At daylight on May 3rd the Investigator dropped out of Port Phillip with the tide. Westall, the artist, made a drawing of the heads from a distance of 5 miles.
At dusk on Saturday, May 8th, she stood seven miles off the entrance to Port Jackson. Flinders was so thoroughly well acquainted with the harbour that he tried to beat up in the night; but the wind was adverse, and he did not pass the heads till one o'clock on the following day. At three o'clock the ship was brought to anchor, and the long voyage of discovery, which had had larger results than any voyage since the great days of Cook, was over. It had lasted nine months and nine days.
The horrors of scurvy were such a customary accompaniment of long voyages in those days that the condition of Flinders' company at the termination of this protracted navigation was healthy almost beyond precedent. But this young captain had learnt how to manage a ship in Cook's school, and had profited from his master's admonitions. Cook, in his Endeavour voyage of 1770 and 1771, brought his people through a protracted period at sea with, "generally speaking," freedom from scurvy, and showed how by scrupulous cleanliness, plenty of vegetable food, and anti-scorbutic remedies the dreadful distemper could be kept at bay. But, fine as Cook's record is in this respect, it is eclipsed by that of Flinders, who entered Port Jackson at the end of this long period aboard ship with an absolutely clean bill of health. There is no touch of pride, but there is a note of very proper satisfaction, in the words which he was able to write of this remarkable record:—
"There was not a single individual on board who was not on deck working the ship into harbour; and it may be averred that the officers and crew were, generally speaking, in better health than on the day we sailed from Spithead, and not in less good spirits. I have said nothing of the regulations observed after we made Cape Leeuwin. They were very little different from those adopted in the commencement of the voyage, and of which a strict attention to cleanliness and a free circulation of air in the messing and sleeping places formed the most essential parts. Several of the inhabitants of Port Jackson expressed themselves never to have been so strongly reminded of England as by the fresh colour of many amongst the Investigator's ship's company."
As soon as the anchor was dropped, Flinders went ashore and reported himself to Governor King, to whom he delivered his orders from the Admiralty. He also reported to Captain Hamelin of Le Naturaliste, who had sought refuge in the port and had been lying there since April 24th, the intention of Baudin to bring round Le Geographe in due course. Then he set about making preparations for refitting the ship and getting ready for further explorations.
CHAPTER 17. THE FRENCH AT PORT JACKSON: PERON THE SPY.
The condition of Le Geographe when she made her appearance outside Port Jackson, on June 20th, 1802, was in striking and instructive contrast with that of the Investigator on her entry forty-two days before. Flinders had not a sick man on board. His crew finished the voyage a company of bronzed, jolly, hearty sailors, fit for any service. Baudin, on the contrary, had not a single man on board who was free from disease. His men were covered with sores and putrid ulcers;" the surgeon, Taillefer, found the duty of attending upon them revolting; they lay groaning about the decks in misery and pain, and only four were available for steering and management, themselves being reduced almost to the extremity of debility. "Not a soul among us was exempt from the affliction," wrote the commandant in his journal.
The utmost difficulty had been experienced in working the vessel round the south of Van Diemen's Land and up the east coast in tempestuous weather. Baudin obstinately refused, in the teeth of the urgent recommendation of his officers, to sail through Bass Strait, and thus save several days; though, as he had already negotiated the strait from the east, he knew the navigation, and the distressful condition of his people should have impelled him to choose a route which would take them to succour in the briefest period of time. He insisted on the longer course, and in consequence brought his ship to the very verge of disaster, besides intensifying the sufferings of his crew. The voyage from the region of the gulfs to the harbour of refuge was full of pain and peril. Man after man dropped out. The sailors were unable to trim the sails properly; steersmen fell at the wheel; they could not walk or lift their limbs without groaning in agony. It was a plague ship that crept round to Port Jackson Heads in that month of storms:
"And as a full field charging was the sea, And as a cry of slain men was the wind."
All this bitter suffering was caused because, as the official historian of the expedition tells us, Baudin "neglected the most indispensable precautions relative to the health of the men." He disregarded instructions which had been furnished with reference to hygiene, paid no heed to the experience of other navigators, and permitted practices which could not but conduce to disease. His illustrious predecessor, Laperouse, a true pupil of Cook, had conducted a long voyage with fine immunity from scurvy, and Baudin could have done the same had he possessed valid qualifications for his employment.
There is no satisfaction in dwelling upon the pitiful condition to which Baudin's people were reduced; but it is necessary to set out the facts clearly, because the visit paid by Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste to Sydney, and what the French officers did there, is of the utmost importance in relation to what happened to Flinders at a later date.
Baudin brought his vessel up to the entrance to the harbour on June 20th, but so feeble were his crew that they could not work her into port. It was reported that a ship in evident distress was outside, and at once a boat's crew of Flinders' men from the Investigator was sent down to assist in towing her to an anchorage. "It was grievous," Flinders said, "to see the miserable condition to which both officers and men were reduced by scurvy, there being not more out of one hundred and seventy, according to the Captain's account, than twelve men capable of doing their duty." Baudin's own journal says they were only four; but, whatever the number may have been, even these were sick, and could only perform any kind of work under the whip of absolute necessity. All the sufferers were attended with "the most touching activity" by the principal surgeon of the settlement, James Thomson.
The resources of Sydney at that time were slender, but such as they were Governor King immediately placed them at the disposal of the French commodore. The sick were removed to the hospital, permission was given to pitch tents close to where the Investigator's were erected, at Cattle Point on the east side of Sydney Cove,* and everything was done to extend a cordial welcome to the visitors. (* Flinders, Voyage, 1 227. The "Cattle Point" of Flinders is the present Fort Macquarie, or Bennelong Point, behind which Government House stands.) "Although," wrote the Governor to Baudin, "last night I had the pleasure of announcing that a peace had taken place between our respective countries, yet a continuance of the war would have made no difference in my reception of your ship, and affording every relief and assistance in my power; and, although you will not find abundant supplies of what are most requisite and acceptable to those coming off so long a voyage, yet I offer you a sincere welcome. I am much concerned to find from Monsieur Ronsard that your ship's company are so dreadfully afflicted with the scurvy. I have sent the Naval Officer with every assistance to get the ship into a safe anchorage. I beg you would give yourself no concern about saluting. When I have the honour of seeing you, we will then concert means for the relief of your sick." That was, truly, a letter replete in every word of it with manly gentleness, generous humanity and hospitable warmth. The same spirit was maintained throughout of the six months of the Frenchmen's stay at Port Jackson. King even reduced the rations of his own people in order that he might have enough to share with the strangers. Fresh meat was so scarce in the colony that when the Investigator arrived Flinders could not buy any for his men; but as soon as the French appeared, King, pitying their plight, at once ordered the slaughtering of some oxen belonging to the Government in order that they might be fed on fresh food. Baudin was daily at the Governor's house,* and King entertained his officers frequently. (* Historical Records 4 952.) His tact was as conspicuous as his good nature. Baudin was not on good terms with some of his officers, and the Governor was made aware of this fact. He conducted himself as host with a resourceful consideration for the feelings of his quarrelsome guests. And as the Governor comported himself towards them, so also did the leading people of Sydney. "Among all the French officers serving in the division which I command," wrote Baudin, "there is not one who is not, like myself, convinced of the indebtedness in which we stand to Governor King and the principal inhabitants of the colony for the courteous, affectionate, and distinguished manner in which they have received us."
Not only on the social side was this extreme kindness displayed. King did everything in his power to further the scientific purposes of the expedition and to complete the re-equipment of Baudin's ships. Le Geographe required to be careened, and to have her copper lining extensively repaired. Facilities were at once granted for effecting these works. Baudin, intending to send Le Naturaliste back to France with natural history specimens and reports up to date, desired to purchase a small Australian-built vessel to accompany him on the remainder of his voyage. King gave his consent, "as it is for the advancement of science and navigation," and the Casuarina, a locally-built craft of between 40 and 50 tons, was acquired for the purpose. The French men of science were assisted in making excursions into the country in prosecution of their researches. Baudin refused the application of his geologist, Bailly, who wished to visit the Hawkesbury River and the mountains to collect specimens and study the natural formation. The British, thereupon, furnished him with boats, guides and even food for the journey, since his own commander declined to supply him. Peron, the naturalist, who afterwards wrote the history of the voyage, was likewise afforded opportunities for travelling in prosecution of his studies, and the disreputable use which he made of the freedom allowed to him will presently appear.
