The extent of the survey, with delays caused by adverse weather, kept the Norfolk in the Tamar estuary for a full month. On December 3rd her westward course was resumed. From this time forth Bass and Flinders were in constant expectancy of passing through the strait into the open ocean. The northern trend of the coast for a time aroused apprehensions that there was no strait after all, and that the northern shore of Van Diemen's Land might be connected with the coast beyond Westernport. The water was also discoloured, and this led Flinders to think that they might be approaching the head of a bay or gulf. But on December 7th the vigilant commander made an observation of the set of the tide, from which he drew an "interesting deduction." "The tide had been running from the eastward all the afternoon," wrote Flinders, "and, contrary to expectation, we found it to be near low water by the shore; the flood therefore came from the west, and not from the eastward, as at Furneaux' Isles. This we considered to be a strong proof, not only of the real existence of a passage betwixt this land and New South Wales, but also that the entrance into the southern Indian Ocean could not be far distant."
On the following day the deduction was confirmed. After the Norfolk had rounded a headland, a long swell was observed to come from the south-west, breaking heavily upon a reef a mile and a half away. This was a new phenomenon; and both Bass and Flinders "hailed it with joy and mutual congratulation, as announcing the completion of our long-wished-for discovery of a passage into the southern Indian Ocean." They were now through the strait. What Bass months before had believed to be the case was at length demonstrated to a certainty. "The direction of the coast, the set of the tides, and the great swell from the south-west, did now completely satisfy us that a very wide strait did really exist betwixt Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales, and also now that we had certainly passed it."
No time was lost in completing the voyage. The Norfolk sped rapidly past Cape Grim and down the western coast of Van Diemen's Land. Amateur-built as she was, and very small for her work in these seas, she was proving a useful boat, and one can enjoy the sailors' pride in a snug craft in Flinders' remark concerning her, that "upon the whole she performed wonderfully; seas that were apparently determined to swallow her up she rode over with all the ease and majesty of an old experienced petrel."
The wild and desolate aspect of the west coast, as seen from the ocean, seems to have struck Flinders with a feeling of dread. He so rarely allows any emotion to appear in his writing that the sentences in his diary wherein he refers to the appearance of the De Witt range are striking evidence of his revulsion. "The mountains which presented themselves to our view in this situation, both close to the shore and inland, were amongst the most stupendous works of nature I ever beheld, and it seemed to me are the most dismal and barren that can be imagined. The eye ranges over these peaks, and curiously formed lumps of adamantine rock, with astonishment and horror." He acknowledged that he clapped on all sail to get past this forbidding coast. The passage is singular. Flinders was a fenland-bred man, and, passing from the low levels of eastern England to a life at sea in early youth, had had no experience of mountainous country. He had not even seen the mountains at the back of Sydney, except in the blue distance. Now, the De Witt range, though certainly giving to the coast that it dominates an aspect of desolate grandeur, especially when, as is nearly always the case, its jagged peaks are seen under caps of frowning cloud, would not strike a man who had been much among mountains as especially horrid. Flinders' burst of chilled feeling may therefore be noted as a curious psychological fact.* (* The reader will perhaps find it interesting to compare this reference with a passage in Ruskin's Modern Painters Volume 3 chapter 13: "It is sufficiently notable that Homer, living in mountainous and rocky countries, dwells thus delightedly on all the flat bits; and so I think invariably the inhabitants of mountain countries do, but the inhabitants of the plains do not, in any similar way, dwell delightedly on mountains. The Dutch painters are perfectly contented with their flat fields and pollards: Rubens, though he had seen the Alps, usually composes his landscapes of a hay-field or two, plenty of pollards and willows, a distant spire, a Dutch house with a mast about it, a windmill and a ditch...So Shakspere never speaks of mountains with the slightest joy, but only of lowland flowers, flat fields, and Warwickshire streams." Ruskin's citation of the Lincolnshire farmer in Alton Locke is apt, with his dislike of "Darned ups and downs o'hills, to shake a body's victuals out of his inwards.")
The naming of Mounts Heemskirk and Zeehan, the latter since become a mineral centre of vast wealth, were the most noteworthy events of the run down the western coast. They were named by Flinders after the two ships of Tasman, as he took them to be the two mountains seen by that navigator on his discovery of Van Diemen's Land in 1642.
The Derwent, whose estuary is the port of Hobart, was entered on December 21. Bass's report on the fertility of the soil led to the choice of this locality for a settlement four years later.
On the last day of the year the return voyage was commenced, and on January 1st, 1799, the Norfolk was making for Port Jackson with her prow set north-easterly. The winds were unfavourable, and prevented Flinders from keeping close inshore, as he would have liked to do in order to make a survey. But the prescribed period of absence having expired, and the provisions being nearly exhausted, it was necessary to make as much haste as possible. On January 8th the Babel Isles were marked down, and named "because of the confusion of noises made by the geese, shags, penguins, gulls, and sooty petrels." Anyone who has camped near a rookery of sooty petrels is aware that they are quite capable of maintaining a sufficiently "babelish confusion"—the phrase is Camden's—without any aid from other fowls.
A little later in the month (January 12) the Norfolk sailed into harbour, and was anchored alongside the Reliance. "To the strait which had been the great object of research," wrote Flinders, "and whose discovery was now completed, Governor Hunter gave at my recommendation the name of Bass Strait. This was no more than a just tribute to my worthy friend and companion for the extreme dangers and fatigues he had undergone in first entering it in the whaleboat, and to the correct judgment he had formed, from various indications, of the existence of a wide opening between Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales."
Throughout this voyage we find Bass expending his abundant energies in the making of inland excursions whenever an opportunity occurred. To take a boat up rivers, to cut through rough country, to climb, examine soil, make notes on birds and beasts, and exercise his enquiring mind in all directions, was his constant delight.
The profusion of wild life upon the coasts and islands explored during the voyage astonished the travellers. Seals were seen in thousands, sea-birds in hundreds of millions. Flinders' calculation regarding the sooty petrels has already been quoted. Black swans were observed in great quantities. Bass, for example, stated that he saw three hundred of these stately birds within a space a quarter of a mile square. The Roman poet Juvenal could think of no better example of a thing of rare occurrence than a black swan:
"Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno."
But here black swans could have been cited in a simile illustrating profusion. Bass quaintly stated that the "dying song" of the swan, so celebrated by poets, "exactly resembled the creaking of a rusty ale-house sign on a windy day." The remark is not so pretty as, but far more true than, that of the bard who would have us believe that the dying swan:
"In music's strains breathes out her life and verse, And, chaunting her own dirge, rides on her watery hearse."
The couplet of Coleridge is vitiated by the same error, but may merit commendation for practical wisdom:
"Swans sing before they die; 'twere no bad thing Should certain persons die before they sing."
Flinders also saw from three to five hundred black swans on the lee side of one point; and so tame were they that, as the Norfolk passed through the midst of them, one incautious bird was caught by the neck.
Bass went ashore on Albatross Island to shoot. He was forced to fight his way up the cliffs against the seals, which resented the intrusion; and when he got to the top he was compelled "to make a road with his club among the albatross. These birds were sitting upon their nests, and almost covered the surface of the ground, nor did they otherwise derange themselves for their new visitors than to peck at their legs as they passed by."
In the Derwent Bass and Flinders encountered Tasmanian aboriginals, now an extinct race of men. A human voice was heard coming from the hills. The two leaders of the expedition landed, taking with them a swan as an offering of friendship, and met an aboriginal man and two women. The women ran off, but the man stayed and accepted the swan "with rapture." He was armed with three spears, but his demeanour was friendly. Bass and Flinders tried him with such words as they knew of the dialects of New South Wales and the South Sea Islands, but could not make him understand them, "though the quickness with which he comprehended our signs spoke in favour of his intelligence." His hair was either close-cropped or naturally short; but it had not a woolly appearance. "He acceded to our proposition of going to his hut; but finding from his devious route and frequent stoppings that he sought to tire our patience, we left him delighted with the certain possession of his swan, and returned to the boat. This was the sole opportunity we had of communicating with any of the natives of Van Diemen's Land."
The results of the cruise of the Norfolk were of great importance. From the purely utilitarian point of view, the discovery of Bass Strait shortened the voyage to Sydney from Europe by quite a week. It opened a new highway for commerce. Turnbull, in his Voyage Round the World (1814) discussing the advantages of the new route, mentioned that "already has the whole fleet of China ships, under the convoy of a 64, passed through these Straits without the smallest accident;" and he pointed out that ships which were late in the season for China, and availed themselves of the prevailing winds by taking the easterly route round Australia, were thus enabled to avoid the tempestuous weather which generally faced them to the south of Van Diemen's Land. Governor King, too, writing to the Governor of Bombay in 1802, sent him a chart of the strait, and pointed out that the discovery would "greatly facilitate the passage of ships from India to this colony."
The discovery also revealed a fresh and fertile field for the occupation of mankind. Geographically no discovery of such consequence had been made since the noble days of Cook. It brought the names of Bass and Flinders prominently before the scientific world, and the thoroughness with which the latter had done his work won him warm praise from men competent to form a judgment. Intimations concerning the discovery published in the Naval Chronicle and other journals valued the work very highly; and it had the advantage of bringing the commander of the Norfolk under the notice of Sir Joseph Banks, that earnest and steadfast supporter of all sincere research work, who thus became the firm friend of Flinders, as he had been the friend and associate of Cook thirty years before.
