it having been broken up by the chase. A.M., employed securing the maincap, etc. All hands kept at quarters. Fresh breezes and hazy weather. At daybreak the enemy's line was formed about 2 miles distant, and our commander in chief made the signal to form the line of battle, and take stations as most convenient. We bore down and took ours astern of the Queen Charlotte, the Marlborough and Royal Sovereign following. About 8 our fleet tacked in succession, with a view to cut off the enemy's rear, the Caesar leading and my Lord Howe the 10th ship. As soon as our van were sufficiently near to bring them to action, the enemy's whole fleet wore in succession, and ran to leeward of their line in order to support their rear, and edged down van to van. At 10 the firing commenced between the headmost ships of both lines, but at too great a distance to do much execution, and the Admiral made the signal to tack in succession in order to bring the enemy to close action, but not being taken notice of, about noon it was repeated with a gun. The Leviathan, being next ahead of the Admiral, fired some guns, but the Queen Charlotte and those astern did not attempt it. Hazy weather at noon with a considerable swell from the westward. Latitude observed to be 47 degrees 35 minutes north. NOTE—We found this morning at daybreak that the Audacious was missing, and we concluded was the ship who had secured the prize, neither being in sight.* (* Of course this surmise was incorrect. The Audacious had not secured the Revolutionnaire which was towed into Rochefort by the Audacieux (curious similarity in names). The Audacious badly crippled made her way to Plymouth alone.—[Captain Bayldon's note].)
"Friday, May 30th. Fresh breezes and hazy weather. The signal for the van to tack was again repeated, when the Caesar made the signal of inability; but at last they got round, and the Admiral made signal to cut through the enemy's line; but finding our leading ships were passing to leeward, we tacked a considerable time before the ships came in succession, and luffed up as close to them as possible. The enemy were now well within point-blank shot, which began to fall very thick about us, and several had passed through our sails before we tacked. Immediately we came into the Queen Charlotte's wake we tacked, lay up well for the enemy's rear, and began a severe fire, giving it to each ship as we passed. My Lord Howe in the Charlotte kept his luff, and cut through their line between the 4th and 5th ship in the rear. We followed, and passed between the 2nd and 3rd. The rest of the fleet passed to leeward. Their third ship gave us a severe broadside on the bow as we approached to pass under her stern, and which we took care to return by two on her quarter and stern. Before we had cleared her, her fore and maintop masts fell over the side, and she was silenced for a while, but it was only till we had passed her. Their rear ship received several broadsides even from our three-deckers, but kept her colours up. The Orion ran down to her, but getting upon her beam and too far to leeward was obliged to leave her, and she got to her own fleet, whom we were now to windward of. Lord Howe made the signal to tack, and for a general chase, but few of the van ships were able to follow him. For ourselves, we lay to, to reeve new braces and repair the rigging, which was entirely cut to pieces forward. The foresail was rendered useless, and was cut away, and being only able to set a close-reefed main topsail for fear of the cap giving way, we were not able to follow his lordship. The French perceiving how few followed them, rallied, tacked, and supported their disabled ships, and even made a feint to cut off the Queen, who was rendered a wreck. The Admiral, seeing their intention, bore down with several of the heavy ships who had not been engaged, and forced them to leeward of our disabled ships. At 5.30 having got a new foresail bent, and the rigging in a little order, we bore down and joined the Admiral, who soon after formed the line in two divisions, and stood to the westward under an easy sail abreast of the enemy, who were to leeward in a line ahead; the disabled ships in both fleets repairing their damages, several of theirs being without topmasts and topsail yards. At sunset saw two ships pass to windward, conjectured to be the Audacious and prize. Employed splicing and knotting the rigging, and repairing sails, not one of which but had several shot through them. The truck of the foretopgallant mast was likewise shot away. A.M., thick foggy weather. Saw the enemy at times north-north-west 4 or 5 miles. At noon very foggy. Latitude 47 degrees 39 minutes north by dull observation.
"Saturday, May 31st, 1794. Lost sight of the enemy and only four of our own ships in sight. People employed repairing sail, rigging, etc., with all expedition. At noon thick and foggy. No enemy in sight; 30 sail of our own ships.
"Sunday, June 1st, 1794.* (* Nautical reckoning in Flinders' day was 12 hours ahead; i.e., his June 1 began at noon on May 31. Occurrences following "a.m.," happened on June 1 by the Almanac.) Moderate breezes and foggy weather. Before two it began to clear up. Saw the enemy to leeward, 8 or 9 miles distant, and made the signal for that purpose. Soon after the whole fleet bore down towards them by signal. The enemy were edging away from the wind, and several of their ships were changing stations in the line; some of them without topmasts and topsail yards. About 7, the van of our fleet being within three miles of the enemy's centre, the heavy ships in the rear a considerable way astern, the Admiral made the signal to haul to the wind together on the larboard tack, judging we should not be able to bring on a general action to-night. At sunset the enemy were in a line ahead from north-west by west to north-east by east about four miles distant, and apparently steering about two points from the wind. At 11 the Phaeton passed along the line, and informed the different ships that Lord Howe intended carrying single reefed T.S.F. sail, jib and M.T.M.S. sail.* (* Letters probably denote single reefed Top Sails, Fore sail, jib and Main Topmast and Main Stay sails.) After speaking us he kept on our lee bow; each ship carrying a light by signal. A.M., fresh breezes and cloudy. At daybreak the enemy not in sight, our rear ships a long way astern, their signal made to make more sail; when the line became tolerably connected, the whole fleet bore away and steered north-west by signal. A little before six saw the enemy in the north by east about 3 leagues. Made the signal to the Admiral for that purpose, who by signal ordered the fleet to alter the course to starboard together, bearing down towards them. About 8, being nearly within shot of the enemy's van, hove to for the rear of the fleet to come up. Lord Howe made the signal 34, which we understood was to pass through the enemy's line, but it did not seem to be understood by the rest of the fleet. At 8.10 the signal was made to bear up and each engage his opponent. We accordingly ran down within musket shot of our opponent, and hove to, having received several broadsides from their van ships in so doing. We now began a severe fire upon our opponent, the second ship in the enemy's van, which she returned with great briskness. The van ship likewise fired many shot at us, his opponent the Caesar keeping to windward, not more than two points before our beam in general, and of course nearly out of point-blank shot. About 8.30 Admiral Graves made his and the Russell's signal to engage their opponent; we likewise made Captain Molloy's (the Caesar) signal twice to bear down and come to close action. About 9 the action became general throughout the two fleets, but the Tremendous kept out of the line, but on being ordered in by signal from the Admiral, she bore down after some time. A little before 11 our brave Admiral (Pasley) lost his leg by an 18-pound shot, which came through the barricading of the quarter-deck. It was now the heat of the action. The Caesar was not yet come close to his opponent, who in consequence of that fired all his after guns at us. Our own ship kept up a severe fire, and by keeping well astern to let the Caesar take her station, their third van ship shot up on our quarter, and for some time fired all his fore guns upon us. Our shot was directed on three different ships as the guns could be got to bear. In ten or fifteen minutes we saw the foremast of the third ship go by the board, and the second ship's main-top-sail-yard down upon the cap. Otherwise the two headmost had not received much apparent injury, at least in the rigging. At 11 1/4, however, they both bore away and quitted the line, their Admiral being obliged to do the same some time before by the Queen Charlotte. On seeing the two van ships hauling upon the other tack, we conjectured they meant to give us their starboard guns. The Caesar's signal was immediately made by us to chase the flying ships. On his bearing down they were put into confusion, and their ship falling down upon them they received several broadsides from the Leviathan and us, before they could get clear; which when they effected they kept away a little, then hauled their wind in the starboard tack, and stood away from the opposing fleets. And now, being in no condition to follow, we ceased firing; the main and foretopmast being gone, every main shroud but one on the larboard side cut through, and many on the other, besides having the main and foremasts with all the rigging and sails in general much injured. We made the Latona's signal to come to our assistance, and got entirely out of action. When the smoke cleared away, saw eleven ships without a mast standing, two of whom proved to be the Marlborough and Defence. The rest were enemy's, who, notwithstanding their situation kept their colours up, and fired at any of our ships that came near them. The Leviathan's opponent particularly (the same ship whose foremast we shot away) lying perfectly dismasted, the Leviathan ran down to him to take possession; but on her firing a gun to make him haul down his colours, he returned a broadside, and a severe action again commenced between them for nearly half an hour, and we could see shot falling on the water on the opposite side of the Frenchman, which appeared to have gone through both his sides, the ships being at half a cable's length from each other. The Leviathan falling to leeward could not take the advantage of him her sails gave her, and, seeing his obstinacy, left him, but not before his fire was nearly silenced. About 11.30 the firing was pretty well ceased on all sides, the Queen having only a foremast standing was fallen to leeward between the two fleets. She stood on the larboard tack to fetch our fleet, keeping to the wind in an astonishing manner, which we afterwards learnt was effected by getting up boat's sails abaft. In this situation every ship she passed gave her a broadside or more, which she returned with great spirit, keeping up an almost incessant blaze. After she had stood on past the fleets, she wore round and stood back, pursuing the same conduct as before, but the French, having collected their best-conditioned ships in a body, and being joined by two or three other disabled ships, were making off, having apparently given up all ideas of saving the rest. On this our fleet stood down a little, and the Queen joined. We were now employed knotting, splicing, repairing, etc. the rigging, cutting away the wrecks of the fore and main topmasts, and securing the lower masts. Fortunately no accident happened with the powder, or with guns bursting. We had but three men killed outright (a fourth died of his wounds very soon after) and about 30 men wounded, amongst whom five lost their limbs, and the other leg of one man was so much shattered as to be taken off some time after. Our brave Admiral was unfortunately in this list, as before observed. Captain Smith of the Marines and Mr. Chapman, boatswain, were amongst the wounded on the second day. Most of our spars were destroyed, and the boats severely injured. About noon we had still fine weather and the enemy standing away from us, except one ship, which did not seem injured, and paraded to windward, as if with the intention of giving some of us disabled ships a brush. However, we were well prepared for him, having got tolerably clear of the wreck, and he stood back again and out of sight, having spoken one of their wrecks. Lord Howe made the signal to form the line as most convenient, but it was a long time before that movement could be effected."
Flinders wrote in his journal an estimate of the French sailors who were put on board his ship as prisoners. It is of some historical value:
"Their seamen, if we may judge from our own prisoners, are in a very bad state both with respect to discipline and knowledge of their profession; both which were evidently shown by the condition we saw them in on the 31st, many of them being without topmasts and topsail yards, and nearly in as bad a state as on the 29th after the action. 'Tis true they were rather better when we saw them in the morning of June 1st. Out of our 198 prisoners there certainly cannot be above 15 or 20 seamen, and all together were the dirtiest, laziest set of beings conceivable. How an idea of liberty, and more so that of fighting for it, should enter into their heads, I know not; but by their own confession it is not their wish and pleasure, but that of those who sent them; and so little is it their own that in the Brunswick (who was engaged yardarm and yardarm with the Vengeur) they could see the French officers cutting down the men for deserting their quarters. Indeed, in the instances of the Russell and Thunderer when close to the Revolutionnaire, and ours when cutting the line, the French do not like to come too close. A mile off they will fight desperately."
Pasley's loss of a leg had a decisive effect upon the career of Matthew Flinders. So fine a sailor and so tough a fighting man would unquestionably, if not partially incapacitated, have had conferred upon him during the following years of war commands that would have led to his playing a very prominent part in fleet operations. As it was, he did not go to sea again, though he was promoted through various ranks to that of Admiral of the Blue (1801). He became commander in chief at the Nore in 1798, and at Plymouth in 1799. Had he received other sea commands, his vigorous, alert young aide-de-camp might have continued to serve with him, and would thus have just missed the opportunities that came to him in his next sphere of employment. What young officer would not have eagerly followed a gallant and warm-hearted Admiral who had first placed him upon a British quarterdeck and had made him an aide-de-camp? As it was, the chance that came to Flinders about two months after the battle off Brest was one that ministered to his decided preference for service in seas where there was exploratory work to do.
Pasley's influence upon the life of Flinders was so important, that a characterisation of him by one who has perused his letters and journals must be quoted.* (* Memoir of Admiral Sir T.S. Pasley, by Louisa M. Sabine Pasley. Sir T.S. Pasley was the grandson of Flinders' Admiral. It unfortunately happens that the Journals of "old Sir Thomas" which are extant do not cover the period when Flinders acted as his aide-de-camp. Miss Sabine Pasley was kind enough to have a search made among his papers for any trace of Flinders' relations with him, but without success.) "It is impossible," writes Miss L.M. Sabine Pasley, "not to be impressed from these journals with a strong feeling of respect for the writer, so simple-minded, so kind-hearted, such a brave old sailor of his time—rough, no doubt, in manners and language, but with an earnest and genuine piety that shows itself from time to time in little ejaculations and prayers, contrasting, it must be owned, rather strongly with the terms in which the 'rascally Yankies' are alluded to in the same pages." What Howe thought of him is recorded in a letter which he sent to the Rear-Admiral a fortnight after the battle, regretting that "the services of a friend he so highly esteemed and so gallant an officer, capable of such spirited exertions, should be restrained by any disaster from the continued exertion of them." There is also on record a letter to Pasley from the Prime Minister, a model of grace and delicate feeling, in which Pitt signified that the King had conferred on him a baronetcy "as a mark of the sense which His Majesty entertains of the distinguished share which you bore in the late successful and glorious operations of His Majesty's fleet," and assured him "of the sincere satisfaction which I personally feel in executing this commission."
On the south-western coast of Australia, eight years later, Flinders remembered his first commander when naming the natural features of the country. Cape Pasley, at the western tip of the arc of the great Australian Bight, celebrates "the late Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, under whom I had the honour of entering the naval service."* (* Flinders, Voyage to Terra Australis 1 87.) On some current maps of Australia the cape is spelt "Paisley," an error which obscures the interesting biographical fact with which the name is connected.
It is noteworthy that though the career of Flinders as a naval officer covers the stormiest period in British naval history, the whole of his personal experience of battle was confined to these five days, May 28 to June 1, 1794. The whole significance of his life lies in the work of discovery that he accomplished, and in the contributions he made to geography and navigation. Yet he was destined to feel the effect of the enmity of the French in a peculiarly distressing form. His useful life was cut short largely by misfortunes that came upon him as a consequence of war, and work which he would have done to the enhancement of his reputation and the advancement of civilisation was thwarted by it.
CHAPTER 5. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHY BEFORE FLINDERS.
In order that the importance of the work done by Flinders may be adequately appreciated, it is necessary to understand the state of information concerning Australian geography before the time of his discoveries. Not only did he complete the main outlines of the map of the continent, but he filled in many details in parts that had been traversed by his predecessors. This is a convenient point whereat to interrupt the narrative of his life with a brief sketch of what those predecessors had done, and of the curiously haphazard mode in which a partial knowledge of this fifth division of the globe had been pieced together.
There never was, until Flinders applied himself to the task, any deliberately-planned, systematic, persistent exploration of any portion of the Australian coast. The continent grew on the map of the world gradually, slowly, almost accidentally. It emerged out of the unknown, like some vast mythical monster heaving its large shoulders dank and dripping from the unfathomed sea, and metamorphosed by a kiss from the lips of knowledge into a being fair to look upon and rich in kindly favours. It took two centuries and a half for civilised mankind to know Australia, even in form, from the time when it was clearly understood that there was such a country, until at length it was mapped, measured and circumnavigated. Before this process began, there was a dialectical stage, when it was hotly contested whether there could possibly be upon the globe lands antipodean to Europe; and both earlier and later there were conjectural stages when makers of maps, having no certain data, but feeling sure that the blank southern hemisphere ought to be filled up somehow, exercised a vagrant fancy and satisfied a long-felt want by decorating their drawings with representations of a Terra Incognita having not even a casual resemblance to the reality.
The process presents few points of resemblance to that by which the discovery of America was accomplished. Almost as soon as Europe came into touch with the western hemisphere, discovery was pursued with unflagging energy, until its whole extent and contour were substantially known. Within fifty years after Columbus led the way across the Atlantic (1492), North and South America were laid down with something approaching precision; and Gerard Mercator's map of 1541 presented the greater part of the continent with the name fairly inscribed upon it. There were, it is true, some errors and some gaps, especially on the west coast, which left work for navigators to do. But the essential point is that in less than half a century Europe had practically comprehended America as an addition to the known world. There was but a brief twilight interval between nescience and knowledge. How different was the case with Australia! Three hundred years after the date of Columbus' first voyage, the mere outline of this continent had not been wholly mapped.
During the middle ages, when ingenious men exercised infinite subtlety in speculation, and wrote large Latin folios to prove each other wrong in matters about which neither party knew anything at all, there was much dissertation about the possibility of antipodes. Bishops and saints waxed eloquent upon the theme. The difficulty of conceiving of lands where people walked about with their heads hanging downwards, and their feet exactly opposite to those of Europeans, was too much for some of the scribes who debated "about it and about." The Greek, Cosmas Indicopleustes, denounced the "old wives' fable of Antipodes," and asked how rain could be said to "fall," as in the Scriptures, in regions where it would have to "come up"* (* The Christian Topography of Cosmas, translated by J.W. McCrindle, page 17 (Hakluyt Society).) Some would have it that a belief in Antipodes was heretical. But Isidore of Seville, in his Liber de Natura Rerum, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, and Vergil Bishop of Salzburg, an Irish saint, declined to regard the question as a closed one. "Nam partes eius (i.e. of the earth) quatuor sunt," argued Isidore. Curiously enough, the copy of the works of the Saint of Seville used by the author (published at Rome in 1803), was salvaged from a wreck which occurred on the Australian coast many years ago. It is stained with seawater, and emits the musty smell which tells of immersion. An inscription inside the cover relates the circumstance of the wreck. Who possessed the book one does not know; some travelling scholar may have perused it during the long voyage from Europe; and one fancies him, as the ship bumped upon the rocks, exclaiming "Yes, Isidore was right, there ARE antipodes!"
From about the fourth quarter of the sixteenth century until the date of Abel Tasman's voyages, 1642 to 1644, there was a period of vague speculation about a supposed great southern continent. The maps of the time indicate the total lack of accurate information at the disposal of their compilers. There was no general agreement as to what this region was like in its outlines, proportions, or situation. Some cartographers, as Peter Plancius (1594) and Hondius (1595), trailed a wavy line across the foot of their representations of the globe, inscribed Terra Australis upon it, and by a fine stroke of invention gave an admirable aspect of finish and symmetry to the form of the world. The London map of 1578, issued with George Best's Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie, barricaded the south pole with a Terra Australis not unlike the design of a switch-back railway. Molyneux' remarkable map, circa 1590, dropped the vast imaginary continent, and displayed a small tongue of land in about the region where the real Australia is; suggesting that some voyager had been blown out of his course, had come upon a part of the western division of the continent, and had jotted down a memorandum of its appearance upon his chart. It looks like a sincere attempt to tell a bit of the truth. But speaking generally, the Terra Australis of the old cartographers was a gigantic antipodean imposture, a mere piece of map-makers' furniture, put in to fill up the gaping space at the south end of the globe.
A few minutes devoted to the study of a map of the Indian Ocean, including the Cape of Good Hope and the west coast of Australia—especially one indicating the course of currents—will show how natural it was that Portuguese and Dutch ships engaged in the spice trade should occasionally have found themselves in proximity to the real Terra Australis. It will also explain more clearly than a page of type could do, why the western and north-western coasts were known so early, whilst the eastern and southern shores remained undelineated until James Cook and Matthew Flinders sailed along them.
A change of the route pursued by the Dutch on their voyages to the East Indies had already conduced to an acquaintance with the Australian coast. Originally, after rounding the Cape, their ships had sailed north-east to Madagascar, and had thence struck across the Indian Ocean to Java, or to Ceylon. As long as this course was followed, there was little prospect of sighting the great continent which lay about three thousand miles east of their habitual track. But this route, though from the map it appeared to be the most direct, was the longest in duration that they could take. It brought them into the region of light winds and tedious tropical calms; so that very often a vessel would lie for weeks "as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean," and would occupy over a year upon the outward voyage. In 1611, however, one of their commanders discovered that if, after leaving the Cape, a ship ran not north-east, but due east for about three thousand miles, she would be assisted by the winds, not baffled by calms. Henrick Brouwer, who made the experiment, arrived in Java seven months after leaving Holland, whereas some ships had been known to be as long as eighteen months at sea. The directors of the Dutch East India Company, recognising the importance of the discovery, ordered their commanders to follow the easterly route from the Cape in future, and offered prizes to those who completed the voyage in less than nine months. The result was that the Dutch skippers became exceedingly anxious to make the very utmost of the favourable winds, which carried them eastward in the direction of the western coasts of Australia.
Thus it happened that in 1616 the Eendragt stumbled on Australia opposite Shark's Bay. Her captain, Dirk Hartog, landed on the long island which lies as a natural breakwater between the bay and the ocean, and erected a metal plate to record his visit; and Dirk Hartog Island is the name it bears to this day. The plate remained till 1697, when another Dutchman, Vlaming, substituted a new one for it; and Vlaming's plate, in turn, remained till 1817, when the French navigator, Freycinet, took it and sent it to Paris.
After Hartog reported his discovery, the Dutch directors ordered their ships' captains to run east from the Cape till they sighted the land. This would enable them to verify their whereabouts; for in those days the means of reckoning positions at sea were so imperfect that navigators groped about the oceans of the globe almost as if they were sailing in darkness. But here was a means of verifying a ship's position after her long run across from the Cape, and if she found Dirk Hartog Island, she could safely thence make her way north to Java.
But ships did not always sight the Australian coast at the same point. Hence it came about that in 1619 J. de Edel "accidentally fell in with" the coast at the back of the Abrolhos. Pieter Nuyts, in 1627, "accidentally discovered" a long reach of the south coast. Similarly, in 1628, the Vianen was "accidentally," as the narrative says, driven on to the north-west coast, and her commander, De Wit, gave his name to about 200 miles of it. In 1629 the Dutch ship Batavia was separated in a storm from a merchant fleet of eleven sail, and ran upon the Abrolhos Reef. The captain, Francis Pelsart, who was lying sick in his cabin at the time of the misadventure, "called up the master and charged him with the loss of the ship, who excused himself by saying he had taken all the care he could; and that having discerned the froth at a distance he asked the steersman what he thought of it, who told him that the sea appeared white by its reflecting the rays of the moon. The captain then asked him what was to be done, and in what part of the world he thought they were. The master replied that God only knew that; and that the ship was on a bank hitherto undiscovered." The story of Pelsart's adventure was recorded, and the part of the coast which he saw was embodied on a globe published in 1700.
To the accidental discoveries must be added those made by the Dutch prompted by curiosity as to the possibility of drawing profit from the lands to the south of their great East India possessions. Thus the Dutch yacht Duyfhen, sent in 1605 to examine the Papuan islands, sailed along the southern side of Torres Strait, found Cape York, and believed it to be part of New Guinea. The great discovery voyages of Tasman, 1643 and 1644, were planned in pursuit of the same policy. He was directed to find out what the southern portion of the world was like, "whether it be land or sea, or icebergs, whatever God has ordained to be there."
In 1606 the Spaniard, Torres, also probably saw Cape York, and sailed through the strait which bears his name. He had accompanied Quiros across the Pacific, but had separated from his commander at the New Hebrides, and continued his voyage westward, whilst Quiros sailed to South America.
It is needless for present purposes to catalogue the various voyages made by the Dutch, or to examine claims which have been preferred on account of other discoveries. It may, however, be observed that there are three well defined periods of Australian maritime discovery, and that they relate to three separate zones of operation.
First, there was the period with which the Dutch were chiefly concerned. The west and north-west coasts received the greater part of their attention, though the voyage of Tasman to the island now bearing his name was a variation from their habitual sphere. The visits of the Englishman, Dampier, to Western Australia are comprehended within this period.
The second period belongs to the eighteenth century, and its hero was James Cook. He sailed up the whole of the east coast in 1770, from Point Hicks, near the Victorian border, to Cape York at the northern tip of the continent, and accomplished a larger harvest of discovery than has ever fallen to the fortune of any other navigator in a single voyage. To this period also belongs Captain George Vancouver, who in 1791, on his way to north-western America from the Cape of Good Hope, came upon the south-western corner of Australia and discovered King George's Sound. In the following year the French Admiral, Dentrecasteaux, despatched in search of the missing expedition of Laperouse, also made the south-west corner of the continent, and followed the coast of the Great Australian Bight for some hundreds of miles. His researches in southern Tasmania were likewise of much importance.
The third period is principally that of Flinders, commencing shortly before the dawn of the nineteenth century, and practically completing the maritime exploration of the continent.
A map contained in John Pinkerton's Modern Geography shows at a glance the state of knowledge about Australia at the date of publication, 1802. Flinders had by that time completed his explorations, but his work was not yet published. The map delineates the contour of the continent on the east, west, and north sides, with as much accuracy as was possible, and, though it is defective in details, presents generally a fair idea of the country's shape. But the line along the south coast represents a total lack of information as to the outline of the land. Pinkerton, indeed, though he was a leading English authority on geography when his book was published, had not embodied in his map some results that were then available.
The testimony of the map may be augmented by a reference to what geographical writers understood about Australia before the time of Flinders.
Though Cook had discovered the east coast, and named it New South Wales, it was not definitely known whether this extensive stretch of country was separate from the western "New Holland" which the Dutch had named, or whether the two were the extremities of one vast tract of land. Geographical opinion rather inclined to the view that ultimately a strait would be found dividing the region into islands. This idea is mentioned by Pinkerton. Under the heading "New Holland" he wrote:* "Some suppose that this extensive region, when more thoroughly investigated, will be found to consist of two or three vast islands intersected by narrow seas, an idea which probably arises from the discovery that New Zealand consists of two islands, and that other straits have been found to divide lands in this quarter formerly supposed to be continuous." The discovery that Bass Strait divided Australia from Tasmania was probably in Pinkerton's mind; he mentions it in his text (quoting Flinders), though his map does not indicate the Strait's existence. He also mentions "a vast bay with an isle," possibly Kangaroo Island. (* Modern Geography 2 588.)
Perhaps it was not unnatural that competent opinion should have favoured the idea that there were several large islands, rather than one immense continent stretching into thirty degrees of latitude and forty-five of longitude. The human mind is not generally disposed to grasp very big things all at once. Indeed, in the light of fuller knowledge, one is disposed to admire the caution of these geographers, whose beliefs were carefully reasoned but erroneous, in face of, for instance, such a wild ebullition of venturesome theory as that attributed to an aforetime Gottingen professor,* (*Professor Blumenbach according to Lang, Historical Account of New South Wales, 1837 2 142.) who considered that not only was Australia one country, but that it made its appearance upon this planet in a peculiarly sudden fashion. His opinion was that "the vast continent of Australia was originally a comet, which happening to fall within the limits of the earth's attraction, alighted at length upon its surface." "Alighted at length" is a mild term, suggestive of a nervous lady emerging from a tram-car in a crowded street. "Splashed," would probably convey a more vigorous impression.
The belief that a strait would be found completely dividing New Holland was a general one, as is shown by several contemporary writings. Thus James Grant in his Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery (1803), expressing his regret that his orders did not permit him to take his ship, the Lady Nelson, northward from Port Jackson in 1801, speculated that "we might also betimes have ascertained if the Gulf of Carpentaria had any inlet to Bass Straits, and if it be discovered secure more quickly to Great Britain the right of lands which some of our enterprising neighbours might probably dispute with us. And this I trust will not be thought chimerical when it was not known whether other Straits did not exist as well as that dividing New Holland from Van Diemen's Land." Again, the Institute of France in preparing instructions for the voyage of exploration commanded by Nicolas Baudin (1800) directed a search to be made for a strait which it was supposed divided Australia "into two great and nearly equal islands."
Another interesting geographical problem to be determined, was whether a great river system drained any part of the Australian continent. In the existing state of knowledge the country presented an aspect in regard to fluvial features wholly different from any other portion of the world. No river of considerable importance had been found. Students of geography could hardly conceive that there should be so large an area of land lacking outlets to the sea; and as none had been found in the parts investigated so far, it was believed that the exploration of the south coast would reveal large streams flowing from the interior. Some had speculated that within the country there was a great inland sea, and if so there would probably be rivers flowing from it to the ocean.
A third main subject for elucidation when Flinders entered upon this work, was whether the country known as Van Diemen's Land was part of the continent, or was divided from it by a strait not yet discovered. Captain Cook entertained the opinion that a strait existed. On his voyage in the Endeavour in 1770, he was "doubtful whether they are one land or no." But when near the north-eastern corner of Van Diemen's Land, he had been twenty months at sea, and his supplies had become depleted. He did not deem it advisable to sail west and settle the question forthwith, but, running up the eastern coast of New Holland, achieved discoveries certainly great enough for one voyage. He retained the point in his mind, however, and would have determined it on his second voyage in 1772 to 1774 had he not paid heed to information given by Tobias Furneaux. The Adventure, commanded by Furneaux, had been separated from the Resolution on the voyage to New Zealand, and had cruised for some days in the neighbourhood of the eastern entrance to Bass Strait. But Furneaux convinced himself that no strait existed, and reported to that effect when he rejoined Cook in Queen Charlotte's Sound. Cook was not quite convinced by the statement of his officer; but contrary winds made a return to the latitude of the supposed strait difficult, and Cook though "half inclined to go over to Van Diemen's Land and settle the question of its being part of New Holland" decided to proceed westward. As will be seen hereafter, Flinders helped to show that the passage existed.
There were also many smaller points requiring investigation. Cook in running along the east coast had passed several portions in the night, or at such a distance in the daytime as to render his representation of the coastline doubtful. Some groups of islands also required to be accurately charted. Indeed, it may be said that there was no portion of the world where, at this period, there was so much and such valuable work to be done by a competent and keen marine explorer, as in Australia.
A passage in a manuscript by Flinders may be quoted to supplement what has been written above, as it indicates the kind of speculations that were current in the conversation of students of geography.* (* Called an Abridged Narrative—Flinders' Papers.)
