The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders
by Ernest Scott
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

This companion was George Bass, a Lincolnshire man like Flinders himself, born at Aswarby near Sleaford. He was a farmer's son, but his father died when he was quite a child, and his mother moved to Boston. She managed out of her widow's resources to give her son an excellent education, and designed that he should enter the medical profession. In due course he was apprenticed to a Boston surgeon, Mr. Francis—a common mode of securing training in medicine at that period. He "walked" the Boston hospital for a finishing course of instruction, and won his surgeon's diploma with marked credit.

Bass had from his early years shown a desire to go to sea. His mother was able to buy for him a share in a merchant ship; but this was wrecked, whereupon, not cured of his love of the ocean, he entered the navy as a surgeon. It was in that capacity that he sailed in the Reliance. He was then, in 1795, thirty-two years of age.

All the records of Bass, both the personal observations of those who came in contact with him, and the tale of his own deeds, leave the impression that he was a very remarkable man. He was six feet in height, dark-complexioned, handsome in countenance, keen in expression, vigorous, strong, and enterprising. His father-in-law spoke of his "very penetrating countenance." Flinders called him "the penetrating Bass." Governor Hunter, in official despatches, said he was "a young man of a well-informed mind and an active disposition," and one who was "of much ability in various ways out of the line of his profession." He was gifted with a mind capable of intense application to any task that he took in hand. Upon his firm courage, resourcefulness and strength of purpose, difficulties and dangers acted merely as the whetstone to the finely tempered blade. He undertook hazardous enterprises from the sheer love of doing hard things which were worth doing. "He was one," wrote Flinders, "whose ardour for discovery was not to be repressed by any obstacle nor deterred by danger." He seemed to care nothing for rewards, and was not hungry for honours. The pleasure of doing was to him its own recompense. That "penetrating countenance" indexed a brain as direct as a drill, and as inflexible. A loyal and affectionate comrade, preferring to enter upon a task with his chosen mate, he nevertheless could not wait inactive if official duties prevented co-operation, but would set out alone on any piece of work on which he had set his heart. The portrait of Bass which we possess conveys an impression of alert and vigorous intelligence, of genial temper and hearty relish. It is the picture of a man who was abundantly alive in every nerve.

Flinders and Bass, being both Lincolnshire men, born within a few miles of each other, naturally became very friendly on the long voyage to Australia. It was said of two other friends, who achieved great distinction in the sphere of art, that when they first met in early manhood they "ran together like two drops of mercury," so completely coincident were their inclinations. So it was in this instance. Two men more predisposed to formulate plans for exploration could not have been thrown together. A passion for maritime discovery was common to both of them. Flinders, from his study of charts and books of voyages, had a sound knowledge of the field of work that lay open, and Bass's keen mind eagerly grasped the plans explained to him. It would not have taken the surgeon and the midshipman long to find that their ambitions were completely in tune on this inviting subject. "With this friend," Flinders wrote, "a determination was found of completing the examination of the east coast of New South Wales by all such opportunities as the duty of the ship and procurable means could admit. Projects of this nature, when originating in the minds of young men, are usually termed romantic; and so far from any good being anticipated, even prudence and friendship join in discouraging, if not in opposing them. Thus it was in the present case." The significance of that passage is that the two friends made for themselves the opportunities by which they won fame and rendered service. They did not wait on Fortune; they forced her hand. They showed by what they did on their own initiative, with very limited resources, that they were the right men to be entrusted with work of larger scope.

Nevertheless it is unwarrantable to assume that Governor Hunter discountenanced their earliest efforts. It was presumably on the passage quoted above that the author of a chapter in the most elaborate modern naval history founded the assertion that "the plans of the young discoverers were discouraged by the authorities. They, however, had resolution and perseverance. All official help and countenance were withheld."* (* Sir Clements Markham in The Royal Navy, a History, 4 565.) But Flinders does not say that "the authorities" discouraged the effort. "Prudence and friendship" did. They were not yet tried men in such hazardous enterprises; the settlement possessed scarcely any resources for exploratory work, and the dangers were unknown. Official countenance implies official responsibility, and there was not yet sufficient reason for setting the Governor's seal on the adventurous experiments of two young and untried though estimable men. When they had shown their quality, Hunter gave them every assistance and encouragement in his power, and proved himself a good friend to them. In the circumstances, "prudence and friendship" are hardly to be blamed for a counsel of caution. The remark of Flinders is not to be interpreted to mean that the Governor put hindrances in their way. They were under his orders, and his positive discountenance would have been effectual to block their efforts. They could not even have obtained leave of absence without his approval. But John Hunter was not the man to prevent them from putting their powers to the test.