The turbulent state of Europe in and about 1799, with Napoleon Bonaparte rising fast to meridian glory on the wings of war, did not incline British statesmen to attach much significance to such events as the discovery of an important strait and the increased opportunities for the development of oversea dominions. Renewed activity in that direction came a little later. There is a letter from Banks to Hunter, written just after the return of the Norfolk, but before the news reached England (February, 1799), wherein he conveys a concise idea of the perturbation in official circles and the difficulty of getting anything done for Australia. "The political situation is so difficult," said Banks, "and His Majesty's Ministers so fully employed in business of the deepest importance, that it is scarce possible to gain a moment's audience on any subject but those which stand foremost in their minds; and colonies of all kinds, you may be assured, are now put into the background."
But that was no more than a passing phase. The seeds of a vaster British Empire than had ever existed before had already germinated, and when the years of crisis occurred, the will and power of England were both ready and strong enough to protect the growing plant from the trampling feet of legions. Meanwhile, the work on the Norfolk secured for Flinders such useful encouragement and help as enabled him very little later to crown his achievements with a task that at once solidified his title to fame and ultimately ended his life.
CHAPTER 10. THE FATE OF GEORGE BASS.
It has been already mentioned that Bass Strait was named by Governor Hunter on the recommendation of Flinders. There is no reason to suppose that George Bass himself made any claim that his name should be applied to his discovery. One derives the impression, from a study of his character as revealed in his words and acts, that he would have been perfectly content had some other name been chosen. He was one of those rare men who find their principal joy in the free exercise of an intrepid and masculine energy, especially in directions affording a stimulus to intellectual curiosity. He did not even write a book or an essay about the work he had done. The whaleboat voyage was tersely recorded in a diary for the information of the Governor; his other material was handed over to Collins for the purposes of his History of New South Wales, and Bass went about his business unrewarded, officially unhonoured.
It is curiously significant of the modesty of this really notable man that when, in 1801, he again sailed to Australia, he mentioned quite casually in a letter that he had passed through Bass Strait without any reference to his own connection with the passage. It was not, to him, "the strait which I discovered," or "my strait," or "the strait named after me," but simply Bass Strait, giving it the proper geographical name scored on the map, just as he might have mentioned the name of any other part of the globe traversed during the voyage. The natural pride of the discoverer assuredly would have been no evidence of egotism; but Bass was singularly free from all semblance of human weakness of that kind. The difficulties battled with, the effort joyfully made, the discovery accomplished, he appears hardly to have thought any more about his own part in it. Not only his essential modesty but his affectionate nature and the frank charm of his manner are apparent in such of his letters as have been preserved.
The association of Bass with Flinders was fruitful in achievement, and their friendship was perfect in its manliness; it is pathetic to realise that when they parted, within a few weeks after the return of the Norfolk to Sydney, these two men, still young in years and rich in hope, ability and enterprise, were never to meet again.
As from this time Bass disappears from the story of his friend's life, what is known of his later years may be here related. His fate is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily cleared up, and perhaps never will be. He returned to England "shortly after" the voyage of the Norfolk. So wrote Flinders; but "shortly after" means later than April, 1799, for in that month Bass sat on a board of inquiry into the Isaac Nicholls case, to be mentioned again hereafter.
In England, Bass married Elizabeth Waterhouse, sister of his old shipmate Henry Waterhouse, the captain of the Reliance. With a wife to maintain, he was apparently dissatisfied with his pay and prospects as a naval surgeon. Nor was he quite the kind of man who would, in the full flush of his restless energy, settle down to the ordinary practice of his profession. Confined to a daily routine in some English town, he would have been like a caged albatross pining for regions of illimitable blue.
Within three months of his marriage Bass had become managing owner of a smart little 140-ton brig, the Venus, in a venture in which a syndicate of friends had invested 10,890 pounds. In the early part of 1801 he sailed in her with a general cargo of merchandise for Port Jackson. The brig, which carried twelve guns—for England was at war, and there were risks to be run —was a fast sailer, teak-built and copper-sheathed, and was described as "one of the most complete, handsome and strong-built ships in the River Thames, and will suit any trade." She was loaded "as deep as she can swim and as full as an egg," Bass wrote to his brother-in-law; and there is the sailor's jovial pleasure in a good ship, with, perhaps, a suggestion of the surgeon's point of view, in his declaration that she was "very sound and tight, and bids fair to remain sound much longer than any of her owners."
But the speculation was not an immediate success. The market was "glutted with goods beyond all comparison," in addition to which Governor King, who succeeded Hunter in 1800, was conducting the affairs of the settlement upon a plan of the most rigid economy. "Our wings are clipped with a vengeance, but we shall endeavour to fall on our feet somehow or other," wrote Bass early in October, 1801.
A contract made with the Governor, to bring salt pork from Tahiti at sixpence per pound, provided profitable employment for the Venus. Hogs were plentiful in the Society Islands, and could be procured cheaply. The arrangement commended itself to the thrifty Governor, who had hitherto been paying a shilling per pound for pork, and it kept Bass actively engaged. He was "tired of civilised life." There was, too, money to be made, and he sent home satisfactory bills "to stop a few holes in my debts." "That pork voyage," he wrote to his brother-in-law, "has been our first successful speculation"; and he spoke again in fond admiration of the Venus; "she is just the same vessel as when we left England, never complains or cries, though we loaded her with pork most unmercifully." While he was pursuing this trade, the French expedition under Baudin visited Sydney, and they, on their chart of Wilson's Promontory gave the name of Venus Bay to an inlet on the west side of Cape Liptrap. They also bought goods to the extent of 359 pounds 10 shillings from "Mr. George Basse."* (* Manuscript accounts of Baudin, Archives Nationales BB4 999.)
Bass now secured fishing concessions in New Zealand waters, from which he hoped much. "The fishery is not to be put in motion till after my return to old England," he wrote in January, 1803. Then, he said playfully, "I mean to seize upon my dear Bess, bring her out here, and make a poissarde of her, where she cannot fail to find plenty of ease for her tongue. We have, I assure you, great plans in our heads, but, like the basket of eggs, all depends upon the success of the voyage I am now upon." It was the voyage from which he never returned.
There is another charming allusion to his wife in a letter written from Tahiti: "I would joke Bess upon the attractive charms of Tahiti females but that they have been so much belied in their beauty that she might think me attracted in good earnest. However, there is nothing to fear here." He speaks of her again in writing to his brother: "I have written to my beloved wife, and do most sincerely lament that we are so far asunder. The next voyage I have she must make with me, for I shall badly pass it without her." The pathos of his reference to her in a letter of October, 1801, can be felt in its note of manly sympathy, and is deepened by the recollection that the young bride never saw him again. "Our dear Bess talks of seeing me in eighteen months. Alas! poor Bess, the when is uncertain, very uncertain in everything except its long distances. Turn our eyes where we will, we see nothing but glutted markets around us."
The pork-procuring ventures continued till 1803. In that year Bass arranged to sail beyond Tahiti to the Chilian coast, to buy other provisions for the use of the colony. Whether he intended to force the hand of fortune by engaging in the contraband trade can only be inferred. That there was certainly a large amount of illicit traffic with South America on the part of venturesome captains who made use of Port Jackson as a harbour of refuge, is clear from extant documents.
The position was this. The persistent policy of Spain in the government of her South American possessions was to conserve trade exclusively for Spanish ships and Spanish merchants; and for this purpose several restrictions were imposed upon unauthorised foreign traders. Nevertheless the inhabitants of these colonies urgently required more goods than were imported under such excessive limitations, and wanted to get them much cheaper than was possible while monopoly and heavy taxation prevailed. There was, consequently, a tempting inducement to skippers who were sufficiently bold to take risks, to ship goods for Chili and Peru, and run them in at some place along the immense coast-line, evading the lazy eyes of perfunctory Spanish officials, or securing their corrupt connivance by bribes. Contraband trade was, in fact, extensively practised, and plenty of people in the Spanish colonies throve on it. As a modern historian writes: "The vast extent of the border of Spain's possessions made it impossible for her to guard it efficiently. Smuggling could therefore be carried on with impunity, and the high prices which had been given to European wares in America by the system of restriction, constituted a sufficient inducement to lead the merchants of other nations to engage in contraband trade."* The profits from success were great; but the consequences of detection were disastrous. (* Bernard Moses, Spanish Rule in America, 289.)
Now Bass, as already related, had brought out to Sydney in the Venus a large quantity of unsaleable merchandise. He could not dispose of it under conditions of glut. He had hoped that the Governor would take the cargo into the Government store and let it be sold even at a 50 per cent reduction. But King declined to permit that to be done. Here, then, was a singularly courageous man, fond of daring enterprises, in command of a good ship, with an unsaleable cargo on his hands. On the other side of the Pacific was a country where such a cargo might, with luck, be sold at a bounding profit. He could easily find out how the trade was done. There was more than one among those with whom he would associate in Sydney who knew a great deal about it.