There is no reason to believe that any of the French officers, or the men of science on Baudin's staff, abused the hospitality so nobly extended to them, with two exceptions. The conduct of the crew appears to have been exemplary. Baudin himself won King's confidence, and was not unworthy of it. His demeanour was perfectly frank. "Entre nous," wrote King to Banks in May, 1803, "he showed me and left with me all his journals, in which were contained all his orders from the first idea of the voyage taking place...He informed me that he knew of no idea that the French had of settling on any part or side of this continent."
After the departure of the two ships, on November 17th, a rumour came to the Governor's ears that some of the French officers had informed Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson that it was their intention to establish a settlement on Dentrecasteaux Channel in the south of Van Diemen's Land. The news occasioned grave anxiety to King, who immediately took steps to frustrate any such plans. He sent acting-Lieutenant Robbins in the Cumberland in pursuit of Baudin, informing him of what was alleged, and calling upon him for an explanation. Baudin positively denied that he had entertained such an intention; and certainly he had not acted, after leaving Port Jackson, as if he had the design to lay the foundations of a settlement at the place specified, for he had not sailed anywhere near southern Van Diemen's Land. He had made direct for King Island, and was quietly continuing his exploratory work when Robbins found him. This vague and unsubstantial rumour, which Paterson had not even taken the trouble to report officially to the Governor when he heard it, was the only incident with which Baudin was connected that gave King any cause to doubt his perfect good faith; and Baudin's categorical denial of the allegation is fully confirmed by his diary and correspondence—now available for study—which contain no particle of evidence to suggest that the planting of a settlement, or the choice of a site for one, was a purpose of the expedition.
Baudin's gratitude for King's hospitality was expressed in a cordial personal letter, and also in an open letter which he addressed to the Governors of the French colonies of Ile-de-France and Reunion. Twelve copies of the letter were left in King's hands, to be given by him to the captain of any British ships that might have occasion to put in to any port in those colonies. Blanks were left in the letter, to be filled up by King, with the name of the captain to whom he might give a copy and the name of the ship.* (* Mr. F.M. Bladen, in a note appended to a copy of this interesting letter, in the Historical Records of New South Wales, Volume 4 page 968 says: "The letter was handed to Governor King by Commodore Baudin, in case it should be required, but was retained by King amongst his papers, and never used. Had it been in the hands of Flinders when forced to touch at the Isle of France it might have prevented any question, real or pretended, as to his bona fides. Indeed, it is not unlikely that it was originally intended for Flinders." But, although the letter was not used by Flinders, Baudin gave a copy of it to General Decaen, Governor of Ile-de-France, when he called there on his homeward voyage. The copy is now among Decaen's manuscripts at Caen, Volume 84. The blanks are in it, as in King's copy. Decaen was therefore fully aware of the generous treatment accorded to his countrymen at Port Jackson.) In this document, it will be noticed, Baudin was bespeaking from representatives of his country in their own colonies such consideration as he had experienced from his British hosts at Sydney. The fulness of his obligation could scarcely have been expressed in more thorough terms:
"The assistance we have found here, the kindness of Governor King towards us, his generous attentions for the recovery of our sick men, his love for the progress of science, in short, everything seemed to have united to make us forget the hardships of a long and painful voyage, which was often impeded by the inclemency of the weather; and yet the fact of the peace being signed was unknown, and we only heard of it when our sick men had recovered, our vessels had been repaired, our provisions shipped, and when our departure was near at hand. Whatever the duties of hospitality may be, Governor King had given the whole of Europe the example of a benevolence which should be known, and which I take a great pleasure in publishing.
"On our arrival at Port Jackson, the stock of wheat there was very limited, and that for the future was uncertain. The arrival of 170 men was not a happy circumstance at the time, yet we were well received; and when our present and future wants were known, they were supplied by shortening part of the daily ration allowed to the inhabitants and the garrison of the colony. The Governor first gave the example. Through those means, which do so great honour to the humane feelings of him who put them into motion, we have enjoyed a favour which we would perhaps have experienced much difficulty in finding anywhere else.
"After such treatment, which ought in future to serve as an example for all the nations, I consider it my duty, as much out of gratitude as by inclination, to recommend particularly to you Mr. —— commander of H.M.S. ——. Although he does not propose to call at the Isle of France, it may be possible some unforeseen circumstance might compel him to put into port in the colony, the government of which is entrusted to you. Having been a witness of the kind manner with which his countrymen have treated us on every occasion, I hope he will be convinced by his own experience that Frenchmen are not less hospitable and benevolent; and then his mother-country will have over us the advantage only of having done in times of war what happier times enabled us to return to her in time of peace."
That letter has been quoted, and the circumstances attending Baudin's arrival and stay at Sydney have been narrated with some fulness, in order to give particular point to the conduct of two members of his expedition, Francois Peron and Lieutenant Louis de Freycinet. As will be seen from what follows, both of them used the latitude allowed to them while receiving King's generous hospitality, to spy, to collect information for the purpose of enabling an attack to be made upon Port Jackson, and to supply it with mischievous intent to the military authorities of their nation.
Le Naturaliste returned to Europe from King Island on December 8th. She took with her all the natural history specimens collected up to that time, and reports of the work done. Baudin, with Le Geographe and the Casuarina, spent six months longer in Australian waters, exploring Spencer's and St. Vincent's Gulfs, completing the chart of Kangaroo Island, and making a second voyage along the coast. On July 7th, 1803, he determined to return to France. He reached Ile-de-France on August 7th, became seriously ill there, and died on September 16th. The Casuarina was dismantled, and Le Geographe, which stayed there for three months after her commander's death, arrived in France on March 24th, 1804.
The military Governor of Ile-de-France at this time was General Charles Decaen. As a later chapter will be devoted to his career and character, it is only necessary to say here that he was a dogged, strong-willed officer, imbued with a deep-rooted hatred of British policy and power, and anxious to avail himself of any opportunity that might occur of striking a blow at the rival of his own nation. Francois Peron very soon found that the Governor was eager to get information that might, should a favourable chance present itself, enable him to attack the British colony in Australia, and he lost no time in ministering to the General's belligerent animosity.
On December 11th, 1804, four days before Le Geographe sailed for Europe, Peron furnished to Decaen a long report on Port Jackson, containing some very remarkable statements.* (* Manuscripts, Decaen Papers Volume 92. The complete document is translated in appendix B to this volume.) He alleged that the First Consul, Bonaparte, in authorising Baudin's expedition, had given to it a scientific semblance with the object of disguising its real intent from the Governments of Europe, and especially from the cabinet of Great Britain. "If sufficient time were available to me," said Peron, "it would be very easy to demonstrate to you that all our natural history researches, extolled with so much ostentation by the Government, were merely the pretext of its enterprise." The principal object was "one of the most brilliant and important conceptions," which would, if successful, have made the Government for ever illustrious. The unfortunate circumstance was, however, Peron declared, that after so much had been done to conduce to the success of these designs, the execution of them had been confided to a man utterly unsuited to conduct them to a successful issue.
That there were such designs as those alleged by Peron is disclosed by no word in Napoleon's Correspondance; there is no suggestion of anything of the kind in the papers communicated to Baudin by the Minister of Marine, or in Baudin's confidential reports to his Government. It is in the nature of a spy to flavour with his own conjectures the base fruit of his illicit inquisitions, and Peron knew that he was writing to a man greedy to obtain such material as he was ready to supply. There is no word from any other member of the expedition, except Freycinet, written before or after, to support Peron's allegations; and it is extremely unlikely that, if the purpose he indicated had been the real one, he would have been the man to know about it. Peron had not originally been a member of the staff of the expedition. Baudin's ships had been equipped, their complement was complete, and they were lying at Havre in October, 1800, awaiting sailing orders, when Peron sought employment. He had been a student under Jussieu at the Museum, and to that savant he applied for the use of his influence. Jussieu, with the aid of the biologist, Lacepede, secured an opportunity for Peron to read a paper before the Institute, expounding his views as to research work which might be done in Australasia; the result was that at almost the last moment he obtained appointment.* (* See the biographies of Peron by Deleuze (1811) and Girard (1857).) He was not in the confidence of Baudin, with whom he was on bad terms throughout the voyage, and his hatred for whom continued relentlessly after the unfortunate captain's death. On the point in question, therefore, Peron is by no means a trustworthy witness. The very terms in which Baudin wrote of Sydney, in his confidential letter to the Minister of Marine, indicate that he was innocent of any knowledge of a secret purpose. If he had known he would have referred to it here; and if he did not know of one, Peron certainly did not. "I believe it to be my duty," wrote Baudin, "to warn you that the colony of Port Jackson ought to engage the attention of the Government and indeed of other European power also. People in France or elsewhere are very far from imagining that the English, in the space of fourteen years, have been able to build up their colony to such a degree of prosperity, which will be augmented every year by the dispositions of their Government. It seems to me that policy demands (il me semble que la politique exige) that by some means the preparations they are making for the future, which foreshadow great projects, ought to be balanced." That was simply Baudin's personal opinion: "it seemed to him." But the statement Peron made to Decaen, as to what he could demonstrate "if he had time," together with his other assertions, may have had an influence on the general's mind, and may have affected the later treatment of Flinders; and that constitutes its importance for our purpose.