No sooner had the two friends reached Sydney than they began to look about them for means to undertake the exploratory work upon which their minds were bent. Bass had brought out with him from England a small boat, only eight feet long, with a five foot beam, named by him the Tom Thumb on account of her size.* (* Flinders' Papers "Brief Memoir" manuscripts page 5. Some have supposed the measurements given in Flinders' published work to have been a misprint, the size of the boat being so absurdly small. But Flinders' Journal is quite clear on the point: "We turned our eyes towards a little boat of about 8 feet keel and 5 feet beam which had been brought out by Mr. Bass and others in the Reliance, and from its size had obtained the name of Tom Thumb.") In this diminutive craft the two friends made preparations for setting out along the Coast. Taking with them only one boy, named Martin, with provisions and ammunition for a very short trip, they sailed the Tom Thumb out of Port Jackson and made southward to Botany Bay, which they entered. They pushed up George's River, which had been only partly explored, and pursued their investigation of its winding course for twenty miles beyond the former limit of survey. Upon their return they presented to Hunter a report concerning the quality of the land seen on the borders of the river, together with a sketch map. The Governor was induced from what they told him to examine the country himself; and the result was that he founded the settlement of Bankstown, which still remains, and boasts the distinction of being one of the pioneer towns of Australia.

The adventurers were delayed from the further pursuit of their ambition by ship's duties. The Reliance was ordered to convey to Norfolk Island an officer of the New South Wales Corps required for duty there, as well as the Judge Advocate. She sailed in January, 1796. After her return in March, Bass and Flinders, being free again, lost no time in fitting out for a second cruise. Their object this time was to search for a large river, said to fall into the sea to the south of Botany Bay, which was not marked on Cook's chart. As before, the crew consisted only of themselves and the boy.

It has always been believed that the boat in which this second cruise was made, was the same Tom Thumb as that which carried the two young explorers to George's River; indeed, Flinders himself, in his Voyage to Terra Australis, Volume 1, page 97, says that "Mr. Bass and myself went again in Tom Thumb." But in his unpublished Journal there is a passage that suggests a doubt as to whether, when he wrote his book, over a decade later, he had not forgotten that a second boat was obtained for the second adventure. He may not have considered the circumstance important enough to mention. At all events in the Journal, he writes: "As Tom Thumb had performed so well before, the same boat's crew had little hesitation in embarking in another boat of nearly the same size, which had been since built at Port Jackson." There was, it is evident, a second boat, no larger than the first, or that fact would have been mentioned, and she was also known as the Tom Thumb. She was Tom Thumb the Second. Only by that assumption can we reconcile the Voyage statement with the Journal, which, having been written up at the time, is an authoritative source of information.

They left Sydney on March 25th, intending to stand off to sea till evening, when it was expected that the breeze would bring them to the coast. But they drifted on a strong current six or seven miles southward, and being unable to land, passed the night in the boat. Next day, being in want of water, but unable to bring the Tom Thumb to a safe landing place, Bass swam ashore. While the filled cask was being got off a wave carried the boat shoreward and beached her, leaving the three on the beach with their clothes drenched, their provisions partly spoiled, and their arms and ammunition thoroughly wet. The emptying and launching of the boat on a surfy shore, and the replacing of the stores and cask in her, were managed with some difficulty; and they ran for two islands for shelter late in the afternoon. Finding a landing to be dangerous they again spent the night, cramped, damp, and uncomfortable, in their tossing little eight-foot craft, with their stone anchor dropped under the lee of a tongue of land. Bass could not sleep because, from having for so many hours during the day had his naked body exposed to the burning sun, he was "one continued blister." On the third day they took aboard two aboriginals—"two Indians," Flinders calls them—natives of Botany Bay, who offered to pilot them to a place where they could obtain not only water but also fish and wild duck.

They were conducted to a small stream descending from a lagoon, and rowed up it for about a mile until it became too shallow to proceed. Eight or ten aboriginals put in an appearance, and Bass and Flinders began to entertain doubts of securing a retreat from these people should they be inclined to be hostile. "They had the reputation at Port Jackson of being exceedingly ferocious, if not cannibals."