One or two sentences in Bass's last letters to Henry Waterhouse contain mysterious hints, which to him, with his experience of Port Jackson, would be significant. He explained that he intended taking the Venus to visit the coast of Chili in search of provisions, "and that they may not in that part of the world mistake me for a contrabandist, I go provided with a very diplomatic-looking certificate from the Governor here, stating the service upon which I am employed, requesting aid and protection in obtaining the food wanted. And God grant you may fully succeed, says your warm heart, in so benevolent an object; and thus also say I; Amen, say many others of my friends."
But was the diplomatic-looking paper intended rather to serve as a screen than as a guarantee of bona fides? "In a few hours," wrote Bass at the beginning of February, 1803, "I sail again on another pork voyage, but it combines circumstances of a different nature also"; and at the end of the same letter he added: "Speak not of South America to anyone out of your family, for there is treason in the very name." What did he mean by that? He spoke of "digging gold in South America," and clearly did not mean it in the strict literal sense.
It is true that the Governor was anxious to get South American cattle and beef for the settlement in Sydney, but can that have been the only motive for a voyage beyond Tahiti? "If our approaching voyage proves at all fortunate in its issue, I expect to make a handsome thing out of it, and to be much expedited on my return to old England," Bass wrote in January. He would not have been likely to make so very handsome a thing out of beef in one voyage, to enable him to expedite his return to England.
The factors of the case are, then, that Bass had on his hands a large quantity of goods which he had failed to sell in Sydney; that there was a considerable and enormously profitable contraband trade with South America at the time; that he expected to make a very large and rapid profit out of the venture he was about to undertake; that he warned Waterhouse against mentioning the matter outside the family circle, "for there is treason in the very name"; and that he was himself a man distinguished by dash and daring, who was very anxious to make a substantial sum and return to England soon. The inference from his language and circumstances as to the scheme he had in hand is irresistible.
The "very diplomatic-looking certificate" which the Governor gave him was dated February 3, 1803. It certified that "Mr. George Bass, of the brigantine Venus, has been employed since the first day of November, 1801, upon His Britannic Majesty's service in procuring provisions for the subsistence of His Majesty's colony, and still continues using those exertions;" and it went on to affirm that should he find it expedient to resort to any harbour in His Catholic Majesty's dominions upon the west coast of America, "this instrument is intended to declare my full belief that his sole object in going there will be to procure food, without any view to private commerce or any other view whatsoever."
Notwithstanding the terms of this certificate, however, there is clear evidence that Governor King was fully aware of the nature of the trade conducted with the Spanish-American colonies by vessels using Port Jackson; and though it may be that Bass did not tell him in so many words what his whole intentions were, King knew that Bass had a large stock of commodities to sell, and could hardly have been ignorant that a considerable portion of them were re-shipped on the Venus for this voyage. In a later despatch he alluded to vessels which carried goods "from hence to the coasts of the Spanish possessions on the west side of America," and he observed "that this must be a forced trade, similar to that carried on among the settlements of that nation and Portugal on the east side of America, and that much risk will attend it to the adventurers."
Bass sailed from Sydney on February 5th, 1803. He never returned, and no satisfactory account of what became of him is forthcoming.* (* The writer of the article on Bass in the Dictionary of National Biography says that "except that he left Australia in 1799 to return to England nothing certain is known of Bass's subsequent history." But we know fairly fully what he was doing up till February, 1803, as related above. The Bass mystery commences after that date. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition) finds no space for a separate article on this very remarkable man.) Later in 1803 the brig Harrington, herself concerned in the contraband trade, reported that the Venus had been captured and confiscated by the Spaniards in Peru, and that Bass and the mate, Scott, had been sent as prisoners to the silver mines. In December, 1804, Governor King remarked in a despatch to the Secretary of State that he had been "in constant expectation" of hearing from Bass, "to whom, there is no doubt, some accident has occurred." The Harrington had reported the capture of the Venus before King wrote that. Why did he not mention the circumstance to the British Government? Why did he not allude to the country to which he well knew that Bass intended to sail? It would seem that King carefully avoided referring in his official despatches to an enterprise upon which he had good reason to be aware that Bass had embarked.
War between Great Britain and Spain did not break out till December, 1804, after the seizure of the Spanish treasure fleet by British frigates off Cadiz (October 5th). But in previous years, while Spain, under pressure from Napoleon, lent her countenance to his aggressive policy, English privateers had freely plundered Spanish commerce in the south Pacific, and some of them had brought their prizes to Sydney. That this was done with the knowledge of the authorities cannot be doubted. Everybody knew about it. When the French exploring ships were lying at Sydney in 1802, Peron saw there vessels "provided with arms, fitting out for the western coast of America, stored with merchandise of various kinds. These vessels were intended to establish, by force of arms, a contraband commerce with the inhabitants of Peru, extremely advantageous to both parties."
It would not, therefore, be wonderful that the Spanish authorities in Chili or Peru should regard Port Jackson as a kind of wasp's nest, and should look with suspicion on any vessel coming thence which might fall into their hands, however much her commander might endeavour to make of his official certificate declaring the Governor's "full belief" in his lawful intentions. The irritation caused by the use that was being made of Sydney as a privateering and contraband base of operations can be well imagined. As early as December, 1799, indeed, Governor Hunter related that a captured Spanish merchant vessel had been brought into port, and he acknowledged that "this being the second Spanish prize brought hither, we cannot be surprised, should it be known that such captures make a convenience of this harbour, if it should provoke a visit from some of the ships of war from the Spanish settlements on that coast." The Spaniards would naturally be thirsting for revenge; and a ship sailing direct from the port of which the raiders made a "convenience" would be liable to feel their ire, should there be the semblance of provocation. The authorities would have been justified in holding up the Venus if they suspected that she carried contraband goods; and their treatment of her officers and crew might be expected to reflect the temper of their disposition towards Port Jackson and all that concerned it.
If, as the Harrington reported, Bass and his companions were sent to the mines, the Spanish officials managed their act of punishment, or revenge, very quietly. But at that time there was not a formal state of belligerency between England and Spain, though the tension of public feeling in Great Britain concerning Spanish relations with France was acute. If it were considered that such an act as the seizure of the Venus would be likely to precipitate a declaration of war, the motive for secrecy was strong. Secrecy, moreover, would have been in complete conformity with Spanish methods in South America. It is not recorded whether the seizure of the Venus occurred at Callao, Valparaiso or Valdivia; but a British lieutenant, Fitzmaurice, who was at Valparaiso five years later, heard that a man named Bass had been in Lima some years before.
A friend of the Bass family residing at Lincoln in 1852 wrote a letter to Samuel Sidney, the author of The Three Colonies of Australia, stating that Bass's mother last heard of him "in the Straits of China." But this was evidently an error of memory. If Bass ever got out of South America, he would have written to his "dear Bess," to Waterhouse, and to Flinders. The latter, in 1814, wrote of him as "alas, now no more." There is on record a report that he was seen alive in South America in that year, but the story is doubtful. He was a man full of affectionate loyalty to his friends, and it is not conceivable that he would have left them without news of him if any channel of communication had been open, as would have been the case had he been at liberty as late as 1814. His father-in-law made enquiries, but failed to obtain news. The report of the Harrington was probably true, but beyond that we really have no information upon which we can depend. The internal history of Spanish America has been very scantily investigated, and it is quite possible that even yet some diligent student of archives may find, some day, particulars concerning the fate of this brave and adventurous spirit.
The disappearance of Bass's letters to his mother is a misfortune which the student of Australian history must deplore. He was observant, shrewd, an untiring traveller, and an entertaining correspondent. He probably related to his mother, to whom he wrote frequently, the story of his excursions and experiences, and the historical value of all that he wrote would be very great. The letters, said the Lincoln friend, were long, "containing full accounts of his discoveries." His mother treasured them till she died, when they came into the possession of a Miss Calder. She kept them in a box, and used occasionally to amuse herself by reading them. But some time before 1852 Miss Calder went to the box to look at them again, and found that they had disappeared. Whether she had lent them to some person who had failed to return them, or had mislaid them, is unknown. It is possible that they may still be in existence in some dusty cupboard in England, and that we may even yet be gratified by an examination of documents which would assuredly enable us to understand more of the noble soul of George Bass.
It has been mentioned that Flinders and Bass did not meet again after the voyage of the Norfolk and Bass's return to England. Though Sydney was the base of both Flinders in the Investigator and Bass in the Venus in 1802 and 1803, they always had the ill-luck to miss each other. Bass was at Tahiti while Flinders lay in port from May 9th to July 21st, 1802. He returned in November, and left once more on his final voyage in February, 1803. Flinders arrived in Sydney again, after his exploration of the Gulf of Carpentaria, in June, 1803. A farewell letter from him to his friend is quoted in a later chapter.
CHAPTER 11. ON THE QUEENSLAND COAST.
Two more incidents in the career of Flinders will concern us before we deal with his important later voyages. The first of these is only worth mentioning for the light it throws upon the character of the man. In March, 1799, he sat as a member of a court of criminal judicature in Sydney, for the trial of Isaac Nichols, who was charged with receiving a basket of tobacco knowing it to have been stolen. The case aroused passionate interest at the time. People in the settlement took sides upon it, as upon a matter of acute party politics, and the Governor was hotly at variance with the Judge Advocate, the chief judicial officer.
Nichols had been a convict, but his conduct was good, and he was chosen to be chief overseer of a gang employed in labour of various kinds. On the expiration of his sentence, he acquired a small farm, and by means of sobriety and industry built himself a comfortable house. Through his very prosperity he became "an object to be noticed," as the Governor wrote, and by reason of his diligent usefulness securing him official employment, "he stood in the way of others." In Hunter's opinion, the ruin of Nichols was deliberately planned; and he was convicted on what the Governor believed to be false and malicious evidence.
The striking feature of the trial was that the Court (consisting of seven members—three naval officers and three officers of the New South Wales Corps, presided over by the Judge Advocate) was sharply divided in opinion. The three naval men, Flinders, Waterhouse, and Lieutenant Kent, were convinced of the accused man's innocence; the three military men, with the Judge Advocate, voted for his conviction. There was thus a majority against Nichols; but the Governor, believing that an injustice was being done, suspended the execution of the sentence, and submitted the papers to the Secretary of State. Bass came into the matter in the month after the trial, as a member of a Court of Inquiry into the allegation that certain persons had carried the tobacco to Nichols' house with the object of implicating him.
The only point that need concern us here, is that Flinders wrote a memorandum analysing the evidence with minute care, in justification of his belief in the prisoner's innocence. It was a skilfully drawn document, and it exhibits Flinders in a light which enhances our respect for him, as the strong champion of an accused man whom he believed to be wronged. In the result, the Crown granted a pardon to Nichols; but this did not arrive till 1802, so tardy was justice in getting itself done. Apart from Flinders' share in it, the case is interesting as revealing the strained relations existing between the principal officials in the colony at the time. The Judge Advocate was a bitter enemy of the Governor, and the very administration of the law, affecting the liberties of the people, was tinctured by these animosities.
It is pleasant to turn from so grimy a subject to the work for which Flinders' tastes and talents peculiarly fitted him. The explorations which he had hitherto accomplished were sufficient to convince Hunter that he had under him an officer from whom good work could be expected, and, the Reliance not being required for service, he readily acquiesced when Flinders proposed that he should take the Norfolk northward, to Moreton Bay, the "Glasshouse Bay" of Cook, and Hervey Bay, east of Bundaberg. On this voyage he was accompanied by his younger brother, Samuel Flinders. He also took with him an aboriginal named Bongaree, "whose good disposition and manly conduct had attracted my esteem."
He sailed on July 8th. The task did not occupy much time, for the sloop was back in Sydney by August 20th. The results were disappointing. It had been hoped to find large rivers, and by means of them to penetrate the interior of the country; but none were found.
Flinders missed the Clarence, though he actually anchored off its entrance. Nor did he find the Brisbane, though, ascending the Glasshouse Mountains, he saw indications of a river, which he could not enter with the Norfolk on account of the intricacy of the channel and the shortness of the time available.
Uneasiness of mind respecting the condition of the sloop must have had much to do with the missing of the rivers. She sprung a leak two days out of Port Jackson, and this was "a serious cause of alarm," the more so as grains of maize, with which the Norfolk had been previously loaded, were constantly choking up the pump. Weather conditions, also, did not favour taking the vessel close inshore on her northward course, and it would have been almost impossible to detect the mouths of the New South Wales rivers without a close scrutiny of the coastline. Those considerations are quite sufficient, when duly weighed, to account for the omissions. It certainly was a rash statement, after so imperfect an examination, that "however mortifying the conviction might be, it was then an ascertained fact that no river of importance intersected the east coast between the 24th and 39th degrees of south latitude." But it is equally certain that he could not have found these rivers with the means at his disposal. They could not well have been observed from the deck of a vessel off the coast.* (* See Coote, History of Queensland, 1 7, and Lang, Cooksland, page 17.) A closer inspection of the shore-line was required. In fact, the rivers were not found by seaward exploration; they were discovered by inland travellers.
The most interesting features of the voyage lay in the meeting with aboriginals in Moreton Bay. Some of the incidents were amusing, though at one time there seemed to be danger of a serious encounter. Flinders went ashore to meet a party of the natives, and endeavoured to establish friendly relations with them. But as he was leaving, one of them threw a spear. Flinders snatched up his gun and aimed at the offender, but the flint being wet missed fire. A second snap of the trigger also failed, but on a third trial the gun went off, though nobody was hurt. Flinders thought that it might obviate future mischief if he gave the blacks an idea of his power, so he fired at a man who was hiding behind a tree; but without doing him any harm. The sound of the gun caused the greatest consternation among the natives, and the small party of white men had no more serious trouble with them while they were in the bay. Flinders was "satisfied of the great influence which the use of a superior power has in savages to create respect and render their communications friendly"; but he was fortunately able to keep on good terms without resort to severity.
An effort to tickle the aboriginal sense of humour was a failure. Two of the crew who were Scotch, commenced to dance a reel for the amusement of the blacks. "For want of music," it is related, "they made a very bad performance, which was contemplated by the natives without much amusement or curiosity." The joke, like Flinders' gun, missed fire. There have been, it is often alleged, other occasions when jokes made by Scotsmen have not achieved a shining success; and we do well to respect the intention while we deplore the waste of effort.
An example of cunning which did not succeed occurred shortly after the first landing. Flinders was wearing a cabbage-tree hat, for which a native had a fancy. The fellow took a long stick with a hook at the end of it, and, laughing and talking to divert attention from his purpose, endeavoured to take the hat from the commander's head. His detection created much laughter; as did that of another black with long arms, who tried to creep up to snatch the hat, but was afraid to approach too near. The account which Collins, writing from Flinders' notes, gave of the Queensland natives seen at Moreton Bay, is graphic but hardly attractive. Two paragraphs about their musical attainments and their general appearance will bear quotation:—
"These people, like the natives of Port Jackson, having fallen to the low pitch of their voices, recommenced their song at the octave, which was accompanied by slow and not ungraceful motions of the body and limbs, their hands being held up in a supplicating posture; and the tone and manner of their song and gestures seemed to bespeak the goodwill and forbearance of their auditors. Observing that they were attentively listened to, they each selected one of our people and placed his mouth close to his ear, as if to produce a greater effect, or, it might be, to teach them the song, which their silent attention might seem to express a desire to learn." As a recompense for the amusement they had afforded him Flinders gave them some worsted caps, and a pair of blanket trousers, with which they seemed well pleased. Several other natives now made their appearance; and it was some time before they could overcome their dread of approaching the strangers with the firearms; but, encouraged by the three who were with them, they came up, and a general song and dance was commenced. Their singing was not confined to one air; they gave three.
"Of those who came last, three were remarkable for the largeness of their heads, and one, whose face was very rough, had much more the appearance of a baboon than of a human being. He was covered with oily soot; his hair matted with filth; his visage, even among his fellows, uncommonly ferocious; and his very large mouth, beset with teeth of every hue between black, white, green and yellow, sometimes presented a smile which might make anyone shudder."
The Norfolk remained fifteen days in Moreton Bay. The judgment that Flinders formed of it was that it was "so full of shoals that he could not attempt to point out any passage that would lead a ship into it without danger." The east side was not sounded, and he was of opinion that if a good navigable channel existed it would be found there. His visit to Hervey Bay, further north, did not lead to any interesting observations. He left there on his return voyage on August 7th, and reached Port Jackson at dusk on the 20th.
CHAPTER 12. THE INVESTIGATOR.
Flinders sailed from Port Jackson for England in the Reliance on March 3rd, 1800. The old ship was in such a bad condition that Governor Hunter "judged it proper to order her home while she may be capable of performing the voyage." She carried despatches, which Captain Waterhouse was directed to throw overboard in the event of meeting with an enemy's ship of superior force and being unable to effect his escape. She lived through a tempestuous voyage, making nine or ten inches of water per hour, according to the carpenter's report, and providing plenty of pumping exercise for a couple of convict stowaways who emerged from hiding two days out of Sydney. At St. Helena, reached at the end of May, company was joined with four East India ships, and off Ireland H.M.S. Cerberus took charge of the convoy till the arrival at Portsmouth on August 26th.
When Flinders left England six years before, he was a midshipman. He passed the examination qualifying him to become lieutenant at the Cape of Good Hope in 1797, and was appointed provisionally to that rank on the return of the Reliance to Sydney from the South African voyage in that year. The prompt confirmation of his promotion by the admiralty he attributed to the kind interest of Admiral Pasley.
When he quitted his ship at Deptford in October, 1800, he was a man of mark. His name was honourably known to the elders of his profession, whilst he was esteemed by men concerned with geography, navigation, and kindred branches of study, for the importance of the work he had done, and for the thorough scientific spirit manifested in it.
Chief among those who recognised his quality was Sir Joseph Banks, the learned and wealthy squire who was ever ready to be to zealous men of science a friend, a patron, and an influence. Banks was, indeed, memorable for the men and work he helped, rather than for his own original contributions to knowledge. During his presidency of the Royal Society, from 1777 to 1820—a long time for one man to occupy the principal place in the most distinguished learned body in the world—he not only encouraged, but promoted and directed, a remarkable radiation of research work, and was the accessible friend of every man of ability concerned in extending the bounds of enquiry into phenomena.
Banks took a special interest in the young navigator, who was a native of his own bit of England, Lincolnshire. He knew well what a large field for geographical investigation there was in Australia, and recognised that Flinders was the right man to do the work. Banks had always foreseen the immense possibilities of the country; he was the means of sending out the naturalists George Caley, Robert Brown, and Allan Cunningham, to study its natural products. That he was quick to recognise the sterling capacity of Matthew Flinders constitutes his principal claim to our immediate attention. The spirit of our age is rather out of sympathy with the attitude of patronage, which, as must be confessed, it gratified Banks to assume; but at all events it was, in this instance, patronage of the only tolerable sort, that which helps an able man to fulfil himself and serve his kind.
Before he went to sea again, Flinders was married (April 1801) to Miss Ann Chappell, stepdaughter of the Rev. William Tyler, rector of Brothertoft, near Boston. She was a sailor's daughter, her own father having died while in command of a ship out of Hull, engaged in the Baltic trade. It is probable that there was an attachment between the pair before Flinders left England in 1794; for during the Norfolk expedition in 1798 he had named a smooth round hill in Kent's group Mount Chappell, and had called a small cluster of islands the Chappell Isles. He does not tell us why they were so named, as was his usual practice. He merely speaks of them as "this small group to which the name of Chappell Isles is affixed in the chart." But a tender little touch of sentiment may creep in, even in the making of charts; and we cannot have or wish to have, any doubt as to the reason in this case.
In his Observations, published in the year of his marriage, Flinders remarks (page 24) that the hill "had received the name of Mount Chappell in February, 1798, and the name is since extended to the isles which lie in its immediate neighbourhood." The fact that the name was given in 1798, indicates that a kindly feeling, to say the least of it, was entertained for Miss Chappell before Flinders left England in 1795. The lover in As You Like It carved his lady's name on trees:
"O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books, And in their barks my thoughts I'll character."
Here we find our young navigator writing his lady's name on the map. It is rather an uncommon symptom of a very common complaint.
Miss Chappell and her sister, the sisters of Flinders, and the young ladies of the Franklin family, were a group of affectionate friends who lived in the same neighbourhood, and were constantly together. The boys of the families were brothers to all the girls, who were all sisters to them. Matthew on the Reliance wrote to them letters intended to be read by all, addressing them as "my charming sisters." In one of these epistles he told the girls: "never will there be a more happy soul than when I return. O, may the Almighty spare me all those dear friends without whom my joy would be turned into sorrow and mourning." But that he nourished the recollection of Ann Chappell in his heart with especial warmth is apparent from a letter he wrote to her very shortly after the Reliance returned to England (September 25th, 1800):* (* Flinders' Papers.) "You are one of those friends," he assured her, "whom I consider it indispensably necessary to see. I should be glad to have some little account of your movements, where you reside, and with whom, that my motions may be regulated accordingly...You see that I make everything subservient to business. Indeed, my dearest friend, this time seems to be a very critical period of my life. I have long been absent—have done services abroad that were not expected, but which seem to be thought a good deal of. I have more and greater friends than before, and this seems to be the moment that their exertions may be most serviceable to me. I may now perhaps make a bold dash forward, or may remain a poor lieutenant all my life." And he ended this letter, which Miss Chappell would not fail to read "between the lines," by assuring "my dear friend Annette," that "with the greatest sincerity, I am her most affectionate friend and brother, Matthew Flinders."
From this point the comforting understanding between the two young people developed in ways as to which there is no evidence in correspondence; but shortly after Flinders received promotion he must have proposed marriage. He wrote a short time afterwards in these terms:
"H.M.S. Investigator, at the Nore, April 6, 1801.
"My dearest friend,
"Thou hast asked me if there is a POSSIBILITY of our living together. I think I see a PROBABILITY of living with a moderate share of comfort. Till now I was not certain of being able to fit myself out clear of the world. I have now done it, and have accommodation on board the Investigator, in which as my wife a woman may, with love to assist her, make herself happy. This prospect has recalled all the tenderness which I have so sedulously endeavoured to banish. I am sent for to London, where I shall be from the 9th to the 19th, or perhaps longer. If thou wilt meet me there, this hand shall be thine for ever. If thou hast sufficient love and courage, say to Mr. and Mrs. Tyler* (* Her mother and stepfather.) that I require nothing more with thee than a sufficient stock of clothes and a small sum to answer the increased expenses that will necessarily and immediately come upon me; as well for living on board as providing for it at Port Jackson; for whilst I am employed in the most dangerous part of my duty, thou shalt be placed under some friendly roof there. I need not, nor at this time have I time to enter into a detail of my income and prospects. It will, I trust, be sufficient for me to say that I see a fortune growing under me to meet increasing expenses. I only want a fair start, and my life for it, we will do well and be happy. I will write further to-morrow, but shall most anxiously expect thy answer at 86 Fleet Street, London, on my visit on Friday; and, I trust, thy presence immediately afterwards. I have only time to add that most anxiously I am, Most sincerely thine,
He appended a postscript which covertly alludes to the manner in which Sir Joseph Banks might be expected to regard the marriage on the eve of commencing the new voyage: "It will be much better to keep this matter entirely secret. There are many reasons for it yet, and I have also a powerful one: I do not know how my great friends might like it."
But, taking all the risks in this direction, he snatched the first opportunity that presented itself to hurry down to Lincolnshire, get married, and bring his bride up to London, stuffing into his boot, for safe keeping, a roll of bank notes given to him by Mr. Tyler at the moment of farewell.
In a letter* to his cousin Henrietta, (* Flinders' Papers.) he relates how hurriedly the knot matrimonial was at length tied, on the 17th of April:
"Everything was agreed to in a very handsome manner, and just at this time I was called up to town and found that I might be spared a few days from thence. I set off on Wednesday evening from town, arrived next evening at Spilsby, was married next morning,* which was Friday; on Saturday we went to Donington, on Sunday reached Huntingdon, and on Monday were in town. Next morning I presented myself before Sir Joseph Banks with a grave face as if nothing had happened, and then went on with my business as usual. We stayed in town till the following Sunday, and came on board the Investigator next day, and here we have remained ever since, a few weeks on shore and a day spent on the Essex side of the Thames excepted." (* Captain F.J. Bayldon, of the Nautical Academy, Sydney, tells me an interesting story about the Flinders-Chappell marriage registration. His father was rector of Partney, Lincolnshire, a village lying two or three miles from Spilsby. When the Captain and his brothers were boys, they found in the rectory a large book, such as was used for parish registers. It was apparently unused. They asked their father if they might have the blank pages for drawing paper, and he gave them permission. But they found upon a single page, a few marriage entries, and one of these was the marriage of Matthew Flinders to Ann Chappell. Captain Bayldon, a student of navigation then as he has been ever since, knew Flinders' name at once, and took the book to his father. The marriage was celebrated at Partney, where the Tylers lived.)
In a letter* written on the day of the marriage to Elizabeth Flinders the bride's fluttered and mixed emotions were apparent. (* Mitchell Library manuscripts.) At this time she believed that she was to make the voyage to Australia in the Investigator with her husband, and hardly knew whether the happiness of her new condition or the regretful prospect of a long farewell to her circle of friends prevailed most in her heart.
"April 17th, 1801.
"My beloved Betsy,
"Thou wilt be much surprised to hear of this sudden affair; indeed I scarce believe it myself, tho' I have this very morning given my hand at the altar to him I have ever highly esteemed, and it affords me no small pleasure that I am now a part, tho' a distant one, of thy family, my Betsy. It grieves me much thou art so distant from me. Thy society would have greatly cheered me. Thou wilt to-day pardon me if I say but little. I am scarce able to coin one sentence or to write intelligibly. It pains me to agony when I indulge the thought for a moment that I must leave all I value on earth, save one, alas, perhaps for ever. Ah, my Betsy, but I dare not, must not, think [that]. Therefore, farewell, farewell. May the great God of Heaven preserve thee and those thou lovest, oh, everlastingly. Adieu, dear darling girl; love as ever, though absent and far removed from your poor
We are afforded a confidential insight into Mrs. Flinders' opinion of her husband in a letter from her to another girl friend. It was written after the marriage, and when Matthew was again at sea, prosecuting that voyage from which he was not to return for over nine years. "I don't admire want of firmness in a man. I love COURAGE and DETERMINATION in the male character. Forgive me, dear Fanny, but INSIPIDS I never did like, and having not long ago tasted such delightful society I have now a greater contempt than in former days for that cast of character." An "insipid" Ann Chappell certainly had not married, and she found in Matthew Flinders no lack of the courage and determination she admired.
A second marriage contracted by the elder Matthew Flinders, connecting his family with the Franklins, had an important influence upon the life of another young sailor who had commenced his career in the Navy in the previous year. The Franklin family, which sprang from the village of Sibsey (about six miles north-east of Boston), was now resident at Spilsby. At the time of the Flinders-Chappell wedding, young John Franklin was serving on the Polyphemus, and had only a few days previously (April 1) taken part in the battle of Copenhagen. In the ordinary course of things he would, there can hardly be a doubt, have followed his profession along normal lines. His virile intellect and resourceful courage would probably have won him eminence, but it is not likely that he would have entered upon that career of exploration which shed so much lustre on his name, and in the end found him a grave beneath the immemorial snows of the frozen north. It was by Flinders that young Franklin was diverted into the glorious path of discovery; from Flinders that he learnt the strictly scientific part of navigation. "It is very reasonable for us to infer," writes one of Franklin's biographers* (* Admiral Markham, Life of Sir John Franklin page 43.) "that it was in all probability in exploring miles of practically unknown coastline, and in surveying hitherto undiscovered bays, reefs, and islands in the southern hemisphere, that John Franklin's mind became imbued with that ardent love of geographical research which formed such a marked and prominent feature in his future professional career. Flinders was the example, and Australian exploration was the school, that created one of our greatest Arctic navigators and one of the most eminent geographers of his day."
Another matter with which Flinders was occupied during his stay in England was the preparation of a small publication dealing with his recent researches. It was entitled "Observations on the coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait and its Islands, and on parts of the coasts of New South Wales, intended to accompany the charts of the late discoveries in those countries, by Matthew Flinders, second lieutenant of His Majesty's ship Reliance." It consisted of thirty-five quarto pages, issued without a wrapper, and stitched like a large pamphlet. John Nichols, of Soho, was the publisher, but some copies were issued with the imprint of Arrowsmith, the publisher of charts. Very few copies now remain, and the little book, which is one of the rare things of bibliography, is not to be found even in many important libraries.
Flinders dedicated the issue to Sir Joseph Banks. "Your zealous exertions to promote geographical and nautical knowledge, your encouragement of men employed in the cultivation of the sciences that tend to this improvement, and the countenance you have been pleased to show me in particular, embolden me to lay the following observations before you." Generally speaking, the Observations contain matter that was afterwards embodied in the larger Voyage to Terra Australis, and taken from reports that have been used in the preceding pages. The special purpose of the book was to be of use to navigators who might sail in Australian waters, and it is therefore full of particulars likely to guide them. He pointed out that there might be some errors in the longitude records of the Norfolk voyage because "no time-keepers could be procured for this expedition," but he pointed out that the survey was made with great care. "The sloop was kept close to the shore, and brought back every morning within sight of the same point it had been hauled off during the preceding evening, by which means the chain of angles was never broken." This was, as will be seen later, the method employed on the more important voyage about to be undertaken.
The task that mainly occupied his attention during these few months in England, was the making of preparations for a voyage of discovery intended to complete the exploration of the coasts of Australia. It has already been remarked that the initiative in regard to the Francis and Norfolk explorations sprang from Flinders' own eager desire, and not from the governing authorities. Precisely the same occurred in the case of the far more important Investigator voyage. He did not wait for something to turn up. Immediately after his arrival in England, he formulated a plan, pointed out the sphere of investigation to which attention ought to be directed, and approached the proper authorities. He wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, "offering my services to explore minutely the whole of the coasts, as well those which were imperfectly known as those entirely unknown, provided the Government would provide me with a proper ship for the purpose. I did not address myself in vain to this zealous promoter of science; and Earl Spencer, then First Lord of the Admiralty, entering warmly into the views of his friend, obtained the approbation of his Majesty, and immediately set out a ship that could be spared from the present demands of war, which Great Britain then waged with most of the Powers of Europe."* (* Flinders' Papers.)
Lord Spencer's prompt and warm acquiescence in the proposition is not less to be noted than the friendly interest of Banks. His administration of the Admiralty in Pitt's Government was distinguished by his selection of Nelson as the admiral to frustrate the schemes of the French in sea warfare; and it stands as an additional tribute to his sagacity that he at once recognised Flinders to be the right man to maintain the prowess of British seamanship in discovery.
Three reasons made the Government the more disposed to equip an expedition for the purpose. The first was that in June, 1800, L.G. Otto, the representative of the French Republic in London, applied for a passport for two discovery ships which were being despatched to the south seas. French men of science had for many years interested themselves in the investigation of these unknown portions of the globe. The expeditions of Laperouse (1785 to 1788) and of Dentrecasteaux (1791 to 1796) were evidence of their concern with the problems awaiting elucidation. The professors of the Museum in Paris were eager that collections of minerals and plants should be made in the southern hemisphere. The Institute of France was led by keen men of science, one of whom, the Comte de Fleurieu, had prepared the instructions for the two previous voyages. They had found a warm friend to research in Louis XVI, and the fall of the monarchy did not diminish their anxiety that France should win honour from pursuing the enquiry. They represented to Napoleon, then First Consul, the utility of undertaking another voyage, and his authorisation was secured in May. A passport was granted by Earl Spencer when Otto made the application, but there was a suspicion that the French Government was influenced by motives of policy lying deeper than the ostensible desire to promote discovery.
Secondly, the East India Company was concerned lest the French should establish themselves somewhere on the coast of Australia, and, with a base of operations there, menace the Company's trade.
Thirdly, Sir Joseph Banks, after conversations with Flinders and an examination of his charts, saw the importance of the work remaining to be done, and used his influence with the Admiralty to authorise a ship to be detailed for the purpose.
Thus imperial policy, trade interests and scientific ardour combined to procure the equipment of a new research expedition. In view of the fact that the Admiralty became officially aware in June of the intentions of the French, it cannot be said that they were precipitate in making their own plans; for it was not until December 12 that they issued their orders.
The vessel allotted for the employment was a 334-ton sloop, built in the north of England for the merchant service. She had been purchased by the Government for naval work, and, under the name of the Xenophon, had been employed in convoying merchant vessels in the Channel. Her name was changed to the Investigator, her bottom was re-coppered, the plating being put on "two streaks higher than before," and she was equipped for a three years' voyage. Flinders took command of her at Sheerness on January 25th, 1801. He was promoted to the rank of commander on the 16th of the following month.
The renovated ship was good enough to look at, and she commended herself to Flinders' eye as being the sort of vessel best fitted for the work in contemplation. In form she "nearly resembled the description of vessel recommended by Captain Cook as best calculated for voyages of discovery." But, though comfortable, she was old and unsound. Patching and caulking merely plugged up defects which the buffetings of rough seas soon revealed. But she was the best ship the Admiralty was able to spare at the time. Long before she had completed her outward voyage, however, the senility of the Investigator had made itself uncomfortably evident. Writing of the leaks experienced on the run down to the Cape, Flinders said:—
"The leakiness of the ship increased with the continuance of the southwest winds, and at the end of a week amounted to five inches of water an hour. It seemed, however, that the leaks were above the water's edge, for on tacking to the westward they were diminished to two inches. This working of the oakum out of the seams indicated a degree of weakness which, in a ship destined to encounter every hazard, could not be contemplated without uneasiness. The very large ports, formerly cut in the sides to receive thirty-two pound carronades, joined to what I have been able to collect from the dockyard officers, had given me an unfavourable opinion of her strength; and this was now but too much confirmed. Should it be asked why representations were not made and a stronger vessel procured, I answer that the exigencies of the navy were such at that time, that I was given to understand no better ship could be spared from the service; and my anxiety to complete the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis did not admit of refusing the one offered."
The history of maritime discovery is strewn with rotten ships. Certainly if the great navigators, before venturing to face the unknown, had waited to be provided with vessels fit to make long voyages, the progress of research would have been much slower than was the case. It sounds like hyperbole to say that, when pitch and planks failed, these gallant seamen stopped their leaks with hope and ardour; but really, something like that is pretty near the truth.
The fitting out of the Investigator proceeded busily during January and February, 1801. The Admiralty was liberal in its allowances. Indeed, the equipment was left almost entirely to Banks and Flinders. The commander "obtained permission to fit her out as I should judge necessary, without reference to the supplies usually allotted to vessels of the same class." The extent to which the Admiralty was guided by Banks is indicated in a memorandum by the Secretary, Evan Nepean, penned in April. Banks wrote "Is my proposal for an alteration in the undertaking in the Investigator approved?" Nepean replied "Any proposal you may make will be approved; the whole is left entirely to your decision."
In addition to plentiful supplies and special provision for a large store of water, the Investigator carried an interesting assortment of "gauds, nick-nacks, trifles," to serve as presents to native peoples with whom it was desired to cultivate friendly relations. The list included useful articles as well as glittering toys, and is a curious document as illustrating a means by which civilisation sought to tickle the barbarian into complaisance. Flinders carried for this purpose 500 pocket-knives, 500 looking-glasses, 100 combs, 200 strings of blue, red, white and yellow beads, 100 pairs of ear-rings, 200 finger rings, 1000 yards of blue and red gartering, 100 red caps, 100 small blankets, 100 yards of thin red baize, 100 yards of coloured linen, 1000 needles, five pounds of red thread, 200 files, 100 shoemakers' knives, 300 pairs of scissors, 100 hammers, 50 axes, 300 hatchets, a quantity of other samples of ironmongery, a number of medals with King George's head imprinted upon them, and some new copper coins.
It is a curious assortment, but it may be observed that the materials, as well as the method of ingratiation, were very much the same with the earlier as with the later navigators. An early instance occurs in Rene Laudonniere's account of his relations with the natives of Florida in 1565:* (* Hakluyt's Voyages edition of 1904 Volume 9 pages 31 and 49.) "I gave them certaine small trifles, which were little knives or tablets of glasse, wherein the image of King Charles the Ninth was drawen very lively...I recompensed them with certaine hatchets, knives, beades of glasse, combes and looking-glasses."
The crew of the Investigator was selected with particular care. Flinders desired to carry none but young sailors of good character. He was given permission to take men from the Zealand, and he explained to those who volunteered the nature of the service, and its probably severe and protracted character. The readiness with which men came forward gave him much pleasure.
"Upon one occasion, when eleven volunteers were to be received from the Zealand, a strong instance was given of the spirit of enterprise prevalent amongst British seamen. About three hundred disposable men were called up, and placed on one part of the deck; and after the nature of the voyage, with the number of men wanted, had been explained to them, those who volunteered were desired to go over to the opposite side. The candidates were no less than two hundred and fifty, most of whom sought with eagerness to be received; and the eleven who were chosen proved, with one single exception, to be worthy of the preference they obtained."
Of the whole crew (and the total ship's company numbered 83) only two caused any trouble to the commander. As these two "required more severity in reducing to good order than I wished to exercise in a service of this nature," when the Investigator reached the Cape, Flinders arranged with the Admiral there, Sir Roger Curtis, to exchange them—as well as two others who from lack of sufficient strength were not suitable—for four sailors upon the flagship, who made a pressing application to go upon a voyage of discovery. Thus purged of a very few refractories and inefficients, the ship's company was a happy, loyal and healthy crew, of whom the commander was justifiably proud.
The officers and scientific staff were chosen with a view to making the voyage fruitful in utility. The first lieutenant, Robert Fowler, had served on the ship when she was the Xenophon. He was a Lincolnshire man, hailing from Horncastle, and had been a schoolfellow of Banks. But it was not through Sir Joseph's influence that he was selected. Flinders made his acquaintance while the refitting of the vessel was in progress, and found him desirous of making the voyage. As his former captain spoke well of him, his services were accepted. Samuel Ward Flinders went as second lieutenant, and there were six midshipmen, of whom John Franklin was one.
Originally it was intended that Mungo Park, the celebrated African traveller, who was at this time in England looking round for employment, should go to Australia on the Investigator, and act as naturalist. But no definite engagement was entered into; the post remained vacant, and a Portuguese exile living in London, Correa de Sena, introduced to Banks a young Scottish botanist who desired to go, describing him as one "fitted to pursue an object with a staunch and a cold mind." Robert Brown was then not quite twenty-seven years of age. Like the gusty swashbuckler, Dugald Dalgetty, he had been educated at the Marischal College, Aberdeen. For a few years he served as ensign and assistant surgeon of a Scottish regiment, the Fife Fencibles. Always a keen botanist, he found a ready friend in Banks, who promised to recommend him "for the purpose of exploring the natural history, amongst other things." His salary was 420 pounds a year, and he earned it by admirable service. Brown remained in Australia for two years after the discovery voyage, and his great Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae, which won the praise of Humboldt, is a classic monument to the extent and value of his researches.
William Westall was appointed landscape and figure draftsman to the expedition at a salary of 315 pounds per annum. The nine fine engravings which adorn the Voyage to Terra Australis are his work. He was but a youth of nineteen when he made this voyage. Afterwards he attained repute as a landscape painter, and was elected as Associate of the Royal Academy. One hundred and thirty-eight of his drawings made on the Investigator are preserved.
Ferdinand Bauer was appointed botanical draftsman to the expedition at a salary of 315 pounds. He was an Austrian, forty years of age, an enthusiast in his work, and a man of uncommon industry. He made 1600 botanical drawings which, in Robert Brown's opinion, were "for beauty, accuracy and completion of detail unequalled in this or in any other country in Europe." Bauer's Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae, published in 1814, consisted of plates which were drawn, engraved and coloured by his own hand. Flinders formed a very high opinion of the capacity of both Brown and Bauer. "It is fortunate for science," he wrote to Banks "that two men of such assiduity and abilities have been selected; their application is beyond what I have been accustomed to see."
Peter Good, appointed gardener to the expedition at a salary of 105 pounds, was a foreman at the Kew Gardens when he was selected for this service. Brown found him a valuable assistant, and an indefatigable worker. He died in Sydney in June, 1803, from dysentery contracted at Timor. Of John Allen, engaged as a miner at a salary of 105 pounds, nothing is known.
John Crossley was engaged to sail as astronomer, at a salary of 420 pounds, but he did not accompany the Investigator further than the Cape of Good Hope, where his health broke down, and he returned to England. The instruments with which he had been furnished by the Board of Longitude were, however, left on board, and Flinders undertook to do his work in cooperation with his brother Samuel, who had been assisting Crossley, and was able to take charge of the astronomical clocks and records.
The interest taken by the East India Company's Court of Directors in the expedition was manifested in their vote of 600 pounds for the table money of the officers and staff.* (* The East India Company, through its Court of Directors, actually voted 1200 pounds in May, 1801; but only 600 pounds of this sum was paid at the commencement of the voyage. The remainder was to be paid to the commander and officers as a reward if they successfully accomplished their task. Flinders' manuscript letter-book contains a copy of a letter dated November 14, 1810, wherein he reminds the Company of their promise. I have found no record of the payment of the remaining 600 pounds, but Flinders' Journal shows him to have dined with the directors a few weeks after the letter was sent, and a little later the Journal contains a record of a merry evening spent together by Flinders and a party of his old Investigator shipmates. It is a fair assumption that the money was divided up on that occasion.) They gave this sum "from the voyage being within the limits of the Company's charter, from the expectation of the examinations and discoveries proving advantageous, and partly, as they said"—so Flinders modestly observed—"for my former services." The Company's charter gave to it a complete monopoly of trade with the east and the Pacific, and it was therefore interested in the finding of fresh harbours for its vessels in the South Seas. But, despite this display of concern, the East India Company had been no friend to Australian discovery and colonization. In the early years of the settlement at Port Jackson, it resisted the opening of direct trade between Great Britain and New South Wales, with as jealous a dislike as ever the Spanish monopolists at Seville displayed in the sixteenth century concerning all trade with America that did not flow through their hands. Even so recently as 1806 the Company opposed—and, strangely enough, successfully—the sale of a cargo of sealskins and whale oil from Sydney, on the ground "that the charter of the colony gave the colonists no right to trade, and that the transaction was a violation of Company's charter and against its welfare." The grant to Flinders was not, therefore, a manifestation of zeal for Australian development, except in the matter of finding harbours, and except, also, that there was an uneasy feeling that the French would be mischievously busy on the north coast. "I hope the French ships of discovery will not station themselves on the north-west coast of Australia," wrote C.F. Greville, one of the Company's directors.
The instructions furnished to Flinders prescribed the course of the voyage very strictly. They were that he should first run down the coast from 130 degrees of east longitude (that is, from about the head of the Great Australian Bight) to Bass Strait, and endeavour to discover such harbours as there might be. Then, proceeding through the Strait, he was to call at Sydney to refresh his company and refit the ship. After that he was to return along the coast and diligently examine it as far as King George's Sound. As the sailing was delayed till the middle of July, Flinders expressed a wish that he should not be ordered to return to the south coast from Port Jackson. "If my orders do not forbid it, I shall examine the south coast more minutely in my first run along it, and if anything material should present itself, as a strait, gulf, or very large river, shall take as much time in its examination as the remaining part of the summer shall then consist of; for I consider it very material to the success of the voyage and to its early completion that we should be upon the northern coasts in winter and the southern ones in summer."
This was written to Banks, who, as we have seen, could probably have secured an alteration of the official instructions had he desired to do so. But they were not modified; and about a fortnight later (July 17) Flinders wrote: "The Admiralty have not thought good to permit me to circumnavigate New Holland in the way that appears to me (underlined) best suited to expedition and safety." It is probable that, if Banks discussed the proposed alteration with the Admiralty, the more rapid run along the south coast was insisted upon, because that was the field to which the French expedition might be expected to apply itself with most diligence; as, in fact, was actually the case. Governor King had also written to Banks pointing out the importance of a southern survey, "to see what shelter it affords in case a ship should be taken before she can clear the land to the southward and the western entrance to the Strait."
The instructions continued that after the exploration of the south of New Holland, the Investigator was to sail to the north-west and examine the Gulf of Carpentaria, carefully investigating Torres Strait and the whole of the remainder of the north-west and north-east coasts. After that, the east coast was to be more fully explored; and when the whole programme was finished Flinders was to return to England for further instructions.
The functions of the "scientific gentlemen" were carefully defined. Flinders was directed to afford facilities for the naturalists to collect specimens and the artists to make drawings. The hand of Banks is apparent in the nice balancing of liberty of independent study with liability to direction from the commander; and his forethought in these particulars was probably inspired by his experience with Cook's expedition many years before.
One other set of instructions from the Admiralty is of great importance in view of what subsequently occurred, and had a bearing upon the expedition as it affected political relations. Great Britain was at war with France, and the Investigator, though on a peaceful mission, was a sloop belonging to the British navy. Flinders wrote to the Admiralty (July 2) soliciting instructions as to what he was to do in case he met French vessels at sea, "for without an order to desist, the articles of war will oblige me to act inimically to them." The directions that he received were explicit. He was to act towards any French ship "as if the two countries were not at war; and with respect to the ships and vessels of other powers with which this country is at war, you are to avoid, if possible, having any communication with them; and not to take letters or packets other than such as you may receive from this office or the office of his Majesty's Secretary of State." The concluding words of the instruction intimately concern the events which, in the next year but one, commenced that long agony of imprisonment which Flinders had to endure in Ile-de-France.
He was also provided with a passport from the French Government, and the terms in which it was couched are of the utmost importance for the understanding of what followed. It was issued for the Investigator, commanded by Captain Matthew Flinders, for a voyage of discovery of which the object was to extend human knowledge and promote the progress of nautical science. It commanded all French officers, at sea or on shore, not to interfere with the ship and its officers, but on the contrary to assist them if they needed help. But this treatment was only to be extended as long as the Investigator did not announce her intention of committing any act of hostility against the French Republic and her allies, did not render assistance to her enemies, and did not traffic in merchandise or contraband goods. The passport was signed by the French Minister of Marine and Colonies, Forfait, on behalf of the First Consul.* (* A transcript of Flinders' own copy of the French passport is now at Caen, amongst the Decaen Papers Volume 84 page 133.)
Before the expedition sailed, Flinders became engaged in a correspondence which must have been embarrassing to him, relating to his wife. He was married, as has been stated, in April, after he had been promoted commander, and while the Investigator was lying at Sheerness, awaiting sailing orders. As the voyage would in all probability extend over several years, his intention was to take his bride with him to Sydney, and leave her there while he prosecuted his investigations in the south, north and east. He had no reason to think that his doing so would give offence in official quarters, especially as he was aware of cases where commanders of ships had been permitted to take their wives on cruises when their vessels were not protected by passports securing immunity from attack. There are even instances of wives of British naval officers being on board ship during engagements. During Nelson's attack on Santa Cruz, in 1797, Captain Fremantle of the Seahorse had with him his wife, whom he had lately married. It was in that engagement that Nelson lost an arm; and when he returned, bleeding and in great pain, he would not go on board the Seahorse, saying that he would not have Mrs. Fremantle alarmed by seeing him in such a condition, without any news of her husband, who had accompanied the landing. The amputation of the shattered limb was therefore performed on the Theseus.
The wisdom of permitting a naval officer to take his wife on a long voyage in a ship of the navy may well be questioned, and the contrary rule is now well established. But it was not invariably observed a century or more ago; and that Flinders acted in perfect good faith in the matter is evident from the correspondence, which, on so delicate a subject, he conducted with a manliness and good taste that display his character in an amiable light.
In all probability Mrs. Flinders would have been allowed to proceed to Port Jackson unchallenged but for the unlucky circumstance that, when the commissioners of the Admiralty paid an official visit of inspection to the ship, she was seen "seated in the captain's cabin without her bonnet."* (* Flinders' Papers.) They considered this to be "too open a declaration of that being her home." Her husband first heard of the matter semi-officially from Banks, who wrote on May 21st:—
"I have but time to tell you that the news of your marriage, which was published in the Lincoln paper, has reached me. The Lords of the Admiralty have heard also that Mrs. Flinders is on board the Investigator, and that you have some thought of carrying her to sea with you. This I was very sorry to hear, and if that is the case I beg to give you my advice by no means to adventure to measures so contrary to the regulations and the discipline of the Navy; for I am convinced by language I have heard, that their Lordships will, if they hear of her being in New South Wales, immediately order you to be superseded, whatever may be the consequences, and in all likelihood order Mr. Grant to finish the survey.
To threaten to supercede Flinders if it were even heard that his wife was in New South Wales was surely an excess of rigour. His reply was written from the Nore, May 24th, 1801:
"I am much indebted to you, Sir Joseph, for the information contained in your letter of the 21st. It is true that I had an intention of taking Mrs. Flinders to Port Jackson, to remain there until I should have completed the voyage, and to have then brought her home again in the ship, and I trust that the service would not have suffered in the least by such a step. The Admiralty have most probably conceived that I intended to keep her on board during the voyage, but this was far from my intentions. As some vindication of the step I was about to take, I may be permitted to observe that until it was intended to apply for a passport, I not only did not take the step, but did not intend it—which is perhaps a greater attention to that article of the Naval Instructions than many commanders have paid to it. If their Lordships understood this matter in its true light, I should hope that they would have shown the same indulgence to me as to Lieutenant Kent of the Buffalo, and many others who have not had the plea of a passport.
"If their Lordships' sentiments should continue the same, whatever may be my disappointment, I shall give up the wife for the voyage of discovery; and I would beg of you, Sir Joseph, to be assured that even this circumstance will not damp the ardour I feel to accomplish the important purpose of the present voyage, and in a way that shall preclude the necessity of any one following after me to explore.
"It would be too much presumption in me to beg of Sir Joseph Banks to set this matter in its proper light, because by your letters I judge it meets with your disapprobation entirely; but I hope that this opinion has been formed upon the idea of Mrs. Flinders continuing on board the ship when engaged in real service."
Banks promised to lay before the Admiralty the representations made to him, but Flinders a few days later (June 3rd) wrote another letter in which he conscientiously expressed his determination not to risk a misunderstanding with his superiors by taking his wife:
"I feel much obliged by your offer to lay the substance of my letter before the Admiralty, but I foresee that, although I should in the case of Mrs. Flinders going to Port Jackson have been more particularly cautious of my stay there, yet their Lordships will conclude naturally enough that her presence would tend to increase the number of and to lengthen my visits. I am therefore afraid to risk their Lordships' ill opinion, and Mrs. Flinders will return to her friends immediately that our sailing orders arrive.
It can well be believed that "my Lords" of the Admiralty did not feel very considerate towards ladies just at that time; for one of their most brilliant officers, Nelson, was, while this very correspondence was taking place, gravely compromising himself with Emma Hamilton at Naples. St. Vincent and Troubridge, salt-hearted old veterans as they were, were just the men to be suspicious on the score of petticoats fluttering about the decks of the King's ships. It seems that they were inclined unjustly and ungallantly to frown and cry cherchez la femme about small things that went wrong, even when Flinders was in no way to blame for them. They blamed him for some desertions before properly apprehending the circumstances, and when he had merely reported a fact for which he was not responsible.
The next two letters close the whole incident, which gave more annoyance to all parties than ought to have been the case in connection with an officer so sedulously scrupulous in matters concerning the honour and efficiency of the service as Flinders was. Banks, in quite a patron's tone, wrote on June 5th:
"I yesterday went to the Admiralty to enquire about the Investigator, and was indeed much mortified to learn there that you had been on shore in Hythe Bay, and I was still more mortified to hear that several of your men had deserted, and that you had had a prisoner entrusted to your charge, who got away at a time when the quarter-deck was in charge of a midshipman. I heard with pain many severe remarks on these matters, and in defence I could only say that as Captain Flinders is a sensible man and a good seaman, such matters could only be attributed to the laxity of discipline which always takes place when the captain's wife is on board, and that such lax discipline could never again take place, because you had wisely resolved to leave Mrs. Flinders with her relations."
It was a kindly admonishment from an elderly scholar to a young officer of twenty-seven only recently married; but to attribute affairs for which Flinders was not to blame to the presence of his bride, was a little unamiable. With excellent taste, Flinders, in his answer, avoided keeping his wife's name in the controversy, and he disposed of the allegations both effectively and judiciously:
"My surprise is great that the Admiralty should attach any blame to me for the desertion of these men from the Advice brig, which is the next point in your letter, Sir Joseph. These men were lent, among others, to the brig, by order of Admiral Graeme. From her it was that they absented themselves, and I reported it to the Admiralty. I had been so particular as to send with the men a request to the commanding officer to permit none of them to go on shore, but Lieutenant Fowler pointed out to him such of them as might be most depended on to go in boats upon duty. Nothing more could have been done on our part to prevent desertion, and if blame rests anywhere it must be upon the officers of the Advice. The three men were volunteers for this voyage, but having gotten on shore with money in their pockets most probably stayed so long that they became afraid to return."
On the subject of discipline he said: "It is only a duty to myself to assert that the discipline and good order on board the Investigator is exceeded in very few ships of her size, and is at least twice what it was under her former commander. I beg to refer to Lieutenant Fowler on this subject, who knows the ship intimately both as the Xenophon and Investigator. On the last subject I excuse myself from not having thought the occurrence of sufficient consequence to trouble Sir Joseph with, and it was what I least suspected that my character required a defender, for it was in my power to have suppressed almost the whole of those things for which I am blamed; but I had the good of the service sufficiently at heart to make the reports which brought them into light. That the Admiralty have thrown blame on me, and should have represented to my greatest and best friend that I had gotten the ship on shore, had let a prisoner escape, and three of my men run away, without adding the attendant circumstances, is most mortifying and grievous to me; but it is impossible to express so gratefully as I feel the anxious concern with which you took the part of one who has not the least claim to such generosity."
The last two paragraphs refer to an incident which will be dealt with presently.
Although the Investigator was ready to sail in April, 1801, the Admiralty withheld orders till the middle of July. Flinders, vexed as he naturally was at having to leave his young wife behind, was impatient at the delay for two good reasons. First, he was anxious to have the benefit of the Australian summer months, between November and February, for the exploration of the south-west, the winter being the better time for the northern work; and secondly, reports had appeared in the journals about the progress of the French expedition, and he did not wish to be forestalled in the making of probably important discoveries. The "Annual Register" for 1801, for example (page 33) stated that letters were received from the Isle of France, dated April 29th, stating that Le Naturaliste and Le Geographe had left that station on their voyage to New Holland. While "my Lords" were warming up imaginary errors in the heat of an excited imagination on account of poor Mrs. Flinders, the commander of the Investigator was losing valuable time. In May he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks: "The advanced state of the season makes me excessively anxious to be off. I fear that a little longer delay will lose us a summer and lengthen our voyage at least six months. Besides that, the French are gaining time upon us."