Peron went on to allege that while he was at Port Jackson, "I neglected no opportunity of procuring all the information that I foresaw would be of interest. I was received in the house of the Governor with much consideration; he himself and his secretary spoke our language well. Mr. Paterson, the commandant of the New South Wales troops, always treated me with particular regard. I was received in his house, as one may say, like a son. Through him I knew all the officials of the colony. The surgeon, Mr. Thomson, honoured me with his friendship. Mr. Grimes, the surveyor-general, Mr. Palmer the commissary-general, Mr. Marsden a clergyman at Parramatta, and a cultivator as wealthy as he was discerning, were all capable of furnishing me with valuable information. My functions permitted me to hazard the asking of a number of questions which would have been indiscreet on the part of another, especially on military matters. I have, in a word, known all the principal people of the colony, in all walks of life, and all of them have furnished me with information as valuable as it is new. Finally, I made in Mr. Paterson's company long journeys into the interior of the country; I have seen the best farms, and I assure you that I have collected everywhere interesting ideas, and have stated them in as exact a form as possible."
After this illuminating dissertation as to his own value as a spy, and the clever use he had made of his functions as a naturalist to exploit unsuspecting people, Peron proceeded to describe the British establishment in detail. But he omitted to tell Decaen how kindly he and his countrymen had been treated there; not a word had he to say on that subject; no circumstance was mentioned that might tend to withhold an attack if a favourable chance for one should occur. He gave an interesting description of Sydney and its environs, spoke of the growth of its trade, the spread of cultivation, the increase of wealth. Then he gave his views on the designs of the British to extend their power in the Pacific. Their ambitions were not confined to New Holland itself, vast as it was. Their cupidity had been excited by Van Diemen's Land. They did not intend, if they could avoid it, to permit any other nation to occupy that country. They would soon extend their dominion to New Zealand. They were even casting avaricious glances across the Pacific. They had occupied Norfolk Island, and he did not hesitate to say that they were looking for a place further east, whence they might assail Chili and Peru. The British were quite aware of the feebleness of the Spaniards in those regions, and meant to appropriate their possessions in time.
Next Peron gave an account of the transportation system, of which he approved, as making for rapid colonization, and as having valuable reformatory effects. The climate and productiveness of New South Wales were enthusiastically praised by him, and its eminent suitability for European occupation was extolled. In all that the British had done in Australia were to be recognised great designs for the future. Steps had been taken to convert felons into good colonists, to educate their children, and to train them for useful avocations.
He drew attention to the number of Irish prisoners who had been transported for participation in rebellious movements at home, and to their implacable hatred of Great Britain. "The Irish, kept under by an iron sceptre, are quiet to-day; but if ever the Government of our country, alarmed by the rapidly increasing power of that colony, formed the project of taking or destroying it, at the very name of the French the Irish would rise. We had a striking example of what might be expected on our first arrival in the colony. Upon the appearance of the French flag, the alarm became general in the country. The Irish began to flock together from all parts, and if their error had not been speedily dissipated, there would have been a general rising among them. One or two were put to death on that occasion, and several were deported to Norfolk Island."
The troops at Port Jackson, said Peron, did not number more than 700 or 800 men while the French ships were there, but he believed that as many as 8,000 were expected. He doubted, however, whether Great Britain could maintain a very large force there, in view of the demands upon her resources elsewhere owing to the war; but was of opinion that she would use Port Jackson as a depot for India, on account of the healthiness of the climate. He summed up in eighteen paragraphs the advantage which Great Britain drew, and was likely to draw, from her possession of Port Jackson; and he terminated these by telling Decaen that "my opinion, and that of all those among us who have been particularly occupied with the organization of that colony, would be that we should destroy it as soon as possible. To-day we can do that easily; we shall not be able to do it in a few years to come." There followed a postscript in which Peron informed the General that Lieutenant de Freycinet "has particularly occupied himself with examining all the points on the coast in the neighbourhood of Port Jackson that are favourable for the debarkation of troops. He has made especial enquiries concerning the entry to the port, and if ever the Government thought of putting into execution the project of destroying this freshly set trap of a great Power, that distinguished officer's services would be of precious value in such an operation." The recommendation of Peron's fellow-spy at the end of the report is interesting, as indicating how the pair worked together. Peron, under the guise of a man of science collecting facts about butterflies and grasshoppers, exploited his hosts for information of a political and military nature; whilst Freycinet, ostensibly examining the harbour in the interest of navigation, made plans of places suitable for landing troops. Both together, having been nourished and nursed in their day of dire calamity by the abundant kindness of the people of Sydney, concocted plans for bringing destruction upon their benefactors, and proffered their services to show the way. One thinks perforce of a rough speech of Dol Common in Ben Jonson's Alchemist:
"S'death, you perpetual curs, Fall to your couples again, and cozen kindly."
Five days after the arrival of Le Geographe in France, on March 29th, 1804, Peron wrote to the Minister of Marine* in similar terms, relating the valuable opportunities he had had of making himself acquainted with the situation of Port Jackson, and mentioning the names of leading citizens with whom he had associated, and from whom he had collected information. (* Arch. Nat. BB4 996.)
A second report upon Port Jackson was furnished to General Decaen, giving precise information as to where troops could be landed if an invasion were undertaken. The document is unsigned,* but, having regard to Peron's statement concerning Freycinet's investigations, there can be no doubt that the information came from him. (* "Coup d'oeil rapide sur l'establissement des Anglais de la Nouvelle Hollande," manuscripts, Decaen Papers Volume 92 page 74.) The writer described Sydney as "perhaps the most beautiful port in the world," and observed that, though its natural defences were strong, the English had employed no means to fortify the approaches. Many of the convicts were Irish, and were capable of everything except good.* (* "Ils sont capable de tout, excepte le bien.") Persons who had played a part in connection with the recent rebellion in Ireland were subject to transportation, and were naturally a disaffected class. England had only 600 troops to maintain order in that "society of brigands," and discipline was not very well observed amongst them. Particulars were given as to how an invasion could be effected:
"The conquest of Port Jackson would be very easy to accomplish, since the English have neglected every species of means of defence. It would be possible to make a descent through Broken Bay, or even through the port of Sydney itself; but in the latter case it would be necessary to avoid disembarking troops on the right side of the entrance, on account of the arm of the sea of which I have already spoken.* (* Middle Harbour.) That indentation presents as an obstacle a great fosse, defended by a battery of ten or twelve guns, firing from eighteen to twenty-four-pound balls. The left shore of the harbour is undefended, and is at the same time more accessible. The town is dominated by its outlying portions to such an extent, that it might be hoped to reduce the barracks in a little time. There is no battery, and a main road leads to the port of Sydney. Care ought to be taken to organize the invaders in attacking parties. The aboriginals of the country need not be reckoned with. They make no distinctions between white men. Moreover, they are few in numbers. The residence of the Governor, that of the colonel of the New South Wales Regiment, the barracks, and one public building, are the principal edifices. The other houses, to the number of three or four hundred, are small. The chief buildings of the establishment captured, the others would fall naturally into the hands of the conqueror. If the troops had to retreat, they would best do so by the River Oxbury* (* i.e., the Hawkesbury; the Frenchman guessed at the spelling from the pronunciation.) and thence to Broken Bay. I regret very much that I have not more time to give* to this slight review of the resources, means of defence of and methods of attack on that colony. I conclude by observing that scarcely any coinage is to be found in circulation there. They use a currency of copper with which they pay the troops, and some paper money." (* Compare Peron's remark concerning the little time at his disposal. Both reports were written only a few days before Le Geographe left Ile-de-France for Europe.)