The powder having become wet and the muskets rusty, Bass and Flinders decided to land in order that they might spread their ammunition in the sun to dry, and clean their weapons. The natives, who increased in number to about twenty, gathered round and watched with curiosity. Some of them assisted Bass in repairing a broken oar. They did not know what the powder was, but, when the muskets were handled, so much alarm was excited that it was necessary to desist. Some of them had doubtless learnt from aboriginals about Port Jackson of the thunder and lightning made by these mysterious pieces of wood and metal, and had had described to them how blackfellows dropped dead when such things pointed and smoked at them. Flinders, anxious to retain their confidence (because, had they assumed the offensive, they must speedily have annihilated the three whites), hit upon an amusing method of diverting them. The aboriginals were accustomed to wear their coarse black hair and beards hanging in long, shaggy, untrimmed locks, matted with accretions of oil and dirt. When the two Botany Bay blacks were taken on board the Tom Thumb as pilots, a pair of scissors was applied to their abundant and too emphatically odorous tresses. Flinders tells the rest of the story:

"We had clipped the hair and beards of the two Botany Bay natives at Red Point,* (* Near Port Kembla; named by Cook.) and they were showing themselves to the others and persuading them to follow their example. Whilst therefore the powder was drying, I began with a large pair of scissors to execute my new office upon the eldest of four or five chins presented to me, and as great nicety was not required, the shaving of a dozen of them did not occupy me long. Some of the more timid were alarmed at a formidable instrument coming so near to their noses, and would scarcely be persuaded by their shaven friends to allow the operation to be finished. But when their chins were held up a second time, their fear of the instrument, the wild stare of their eyes, and the smile which they forced, formed a compound upon the rough savage countenance not unworthy the pencil of a Hogarth. I was almost tempted to try what effect a little snip would produce; but our situation was too critical to admit of such experiments."

Flinders treats the incident lightly, and as a means of creating a diversion while preparing a retreat it was useful; but it can hardly be supposed to have been an agreeable occupation to barber a group of aboriginals. What the heads were like that received Flinders' ministrations, may be gathered from the description by Clarke, the supercargo of the wrecked Sydney Cove, concerning the natives whom he encountered in the following year (March 1797): "Their hair is long and straight, but they are wholly inattentive to it, either as to cleanliness or in any other respect. It serves them in lieu of a towel to wipe their hands as often as they are daubed with blubber or shark oil, which is their principal article of food. This frequent application of rancid grease to their heads and bodies renders their approach exceedingly offensive."

But the adventure, by putting the blacks into a good humour, enabled Bass and Flinders to collect their dried powder, obtain fresh water, and get back to their boat. The natives became vociferous for them to go up to the lagoon, but the natives "dragged her along down the stream shouting and singing," until the depth of water placed them in safety. Flinders, in his Journal, expressed the view that "we were perhaps considerably indebted for the fear the natives entertained of us to an old red jacket which Mr. Bass wore, and from which they took us to be soldiers, whom they were particularly afraid of; and though we did not much admire our new name, Soja, we thought it best not to undeceive them."

On March 25 they anchored "under the innermost of the northern islets...We called these Martin's Isles after our young companion in the boat."* (* Journal.)

They were now in the Illawarra district, one of the most prolific in New South Wales;* (* McFarlane, Illawarra and Monaro, Sydney 1872 page 8.) and the observation of Flinders that the land they saw was "probably fertile, and the slopes of the back hills had certainly that appearance," has been richly justified by a century's experience.

The two friends and their boy had to remain on the Tom Thumb for a third night; but next afternoon (March 28) they were able to land unmolested, to cook a meal, and to take some rest on the shore. "The sandy beach was our bed, and after much fatigue and passing three nights of cramp in Tom Thumb it was to us a bed of down."

At about ten o'clock at night, on March 29th, the little craft was in extreme danger of foundering in a gale. The anchor had been cast under the lee of a range of cliffs, but the situation was insecure, so that Bass and Flinders considered it prudent to haul up the stone and run before the wind. The night was dark, the wind burst in a gale, and the adventurers had no knowledge of any place of security to which they could run. The frowning cliffs above them and the smashing of the surf on the rocks, were their guide in steering a course parallel with the coast. Bass held the sheet, Flinders steered with an oar, and the boy bailed out the water which the hissing crests of wind-lashed waves flung into the boat. "It required the utmost exertion to prevent broaching to; a single wrong movement or a moment's inattention would have sent us to the bottom."

