On the reef rapid preparations were made for establishing the company in as much comfort as means would allow, and for provisioning them until assistance could be procured. They were 94 men "upon a small uncertainty"—the phrase is Smith's—nearly eight hundred miles from the nearest inhabited port. But they had sufficient food for three months, and Flinders assured them that within that time help could be procured. Stores were landed, tents were made from the sails and put up, and a proper spirit of discipline was installed, after a convict-sailor had been promptly punished for disorderly conduct. Spare clothing was served out to some of the Cato's company who needed it badly, and there was some fun at the expense of a few of them who appeared in the uniforms of the King's navy. With good humour came a feeling of hope. "On the fourth day," wrote Flinders in a letter,* "each division of officers and men had its private tent, and the public magazine contained sufficient provisions and water to subsist us three months. We had besides a quantity of other things upon the bank, and our manner of living and working had assumed the same regularity as on board His Majesty's ships. I had to punish only one man, formerly a convict at Port Jackson; and on that occasion I caused the articles of war to be read, and represented the fatal consequences that might ensue to our whole community from any breach of discipline and good order, and the certainty of its encountering immediate punishment." (* Flinders' Papers.)
The stores available,* with the periods for which they would suffice on full allowance, consisted of: Biscuit, 940 pounds and Flour, 9644 pounds : 83 days. Beef in four pounds, 1776 pieces and Pork in two pounds, 592 pieces : 94 days. Pease, 45 bushels : 107 days. Oatmeal, 50 bushels : 48 days. Rice, 1225 pounds : 114 days. Sugar, 320 pounds and Molasses, 125 pounds : 84 days. Spirits, 225 gallons, Wine, 113 gallons and Porter, 60 gallons : 49 days. Water, 5650 gallons at half a gallon per day.
(* Sydney Gazette, September 18th, 1803.)
In addition there were some sauer kraut, essence of malt, vinegar, salt, a new suit of sails, some spars, a kedge anchor, iron-work and an armourer's forge, canvas, twine, various small stores, four-and-a-half barrels of gunpowder, two swivels, and several muskets and pistols, with ball and flints. A few sheep were also rescued. When they were being driven on to the reef under the supervision of young John Franklin, they trampled over some of Westall's drawings. Their hoof-marks are visible on one of the originals, preserved in the Royal Colonial Institute Library, to this day.
As soon as the colony on the reef had been regularly established, a council of officers considered the steps most desirable to be taken to secure relief. It was resolved that Flinders should take the largest of the Porpoise's two six-oar cutters, with an officer and crew, and make his way to Port Jackson, where the aid of a ship might be obtained. The enterprise was hazardous at that season of the year. The voyage would in all probability have to be undertaken in the teeth of strong southerly winds, and the safe arrival of the cutter, even under the direction of so skilful a seaman as Flinders, was the subject of dubious speculation. But something had to be done, and that promptly; and Flinders unhesitatingly undertook the attempt. He gave directions for the government of the reef during his absence, and ordered that two decked boats should be built by the carpenters from wreckage, so that in the event of his failure the whole company might be conveyed to Sydney.
By the 25th August the cutter had been prepared for her long voyage, and on the following day she was launched and appropriately named the Hope. It was a Friday morning, and some of the sailors had a superstitious dread of sailing on a day supposed to be unlucky. But the weather was fine and the wind light. Flinders laughed at those who talked of luck. With Captain Park of the Cato as his assistant officer, and a double set of rowers, fourteen persons in all, he set out at once. He carried three weeks' provisions. "All hands gave them 3 chears, which was returned by the boat's crew," says Seaman Smith. At the moment when the Hope rowed away a sailor sprang to the flagstaff whence the signal of distress had been flying since the morning when help from the Bridgewater had been hoped for, and hauled down the blue ensign, which was at once rehoisted with the union in the upper canton. "This symbolic expression of contempt for the Bridgewater and of confidence in the success of our voyage, I did not see without lively emotion," Flinders relates.
Leaving the Hope to continue her brave course, we may learn from Smith how the 80 men remaining on the reef occupied themselves:
"From this time our hands are imployd, some about our new boat, whose keel is laid down 32 feet; others imployd in getting anything servisible from the wreck. Our gunns and carriadges we got from the wreck and placed them in a half moon form, close to our flag staf, our ensign being dayly hoisted union downward. Our boats sometimes is imployd in going to an island about ten miles distant; and sometimes caught turtle and fish. This island was in general sand. Except on the highest parts, it produced sea spinage; very plentifully stockd with birds and egs. In this manner the hands are imployd and the month of October is set in. Still no acct. of our Captn's success. Our boat likewise ready for launching, the rigging also fitted over her masthead, and had the appearance of a rakish schooner. On the 4th of Octr. we launchd her and gave her name of the Hope.* (* Smith was in error. The boat built at the reef was named the Resource. The Hope, as stated above, was the cutter in which Flinders sailed from the reef to Sydney. See A Voyage to Terra Australis 2 315 and 329.) On the 7th we loaded her with wood in order to take it over to the island before mentiond to make charcoal for our smith to make the ironwork for the next boat, which we intend to build directly. She accordingly saild."
A letter by John Franklin to his father* gives an entertaining account of the wreck and of some other points pertaining to our subject (* Manuscript, Mitchell Library.):
"Providential Bank, August 26th, 1803,
"Latitude 22 degrees 12 minutes, longitude 155 degrees 13 minutes (nearly) east.
"Great will be your surprise and sorrow to find by this that the late investigators are cast away in a sandy patch of about 300 yards long and 200 broad, by the wreck of H.M.S. Porpoise on our homeward bound passage on the reefs of New South Wales. You will then wonder how we came into her. I will explain: The Investigator on her late voyage, was found when surveying the Gulf of Carpentaria to be rotten, which obliged us to make our best way to Port Jackson; but the bad state of health of our crew induced Captain Flinders to touch at Timor for refreshment; which being done he sailed, having several men died on the passage of dysentery. On our arrival she was surveyed and condemned as being unfit for service. There being no other ship in Sydney fit to complete her intended voyage, Governor King determined to send us home in the Porpoise. She sailed August 10th, 1803, in company with the Bridgewater, extra Indiaman, and Cato, steering to the north-west intending to try how short a passage might be made through Torres Straits to England. On Wednesday, 17th, we fell in with reefs,* (* Cato Islet and reefs.) surveyed them, and kept our course, until half-past nine, when I was aroused by the cry of breakers, and before I got on deck the ship struck on the rocks.* (* Wreck Reef.) Such boats as could be were got out, the masts cut away, and then followed the horrors of ship-wreck, seas breaking over, men downcast, expecting the ship every moment to part. A raft of spars was made, and laid clear, sufficiently large to take the ship's company in case the ship should part; but as Providence ordained she lasted until morning, when happy were we to see this sandbank bearing north-west quarter of a mile. But how horrible on the other hand to see the Cato in a worse condition than ourselves, the men standing forward shouting for assistance, but could get none, when their ship was parting. All except three of them committed themselves to the waves, and swam to us, and are now living on this bank. The Bridgewater appeared in sight, and then in a most shameful and inhuman manner left us, supposing probably every soul had perished. Should she make that report on her arrival consider it as false. We live, we have hopes of reaching Sydney. The Porpoise being a tough little ship hath, and still does in some measure, resist the power of the waves, and we have been able to get most of her provisions, water, spars, carpenter's tools, and every other necessary on the bank, fortunate spot that it is, on which 94 souls live. Captain Flinders and his officers have determined that he and fourteen men should go to Port Jackson in a cutter and fetch a vessel for the remainder; and in the meantime to build two boats sufficiently large to contain us if the vessels should not come. Therefore we shall be from this bank in six or eight weeks, and most probably in England by eight or nine. Our loss was more felt as we anticipated the pleasure of seeing our friends and relations after an absence of two years and a half. Let me recommend you to give yourselves no anxiety, for there is every hope of reaching England ere long. I received the letters by the Glatton and was sorry to find that Captain F. had lost his father. He was a worthy man. You would not dislike to have some account of our last voyage, I suppose. We were 11 months from Sydney, and all that time without fresh meat or vegetables, excepting when we were at Timor, and now and then some fish, and mostly in the torrid zone, the sun continually over our head, and the thermometer at 85, 86, and 89. The ship's company was so weakened by the immense heat that when we were to the southward they were continually ill of the dysentery; nay, nine of them died, besides eight we lost on our last cruise. Thus you see the Investigator's company has been somewhat shattered since leaving England. Our discoveries have been great, but the risks and misfortunes many.
"Have you got the prize money? I see it is due, and may be had by applying at No. 21 Milbank Street, Westminster; due July 22, 1802. If you do not, it will go to Greenwich Hospital. I had occasion to draw for necessaries at Sydney this last time 24 pounds from Captain F.
CHAPTER 20. TO ILE-DE-FRANCE IN THE CUMBERLAND.
Governor King received the news of the wreck of the Porpoise immediately after the arrival of the Hope in Port Jackson, on the evening of September 8th. King and his family were at dinner when to his great amazement Flinders was announced. "A razor had not passed over our faces from the time of the shipwreck," he records, "and the surprise of the Governor was not little at seeing two persons thus appear whom he supposed to be many hundred leagues on their way to England; but so soon as he was convinced of the truth of the vision before him, and learned the melancholy cause, an involuntary tear started from the eye of friendship and compassion, and we were received in the most affectionate manner."
King in an official letter confessed that he could not "sufficiently commend your voluntary services, and those who came with you, in undertaking a voyage of 700 miles in an open boat to procure relief for our friends now on the reef." It was, indeed, an achievement of no small quality in itself.
Plans for the relief of the wrecked people were immediately formed. Captain Cumming of the Rolla, a 438-ton merchant ship, China-bound, agreed to call at the reef, take some of them on board, and carry them to Canton, whilst the Francis, which was to sail in company, was to bring the remainder back to Sydney. Flinders himself was to take command of the Cumberland, a 29-ton schooner, and was to sail in her to England with his charts and papers as rapidly as possible.
The Cumberland was a wretchedly small vessel in which to traverse fifteen thousand miles of ocean. She was "something less than a Gravesend passage boat" and hardly better suited for the effort than a canal barge. But, given anything made of wood that would float and steer, inconvenience and difficulty never baffled Matthew Flinders when there was service to perform. She was the first vessel that had been built in Australia. Moore, the Government boat-builder, had put her together for colonial service, and she was reputed to be strong, tight, and well behaved in a sea; but of course she was never designed for long ocean voyages. However, she was the only boat available; and though Flinders regretted that the meagre accommodation she afforded would prevent him from working at his charts while making the passage, he was too eager to accomplish his purpose to hesitate about accepting the means. "Fortuna audaces juvat" might at any time have been his motto; fortune helpeth them that dare. An unavoidable delay of thirteen days caused some anxiety. "Every day seemed a week," until he could get on his way towards the reef. But, at length, on September 21st, the Cumberland in company with the Rolla and Francis sailed out of Port Jackson. The crew consisted of a boatswain and ten men.
On Friday, October 7th, exactly six weeks after the Hope had left Wreck Reef, the ensign on the flagstaff was sighted from the mast-head of the Rolla. At about the same time a seaman who was out with Lieutenant Fowler, in a new boat that had been constructed from the wreckage, saw a white object in the distance against the blue of the sky. At first he took it for a sea-bird; but, looking at it more steadfastly, he suddenly jumped up, exclaiming, "damn my blood, what's that?" It was, in truth, the top-gallant sail of the Rolla. Everybody looked at it; a sail indeed it was; Flinders had not failed them, and rescue was imminent. A shout of delight went up, and the boat scurried back to the reef to announce the news.
At about two o'clock in the afternoon, Flinders anchored under the lee of the bank. The shell of the Porpoise still lay on her beam side high up on the reef, but, her carronades having been landed, the happy people welcomed their deliverers with a salute of eleven guns. "Every heart was overjoyed at this unexpected delivery," as seaman Smith's narrative records; and when Flinders stepped ashore, he was long and loudly cheered. Men pressed around him to shake his hands and thank him, and tears of joy rolled down the hard, weather-worn faces of men not over-given to a display of feeling. For his own part "the pleasure of rejoining my companions so amply provided with the means of relieving their distress made this one of the happiest moments of my life."
In singular contrast with the pleasure of everyone else was the cool demeanour of Samuel Flinders. A letter previously cited contains a reference to him, which suggests that he was not always quite brotherly or generally satisfactory. On this occasion he was oddly stiff and uncordial. Flinders relates the incident: "Lieutenant Flinders, then commanding officer on the bank, was in his tent calculating some lunar distances, when one of the young gentlemen ran to him calling, 'Sir, sir, a ship and two schooners in sight.' After a little consideration, Mr. Flinders said he supposed it was his brother come back, and asked if the vessels were near. He was answered, not yet; upon which he desired to be informed when they should reach the anchorage, and very calmly resumed his calculations. Such are the varied effects produced by the same circumstances upon different minds. When the desired report was made, he ordered the salute to be fired, and took part in the general satisfaction."
After the welcoming was over, Flinders assembled all the people and informed them what his plans were. Those who chose might go to Sydney in the Francis; the others, with the exception of ten, would sail in the Rolla to Canton and others take ship for England. To accompany him in the Cumberland he chose John Aken, who had been master of the Investigator, Edward Charrington, the boatswain, his own servant, John Elder, and seven seamen. Their names are contained in the logbook which General Decaen detained at Ile-de-France. They were George Elder, who had been carpenter on the Porpoise, John Woods, Henry Lewis, Francis Smith, N. Smith, James Carter, and Jacob Tibbet, all picked men.
Young Franklin went in the Rolla. As he explained in a letter to his mother* (* Manuscripts, Mitchell Library.): "The reason I did not accompany Captain Flinders was the smallness of the vessel and badness of accommodation, he having only taken the master with him." The young sailor's application had won the commendation of the commander, who was a hero to him throughout his adventurous life. We find Flinders writing to his wife* "John Franklin approves himself worthy of notice. He is capable of learning everything that we can show him, and but for a little carelessness I would not wish to have a son otherwise than he is." (* Flinders Papers.)
At noon on October 11th, four days after the arrival of the relieving ships at the reef, they parted company, with cheers and expressions of good will. The Rolla accomplished her voyage to China safely, and in the following year Lieutenant Fowler, Samuel Flinders, John Franklin, and the remainder of the old Investigator's company who sailed in her returned to England. On their return voyage they participated in as remarkable a comedy as the history of naval warfare contains. Their ship was one of a company of thirty-one sail, all richly laden merchantmen, under the general command of the audacious Commodore Nathaniel Dance; and he, encountering a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Linois, succeeded by sheer, impudent "bluff" in making him believe that they were convoyed by British frigates, and deterred him from capturing or even seriously attacking them.* (* Lieutenant Fowler was presented with a sword valued at 50 guineas for his part in this action, which took place on 14th February, 1804, off Polo Aor, Malacca Strait. See the author's Terre Napoleon page 16.)
From the very commencement of the voyage the little Cumberland caused trouble and anxiety. She leaked to a greater extent than had been reported, and the pumps were so defective that a fourth part of every day had to be spent at them to keep the water down. They became worse with constant use, and by the time Timor was reached, on November 10th, one of them was nearly useless. At Kupang no means of refitting the worn-out pump or of pitching the leaky seams in the upper works of the boat were obtainable; and Flinders had to face a run across the Indian Ocean with the prospect of having to keep down the water with an impaired equipment.
When discussing the route with Governor King before leaving Sydney, Flinders had pointed out that the size of the Cumberland, and the small quantity of stores and water she could carry, would oblige him to call at every convenient port; and he mentioned that the places which he contemplated visiting were Kupang in Timor, Ile-de-France (Mauritius), the Cape of Good Hope, St. Helena, and one of the Canaries. But King took exception to a call being made at Ile-de-France, partly because he did not wish to encourage communication between Port Jackson and the French colony, and partly because he understood that hurricane weather prevailed in the neighbourhood at about the time of the year when the Cumberland would be in the Indian Ocean. To respect King's wishes, Flinders on leaving Kupang set a course direct for the Cape of Good Hope. But when twenty-three days out from Timor, on the 4th of December, a heavy south-west ground swell combined with a strong eastern following sea caused the vessel to labour exceedingly, and to ship such quantities of water that the one effective pump had to be kept working day and night continually. If anything went wrong with this pump, a contingency to be feared from its incessant employment, there was a serious risk of foundering.
After enduring two days of severe shaking, Flinders came to the determination that considerations of safety compelled him to make for Ile-de-France. On December 6th, therefore, he altered the Cumberland's course for that island.
When he wrote his Voyage to Terra Australis, he had not his journal in his possession, and worked from notes of his recollections. In telling the story now, the author has before him not only what Flinders wrote in this way, but also a copy of the French translation of the journal which Decaen had prepared for his own use, and several letters written by Flinders, wherein he related what passed in his mind when he resolved to alter his course.
The first and most imperative reason was the necessity for repairing the ship and refitting the pumps. Secondly, rations had had to be shortened, and victuals and water were required. Thirdly, Flinders had come to the conclusion that the Cumberland was unfit to complete the voyage to England, and he hoped to be able to sell her, and procure a passage home in another ship. "I cannot write up my journal unless the weather is extremely fine," he wrote. Fourthly, he desired "to acquire a knowledge of the winds and weather at the island of the actual state of the French colony, of what utility it and its dependencies in Madagascar, might be to Port Jackson, and whether the colony could afford me resources in my future voyages."* (* Journal.)
When he sailed from Port Jackson there was, as far as he knew, peace between England and France. But there was a possibility that war had broken out again. In that event, the thought occurred to him that it would be safer to call at the French colony than at the Cape, since he had a passport from the French Government, but not from the Dutch, who would probably be involved in hostilities against England. He did not forget that the passport was made out for the Investigator, not for the Cumberland. "But I checked my suspicions by considering that the passport was certainly intended to protect the voyage and not the Investigator only. A description of the Investigator was indeed given in it, but the intention of it could be only to prevent imposition. The Cumberland was now prosecuting the voyage, and I had come in her for a lawful purpose, and upon such an occasion as the passport allowed me to put into a French port. The great desire also that the French nation has long shown to promote geographical researches, and the friendly treatment that the Geographe and the Naturaliste had received at Port Jackson, rose up before me as guarantees that I should not be impeded, but should receive the kindest welcome and every assistance."* (* Flinders to Fleurieu; copy in Record Office, London. An entry in his Journal shows that only when he was informed that the war had been renewed did it occur to Flinders that the French authorities would interpret literally the fact that the passport was granted to the Investigator.)
He had no chart of Ile-de-France, but a description in the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica informed him that the principal harbour, Port Louis, was on the north-west side, and thither he intended to steer.
On December 15th the peaks of the island showed up against the morning sky. At noon the Cumberland was running along the shore, close enough to be observed, and made a signal for a pilot from the fore-topmast head. A small French schooner came out of a cove, and Flinders, wishing to speak with her to make enquiries, followed her. She ran on, and entered a port, which proved to be Baye du Cap (now Cape Bay) on the south-west coast. Flinders steered in her wake, thinking that she was piloting him to safety. The truth was that the French on board thought they were being pursued by an English fighting ship, which meant to attack them; and immediately they came to anchor, without even waiting to furl sails, they hurried ashore in a canoe and reported accordingly. Thus from the very beginning of his appearance at Ile-de-France, was suspicion cast on Flinders. So began his years of sore trouble.
It was evident from the commotion on shore that the arrival of the Cumberland had aroused excitement. Flinders saw the people from the schooner speaking to a soldier, who, from the plumes in his hat, appeared to be an officer. Presently some troops with muskets appeared in sight. Apparently orders had been given to call out the guard. Flinders concluded that a state of war existed, and hastened to inform the authorities by sending Aken ashore in a boat, that he had a passport, and was free from belligerent intentions.
Aken returned with an officer, Major Dunienville, to whom the passport was shown, and the necessities of the Cumberland explained. He politely invited Flinders to go on shore and dine with him. It was pointed out that the immediate requirements were fresh water and a pilot who would take the ship round to Port Louis, as repairs could not be effected at Baye du Cap. The pilot was promised for the next day, and Major Dunienville at once sent a boat for the Cumberland's empty casks.
As soon as he got ashore again, Dunienville wrote a report of what had occurred to the Captain-General, or Military Governor of the island, General Decaen, and sent it off by a special messenger. In this document* he related that a schooner flying the English flag had chased a coastal schooner into the bay; that the alarm had been given that she was a British privateer; that he had at once called out the troops; and that, expecting an attack, he had ordered the women and children to retire to the interior, and had given orders for cattle and sheep to be driven into the woods! "Happily," he proceeded, "all these precautions, dictated by circumstances, proved to be unnecessary." (* Decaen Papers Volume 84.) The English captain had explained to him that he had merely followed the coastal boat because he had no pilot, and wished to enter the bay to solicit succour; "adding that he did not know of the war, and consequently had no idea that he would spread alarm by following it.
Later in the afternoon Dunienville returned to the Cumberland with the district commandant, Etienne Bolger, and an interpreter. The passport was again examined, when Bolger pointed out that it was not granted to the Cumberland but to the Investigator, and that the matter must be dealt with by the Governor personally. At first he desired to send the passport to him, but Flinders objected to allowing it to leave his possession, as it constituted his only guarantee of protection from the French authorities. Then it was arranged that he should travel overland to Port Louis, while Aken took round the ship. But finally Bolger allowed Flinders to sail round in the Cumberland, under the guidance of a pilot. He was hospitably entertained at dinner by Major Dunienville, who invited a number of ladies and gentlemen to meet him; and on the morning of December 16th he sailed, with the major on board, for Port Louis, where he was to confront General Decaen.
The character and position of the Captain-General of Ile-de-France are so important in regard to the remainder of Flinders' life, that it will be desirable to devote a chapter to some account of him.
CHAPTER 21. GENERAL DECAEN.
Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen was born at Caen, the ancient and picturesque capital of Normandy, on April 13th, 1769. Left an orphan at the age of twelve, his education was superintended by a friend of his father, who had been a public official. At the end of his schooldays he studied law under an advocate of local celebrity, M. Lasseret. Though his juristic training was not prolonged, the discipline of the office gave a certain bent to his mind, a certain lawyer-like strictness and method to his mode of handling affairs, that remained characteristic during his military career, and was exceedingly useful to him while he governed Ile-de-France. Very often in perusing his Memoires* the reader perceives traces of the lawyer in the language of the soldier. (* The Memoires et Journaux du General Decaen were prepared for publication by himself, and the portion up to the commencement of his governorship has been printed, with notes and maps, by Colonel Ernest Picard, Chief of the Historical Section of the Staff of the French Army (2 volumes Paris 1910). Colonel Picard informed me that he did not intend to print the remainder, thinking that the ground was sufficiently covered by Professor Henri Prentout's admirable book L'Ile de France sous Decaen. I have, therefore, had the section relating to Flinders transcribed from the manuscript, and used it freely for this book.) Thus, when during the campaign of the Rhine he found that his superior officer, General Jourdan, was taking about with him as his aide-de-camp a lady in military attire, Decaen, with a solemnity that seems a little un-French under the circumstances, condemned the breach of the regulations as conduct "which was not that of a father of a family, a legislator and a general-in-chief." As for the lady, "les charmes de cette maussade creature" merely evoked his scorn. It does not appear that Jourdan's escapade produced any ill effects in a military sense, but it was against the regulations, and Decaen was as yet as much lawyer as soldier.
When the revolutionary wars broke out, and France was ringed round by a coalition of enemies, the voice of "la patrie en danger" rang in the ears of the young student like a call from the skies. He was twenty-two years of age when two deputies of the Legislative Assembly came down to Caen and made an appeal to the manhood of the country to fly to arms. Decaen, fuming with patriotic indignation, threw down his quill, pitched his calf-bound tomes on to their shelf, and was the first to inscribe his name upon the register of the fourth battalion of the regiment of Calvados, an artillery corps. He was almost immediately despatched to Mayence on the Rhine, where Kleber (who was afterwards to serve with distinction under Bonaparte in Egypt) hard pressed by the Prussians, withdrew the French troops into the city (March, 1793) and prepared to sustain a siege.
Decaen rose rapidly, by reason not merely of his bull-dog courage and stubborn tenacity, but also of his intelligence and integrity. He received his "baptism of fire" in an engagement in April, when Kleber sent a detachment to chase a Prussian outpost from a neighbouring village and to collect whatever forage and provisions might be obtained. He was honest enough to confess—and his own oft-proved bravery enabled him to do so unashamed—that, when he first found the bullets falling about him, he was for a moment afraid. "I believe," he wrote, "that there are few men, however courageous they may be, who do not experience a chill, and even a feeling of fear, when for the first time they hear around them the whistling of shot, and above all when they first see the field strewn with killed and wounded comrades."* (* Memoires 1 13.) But he was a sergeant-major by this time, and remembered that it was his duty to set an example; so, screwing up his courage to the sticking-place by an effort of will, and saying to himself that it was not for a soldier of France to quail before a ball, he deliberately wheeled his horse to the front of a position where a regiment was being shaken by the enemy's artillery fire, and by his very audacity stiffened the wavering troops and saved the situation.
After the capitulation of Mayence in July, 1793, Decaen fought with distinction in the war in La Vendee. In this cruel campaign he displayed unusual qualities as a soldier, and attained the rank of adjutant-general. Kleber gave him a command calling for exceptional nerve, with the comment, "It is the most dangerous position, and I thought it worthy of your courage." It was Decaen, according to his own account, who devised the plan of sending out a number of mobile columns to strike at the rebels swiftly and unexpectedly. But though he was succeeding in a military sense, these operations against Frenchmen, while there were foreign foes to fight beyond the frontiers, were thoroughly distasteful to him. The more he saw of the war in La Vendee, and the more terribly the thumb of the national power pressed upon the throat of the rebellion, the more he hated the service. It was at his own solicitation, therefore, that he was transferred to the army of the Rhine in January, 1795.
Here he served under the ablest general, saving only Bonaparte himself, whom the wars of the Revolution produced to win glory for French arms, Jean Victor Moreau. His bravery and capacity continued to win him advancement. Moreau promoted him to the command of a brigade, and presented him with a sword of honour for his masterly conduct of a retreat through the Black Forest, when, in command of the rear-guard, he fought the Austrians every mile of the road to the Rhine.
He became a general of division in 1800. At the battle of Hohenlinden, where Moreau concentrated his troops to give battle to the Austrians under the Archduke John, Decaen performed splendid service; indeed it was he who chose the position, and recommended it as a favourable place for taking a stand.* (* Memoires 2 89.) Moreau knew him well by now, and on the eve of the fight (December 2nd) when he brought up his division to the plateau in the forest of Ebersberg, where the village of Hohenlinden stands, and presented himself at headquarters to ask for orders, the commander-in-chief rose to greet him with the welcome, "Ah, there is Decaen, the battle will be ours to-morrow." It was intended for a personal compliment, we cannot doubt, though Decaen in his Memoires (2 136) interpreted it to mean that the general was thinking of the 10,000 troops whose arrival he had come to announce.
Moreau's plan was this. He had posted his main force strongly fronting the Austrian line of advance, on the open Hohenlinden plateau. The enemy had to march through thickly timbered country to the attack. The French general instructed Decaen and Richepance to manoeuvre their two divisions, each consisting of 10,000 men, through the forest, round the Austrian rear, and to attack them there, as soon as they delivered their attack upon the French front. The Archduke John believed Moreau to be in full retreat, and hurried his army forward from Haag, east of Hohenlinden, amid falling snow.
"By torch and trumpet fast array'd Each horseman drew his battle-blade, And furious every charger neigh'd To join the dreadful revelry. Then shook the hills with thunder riven; Then rush'd the steed, to battle driven, And louder than the bolts of Heaven Far flashed the red artillery."
Decaen's division marched at five o'clock on the morning of December 3rd, and shortly before eight the boom of the Austrian cannon was heard. His troops pressed forward in a blinding snowstorm. An officer said that the guns seemed to show that the Austrians were turning the French position. "Ah, well," said Decaen, "if they turn ours, we will turn theirs in our turn." It was one of the few jokes he made in his whole life, and it exactly expressed the situation. The Austrian army was caught like a nut in a nut-cracker. Battered from front and rear, their ranks broke, and fugitives streamed away east and west, like the crumbled kernel of a filbert. Decaen threw his battalions upon their rear with a furious vigour, and crumpled it up; and almost at the very moment of victory the snow ceased to fall, the leaden clouds broke, and a brilliant sun shone down upon the scene of carnage and triumph. Ten thousand Austrians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, whilst 80 guns and about two hundred baggage waggons fell as spoils to the French. In this brilliant victory Decaen's skill and valour, rapidity and verve, had been of inestimable value, as Moreau was prompt to acknowledge.
The quick soldier's eye of Bonaparte recognised him at once as a man of outstanding worth. The Consulate had been established in December, 1799, and the First Consul was anxious to attach to him strong, able men. In 1802 Decaen ventured to use his influence with the Government regarding an appointment to the court of appeal at Caen, for which Lasseret, his old master in law, was a candidate; and we find Bonaparte writing to Cambaceres, who had charge of the law department, that "if the citizen possesses the requisite qualifications I should like to defer to the wishes of General Decaen, who is an officer of great merit."* (* Napoleon's Correspondance Document 5596.) He saw much of Bonaparte in Paris during 1801 and 1802, when the part he had to play was an extremely difficult one, demanding the exercise of tact and moral courage in an unusual measure. The Memoires throw a vivid light on the famous quarrel between Moreau and Napoleon, which in the end led to the exile of the victor of Hohenlinden.
Moreau was Decaen's particular friend, the commander who had given him opportunities for distinction, one whom he loved and honoured as a man and a patriot. But he was jealous of Napoleon's success, was disaffected towards the consular government, and was believed to be concerned in plots for its overthrow. On the other hand, Napoleon was not only the head of the State, but was the greatest soldier of his age. Decaen's admiration of him was unbounded, and Napoleon's attitude towards Decaen was cordial. He tried to reconcile these two men whom he regarded with such warm affection, but failed. One day, when business was being discussed, Napoleon said abruptly, "Decaen, General Moreau is conducting himself badly; I shall have to denounce him." Decaen was moved to tears, and insisted that Napoleon was ill informed. "You are good yourself," said the First Consul, "and you think everybody else is like you. Moreau is corresponding with Pichegru," whose conspiracy was known to the Government. "It is not possible." "But I have a letter which proves it." Moreover, Moreau was openly disrespectful to the Government. He had presented himself out of uniform on occasions when courtesy demanded that he should wear it. If Moreau had anything to complain about, he did not make it better by associating with malcontents. "He has occupied a high position, which gives him influence, and a bad influence upon public opinion hampers the work of the Government. I have not fallen here out of the sky, you know; I follow my glory. France wants repose, not more disturbance." Decaen manfully championed his friend, "I am persuaded," he said, "that if you made overtures to Moreau you would easily draw him towards you." "No," said Napoleon "he is a shifting sand." Moreau said to Decaen, "I am too old to bend my back"; but the latter was of opinion that the real source of the mischief was that Moreau had married a young wife, and that she and his mother-in-law considered they were entitled to as much attention as Madame Bonaparte received. Pride, jealousy and vanity, he declared, were the real source of the quarrel. Decaen, indeed, has a story that when Madame Moreau once called upon Josephine at Malmaison, she returned in an angry state of mind because she was not at once admitted, bidding a servant tell her mistress that the wife of General Moreau was not accustomed to be kept waiting. The simple explanation was that Josephine was in her bath!
Decaen came to be appointed Governor of Ile-de-France in this way. One day, after dining with Napoleon at Malmaison, the First Consul took a stroll with him, and in the course of conversation asked him what he wanted to do. "I have my sword for the service of my country," said Decaen. "Very good," answered Napoleon, "but what would you like to do now?" Decaen then mentioned that he had been reading the history of the exploits of La Bourdonnaye and Dupleix in India, and was much attracted by the possibilities for the expansion of French power there. "Have you ever been to India?" enquired Napoleon. "No, but I am young, and, desiring to do something useful, I should like to undertake a mission which I believe would not be likely to be coveted by many, having regard to the distance between France and that part of the world. And even if it were necessary to spend ten years of my life awaiting a favourable opportunity of acting against the English, whom I detest because of the injury they have done to our country, I should undertake the task with the utmost satisfaction." Napoleon merely observed that what he desired might perhaps be arranged.
A few months later Decaen was invited to breakfast with Napoleon at Malmaison. He was asked whether he was still inclined to go to India, and replied that he was. "Very well, then, you shall go." "In what capacity?" "As Captain-General. Go and see the Minister of Marine, and tell him to show you all the papers relative to the expedition that is in course of being fitted out."
Under the treaty of Amiens, negotiated in 1801, Great Britain agreed to restore to the French Republic and its allies all conquests made during the recent wars except Trinidad and Ceylon. From the British point of view it was an inglorious peace. Possessions which had been won in fair fight, by the ceaseless activity and unparalleled efficiency of the Navy, and by the blood and valour of British manhood, were signed away with a stroke of the pen. The surrender of the Cape was especially lamentable, because upon security at that point depended the safety of India and Australia. But the Addington ministry was weak and temporising, and was alarmed about the internal condition of England, where dear food, scarcity of employment and popular discontent, consequent upon prolonged warfare, made the King's advisers nervously anxious to put an end to the struggle. The worst feature of the situation was that everybody thoroughly well understood that it was a mere parchment peace. Cornwallis called it "an experimental peace." It was also termed "an armistice" and "a frail and deceptive truce"; and though Addington declared it to be "no ordinary peace but a genuine reconciliation between the two first nations of the world," his flash of rhetoric dazzled nobody but himself. He was the Mr. Perker of politics, an accommodating attorney rubbing his hands and exclaiming "My dear sir!" while he bartered the interests of his client for the delusive terms of a brittle expediency.
Decaen was to go to India to take charge of the former French possessions there, under the terms of the treaty, and from Pondicherry was also to control Ile-de-France (Mauritius) which the English had not taken during the war. Napoleon's instructions to him clearly indicated that he did not expect the peace to endure. Decaen was "to dissimulate the views of the Government as much as possible"; "the English are the tyrants of India, they are uneasy and jealous, it is necessary to behave towards them with suavity, dissimulation and simplicity." He was to regard his mission primarily as one of observation upon the policy and military dispositions of the English. But Napoleon informed him in so many words that he intended some day to strike a blow for "that glory which perpetuates the memory of men throughout the centuries." For that, however, it was first necessary "that we should become masters of the sea."* (* Memoires 2 310.)
Decaen sailed from Brest in February, 1803. Lord Whitworth, the British ambassador to Paris, watched the proceedings with much care, and promptly directed the attention of his Government to the disproportionate number of officers the new Captain-General was taking with him. The Government passed the information on to the Governor-General of India, Lord Wellesley, who was already determined that, unless absolutely ordered so to do, he would not permit a French military force to land. Before Decaen arrived at Pondicherry, indeed, in June, 1803, Wellesley had received a despatch from Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, warning him that, notwithstanding the treaty of Amiens, "certain circumstances render desirable a delay in the restitution of their possessions in India" to the French, and directing that territory occupied by British troops was not to be evacuated by them without fresh orders. Great Britain already perceived the fragility of the peace, and, in fact, was expediting preparations for a renewal of war, which was declared in May, 1803.
When, therefore, the French frigate Marengo, with Decaen on board, arrived at Pondicherry, the British flag still flew over the Government buildings, and he soon learnt that there was no disposition to lower it. Moreover, La Belle Poule, which had been sent in advance from the Cape to herald the Captain-General's coming, was anchored between two British ships of war, which had carefully ranged themselves alongside her. Decaen grasped the situation rapidly. A few hours after his arrival, the French brig Belier appeared. She had left France on March 25th, carrying a despatch informing the Captain-General that war was anticipated, and directing him to land his troops at Ile-de-France, where he was to assume the governorship.
Rear-Admiral Linois, who commanded the French division, wanted to sail at once. Decaen insisted on taking aboard some of the French who were ashore, but Linois pointed to the strong British squadron in sight, and protested that he ought not to compromise the safety of his ships by delaying departure. Linois was always a very nervous officer. Decaen stormed, and Linois proposed to call a council of his captains. "A council!" exclaimed Decaen, "I am the council!" It was worthy of what Voltaire attributed to Louis XIV: "l'etat, c'est mois." After sunset Decaen visited the ships of the division in a boat, and warned their captains to get ready to follow the Marengo out of the roadstead of Pondicherry in the darkness. He considered that it would be extremely embarrassing if the British squadron, suspecting their intentions, endeavoured to frustrate them. At an appointed hour the Marengo quietly dropped out of the harbour, cutting the cable of one of her anchors rather than permit any delay.
On August 15th Decaen landed at Port Louis, Ile-de-France, and on the following day he took over the government. He had therefore been in command exactly four months when Matthew Flinders, in the Cumberland, put into Baye du Cap on December 15th.
For his conduct in the Flinders affair Decaen has been plentifully denounced. "A brute," "a malignant tyrant," "vindictive, cruel and unscrupulous"—such are a few shots from the heavy artillery of language that have been fired at his reputation. The author knows of one admirer of Flinders who had a portrait of Decaen framed and hung with its face to the wall of his study. It is, unfortunately, much easier to denounce than to understand; and where resonant terms have been flung in freest profusion, it does not appear that an endeavour has been made to study what occurred from the several points of view, and to examine Decaen's character and actions in the light of full information. A postponement of epithets until we have ascertained the facts is in this, as in so many other cases, extremely desirable.
No candid reader of Decaen's Memoires, and of Prentout's elaborate investigation of his administration, can fail to recognise that he was a conspicuously honest man. During his governorship he handled millions of francs. Privateers from Ile-de-France captured British merchant ships, to a value, including their cargo, of over 3 million pounds sterling,* a share of which it would have been easy for Decaen to secure. (* "Prentout, page 509, estimates the value of captures at 2 million pounds, but Mr. H. Hope informed Flinders in 1811, that insurance offices in Calcutta had actually paid 3 million pounds sterling on account of ships captured by the French at Mauritius. Flinders, writing with exceptional opportunities for forming an opinion, calculated that during the first sixteen months of the war the French captures of British merchant ships brought to Ile-de-France were worth 1,948,000 pounds (Voyage 2 416).) But his financial reputation is above suspicion. His management was economical and efficient. He ended his days in honourable poverty.
He was blunt and plainspoken; and though he could be pleasant, was when ruffled by no means what Mrs. Malaprop called "the very pineapple of politeness." His quick temper brought him into continual conflict with superiors and subordinates. He quarrelled repeatedly with generals and ministers; with Admiral Linois, with Soult, with Decres, with Barras, with Jourdan, and with many others. When General Lecourbe handed him a written command during the Rhine campaign, he says himself that, "when I received the order I tightened my lips and turned my back upon him." He speaks of himself in one place as being "of a petulant character and too free with my tongue." That concurs with Flinders' remark, after bitter experience of Decaen, that he possessed "the character of having a good heart, though too hasty and violent."
Decaen's military capacity was much higher than his historical reputation might lead one to suppose. During the fierce wars of the Napoleonic empire, whilst Ney, Oudinot, Murat, Junot, Augereau, Soult, St. Cyr, Davoust, Lannes, Marmont, Massena and Suchet, were rendering brilliant service under the eye of the great captain, and were being converted into dukes and princes, Decaen was shut up in a far-off isle in the Indian Ocean, where there was nothing to do but hold on under difficulties, and wait in vain for the turn of a tide that never floated a French fleet towards the coveted India. Colonel Picard, than whom there is hardly a better judge, is of opinion that had Decaen fought with the Grand Army in Europe, his military talents would have designated him for the dignity of a marshal of the Empire. On his return he did become a Comte, but then the Napoleonic regime was tottering to its fall.
Such then was the man—stubborn, strong-willed, brusque, honest, irritable, ill-tempered, but by no means a bad man at heart—with whom Matthew Flinders had to do. We may now follow what occurred.
CHAPTER 22. THE CAPTIVITY.
At four o'clock in the afternoon of December 17th the Cumberland entered Port Louis, where Flinders learnt that Le Geographe had sailed for France on the previous day. As soon as he could land he went ashore to present himself to the Governor, whom he found to be at dinner. To occupy the time until an interview could be arranged, he joined a party of officers who were lounging in a shady place, and gossiped with them about his voyage, about Baudin's visit to Port Jackson, about the English settlement there, "and also concerning the voyage of Monsieur Flindare, of whom, to their surprise, I knew nothing, but afterwards found it to be my own name which they so pronounced."
In a couple of hours he was conducted to Government House, where, after a delay of half an hour, he was shown into a room. At a table stood two officers. One was a short, thick man in a gold-laced mess jacket, who fixed his eyes sternly on Flinders, and at once demanded his passport and commission. This was General Decaen. Beside him stood his aide-de-camp, Colonel Monistrol. The General glanced over the papers, and then enquired "in an impetuous manner," why Flinders had come to Ile-de-France in the Cumberland, when his passport was for the Investigator. The necessary explanation being given, Decaen exclaimed impatiently, "You are imposing on me, sir! It is not probable that the Governor of New South Wales should send away the commander of a discovery expedition in so small a vessel." Decaen's own manuscript Memoires show that when this story was told to him, he thought it "very extraordinary that he should have left Port Jackson to voyage to England in a vessel of 29 tons;" and, in truth, to a man who knew nothing of Flinders' record of seamanship it must have seemed unlikely. He handed back the passport and commission, and gave some orders to an officer; and as Flinders was leaving the room "the Captain-General said something in a softer tone about my being well treated, which I could not comprehend."
It is clear that Decaen's brusque manner made Flinders very angry. He did not know at this time that it was merely the General's way, and that he was not at all an ill-natured man if discreetly handled. On board the Cumberland, in company with the interpreter and an officer, who were very polite, he confesses having "expressed my sentiments of General Decaen's manner of receiving me," adding "that the Captain-General's conduct must alter very much before I should pay him a second visit, or even set my foot on shore again." It is very important to notice Flinders' state of mind, because it is apparent that a whole series of unfortunate events turned upon his demeanour at the next interview. His anger is perfectly intelligible. He was a British officer, proud of his service; he had for years been accustomed to command, and to be obeyed; he knew that he was guiltless of offence; he felt that he had a right to protection and consideration under his passport. Believing himself to have been affronted, he was not likely to be able to appreciate the case as it presented itself at the moment to this peppery general; that here was the captain of an English schooner who, as reported, had chased a French vessel into Baye du Cap, and who gave as an explanation that he had called to seek assistance while on a 16,000 mile voyage, in a 29-ton boat. Surely Flinders' story, as Decaen saw it at this time, was not a probable one; and at all events he, as Governor of Ile-de-France, had a duty to satisfy himself of its truth. We can well understand Flinders' indignation; but can we not also appreciate Decaen's doubt?
The officers, acting under instructions, collected all the charts, papers, journals, letters, and packets, found on board, and put them in a trunk which, says Flinders, "was sealed by me at their desire." They then requested him to go ashore with them, to a lodging at an inn, which the General had ordered to be provided for him. In fact, they had orders to take him there. "What! I exclaimed in the first transports of surprise and indignation, I am then a prisoner!" The officers expressed the hope that the detention would not last more than a few days, and assured him that in the meantime he should want for nothing. Flinders, accompanied by Aken, went ashore, and the two were escorted to a large house in the middle of the town, the Cafe Marengo, where they were shown into a room approached by a dark entry up a dirty staircase, and left for the night with a sentry on guard in the passage outside.
That Flinders had no doubt that he would soon be released, is shown by the fact that he wrote from the tavern the following letter to the captain of the American ship Hunter, then lying in Port Louis: "Sir, understanding that you are homeward bound, I have to represent to you that I am here with an officer and nine men belonging to His Britannic Majesty's ship Investigator, lately under my command, and if I am set at liberty should be glad to get a passage on board your vessel to St. Helena, or on any other American who does not touch at the Cape of Good Hope* and may be in want of men. I am, Sir, etc., etc., MATTHEW FLINDERS.
"If it is convenient for you to call upon me at the tavern where I am at present confined, I shall be glad to see you as soon as possible."
(* He did not wish to call at the Cape, because if he got clear of the French frying-pan he did not want to jump into the Dutch fire.)
Early in the afternoon of the following day Colonel Monistrol came to the inn to take Flinders and Aken before the General, who desired to ask certain questions. The interrogatories were read from a paper, as dictated by Decaen, and Flinders' answers were translated and written down. In the document amongst Decaen's papers the French questions and answers are written on one side of the paper, with the English version parallel; the latter being signed by Flinders. The translation is crude (the scribe was a German with some knowledge of English) but is printed below literally:
"Questions made to the commanding officier of an English shooner anchored in Savanna Bay, at the Isle of France, on the 24th frimaire 12th year (on the 17th December, 1803) chasing a coaster, which in consequence of the declaration of war between the French Republic and Great Britain, had intention to avoid the poursuit of said shooner. Said shooner carried the next day in the harbour of Port North-West, where she anchored under cartel colours, the commanding officer having declared to the officer of the health boat that his name was Matthew Flinders, and his schooner the Cumberland.
"Demanded: the Captain's name?
"Answered: Matthew Flinders.
"D.: From what place the Cumberland sailed?
"A.: From Port Jackson.
"D.: At what time?
"A.: The Captain does not recollect the date of his departure. He thinks it is on the 20th of September.
"D.: What is the purpose of his expedition?
"A.: His only motive was to proceed on to England as soon as possible, to make the report of his voyages and to request a ship to continue them.
"D.: What can be the reason which has determined Captain Flinders to undertake a voyage on board of the so small a vessel?
"A.: To avoid losing two months on proceeding by China, for a ship sailing from Port Jackson was to put in China.
"D.: Does not Port Jackson offer frequent opportunities for Europe?
"A.: There are some, as he has observed it above, but that ship putting in China is the reason which determined him not to proceed that way.
"D.: At what place had the Cumberland put in?
"A.: At Timor.
"D.: What could be the reason of her putting in at Timor?
"A.: To take fresh provision and water. He has left Timor 34 days ago.
D.: What passports or certificates has he taken in that place?
"D.: What has been his motive for his coming at the Isle of France?
"A.: The want of water. His pumpers (sic) are bad, and his vessel is very leaky.
"D.: To what place does Captain Flinders intend to go to from this island?
"A.: Having no passport for the Dutch Government, he cannot put in the Cape, according to his wishes, and will be obliged to stop at St. Helena.
"D.: What can be the reason of his having none of his officiers, naturalis, or any of the other persons employed in said expedition?
"A.: Two of these gentlemen have remained in Port Jackson to repair on board of the ship Captain Flinders expected to obtain in England,* and the rest have proceeded on to China. (* "Pour s'embarquer sur le vaisseau que le Cap. Flinders a espoir d'obtenir en Angleterre," in the French. That is to say, Brown and Bauer remained behind till Flinders came out again with another ship.)
"D.: What reason induced Captain Flinders to chase a boat in sight of the island?
"A.: Being never to this island, he was not acquainted with the harbour. Seeing a French vessel he chased her* for the only purpose of obtaining a pilot, and seeing her entering a bay he followed her. (* It is singular that Flinders did not take exception to this word "chased" in the translation when he signed it. The French version of his statement is correct: "il forca de voile, NON POUR LUY APPUYER CHASSE mais pour luy demander un pilote." The German translator boggled between the French and the English.)
"D.: What reason had he to make the land to leewards, the different directories pointing out the contrary route to anchor in the harbour.
"A.: He came to windwards, but the wind shifting contrary he took to leewards and perceiving said vessel he followed her and anchored in the same bay. He has no chart of the island.
"D.: Why has he hoisted cartel colours?
"A.: He answers that it is the custom, since Captain Baudin coming to Port Jackson hoisted the colours of both nations.
"D.: Was he informed of the war?
"D.: Has he met with any ship either at sea or in the different ports where he put in?
"A.: He met one ship only, by the 6 or 7 degrees to the east of the Isle of France. He did not speak her, though desirous of so doing, being prevented by the night. He met with no ship at Timor.
"In consequence of the questions made to Captain Flinders respecting to his wreck, he declares that after putting in at Port Jackson with the ship under his command, he was through her bad condition obliged to leave her, being entirely decayed. The Governor at that time furnished him with a ship thought capable of transporting him to Europe. He had the misfortune to wreck on the east coast of New Holland by the 22 degrees 11 minutes of latitude south on some rock distant 700 miles from Port Jackson, and 200 miles from the coast. He embarked in the said ship's boat, taking with him 14 men, and left the remainder of his crew on a sand bank. He lost on this occasion three charts respecting his voyages and particularly Golph Carpentary. After 14 days' passage he arrived at Port Jackson. After tarrying in said place 8 or 9 days, the Governor furnished him with the small vessel he is now in, and a ship to take the remainder of the crew left on the bank. This vessel not being a government ship and bound to China, proceeded on her intended voyage with the officers and the crew which had been left on the bank.
"Captain Flinders declares that of the two boxes remitted by him one contains despatches directed to the Secretary of State and the other was entrusted to him by the commanding officer of the troops in Port Jackson, and that he is ignorant what they contain.
"Captain Mw. Flinders to ascertain the legality of this expedition and the veracity of what he expose,* (* "La verite de son expose," i.e., the truth of his statement.) has opened in our presence a trunk sealed by him containing the papers having a reference to his expedition, and to give us a copy by him certified of the passport delivered to him by the First Consul and His Majesty King of Great Britain; equally the communication of his journal since the condemnation of his ship Investigator.
"Port North-West, Ile of France, the 26th frimaire 12th year of the French Republic (answering to the 19th December, 1803).
"(Signed) MATTW. FLINDERS."
Flinders corroborates the statement regarding the taking of papers from the trunk, stating that they consisted of the third volume of his rough log-book, which contained "the whole of what they desired to know," respecting his voyage to Ile-de-France. He told Decaen's Secretary to make such extracts as were considered requisite, "pointing out the material passages." "All the books and papers, the third volume of my rough log-book excepted, were then returned into the trunk, and sealed as before." It is important to notice that at no time were papers taken from the trunk without Flinders' knowledge and concurrence, because the charge has frequently been made, even by historical writers of authority,* that his charts were plagiarised by the cartographers of Baudin's expedition. (* In the Cambridge Modern History, for instance (9 739): "The French authorities at Mauritius having captured and imprisoned the explorer Flinders on his passage to England, attempted by the use of his papers to appropriate for their ships the credit of his discoveries along the south coast of Australia.") Flinders himself never made any such allegation, nor is there any foundation for it. On the contrary, as will be made clear hereafter, neither Decaen and his officers, nor any of the French, ever saw any of Flinders' charts at any time.
Immediately after the examination the General, on behalf of Madame Decaen, sent Flinders an invitation to dine, dinner being then served. At this point, one cannot help feeling, he made a tactical mistake. It is easily understood, and allowance can be made for it, but the consequences of it were serious. He was angry on account of his detention, irritated by the treatment to which he had been subjected, and unable in his present frame of mind to appreciate the Governor's point of view. He refused to go, and said he had already dined. The officer who bore the invitation pressed him in a kindly manner, saying that at all events he had better go to the table. Flinders replied that he would not; if the General would first set him at liberty he would accept the invitation with pleasure, and be flattered by it. Otherwise he would not sit at table with Decaen. "Having been grossly insulted both in my public and private character, I could not debase the situation I had the honour to hold."
The effect of so haughty a refusal upon an inflammatory temper like that of Decaen may be readily pictured. Presently an aide-de-camp returned with the message that the General would renew the invitation when Captain Flinders was set at liberty. There was a menace in the cold phrase.
Now, had Flinders bottled up his indignation and swallowed his pride—had he frankly recognised that he was in Decaen's power—had he acknowledged that some deference was due to the official head of the colony of a foreign nation with whom his country was at war—his later troubles might have been averted. An opportunity was furnished of discussing the matter genially over the wine and dessert. He would have found himself in the presence of a man who could be kind-hearted and entertaining when not provoked, and of a charming French lady in Madame Decaen. He would have been assisted by the secretary, Colonel Monistrol, who was always as friendly to him as his duty would permit. He would have been able to hold the company spell-bound with the story of the many adventures of his active, useful life. He would have been able to demonstrate his bona fides completely. It is a common experience that the humane feelings of men of Decaen's type are easily touched; and his conduct regarding the Napoleon-Moreau quarrel has been related above with some fulness for the purpose of showing that there was milk as well as gunpowder in his composition. But Flinders was angry; justifiably angry no doubt, but unfortunately angry nevertheless, since thereby he lost his chance.
He learnt afterwards that "some who pretended to have information from near the fountain-head hinted that, if his invitation to dinner had been accepted, a few days would have been the whole" of his detention.* (* Flinders Voyage 2 398.) That seems probable. He had no better friend than Sir Joseph Banks; and he learnt to his regret that Banks "was not quite satisfied with his conduct to the Government of Mauritius, thinking he had treated them perhaps with too much haughtiness." His comment upon this was, "should the same circumstances happen to me again I fear I should follow nearly the same steps."* (* Flinders' Papers.) That is the sort of thing that strong-willed men say; but a knowledge of the good sense and good feeling that were native to the character of Matthew Flinders enables one to assert with some confidence that if, after this experience, the choice had been presented to him, on the one hand of conquering his irritation and going to enjoy a pleasant dinner in interesting company with the prospect of speedy liberation; on the other of scornfully disdaining the olive branch, with the consequence of six-and-a-half years of heart-breaking captivity; he would have chosen the former alternative without much reluctance. There is a sentence in one of his own letters which indicates that wisdom counted for more than obstinacy in his temperament: "After a misfortune has happened, we all see very well the proper steps that ought to have been taken to avoid it; to be endowed with a never-failing foresight is not within the power of man."
That the view presented above is not too strong is clear from a passage in an unpublished portion of Decaen's Memoires. He stated that after the examination of Flinders, "I sent him an invitation from my wife* to come to dine with us, (* Flinders does not state that the invitation came from Madame Decaen. He may not have understood. But the refusal of it would on that account have been likely to make the General all the more angry.) although he had given me cause to withhold the invitation on account of his impertinence; but from boorishness, or rather from arrogance, he refused that courteous invitation, which, if accepted, would indubitably have brought about a change favourable to his position, through the conversation which would have taken place."* (* Decaen Papers Volume 10. Decaen said in his despatch to the Minister: "Captain Flinders imagined that he would obtain his release by arguing, by arrogance, and especially by impertinence; my silence with regard to his first letter led him to repeat the offence.") Here it is distinctly suggested that if the invitation had been accepted, and a pleasant discussion of the case had ensued, the detention of the Cumberland and her commander would probably not have been prolonged.
Further light is thrown on these regrettable occurrences by a manuscript history of Ile-de-France, written by St. Elme le Duc,* (* Bibliotheque Nationale, nouveaux acquisitions, France Number 1 775.) a friend of Decaen, who possessed intimate knowledge of the General's feelings. It is therein stated that Decaen received Flinders "in uniform, the head uncovered," but that "Captain Flinders presented himself with arrogance, his hat upon his head; they had to ask him to remove it." The same writer alleges that Flinders disregarded all the rules of politeness. It is fair to state these matters, since the candid student must always wish to see a case presented from several points of view. But it must be said that only an intense feeling of resentment could have unhinged the courteous disposition which was habitual with Flinders. A gentler man in his relations with all could hardly have been found. He was not more respectful to authority than he was considerate to subordinates; and throughout his career a close reading of his letters and journals, and of documents relating to him, can discover no other instance of even temporary deviation from perfect courtesy. Even in this case one can hardly say that he was to blame. There was sufficient in what occurred to make an honest man angry. But we wish to understand what occurred and why it occurred, and for that reason we cannot ignore or minimise the solitary instance wherein a natural flame of anger fired a long train of miserable consequences.
What, then, did Decaen intend to do with Flinders, at the beginning? He never intended to keep him six-and-a-half years. He simply meant to punish him for what he deemed to be rudeness; and his method of accomplishing that object was to report to Paris, and allow the case to be determined by the Government, instead of settling it himself forthwith. Here again Flinders was well informed. His journal for May 24th, 1806, contains the following entry:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "It has been said that I am detained a prisoner here solely because I refused the invitation of General Decaen to dine; that to punish me he referred the judgment of my case to the French Government, knowing that I should necessarily be detained twelve months before an answer arrived." Or, as he stated the matter in his published book (2 489): "My refusal of the intended honour until set at liberty so much exasperated the Captain-General that he determined to make me repent it."
It will be seen presently that the term of detention, originally intended to endure for about a year, was lengthened by circumstances that were beyond Decaen's control; that the punishment which sprang from the hasty ire of a peppery soldier increased, against his own will, into what appeared to all the world, and most of all to the victim, to be a piece of malevolent persecution. The ball kicked off in a fit of spleen rolled on and on beyond recovery.
There was, it must be admitted, quite enough in the facts brought under Decaen's notice to warrant a reference to Paris, if he chose to be awkward. In the first place, Flinders was carrying on board the Cumberland a box of despatches from Governor King for the Secretary of State. As pointed out in Chapter 12, the Admiralty instructions for the Investigator voyage cautioned him "not to take letters or packets other than those such as you may receive from this office or the office of His Majesty's Secretary of State." Governor King was well aware of this injunction. Yet he entrusted to Flinders this box of despatches, containing material relative to military affairs. It is true that a state of war was not known to exist at the time when the Cumberland sailed from Port Jackson in September, 1803, although as a matter of fact it had broken out in the previous May. But it was well known that war was anticipated. It is also true that Flinders knew nothing of the contents of the despatches. But neither, as a rule, does any other despatch carrier in war time. When the Cumberland's papers were examined by Decaen's officers, and these despatches were read and translated, there was at once a prima facie ground for saying, "this officer is not engaged on purely scientific work; he is the bearer of despatches which might if delivered have an influence upon the present war." Flinders himself, writing to Banks,* (* Historical Records 6 49.) said: "I have learnt privately that in the despatches with which I was charged by Governor King, and which were taken from me by the French General, a demand was made for troops to be sent out to Port Jackson for the purpose of annoying Spanish America in the event of another war, and that this is considered to be a breach of my passport. 'Tis pity that Governor King should have mentioned anything that could involve me in the event of a war, either with the French at Mauritius, or the Dutch at Timor or the Cape; or that, having mentioned anything that related to war, he did not make me acquainted in a general way with the circumstances, in which case I should have thrown them overboard on learning that war was declared; but as I was situated, having little apprehension of being made a prisoner, and no idea that the despatches had any reference to war, since it was a time of peace when I left Port Jackson, I did not see the necessity of throwing them overboard at a hazard. To be the bearer of any despatches in time of peace cannot be incorrect for a ship on discovery more than for any other; BUT WITH A PASSPORT, AND IN TIME OF WAR, IT CERTAINLY IS IMPROPER." With characteristic straightforwardness, Flinders did not hesitate to tell King himself that the despatches had cast suspicion on him:* (* Historical Records 6 105.) "I have learned privately that in your despatches to the Secretary of State there is mention of Spanish America, which rendered me being the bearer, criminal with respect to my passport. 'Tis pity I had not known anything of this, for on finding myself under the necessity of stopping at the Isle of France, and learning the declaration of war, I should have destroyed the despatches; but leaving Port Jackson in time of peace, and confiding in my passport, I did not think myself authorised to take such a step, even after I knew of the war, having no idea there was anything in the despatches that could invalidate my passport; neither, indeed, is it invalidated in justice, but it is said to be the under-plea against me."
These despatches of King are preserved among Decaen's papers,* (* Decaen Papers Volumes 84 and 105.) and an examination of them reveals that they did contain material of a military character. In one of them, dated August 7th, 1803, King referred to the possibility in any future war "of the Government of the Isle of France annoying this colony, as the voyage from hence may be done in less than seven weeks; and on the same idea this colony may hereafter annoy the trade of the Spanish settlements on the opposite coast. But to defend this colony against the one, and to annoy the other, it would be necessary that some regard should be had to the military and naval defences. The defences of the port may be made as strong as in any port I know of. By the return of cannon and batteries your Lordship will observe that those we have are placed in the best situation for annoying an enemy. Still, a small establishment of artillery officers and men are wanted to work those guns effectually in case of necessity." King went on to make recommendations for the increase of the military strength in men, officers, and guns. The originals of those despatches, which could furnish the French Government with valuable information concerning Port Jackson and the Flinders affair, are endorsed, "letters translated and sent to France;" and Decaen commented upon them that in his opinion the despatches alone afforded a sufficient pretext for detaining Flinders. "Ought a navigator engaged in discovery, and no longer possessing a passport for his ship, to be in time of war in command of a despatch-boat,* especially when, having regard to the distance between the period of the declaration of war and his departure from Port Jackson he could have obtained there the news that war had broken out?" (* "Devait-il en temps de guerre conduire un paquebot?")
In reporting to his Government Decaen related the story of the Cumberland's arrival from his point of view at considerable length. He expressed himself as satisfied that her commander really was Captain Flinders of the Investigator, to whom the French Government had issued a passport; detailed the circumstances of the examination; and complained of Flinders' "impertinence" and "arrogance." Then he proceeded to describe "several motives which have caused me to judge it to be indispensable to detain Captain Flinders."
The first motive alleged was "the conduct of the English Government in Europe, where she has violated all treaties, her behaviour before surrendering the Cape of Good Hope, and her treatment of our ships at Pondicherry." In no way could it be pretended that Flinders was connected with these events.
The second motive was "the seizing of Le Naturaliste, as announced by the newspapers." Decaen was here referring to the fact that, when Le Naturaliste was on her homeward voyage from Port Jackson, conveying the natural history collections, she was stopped by the British frigate Minerva and taken into Portsmouth. But no harm was done to her. She was merely detained from May 27th, 1803, till June 6th, when she was released by order of the Admiralty. In any case Flinders had nothing to do with that.
The third motive was that Captain Flinders' logbook showed an intention to make an examination of Ile-de-France and Madagascar, from which Decaen drew the inference that, if the English Government received no check, they would extend their power, and would seize the French colony. Herein the General did a serious injustice to Flinders. His log-book did indeed indicate that he desired "to acquire a knowledge of the winds and weather periodically encountered at Ile-de-France, of the actual state of the French colony, and of what utility it and its dependencies in Madagascar might be to Port Jackson, and whether that island could afford resources to myself in my future voyages." But information of this description was such as lay within the proper province of an explorer; and the log-book contained no hint, nor was there a remote intention, of acquiring information which, however used, could be inimical to the security of the French colony.
Decaen's mind had been influenced by reading Francois Peron's report to him concerning the expansive designs of the British in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. "There is no doubt," he informed his Government, "that the English Government have the intention to seize the whole trade of the Indian Ocean, the China Seas and the Pacific, and that they especially covet what remains of the Dutch possessions in these waters." He derived that extravagant idea from Peron's inflammatory communication, as will be seen from a perusal of that interesting document.
By these strained means, then, did Decaen give a semblance of public policy to his decision to detain Flinders. It would have been puerile to attempt to justify his action to his superiors on the personal ground that the English captain had vexed him; so he hooked in these various pretexts, though ingenuously acknowledging that they would have counted for nothing if Flinders had dined with him and talked the matter over conversationally!
On the day following the examination and the refusal of the invitation, Flinders was again conducted on board the Cumberland by Colonel Monistrol and the official interpreter, who "acted throughout with much politeness, apologising for what they were obliged by their orders to execute." On this occasion all remaining books and papers, including personal letters, were collected, locked up in a second trunk, and sealed. The document noting their deposition and sealing was signed by Flinders,* who was ordered to be detained in the inn under guard. (* Decaen Papers.) It was, Decaen reported, the best inn in the island, and orders were given to furnish the prisoner with all that he could want; but Flinders described it as an exceedingly dirty place.
On his return to the inn from the ship Flinders wrote a letter to the Governor, recounting the history of his explorations, and making two requests: that he might have his printed books ashore, and that his servant, John Elder, might be permitted to attend him. On the following day Elder was sent to him. On the 22nd he wrote again, soliciting "that I may be able to sail as soon as possible after you shall be pleased to liberate me from my present state of purgatory."* (* Decaen Papers.) On Christmas Day he sent a letter suffused with indignant remonstrance, wherein he alleged that "it appears that your Excellency had formed a determination to stop the Cumberland previously even to seeing me, if a specious pretext were wanting for it," and reminded Decaen that "on the first evening of my arrival...you told me impetuously that I was imposing on you." He continued, in a strain that was bold and not conciliatory: "I cannot think that an officer of your rank and judgment to act either so ungentlemanlike or so unguardedly as to make such a declaration without proof; unless his reason had been blinded by passion, or a previous determination that it should be so, nolens volens. In your orders of the 21st last it is indeed said that the Captain-General has acquired the conviction that I am the person I pretend to be, and the same for whom a passport was obtained by the English Government from the First Consul. It follows then, as I am willing to explain it, that I AM NOT and WAS NOT an imposter. This plea was given up when a more plausible one was thought to be found; but I cannot compliment your Excellency upon this alteration in your position, for the first, although false, is the more tenable post of the two."
Decaen's reply was stiff and stern. He attributed "the unreserved tone" of Flinders to "the ill humour produced by your present situation," and concluded: "This letter, overstepping all the bounds of civility, obliges me to tell you, until the general opinion judges of your faults or of mine, to cease all correspondence tending to demonstrate the justice of your cause, since you know so little how to preserve the rules of decorum."
Flinders in consequence of this snub forebore to make further appeals for consideration; but three days later he preferred a series of requests, one of which related to the treatment of his crew:
"To his Excellency Captain-General Decaen, "Governor in Chief, etc., etc., etc., Isle of France.
"From my confinement, December 28th, 1803.
"Since you forbid me to write to you upon the subject of my detainer I shall not rouse the anger or contempt with which you have been pleased to treat me by disobeying your order. The purpose for which I now write is to express a few humble requests, and most sincerely do I wish that they may be the last I shall have occasion to trouble your Excellency with.
"First. I repeat my request of the 23rd to have my printed books on shore from the schooner.
"Second. I request to have my private letters and papers out of the two trunks lodged in your secretariat, they having no connection with my Government or the voyage of discovery.
"Third. I beg to have two or three charts and three or four manuscript books out of the said trunks, which are necessary to finishing the chart of the Gulf of Carpentaria and some parts adjacent. It may be proper to observe as an explanation of this last request that the parts wanting were mostly lost in the shipwreck, and I wish to replace them from my memory and remaining materials before it is too late. Of these a memorandum can be taken, or I will give a receipt for them, and if it is judged necessary to exact it I will give my word that nothing in the books shall be erased or destroyed, but I could wish to make additions to one or two of the books as well as to the charts, after which I shall be ready to give up the whole.
"Fourth. My seamen complain of being shut up at night in a place where not a breath of air can come to them, which in a climate like this must be not only uncomfortable in the last degree, but also very destructive to European constitutions; they say, further, that the people with whom they are placed are much affected with that disagreeable and contagious disorder the itch; and that the provisions with which they are fed are too scanty, except in the article of meat, the proportion of which is large but of bad quality. Your Excellency will no doubt make such an amendment in their condition as circumstances will permit.
"A compliance with the above requests will not only furnish me with a better amusement in this solitude than writing letters to your Excellency, but will be attended with advantages in which the French nation may some time share. This application respecting the charts is not altogether made upon a firm persuasion that you will return everything to me, for if I could believe that they were never to be given to me or my Government I should make the same request.
On the day when the letter was despatched, Colonel Monistrol called, and promised that the books and papers requested should be supplied; and, in fact, the trunk containing them was without delay brought to the inn. The Colonel courteously expressed his regret that Flinders had adopted such a tone in his letters to the General, thinking "that they might tend to protract rather than terminate" his confinement. The complaint respecting the seamen was attended to forthwith, and they were treated exactly on the same footing as were French sailors on service.* (* St. Eleme le Duc's manuscript History.)
The first thing Flinders did, when he received the trunk, was to take out his naval signal-book and tear it to pieces. Next day he was conducted to Government House, and was allowed to take from the second trunk all his private letters and papers, his journals of bearings and observations, two log-books, and such charts as were necessary to complete his drawings of the Gulf of Carpentaria. All the other books and papers "were locked up in the trunk and sealed as before."
Until the end of March, 1804, Flinders was kept at the inn, with a sentry constantly on guard over the rooms. St. Elme le Duc, in the manuscript history already cited, declares that "Captain Flinders was never put in prison," and that his custom of addressing letters "from my prison" was an "affectation." But a couple of inn rooms wherein a person is kept against his will, under the strict surveillance of a military custodian, certainly constitute a prison. It is true that the Governor allotted 450 francs per month for his maintenance, sent a surgeon to attend to him when scorbutic sores broke out upon his body, and gave him access to the papers and books he required in order that he might occupy his time and divert his mind with the work he loved. But it is surely quibbling to pretend that even under these conditions he was not a prisoner. Even the surgeon and the interpreter were not admitted without a written order; and when the interpreter, Bonnefoy, took from Flinders a bill, which he undertook to negotiate, the sentry reported that a paper had passed between the two, and Bonnefoy was arrested, nor was he liberated until it was ascertained that the bill was the only paper he had received. The bill was the subject of an act of kindness from the Danish consul, who negotiated it at face value at a time when bills upon England could only be cashed in Port Louis at a discount of 30 per cent. This liberal gentleman sent the message that he would have proffered his assistance earlier but for the fear of incurring the Governor's displeasure.
An attempt was made in February to induce Decaen to send his prisoner to France for trial. It was submitted in the following terms:* (* Decaen Papers.)
"Having waited six weeks with much anxiety for your Excellency's decision concerning me, I made application for the honour of an audience, but received no answer; a second application obtained a refusal. It was not my intention to trouble the Captain-General by recounting my grievances, but to offer certain proposals to his consideration; and in now doing this by letter it is my earnest wish to avoid everything that can in the most distant manner give offence; should I fail, my ignorance and not intention must be blamed.
"First. If your Excellency will permit me to depart with my vessel, papers, etc., I will pledge my honour not to give any information concerning the Isle of France, or anything belonging to it, for a limited time, if it is thought that I can have gained any information; or if it is judged necessary, any other restrictions can be laid upon me. If this will not be complied with I request:
"Second, to be sent to France.
"Third. But if it is necessary to detain me here, I request that my officer and my people may be permitted to depart in the schooner. I am desirous of this as well for the purpose of informing the British Admiralty where I am, as to relieve our families and friends from the report that will be spread of the total loss of the two ships with all on board. My officer can be laid under what restrictions may be thought necessary, and my honour shall be a security that nothing shall be transmitted by me but what passes under the inspection of the officer who might be appointed for that purpose.
"If your Excellency does not think proper to adopt any of these modes, by which, with submission, I conceive my voyage of discovery might be permitted to proceed without any possible injury to the Isle of France or its dependencies, I then think it necessary to remind the Captain-General that since the shipwreck of the Porpoise, which happened now six months back, my officers and people as well as myself have been mostly confined either on a very small sandbank in the open sea, or in a boat, or otherwise on board the small schooner Cumberland, where there is no room to walk, or been kept prisoners as at present; and also, that previous to this time I had not recovered from a scorbutic and very debilitated state arising from having been eleven months exposed to great fatigue, bad climates and salt provisions. From the scorbutic sores which have again troubled me since my arrival in this port the surgeon who dressed them saw that a vegetable diet and exercise were necessary to correct the diseased state of the blood and to restore my health; but his application through your Excellency's aide-de-camp for me to walk out, unfortunately for my health and peace of mind, received a negative. The Captain-General best knows whether my conduct has deserved, or the exigencies of his Government require, that I should continue to remain closely confined in this sickly town and cut off from all society.
"With all due consideration, I am,
"Your Excellency's prisoner,
To this petition Decaen returned no reply. Feeling therefore that his detention was likely to be prolonged, Flinders, weary of confinement, and longing for human fellowship, applied to be removed to the place where British officers, prisoners of war, were kept. It was a large house with spacious rooms standing in a couple of acres of ground, about a mile from the tavern, and was variously called the Maison Despeaux, or the Garden Prison. Here at all events fresh air could be enjoyed. The application was acceded to immediately, and Colonel Monistrol himself came, with the courtesy that he never lost an opportunity of manifesting, to conduct Flinders and Aken and to assist them to choose rooms. "This little walk of a mile," Flinders recorded, "showed how debilitating is the want of exercise and fresh air, for it was not without the assistance of Colonel Monistrol's arm that I was able to get through it. Conveyances were sent in the evening for our trunks, and we took possession of our new prison with a considerable degree of pleasure, this change of situation and surrounding objects producing an exhilaration of spirits to which we had long been strangers."
CHAPTER 23. THE CAPTIVITY PROLONGED.
We shall now see how a detention which had been designed as a sharp punishment of an officer who had not comported himself with perfect respect, and which Decaen never intended to be prolonged beyond about twelve months, dragged itself into years, and came to bear an aspect of obstinate malignity.
Decaen's despatch arrived in France during the first half of the year 1804. Its terms were not calculated to induce the French Government to regard Flinders as a man entitled to their consideration, even if events had been conducive to a speedy determination. But the Departments, especially those of Marine and War, were being worked to their full capacity upon affairs of the most pressing moment. Napoleon became Emperor of the French in that year (May), and his immense energy was flogging official activities incessantly. War with England mainly absorbed attention. At Boulogne a great flotilla had been organized for the invasion of the obdurate country across the Channel. A large fleet was being fitted out at Brest and at Toulon, the fleet which Nelson was to smash at Trafalgar in the following year. Matters relating to the isolated colony in the Indian Ocean did not at the moment command much interest in France.