There is no need to emphasise the circumstances in which this piece of duplicity was perpetrated. They are made sufficiently clear from the plain story related in the preceding pages. But it should be said in justice to Baudin that there is no reason to associate him with the espionage of Peron. Nor is it the case that the expedition originally had any intention of visiting Port Jackson, for this or any other purpose. As explained in the chapter relating to the Encounter Bay incident, it was Flinders who suggested to Baudin that he should seek the succour he so sorely needed at Sydney; and Le Naturaliste, which preceded him thither, was driven by a like severity of need to his own. "It does not appear by his orders," wrote King to Banks "that he was at all instructed to touch here, which I do not think he intended if not obliged by distress." Such was the case; and it was this very distress, and the generous alleviation of it by the British colonists, that make the singular turpitude of Peron and Freycinet in pursuing nefarious designs of their own and plotting to rend the breast that fed them. The great war gave rise to many noble acts of chivalry on both sides, deeds which are luminous with a spirit transcending the hatreds of the time, and glorify human nature; but it is happily questionable whether it produced an example to equal that expounded in these pages, of ignoble treachery and ungrateful baseness.
Flinders, when reviewing the unjust account of his own discoveries given by Peron in his Voyage de Decouvertes, adopted the view that what he wrote was under compulsion from authority. "How came M. Peron to advance what was so contrary to truth?" he asked. "Was he a man destitute of all principle? My answer is that I believe his candour to have been equal to his acknowledged abilities; and that what he wrote was from over-ruling authority, and smote him to the heart." Could Flinders have known what Peron was capable of doing, in the endeavour to advance himself in favour with the rulers of his country, he would certainly not have believed him so blameless.
That Port Jackson was never attacked during these years of war was not due to its own capabilities of defence, which were pitifully weak; nor to reluctance on the part of Napoleon and Decaen; but simply to the fact that the British Navy secured and kept the command of the sea. In 1810 Napoleon directed the equipment of a squadron to "take the English colony of Port Jackson, where considerable resources will be found."* (* Napoleon's Correspondance Volume 20 document 16 544.) But it was a futile order to give at that date. Trafalgar had been fought, and the defence of the colony in Australia was maintained effectively wherever British frigates sailed.
Peron's report, then, did no mischief where he intended that it should. But by inflaming Decaen's mind with suspicions it may not have been ineffectual in another unfortunate direction, as we shall presently see.
The action of Peron in trying to persuade Decaen that the object of Baudin's expedition was not truly scientific was all the more remarkable because he himself, as one of its expert staff, did work which earned him merited repute. His papers on marine life, on phosphorescence in the sea, on the zoology of the South Seas, on the temperature of the sea at measured depths, and on other subjects pertaining to his scientific functions, were marked by conspicuous originality and acumen. But he was not content to allow the value of his services to be estimated by researches within his own sphere. He knew the sort of information that would please General Decaen, and evidently considered that espionage would bring him greater favour from his Government, at that time, than science.
Nevertheless, it is right to bring out the fact, in justice to the diligent savants who worked under Baudin, that their researches generally were of real importance. Professor Jussieu, one of the foremost men of science in Europe, was deputed to report upon them, and did so in a comprehensive document.* (* Manuscripts, Archives of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris.) "Of all the collections which have come to us from distant countries at different times," wrote Jussieu, "those which Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste have brought home are certainly the most considerable." The botanist Leschenalt had found over 600 species of plants which were believed to be new to science; and he eulogised the zoological work of Peron, who had succeeded in bringing to France alive seven kinds of kangaroo, an emu, a lyre-bird and several black swan. Altogether, 18,414 specimens of Australian fauna had been collected, comprised in 3872 species, of which 2592 species were new to the museum. The men of science had "succeeded beyond all our hopes." Their task had been perfectly fulfilled, and their services to science deserved to be liberally rewarded by a just and generous government.
It would have been a source of satisfaction if it could be recorded that work so laborious and so well performed had earned for Peron a reputation unstained by such conduct as has been exhibited in the preceding pages.
CHAPTER 18. AUSTRALIA CIRCUMNAVIGATED.
Preparations for the continuance of researches in the Investigator proceeded speedily during June and July, 1802. Friendly relations were maintained with the staff of the French ships, who on one occasion dined on board with Flinders, and were received with a salute of eleven guns. A new chart of the south coast was then shown to Baudin, with the part which he had discovered marked with his name. He made no objection to the justice of the limits indicated, though he expressed himself surprised that they were so small; for up to this time he was not aware of the discovery by Grant of the coast eastward from Cape Banks. "Ah, Captain," said Freycinet, when he recognised the missed opportunities, "if we had not been kept so long picking up shells and catching butterflies at Van Diemen's Land, you would not have discovered the south coast before us."
A glimpse of the social life of the settlement is afforded in a letter to Mrs. Flinders, concerning the King's birthday celebrations.* (* Flinders' Papers.) Very little is known about the amusements and festivities of Sydney in those early days, but that gaiety and ceremony were not absent from the convict colony is apparent from this epistle, which was dated June 4th, 1802: "This is a great day in all distant British settlements, and we are preparing to celebrate it with due magnificence. The ship is covered with colours, and every man is about to put on his best apparel and to make himself merry. We go through the form of waiting on His Excellency the Governor at his levee, to pay our compliments to him as the representative of majesty; after which, a dinner and ball are given to the colony, at which not less than 52 gentlemen and ladies will be present. Amidst all this, how much preferable is such a 'right hand and left' as that we have had at Spilsby with those we love, to that which we shall go through this evening."
A few alterations were made in the ship, which was re-rigged and overhauled; and a new eight-oar boat was built to replace the one lost in Spencer's Gulf. She cost 30 pounds, and was constructed after the model of the boat in which Bass had made his famous expedition to Westernport. She proved, "like her prototype, to be excellent in a sea, as well as for rowing and sailing in smooth water."
Fourteen men were required to make up the ship's complement. A new master was found in John Aken of the Hercules, a convict transport, and five seamen were engaged; but it was impossible to secure the services of nine others from amongst the free people. Flinders thereupon proposed to the Governor that he should ship nine convicts who could bring "respectable recommendations." King concurred, and the number required were permitted to join the Investigator, with the promise that they should receive conditional or absolute pardons on their return, "according to Captain Flinders' recommendation of them." Several of them were experienced seamen, and proved a great acquisition to the strength of the ship. Flinders also took with him his old friend Bongaree, "the worthy and brave fellow" who had accompanied him on the Norfolk voyage in 1799, and a native lad named Nambaree.
It was determined, after consultation with King, to sail to the north of Australia and explore Torres Strait and the east side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as to examine the north-east coast with more care than Cook had been able to give to it. The Lady Nelson, under Murray's direction, was to accompany the Investigator; if rivers were found, it was hoped that she would be able to penetrate the country by means of them.
On the 21st July the provisioning of the ship was completed, the new boat was hoisted into her place, and the Investigator dropped down the harbour to make her course northward.
The Lady Nelson proved more of a hindrance than a help to the work of exploration. She was painfully slow, and, to make matters worse, Murray, "not being much accustomed to make free with the land," hugged the coast, and kept the Investigator waiting for him at every appointed rendezvous. In August she bumped on a reef in Port Curtis and lost her sliding keel; in September she ran aground in Broad Sound and injured her main keel. Her capacity for beating to windward was never great, and after she had been repaired her tardiness became irritating. Murray had also lost one anchor and broken another. His ship sailed so ill, in fact, and required so much attention, that she dragged on Flinders' vessel; and Murray had given many proofs that he "was not much acquainted with the kind of service" in which they were engaged. On October 18th, therefore, Flinders sent her back to Sydney, with an expression of regret at depriving Murray, who had shown zeal to make himself useful, of the advantage of continuing the voyage.
On August 7th Port Curtis was discovered, and was named after Sir Roger Curtis, the admiral at the Cape who had been so attentive to the requirements of the Investigator on her voyage out from England. In Keppel Bay (discovered by Cook in 1770) the master's mate and a seaman became bogged in a mangrove swamp, and had to pass the night persecuted by clouds of mosquitoes. In the morning their plight was relieved by a party of aboriginals, who took them to a fire whereat they dried themselves, and fed them on broiled wild duck. Natives were encountered at every landing-place, and were invariably friendly.
Another important discovery was made on August 21st, when Port Bowen was entered. It had not only escaped Cook's notice, but, owing to a change of wind, was nearly missed by Flinders also. He named it after Captain James Bowen of the Royal Navy.
In every bay he entered Flinders examined the refuse thrown up by the sea, with the object of finding any particle of wreckage that might have been carried in. If, as was commonly believed (and was, in fact, the case), Laperouse had been wrecked somewhere in the neighbourhood of New Caledonia, it was possible that remnants of his vessels might be borne to the Queensland coast by the trade winds. "Though the hope of restoring Laperouse or any of his companions to their country and friends could not, after so many years, be rationally entertained, yet to gain some certain knowledge of their fate would do away the pain of suspense."* (* In 1861, remains of a small vessel were found at the back of Temple Island, not far from Mackay, 150 miles or more north of Flinders' situation when he wrote this passage. The wreckage is believed by some to be part of the craft built by Laperouse's people at Vanikoro, after the disaster which overtook them there. The sternpost recovered from the wreckage is, I am informed, included among the Laperouse relics preserved at Paris. See A.C. Macdonald, on "The Fate of Laperouse," Victorian Geographical Journal 26 14.)
The Percy Islands (September 28th) were a third discovery of importance on this northern voyage. Flinders now desired to find a passage through the Barrier Reef to the open Pacific, in order that he might make the utmost speed for Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Several openings were tried. At length an opening was found. It is known as Flinders' Passage, in latitude 18 degrees 45 minutes south, longitude 148 degrees 10 minutes east, and is frequently used nowadays. It is about 45 miles north-east from Cape Bowling Green, and is the southernmost of the passages used by shipping through the Barrier. Three anxious days were spent in tacking through the intricacies of the untried passage. The perplexity and danger of the navigation must have recalled to the commander's mind his experiences as a midshipman under Bligh ten years before. It was not until the afternoon of October 20th that a heavy swell from the eastward was felt under the ship, and Flinders knew by that sign that the open sea had been gained. He finished his description of this treacherous piece of reef-ribbed sea by a bit of seaman's advice to brother sailors. A captain who wished to make the experiment of getting through the Barrier Reef "must not be one who throws his ship's head round in a hurry so soon as breakers are announced from aloft. If he do not feel his nerves strong enough to thread the needle, as it is called, amongst the reefs, while he directs the steerage from the masthead, I would strongly recommend him not to approach this part of the coast." Strong nerves and seamanship had pulled through in this case, with a few exciting phases; and the Investigator, in the open ocean, was headed for Torres Strait.
The strait was entered eight days later, by a passage through the reef which had been found by Captain Edwards of the Pandora in 1791, and which Flinders marked on his chart as Pandora's Entrance.* (* It is generally marked Flinders' Entrance on modern maps; but Flinders himself held to his principle of never calling a place after himself, and of invariably ascribing full credit to his predecessors.) He preferred this opening to the one further north, found by Bligh in 1792. The ship was brought to anchor on October 29th under the lee of the largest of Murray's Islands.
Immediately afterwards three long Papuan canoes, carrying about fifty natives, came in sight. Remembering the attacks he had witnessed in the Providence, Flinders kept his marines under arms and his guns ready, and warned his officers to watch every movement of the visitors. But the Papuans were merely bent on barter on this occasion, hatchets especially being in demand. Seven canoes appeared on the following morning. "Wishing to secure the friendship and confidence of these islanders to such vessels as might hereafter pass through Torres Strait, and not being able to distinguish any chief amongst them, I selected the oldest man, and presented him with a handsaw, a hammer and nails, and some other trifles; of all which we attempted to show him the use, but I believe without success; for the poor old man became frightened on finding himself to be so particularly noticed."
Darwin, in writing his treatise on the Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, in 1842, made use of Flinders' chart and description of the Great Barrier Reef, which extends for more than a thousand miles along the east side of the continent, and into the throat of Torres Strait. The hypothesis that as the bed of the ocean subsides the coral polyps go on building steadily upwards, occurred to Darwin more than thirty years after Flinders sailed along the Reef; and what the navigator wrote was the result of his own observation and thought. Many absurd and fanciful speculations about coralline formation were current in his day, and have often been repeated since. But the reader who has given any study to Darwin's array of facts and powerful reasoning will be interested in the ideas of the earlier observer:
"It seems to me, that, when the animalcules which form the corals at the bottom of the ocean cease to live, their structures adhere to each other, by virtue either of the glutinous remains within, or of some property in salt water; and the interstices being gradually filled up with sand and broken pieces of coral washed by the sea, which also adhere, a mass of rock is at length formed. Future races of these animalcules erect their habitations upon the rising bank, and die in their turn, to increase, but principally to elevate, this monument of their wonderful labours. The care taken to work perpendicularly in the early stages would mark a surprising instinct in these diminutive creatures. Their wall of coral, for the most part in situations where the winds are constant, being arrived at the surface, affords a shelter to leeward of which their infant colonies may be safely sent forth; and to their instructive foresight it seems to be owing that the windward side of a reef exposed to the open sea is generally, if not always, the highest part, and rises almost perpendicular, sometimes from the depth of 200, and perhaps many more fathoms. To be constantly covered with water seems necessary to the existence of the animalcules, for they do not work, except in holes upon the reef, beyond low-water mark; but the coral, sand, and other broken remnants thrown up by the sea adhere to the rock, and form a solid mass with it, as high as the common tides reach. That elevation surpassed, the future remnants, being rarely covered, lose their adhesive property, and, remaining in a loose state, form what is usually called a key upon the top of the reef. The new bank is not long in being visited by sea-birds; plants take root upon it; a cocoanut, or the drupe of a pandanus is thrown on shore; land-birds visit it and deposit the seeds of shrubs and trees; every high tide, and still more every gale, adds something to the bank; the form of an island is gradually assumed; and last of all comes man to take possession."
The Gulf of Carpentaria was entered on November 3rd, and a suitable place was found for careening the ship. As the carpenters proceeded with their work, their reports became alarming. Many of her timbers were found to be rotten, and the opinion was confidently expressed that in a strong gale with much sea running she could hardly escape foundering. She was totally unfit to encounter much bad weather. The formal report to the commander concluded with the depressing warning, "from the state to which the ship seems now to be advanced, it is our joint opinion that in twelve months there will scarcely be a sound timber in her, but that, if she remain in fine weather and no accident happen, she may run six months longer without much risk."
Upon receipt of this report Flinders, with much surprise and sorrow, saw that a return to Port Jackson was almost immediately necessary. "My leading object had hitherto been to make so accurate an investigation of the shores of Terra Australis that no future voyage to this country should be necessary; and with this always in view, I had ever endeavoured to follow the land so closely that the washing of the surf upon it should be visible, and no opening, nor anything of interest, escape notice. Such a degree of proximity is what navigators have usually thought neither necessary nor safe to pursue, nor was it always persevered in by us; sometimes because the direction of the wind or shallowness of the water made it impracticable, and at other times because the loss of the ship would have been the probable consequence of approaching so near to a lee shore. But when circumstances were favourable, such was the plan I pursued, and, with the blessing of God, nothing of importance should have been left for future discoverers upon any part of these extensive coasts; but with a ship incapable of encountering bad weather, which could not be repaired if sustaining injury from any of the numerous shoals or rocks upon the coast—which, if constant fine weather could be ensured and all accidents avoided, could not run more than six months—with such a ship I knew not how to accomplish the task."
Very serious consideration had to be given to the route by which the return voyage should be made. If Flinders returned as he had come, the monsoon season made it certain that storms would be encountered in Torres Strait, and to thread the Barrier Reef in a rotten ship in tempestuous weather was to court destruction. Weighing the probabilities carefully Flinders, with a steady nerve and cool judgment, resolved to continue his exploration of the gulf until the monsoon abated, and then to make for Port Jackson round the north-west and west of Australia—or, if it should appear that the Investigator could not last out a winter's passage by this route, to run for safety to the nearest port in the East Indies. In the meantime all that the carpenters could do was to replace some of the rottenest parts of the planking and caulk the bends.
Flinders remained on these coasts, in pursuit of his plan, till the beginning of March, doing excellent work. The Cape Van Diemen of Dutch charts, at the head of the gulf, was found to be not a projection from the mainland but an island, which was named Mornington Island, after the Governor-General of India; and the group of which it is the largest received the designation of Wellesley Islands* after the same nobleman. (* Richard, Earl of Mornington, afterwards the Marquess Wellesley, was Governor-General of India from 1798 to 1805.) The Sir Edward Pellew group, discovered on the south-west of the gulf, was named after a British admiral who will figure in a later part of this biography.
Traces of the visits of Malays to this part of Australia were found in the form of fragments of pottery, bamboo basket-work, and blue cotton rags, as well as a wooden anchor and three boat rudders. The Cape Maria of Dutch charts was found to be an island, which received the name of Maria Island. In Blue Mud Bay, Morgan, the master's mate, was speared by a native, and died. A seaman shot another native in revenge, and Flinders was "much concerned" and "greatly displeased" about the occurrence. His policy throughout was to keep on pleasant terms with all natives, and to encourage them to look upon white men as friendly. Nothing that could annoy them was countenanced by him at any time. The incident was so unusual a departure from his experience on this voyage as to set him conjecturing that the natives might have had differences with Asiatic visitors, which led them to entertain a common enmity towards foreigners.
Melville Bay, the best harbour near the gulf, was discovered on February 12th, and on the 17th the Investigator moved out of the gulf and steered along the north coast of Australia. Six Malay vessels were sighted on the same day. They hung out white flags as the English ship approached and displayed her colours; and the chief of one of them came on board. It was found that sixty prows from Macassar were at this time on the north coast, in several divisions; they were vessels of about twenty-five tons, each carrying about twenty men; their principal business was searching for beche-de-mer, which was sold to the Chinese at Timor.
Arnhem Bay was found marked, but not named, upon an old Dutch chart, and Flinders gave it the name it bears from the conviction that Tasman or some other navigator had previously explored it. In the early part of March he came to the conclusion that it would be imprudent to delay the return to Sydney any longer. Not only did the condition of the ship cause anxiety, but the health of the crew pointed to the urgency of quitting these tropical coasts. Mosquitoes, swarms of black flies, the debility induced by the moist heat of the climate, and the scarcity of nourishing food, made everybody on board anxious to return. Scorbutic ulcers broke out on Flinders' feet, so that he was no longer able to station himself at his customary observation-point, the mast-head. Nevertheless, though driven by sheer necessity, it was not without keen regret that he determined to sail away. "The accomplishment of the survey was, in fact," he said, "an object so near to my heart, that could I have foreseen the train of ills that were to follow the decay of the Investigator and prevent the survey being resumed, and had my existence depended upon the expression of a wish, I do not know that it would have received utterance; but Infinite Wisdom has, in infinite mercy, reserved the knowledge of futurity to itself."
Even in face of the troubles facing him, Flinders fought hard to continue his work to a finish. He planned to make for the Dutch port of Kupang, in Timor, and thence send Lieutenant Fowler home in any ship bound for Europe to take to the Admiralty his reports and charts, and a scheme for completing the survey. He hoped then to spend six months upon the north and north-west coasts of Australia, and on the run to Port Jackson, and there to await Fowler's return with a ship fit for the service. But this plan was frustrated. He reached Timor at the end of March, and was courteously received by the Dutch Governor, also renewing acquaintance with Baudin and his French officers, who had put into port to refresh. But no ship bound for England was met. A homeward-bound vessel from India had touched at Kupang ten days before the Investigator arrived, but when another one would put in was uncertain. A vessel was due to sail for Batavia in May, and the captain consented to take charge of a packet of letters for transmission to England; but there was no opportunity of sending Fowler. A few days were spent in charting a reef about which the Admiralty had given instructions, and by April 16th the voyage to Port Jackson was being pursued at best speed by way of the west and south coasts. Flinders did not even stay to examine the south of Kangaroo Island, which had not been charted during the visit in 1802, for dysentery made its appearance on board—owing, it was believed, to a change of diet at Timor—and half a dozen men died. Sydney was reached on June 9th, after a voyage of ten months and nineteen days.
Australia had thus been, for the first time, completely circumnavigated by Flinders.
An examination of the Investigator showed how perilously near destruction she had been since she left the Gulf of Carpentaria. On the starboard side some of the planks were so rotten that a cane could be thrust through them. By good fortune, when she was running along the south coast the winds were southerly, and the starboard bow, where the greatest weakness lay, was out of the water. Had the wind been northerly, Flinders was of opinion that it would not have been possible to keep the pumps going sufficiently to keep the ship afloat, whilst a hard gale must inevitably have sent her to the bottom.
As Flinders said in a letter to his wife:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "It was the unanimous opinion of the surveying officers that, had we met with a severe gale of wind in the passage from Timor, she must have crushed like an egg and gone down. I was partly aware of her bad state, and returned sooner to Port Jackson on that account before the worst weather came. For me, whom this obstruction in the voyage and the melancholy state of my poor people have much distressed, I have been lame about four months, and much debilitated in health and I fear in constitution; but am now recovering, and shall soon be altogether well." In another letter he describes the ship as "worn out—she is decayed both in skin and bone."
Of the nine convicts who were permitted to make this voyage, one died; the conduct of a second did not warrant Flinders in recommending him for a pardon; the remaining seven were fully emancipated. Four sailed with Flinders on his next voyage; but two of them, no longer having to gain their liberty by good behaviour, conducted themselves ill, and a third was convicted again after he reached England.
Upon his arrival in port after this voyage Flinders learnt of the death of his father. The occasion called forth a letter to his step-mother, which is especially valuable from the light it throws upon his character.* (* Flinders' Papers.) The manly tenderness of his sorrow and sympathy throbs through every sentence of it. In danger, in adversity, in disappointment, in difficulty, under tests of endurance and throughout perilous cruises, we always find Flinders solicitous for the good of others and unsparing of himself; and perhaps there is no more moving revelation of his quality as a man than that made in this letter:
"Investigator, Port Jackson, June 10th, 1803.
"My dearest Mother,
"We arrived here yesterday from having circumnavigated New Holland, and I received numerous and valuable marks of the friendship of all those whose affection is so dear to me; but the joy which some letters occasioned is dreadfully embittered by what you, my good and kind mother, had occasion to communicate. The death of so kind a father, who was so excellent a man, is a heavy blow, and strikes deep into my heart. The duty I owed him, and which I had now a prospect of paying with the warmest affection and gratitude, had made me look forward to the time of our return with increased ardour. I had laid such a plan of comfort for him as would have tended to make his latter days the most delightful of his life; for I think an increased income, retirement from business, and constant attention from an affectionate son whom he loved, would have done this. Indeed, my mother, I thought the time fast approaching for me to fulfil what I once said in a letter, that my actions should some day show how I valued my father. One of my fondest hopes is now destroyed. O, my dearest, kindest father, how much I loved and reverenced you, you cannot now know!
"I beg of you, my dear mother, to look upon me with affection, and as one who means to contribute everything in his power to your happiness. Independent of my dear father's last wish, I am of myself desirous that the best understanding and correspondence should exist between us; for I love and reverence you, and hope to be considered by you as the most anxious and affectionate of your friends, whose heart and purse will be ever ready for your services.
"I know not who at present can receive my dividend from his legacy to me; but if you can, or either Mr. Franklin or Mr. Hursthouse, I wish the yearly interest to be applied to the education of my young sisters,* (* His step-sisters.) in such manner as you will think best. This, my dear Madam, I wish to continue until such time as I can see you and put things upon the footing that they ought to remain.
"Do not let your economy be carried too far. I hope you will continue to visit and see all our good friends, and have things comfortable about you. I should be sorry that my dear mother should lose any of the comforts and conveniences she has been accustomed to enjoy.
"I have much satisfaction in hearing both from you and Susan that Hannah* (* The elder of his two step-sisters.) makes so good use of the opportunities she has for improvement. If she goes on cultivating her mind, forming her manners from the best examples before her, and behaves respectfully and kindly to her mother and elder friends, she shall be my sister indeed, and I will love her dearly.
"With great regard for you and my young sisters, I am your anxious and affectionate son,
In another vein is a playful letter to his wife written in the same month, June, 1803.* (* Flinders' Papers.)