They drove along for an hour in this precarious situation, hoping for an opening to reveal itself into which they could run for shelter. At last, Flinders, straining his eyes in the darkness, distinguished right ahead some high breakers, behind which there appeared to be no shade of cliffs. So extremely perilous was their position at this time, with the water increasing despite the efforts of the boy, that Flinders, an unusually placid and matter-of-fact writer when dealing with dangers of the sea, declares that they could not have lived ten minutes longer. On the instant he determined to turn the boat's head for these breakers, hoping that behind them, as there were no high cliffs, there might be sheltered water. The boat's head was brought to the wind, the sail and mast were taken down, and the oars were got out. "Pulling thus towards the reef, through the intervals of the heaviest seas, we found it to terminate in a point, and in three minutes were in smooth water under its lee. A white appearance further back kept us a short time in suspense, but a nearer approach showed it to be the beach of a well-sheltered cove, under which we anchored for the rest of the night." They called the place of refuge Providential Cove. The native name was Watta-Mowlee (it is now called Wattamolla).

On the following morning, March 30th, the weather having moderated, the Tom Thumb's sail was again hoisted, and she coasted northward. After a progress of three or four miles, Flinders and Bass found the entrance of Port Hacking, for the exploration of which they had made this cruise. It was a much-indented inlet directly south of Botany Bay, divided from it by a broad peninsula, and receiving at its head the waters of a wide river, besides several small creeks; and was named after Henry Hacking, a pilot who had indicated its whereabouts, having come near it "in his kangaroo-hunting excursions." The two young explorers spent the better part of two days in examining the neighbourhood; and anyone who has had the good fortune to traverse that piece of country, with its grassed glades, its timbered hillsides, its exquisite glimpses of sapphire sea and cool silver river, its broken and diversified surface, rich with floral colour—for they saw it in early autumn—can realise how satisfied they must have felt with their work. After a nine days' voyage, they sailed out of Port Hacking early on April 2nd, and, aided by a fine wind, drew up alongside the Reliance in Port Jackson on the evening of the same day.

The Reliance was an old and leaky ship. She had seen much service and was badly in need of repairs. "She is so extremely weak in her whole frame that it is in our situation a difficult matter to do what is necessary," wrote Hunter to the Secretary of State. Shipwrights' conveniences could hardly be expected to be ample in a settlement that was not yet ten years old, and where skilled labour was necessarily deficient. But she had to be repaired with the best material and direction available, for she was the best ship which His Majesty's representative had at his disposal. The Supply was pretty well beyond renovation. She was American built, and her timbers of black birch were never suitable for service in warm waters. Shortly after the discovery of Port Hacking, Hunter set about the overhauling of the vessel that was at once his principal means of naval defence, his saluting battery, his official inspecting ship, his transport, and his craft of all work. He wanted her especially just now, for a useful piece of colonial service.

The Governor had received intelligence from Major-General Craig, who had commanded the land forces when Admiral Elphinstone occupied the Cape of Good Hope, that a British protectorate had been established at that very important station. As Hunter had himself made the suggestion to the Government that such a step should be taken, the news was especially gratifying to him. Amongst his instructions from the Secretary of State was a direction to procure from South Africa live cattle for stocking the infant colony. He had brought out with him, at Sir Joseph Banks' suggestion, a supply of growing vegetables for transplantation and of seeds for sowing at appropriate seasons. He now set about obtaining the live stock.

The Reliance and the Supply sailed by way of Cape Horn to South Africa, where they took on board a supply of domestic animals. The former vessel carried 109 head of cattle, 107 sheep and three mares. Some of the officers brought live stock on their own account. Thus Bass had on board a cow and nineteen sheep, and Waterhouse had enough stock to start a small farm; but it does not appear that Flinders brought any animals. "I believe no ship ever went to sea so much lumbered," wrote Captain Waterhouse; and the unpleasantness of the voyage can be imagined, apart from that officer's assurance that it was "one of the longest and most disagreeable passages I ever made." The vessels left Cape Town for Sydney on April 11th, 1797. The Supply was so wretchedly leaky that it was considered positively unsafe for her to risk the voyage. But her commander, Lieutenant William Kent, had a high sense of duty, and his courage was guided by the fine seamanship characteristic of the service. Having in view the importance to the colony of the stock he had on board, he determined to run her through. As a matter of fact, the Supply arrived in Sydney forty-one days before the Reliance (May 16), though Hunter reported that she reached port "in a most distressed and dangerous condition," and would never be fit for sea again. Kent's memory is worthily preserved on the map of Australia by the name (given by Flinders or by Hunter himself) of the Kent group of islands at the eastern entrance of Bass Strait.