"The interior of this new region, in extent nearly equal to all Europe, strongly excited the curiosity of geographers and naturalists; and the more so as, ten years after the establishment of a British Colony at Port Jackson on the east coast, and the repeated effort of some enterprising individuals, no part of it beyond 30 leagues from the coast had been seen by an European. Various conjectures were entertained upon the probable consistence of this extensive space. Was it a vast desert? Was it occupied by an immense lake—a second Caspian Sea, or by a Mediterranean to which existed a navigable entrance in some part of the coasts hitherto unexplored? or was not this new continent rather divided into two or more islands by straits communicating from the unknown parts of the south to the imperfectly examined north-west coast or to the Gulf of Carpentaria, or to both? Such were the questions that excited the interest and divided the opinion of geographers."
Apart from particular directions in which enquiry needed to be pursued, it was felt in England that the only nation which had founded a settlement on the Australian continent was under an obligation to complete the exploration of the country. The French had already sent out two scientific expeditions with instructions to examine the unknown southern coasts; and if shipwreck had not destroyed the first, and want of fresh water diverted the second, the credit of finishing the outline of the map of Australia would have been earned for France. "Many circumstances, indeed," wrote Flinders, "united to render the south coast of Terra Australis one of the most interesting parts of the globe to which discovery could be directed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its investigation had formed a part of the instructions to the unfortunate French navigator, Laperouse, and afterwards of those to his countryman Dentrecasteaux; and it was not without some reason attributed to England as a reproach that an imaginary line of more than two hundred and fifty leagues' extent in the vicinity of one of her colonies should have been so long suffered to remain traced upon the charts under the title of Unknown Coast. This comported ill with her reputation as the first of maritime powers."
We shall see how predominant was the share of Flinders in the settlement of these problems, the filling up of these gaps.
CHAPTER 6. THE RELIANCE AND THE TOM THUMB.
Apart from Admiral Pasley, two officers who participated in Lord Howe's victory on "the glorious First of June," had an important influence upon the later career of Flinders. The first of these, Captain John Hunter, had served on the flagship Queen Charlotte. The second, Henry Waterhouse, had been fifth lieutenant on the Bellerophon. Flinders was under the orders of both of them on his next voyage.
Hunter had accompanied the first Governor of New South Wales on the Sirius, when a British colony was founded there in 1788, and was commissioned by the Crown to assume the duties of Lieutenant-Governor in case of Phillip's death. When the office fell vacant in 1793, Hunter applied for appointment. He secured the cordial support of Howe, and Sir Roger Curtis of the Queen Charlotte exerted his influence by recommending him as one whose selection "would be a blessing to the colony" on account of his incorruptible integrity, unceasing zeal, thorough knowledge of the country, and steady judgment. He was appointed Governor in February, 1794, and in March of the same year H.M.S. Reliance, with the tender Supply, were commissioned to convey him to Sydney.
Henry Waterhouse was chosen to command the Reliance, under Hunter, at that officer's request. He expressed to the Secretary of State a wish that the appointment might be conferred upon an officer to whom it might be a step in advancement, rather than upon one who had already attained the rank of commander; and he recommended Waterhouse as one who, though a young man and not an old officer, was "the only remaining lieutenant of the Sirius, formerly under my command; and having had the principal part of his nautical education from me, I can with confidence say that he is well qualified for the charge."
It is probable that Flinders heard of the expedition from his Bellerophon shipmate, Waterhouse, who by the end of July was under orders to sail as second captain of the Reliance. Certainly the opportunity of making another voyage to Australian waters, wherein, as he knew, so much work lay awaiting an officer keen for discovery, coincided with his own inclinations. He wrote that he was led by his passion for exploring new countries to embrace the opportunity of going out upon a station which of all others presented the most ample field for his favourite pursuit.
The sailing was delayed for six months, and in the interval young Flinders was able to visit his home in Lincolnshire. Whatever opposition there may have been to his choice of the sea as a profession before 1790, we may be certain that the Donington surgeon was not a little proud of his eldest son when he returned after a wonderful voyage to the isles of the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, and after participation in the recent great naval fight which had thrilled the heart of England with exultation and pride. The boy who had left his father's house four years before as an anxious aspirant for the King's uniform now returned a bronzed seaman on the verge of manhood. His intelligence and zeal as a junior officer had won him the esteem and confidence of distinguished commanders. He had looked upon the strangeness and beauty of the world in its most remote and least-known quarters, had witnessed fights with savages, threaded unmapped straits, and had, to crown his youthful achievements, striven amidst the wrack and thunder of grim-visaged war. We may picture his welcome: the strong grasp of his father's hand, the crowding enthusiasm of his brother and sisters fondly glorying in their hero's prowess. The warnings of uncle John were all forgotten now. When the midshipman's younger brother, Samuel Ward Flinders, desired to go to sea with him, he was not restrained, and, in fact, accompanied him as a volunteer on the Reliance when at length she sailed.
Hunter took not merely an official but a deep and discerning interest in the colonisation of Australia. He foresaw its immense possibilities, encouraged its exploration, promoted the breeding of stock and the cultivation of crops, and had a wise concern for such strategic advantages as would tend to secure it for British occupation. He perceived the great importance of the Cape of Good Hope from the point of view of Australian security; and a letter which he wrote to an official of the Admiralty while awaiting sailing orders for the Reliance (January 25, 1795), is perhaps the first instance of official recognition of Australia's vital interest in the ownership of that post. There was cause for concern. The raw and ill-disciplined levies of the French, having at the outbreak of the Revolutionary wars most unexpectedly turned back the invading armies of Austria and Prussia, and having, after campaigns full of dramatic changes, shaken off the peril of the crushing of the fatherland by a huge European combination, were now waging an offensive war in Holland. Pichegru, the French commander, though not a soldier by training, secured astonishing successes, and, in the thick of a winter of exceptional severity, led his ragged and ill-fed army on to victory after victory, until the greater part of Holland lay conquered within his grip. In January he entered Amsterdam. There was a strong element of Republican feeling among the Dutch, and an alliance with France was demanded.
When this condition of things was reported in England, Hunter was alarmed for the safety of the colony which he was about to govern. The Cape of Good Hope was a Dutch possession. Holland was now under the domination of France. Might not events bring about the establishment of French power at the Cape? "I cannot help feeling much concerned at the rapid progress of the French in Holland," he wrote, "and I own shall not be surprised if in consequence of their success in that country they make a sudden dash at the Cape of Good Hope, if we do not anticipate them in such an attempt. They are so very active a people that it will be done before we know anything of it, and I think it a post of too much importance to be neglected by them. I hope earnestly, therefore, that it will be prevented by our sending a squadron and some troops as early as possible. If the Republicans once get a footing there, we shall probably find it difficult to dislodge them. Such a circumstance would be a sad stroke for our young colony."
The course which Hunter then advised was that which the British Government followed, though more because the Cape was the "half way house" to India, than for the protection of Australian interests. An expedition was despatched later in the year to protect the Cape against French occupation, and in September the colony, by order of the Stadtholder of Holland, accepted British protection.
The Reliance and the Supply left Plymouth on February 15th, 1795, amongst a very large company of merchantmen and ships of the navy convoyed by the Channel Fleet under Lord Howe, which guarded them till they were beyond the range of possible French attacks and then sailed back to port.
From Teneriffe, which Hunter reached on March 6th, he wrote a despatch to the Government stating his intention to sail, not to the Cape of Good Hope, but to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and thence to New South Wales. His avoidance of the more direct route was due to the causes explained above. "In the present uncertain state of things between the French and Dutch," he had written before sailing, "it will be dangerous for me to attempt touching at the Cape on my way out;" and writing from Rio de Janeiro in May he explained that he did not "conceive it safe from the uncertain state of the Dutch settlements in India to take the Cape of Good Hope in my way to Port Jackson, lest the French, following up their late successes in Holland, should have been active enough to make an early attack on that very important post." In a despatch to the Duke of Portland he commented strongly on the same circumstance, expressing the opinion that "if the French should be able to possess themselves of that settlement it will be rather unfortunate for our distant colony."
Hunter had to complain of discourteous treatment received from the Portuguese Viceroy, who kept him waiting six days before according an interview, and then fixed an appointment for seven o'clock in the evening, when it was quite dark. "As His Excellency was acquainted with the position I held, I confess I expected a different reception," wrote Hunter; and he was so much vexed that he did not again set foot ashore while his ships lay in port. The incident, though not important in itself, serves, in conjunction with Hunter's avoidance of the Cape, to illustrate the rather limp condition of British prestige abroad at about the time when her authority was being established in Australia. With her army defeated in the Low Countries, her ships deeming it prudent to keep clear of the Cape that formed the key to her eastern and southern possessions, and her King's representative subjected to a studied slight from a Portuguese official in Brazil, she hardly appeared, just then, to be the nation that would soon shatter the naval power of France, demolish the greatest soldier of modern times, and, before her sword was sheathed, float her victorious flag in every continent, in every sea, and over people of every race and colour.
On this voyage, as on all occasions, Flinders kept a careful record of his own observations. Sixteen years later, a dispute arose, interesting to navigators, as to the precise location of Cape Frio in Brazil. An American had pointed out an error in European charts. It was a matter of some importance, because ships bound for Rio de Janeiro necessarily rounded Cape Frio, and the error was sufficiently serious to cause no small risk if vessels trusted to the received reckoning. The Naval Chronicle devoted some attention to the point; and to it Flinders sent a communication stating that on consulting his nautical records he found that on May 2nd, 1795, he made an observation, reduced from the preceding noon, calculating the position of the Cape to be latitude 22 degrees 53 minutes south, longitude 41 degrees 43 minutes west. His memorandum was printed over a facsimile of his signature as that of "a distinguished navigator," and was hailed as "a valuable contribution towards clearing up the difficulty concerning the geographical position of that important headland."* (* Naval Chronicle Volume 26.) For us the incident serves as an indication of Flinders' diligence and carefulness in the study of navigation. He was but a midshipman at the time, and it will be noticed that it was a personal observation which he was able to quote, not one taken as part of his duty as an officer.
The Reliance arrived at Port Jackson on September 7th, and in the following month Flinders, with a companion of whom it is time to speak, commenced the series of explorations which made his fame.