"If I could laugh at the effusion of thy tenderness, it would be to see the idolatrous language thou frequently usest to me. Thou makest an idol and then worshippest it, and, like some of the inhabitants of the East, thou also bestowest a little castigation occasionally, just to let the ugly deity know the value of thy devotion. Mindest thou not, my dearest love, that I shall be spoiled by thy endearing flatteries? I fear it, and yet can hardly part with one, so dear to me is thy affection in whatever way expressed."
Some account of his companions on the voyage is given in a letter to Mrs. Flinders written at this time (June 25th, 1803).* (* Flinders' Papers.) In a letter previously quoted he had referred to being debilitated in health, "and I fear in constitution"; and in this one he mentions that he, like the ship's cat, Trim, was becoming grey. Such hard unsparing service as he had given was writing its tale on his form and features, and there were worse trials to come: "Mr. Fowler is tolerably well and my brother is also well; he is becoming more steady, and is more friendly and affectionate with me since his knowledge of our mutual loss. Mr. Brown is recovering from ill health and lameness. Mr. Bauer, your favourite, is still polite and gentle. Mr. Westall wants prudence, or rather experience, but is good-natured. The two last are well, and have always remained on good terms with me. Mr. Bell* (* The surgeon.) is misanthropic and pleases nobody. Elder* (* Flinders' servant.) continues to be faithful and attentive as before; I like him, and he apparently likes me. Whitewood I have made a master's mate, and he behaves well. Charrington is become boatswain, and Jack Wood is now my coxswain. Trim, like his master, is becoming grey; he is at present fat and frisky, and takes meat from our forks with his former dexterity. He is commonly my bedfellow. The master we have in poor Thistle's place* (* John Aken.) is an easy, good-natured man." In another letter to his wife* (* Flinders' Papers.) he tells her: "Thou wouldst have been situated as comfortably here as I hoped and told thee. Two better or more agreeable women than Mrs. King and Mrs. Paterson are not easily found. These would have been thy constant friends, and for visiting acquaintances there are five or six ladies very agreeable for short periods and perhaps longer."
In a previous chapter it was remarked that Flinders and Bass did not meet again after their separation following on the Norfolk voyage. Bass was not in Sydney when the Investigator lay there, greatly to Flinders' disappointment. "Fortune seems determined to give me disappointments," he wrote to Mrs. Kent; "when I came into Port Jackson all the most esteemed of my friends were absent. In the case of Bass I have been twice served this way."* But he left a letter for his friend with Governor King.* (* Flinders' Papers.) It was the last word which passed between these two men; and, remembering what they did together, one can hardly read the end of the letter without feeling the emotion with which it was penned:
"I shall first thank you, my dear Bass, for the two letters left for me with Bishop, and then say how much I am disappointed that the speculation is not likely to afford you a competency so soon as we had hoped. This fishing and pork-carrying may pay your expenses, but the only other advantage you get by it is experience for a future voyage, and this I take to be the purport of your Peruvian expedition.
"Although I am so much interested in your success, yet what I say about it will be like one of Shortland's letters, vague conjectures only, mingled with 'I hope'. Concerning the Investigator and myself, there will be more certainty in what I write. In addition to the south coast, we have explored the east coast as far as Cape Palmerston, with the islands and extensive reefs which lie off. These run from a little to the north-west of Breaksea Spit to those of the Labyrinth. The passage through Torres Straits you will learn as much of here as I can tell you. The newspaper of June 12 last will give you information enough to go through, and it is the best I have (the chart excepted) until the strait is properly surveyed. Should these three ships go through safely, and I do not fear the contrary, the utility of the discovery will be well proved, and the consequences will probably be as favourable to me as the CONCLUSION of the voyage might have been without it. I do indeed privately hope that, whether the voyage is or is not further prosecuted, I may attain another step; many circumstances are favourable to this, but the peace and the non-completion of the voyage are against it. To balance these, I must secure the interest of the India House, by means of Sir Joseph, Mr. Dalrymple, and the owner of the Bridgewater, Princeps, with whom I am acquainted. I am fortunate in having the attachment of Governor King, who by introductions, favourable reports, and I believe every proper means in his power, has, and is still, endeavouring to assist me; and you are to understand that my going home for another ship is in conformity to an opinion first brought forward by him. The shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria have undergone a minute examination.
"It might appear that the presence of the French upon these coasts would be much against me; but I consider that circumstance as favourable, inasmuch as the attention of the world will be more strongly attracted towards New Holland, and some comparisons will no doubt be found between our respective labours. Now, in the department of geography, or rather hydrography, the only one where the execution rests with me, they seem to have been very vague and inconclusive, even by their own testimony. By comparison, therefore, my charts will rise in value. It is upon these that I wish to rest my credit. You must, however, make the requisite allowance for the circumstances under which each part was examined, and these circumstances I have made the charts themselves explain, I hope to your satisfaction, as you will see on publication.
"I shall see your wife, if in London, as well as her family. Accounts speak indifferently of her brother* and his prospects. (* Captain Henry Waterhouse.) His sun seems to have passed the meridian, if they speak true. Your good mother I shall endeavour to see too, if my business will anyway fit it.
"God bless you, my dear Bass; remember me, and believe me to be,
"Your very sincere and affectionate friend,
One other letter of this period may be quoted for the insight it gives into the relations between the Governor and the principal residents of the colony at this time. The urbanity and good sense of Flinders, and the fact that his voyages kept him out of the official circle for prolonged periods, enabled him to avoid offence under such circumstances. The letter was written to Captain Kent's wife, a treasured friend:
"The attention of the Governor to me has been indeed very great, as well as that which I have received from my kind friend, Mrs. King. It is a cause of much uneasiness to me that Colonel and Mrs. P—-* (* The quarrel between King and Paterson was bitter, and affected the affairs of the colony in many directions.) should be upon terms of disagreement with ——. There is now Mrs. K—-,* (* King.) Mrs. P—-* (* Paterson.) and Mrs. M—-,* (* Marsden.) for all of whom I have the greatest regard. who scarcely speak to each other. It is really a miserable thing to split a small society into such small parts. Why do you ladies meddle with politics? But I do not mean YOU."
What subsequently happened to the Investigator, a ship which had played so memorable a part in discovery, may be chronicled in a few lines. She was used as a store ship in Sydney harbour till 1805. In that year she was patched sufficiently to take her to England. Captain William Kent commanded her on the voyage, leaving Sydney on May 24th. She arrived in Liverpool in a shattered condition on October 24th, having been driven past the Channel in a storm. The Admiralty ordered Kent to take her round to Plymouth. He carried out the order, but not without great difficulty. "A more deplorably crazy vessel than the Investigator is perhaps not to be seen," Kent informed the Admiralty on reaching Falmouth. She was sold and broken up in 1810. But those rotten planks had played a part in history, and if only a few splinters of them remained to-day they would be preserved with the tenderest reverence.
CHAPTER 19. THE CALAMITY OF WRECK REEF.
There was some anxious discussion between King and Flinders as to the best course to follow for the expeditious completion of the survey of the coasts of Australia. The Investigator being no longer fit for the service, consideration was given to the qualifications of the Lady Nelson, the Porpoise, the Francis, and the Buffalo, all of which were under the Governor's direction. King was most willing to give his concurrence and assistance in any plan that might be considered expedient. He confessed himself convinced of Flinders' "zealous perseverance in wishing to complete the service you have so beneficially commenced," and cheerfully placed his resources at the explorer's disposal.
Flinders went for a few days to the Hawkesbury settlement, where fresh air, a vegetable diet and medical care promoted his recovery from the ailments occasioned by prolonged ship-life in the tropics; and on his return, at the beginning of July, determined upon a course of action. The Porpoise was the best of the four vessels mentioned, but she was by no means a sound ship, and it did not seem justifiable to incur the expense of fitting her for special service only to find her incapable of finishing the task. It was determined, therefore, that she should be sent to England under Fowler's command, and that Flinders should go in her as a passenger, in order that he might lay his charts and journals before the Admiralty, and solicit the use of another vessel to continue his explorations. Brown, the botanist,* and Bauer, the botanical draftsman. desired to remain in Port Jackson to pursue their scientific work, but Westall accompanied Flinders, who with twenty-one of the remainder of the Investigator's company, embarked on the Porpoise. (* Brown, in the preface to his Prodromus (which, being intended for the elect, was written in Latin), made but one allusion to the discovery voyage whereby his botanical researches became possible. Dealing with the parts of Australia where he had collected his specimens, he spoke of the south coast, "Oram meridionalem Novae Hollandiae, a promontorio Lewin ad promontorium Wilson in Freto Bass, complectentem Lewin's Land, Nuyt's Land et littora Orientem versus, a Navarcho Flinders in expeditione cui adjunctus fui, primum explorata, et paulo post a navigantibus Gallicis visa: insulis adjacentibus inclusis.") She sailed on August 10th, in company with the East India Company's ship Bridgewater and the Cato, of London, both bound for Batavia. It was intended to go north, and through Torres Strait, in order that further observations might be made there; and Fowler was ordered to proceed "by the route Captain Flinders may indicate." Had not Flinders been so eager to take advantage of this as of every other opportunity to prosecute his researches—had he sailed by the Bass Strait and Cape of Good Hope route—the misfortunes that were soon to come upon him would have been averted. But he deliberately chose the Torres Strait course, not only because he considered that a quick passage could be made at that season of the year, but chiefly for the reason that "it will furnish me with a second opportunity of assuring myself whether that Strait can or cannot become a safe general passage for ships from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean."
He was destined to see once again the settlement at Sydney, whence had radiated the series of his valuable and unsparing researches; but on the next and final occasion he was "caught in the clutch of circumstance." His leave-taking in August, 1803, was essentially his farewell; and his general observations on the country he had served, and which does not forget the service, are, though brief, full of interest. He had seen the little town grow from a condition of dependence to one of self-reliance, few as were the years of his knowledge of it. Part of his early employment had been to bring provisions to Sydney from abroad. In 1803, he saw large herds spreading over the country. He saw forests giving way before the axe, and spreading fields of grain and fruit ripening for the harvest. The population was increasing, the morale was improving, "and that energetic spirit of enterprise which characterises Britannia's children seemed to be throwing out vigorous shoots in this new world." He perceived the obstacles to progress. The East India Company's charter, which prohibited trade between Sydney and India and the western coasts of America, was one of them. Convict labour was another deterrent. But he had vision, and found in the signs of development which he saw around him phenomena "highly interesting to the contemplator of the rise of nations."
Seven days out of Sydney, on August 17th, the Porpoise struck a reef and was wrecked.
The three vessels were running under easy sail, the Porpoise leading on what was believed to be a clear course. At half-past nine o'clock at night the look-out man on the forecastle called out "Breakers ahead." Aken, the master, who was on watch, immediately ordered the helm to be put down, but the ship answered slowly. Fowler sprang on deck at once; but Flinders, who was conversing in the gun-room, had no reason to think that anything serious had occurred, and remained there some minutes longer. When he went on deck, he found the ship beyond control among the breakers, and a minute later she struck a coral reef and heeled over on her starboard beam ends. "It was," says Seaman Smith, "a dreadful shock." The reef—now called Wreck Reef—was in latitude 22 degrees 11 minutes south, longitude 155 degrees 13 minutes east, about 200 miles north-east of Hervey Bay, and 739 miles north of Sydney.* (* Extract from the Australia Directory Volume 2 (Published by the Admiralty): "Wreck Reef, on the central portion of which the ships Porpoise and Cato were wrecked in 1803, consists of a chain of reefs extending 18 1/2 miles and includes 5 sand cays; Bird Islet, the easternmost, is the only one known to produce any vegetation. Of the other four bare cays none are more than 130 yards in extent, or exceed six feet above high water; they are at equal distances apart of about four miles, and each is surrounded by a reef one to one and a half miles in diameter. The passages between these reefs are about two miles wide...On the northern side of most of them there is anchorage.") The wind was blowing fresh, and the night was very dark. The heave of the sea lifted the vessel and dashed her on the coral a second and third time; the foremast was carried away, and the bottom was stove in. It was realised at once that so lightly built and unsound a ship as the Porpoise was must soon be pounded to pieces under the repeated shocks.
Anxiety for the safety of the Cato and the Bridgewater was felt, as they were following the lead of the King's vessel. An attempt was made to fire a gun to warn them, but the heavy surf and the violent motion of the wrecked ship prevented this being done. Before any warning could be given the Cato dashed upon the coral about two cables' length from the Porpoise, whose company saw her reel, fall over, and disappear from view. The Bridgewater happily cleared the reef.
After the first moments of confusion had passed, Flinders ordered the cutter and the gig to be launched. He informed Fowler that he intended to save his charts and journals, and to row to the Bridgewater to make arrangements for the rescue of the wrecked people. The gig, in which he attempted to carry out this plan, was compelled to lie at a little distance from the ship, to prevent being stove in; so he jumped overboard and swam to her. She leaked badly, and there was nothing with which to bale her out but the hats and shoes of the ship's cook and two other men who had taken refuge under the thwarts. Flinders steered towards the Bridgewater's lights, but she was standing off, and it was soon seen to be impossible to reach her. It was also unsafe to return to the Porpoise through the breakers in the darkness; so that the boat was kept on the water outside the reef till morning, the small party on board being drenched, cold under a sharp south-easter, and wretchedly miserable. Flinders did his best to keep up their spirits, telling them that they would undoubtedly be rescued by the Bridgewater at daylight; but he occupied his own mind in devising plans for saving the wrecked company in case help from that ship was not forthcoming.
Meanwhile blue lights had been burnt on the ship every half-hour, as a guide to the Bridgewater, whose lights were visible till about two o'clock in the morning. Fowler also occupied time in constructing a raft from the timbers, masts and yards of the Porpoise. "Every breast," says Smith's narrative, "was filled with horror, continual seas dashing over us with great violence." Of the Cato nothing could be seen. She had struck, not as the Porpoise had done, with her decks towards the reef, but opposed to the full force of the lashing sea. Very soon the planks were torn up and washed away, and the unfortunate passengers and crew were huddled together in the forecastle, some lashed to timber heads, others clinging to any available means of support, and to each other, expecting every moment that the stranded vessel would be broken asunder. In Smith's expressive words, the people were "hanging in a cluster by each other on board the wreck, having nothing to take to but the unmerciful waves, which at this time bore a dreadful aspect."
At dawn, Flinders climbed on to the Porpoise by the help of the fallen masts. As the light grew, it was seen that about half a mile distant lay a dry sandbank above high-water mark, sufficiently large to receive the whole company, with such provisions as could be saved from the ship. Orders were at once given to remove to this patch, that gave promise of temporary safety, everything that could be of any service; and the Cato's company, jumping overboard and swimming through the breakers with the aid of planks and spars, made for the same spot. All were saved except three lads, one of whom had been to sea on three or four voyages and was wrecked on every occasion. "He had bewailed himself through the night as the persecuted Jonah who carried misfortune wherever he went. He launched himself upon a broken spar with his captain; but, having lost his hold in the breakers, was not seen afterwards."
The behaviour of the Bridgewater in these distressing circumstances was inhuman and discreditable to such a degree as is happily rare in the history of seamanship. On the day following the wreck (August 18th) it would have been easy and safe for her captain, Palmer, to bring her to anchor in one of the several wide and sufficiently deep openings in the reef, and to take the wrecked people and their stores on board. Flinders had the gig put in readiness to go off in her, to point out the means of rescue. A topsail was set up on the highest part of the reef, and a large blue ensign, with the union downwards, was hoisted to it as a signal of distress. But Palmer, who saw the signal, paid no heed to it. Having sailed round the reef, deluding the unfortunates for a while with the false hope of relief, he stood off and made for Batavia, leaving them to their fate. Worse still, he acted mendaciously as well as with a heartless disregard of their plight; for on his arrival at Tellicherry he sent his third mate, Williams, ashore with an untrue account of the occurrence, reporting the loss of the Porpoise and Cato, and saying that he had not only found it impossible to weather the reef, but even had he done so it would have been too late to render assistance. Williams, convinced that the crews were still on the reef, and that Palmer's false account had been sent ashore to excuse his own shameful conduct, and "blind the people," left his captain's narrative as instructed, but only "after relating the story as contrary as possible" on his own account. He told Palmer what he had done, and his action "was the cause of many words." What kind of words they were can be easily imagined. The result of Williams' honest independence was in the end fortunate for himself. Though he left the ship, and forfeited his wages and part of his clothes by so doing, he saved his own life from drowning. The Bridgewater left Bombay for London, and was never heard of again. "How dreadful," Flinders commented, "must have been his reflections at the time his ship was going down."