The Reliance, meeting with very bad weather, made a very slow passage. Captain Waterhouse mentioned that one fierce gale was "the most terrible I ever saw or heard of," so that he "expected to go to the bottom every moment." He wondered how they escaped destruction, but rounded off his description with a seaman's joke: "possibly I may be intended to be hung in room of being drowned." The ship was very leaky all the way, and Hunter reported that she returned to port with her pumps going. She reached Sydney on June 26th.

The unseaworthy condition of the Reliance had an important bearing on the share Flinders took in Australian discovery, for it was unquestionably in consequence of his being engaged upon her repair that he was prevented from accompanying his friend Bass on the expedition which led to the discovery of Bass Strait. This statement is proved not only by the testimony of Flinders himself, but by concurrent facts. Waterhouse wrote on the return of the ship to Port Jackson, "we have taken everything out of her in hopes of repairing her." This was in the latter part of 1797. A despatch from Hunter to the British Government in January, 1798, shows that at that time she was still being patched up. Flinders recorded that "the great repairs required by the Reliance would not allow of my absence," but that "my friend Mr. Bass, less confined by his duty, made several excursions." Finally, it was on December 3rd, 1797, while the refitting was in progress, that Bass started out on the adventurous voyage which led to the discovery of the stretch of water separating Tasmania from the mainland of Australia. But for the work on the Reliance, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that Flinders would have been with him. Duty had to be done, however; the "ugly commanded work," in which, as the sage reminds us, genius has to do its part in common with more ordinary mortals, made demands that must take precedence of adventurous cruising along unknown coasts. So it was that the cobbling of a debilitated tub separated on an historic occasion two brave and loyal friends whose names will be thought of together as long as British people treasure the memory of their choice and daring spirits.


The patching up of the Reliance not being surgeon's work, Bass, throbbing with energy, looked about him for some useful employment. The whole of the New South Wales settlement at this time consisted of an oblong—the town of Sydney itself—on the south side of Port Jackson, a few sprawling paddocks on either side of the fang-like limbs of the harbour, some small pieces of cultivated land further west, at and beyond Parramatta, and a cultivable area to the north-west on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. A sketch-map prepared by Hunter, in 1796, illustrates these very small early attempts of the settlement to spread. They show up against the paper like a few specks of lettuce leaf upon a white table cloth. The large empty spaces are traversed by red lines, principally to the south-west, marking "country which has been lately walked over." The red lines end abruptly on the far side of a curve in the course of the river Nepean, where swamps and hills are shown. The map-maker "saw a bull" near a hill which was called Mount Hunter, and marked it down.

West of the settlement, behind Richmond Hill on the Hawkesbury, the map indicated a mountain range. Bass's first effort at independent exploration was an endeavour to find a pass through these mountains. The need was seen to be imminent. As the colony grew, the limits of occupation would press up to the foot of this blue range, which, with its precipitous walls, its alluring openings leading to stark faces of rock, its sharp ridges breaking to sheer ravines, its dense scrub and timber, defied the energies of successive explorers. Governor Phillip, in 1789, reached Richmond by way of the Hawkesbury. Later in the same year, and in the next, further efforts were made, but the investigators were beaten by the stern and shaggy hills. Captain William Paterson, in 1793, organized an attacking party, consisting largely of Scottish highlanders, hoping that their native skill and resolution would find a path across the barrier; but they proceeded by boat only, and did not go far. In the following year quartermaster Hacking, with a party of hardy men, spent ten days among the mountains, but no path or pass practicable for traffic rewarded his endeavours. Sydney was shut in between the sea and this craggy rampart. What the country on the other side was like no man knew.

In June, 1796, before the Reliance sailed for South Africa, George Bass made his try. The task was hard, and worth attempting, two qualifications which recommended it strongly to his mind. He collected a small party of men upon whom he could rely for a tough struggle, took provisions for about a fortnight, equipped himself with strong ropes with which to be lowered down ravines, had scaling irons made for his feet, and hooks to fasten on his hands, and set out ready to cut or climb his way over the mountains, determined to assail their defiant fastnesses up to the limits of possibility. It was a stiff enterprise, and Bass and his party did not spare themselves. But the Blue Mountains were a fortress that was not to 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 encountered.

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 coast."

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 millions."

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 appearance.

"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.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse