The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders
by Ernest Scott
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There were several other pieces of business, apart from the Flinders affair, to which Decaen wished to direct attention. He sent one of his aides-de-camp, Colonel Barois, to Paris to see Napoleon in person, if possible, and in any case to interview the Minister of Marine and the Colonies, Decres. Decaen especially directed Barois to see that the Flinders case was brought under Napoleon's notice, and he did his best.* (* Prentout page 392.) He saw Decres and asked him whether Decaen's despatches had been well received. "Ah," said the Minister pleasantly, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the circle of courtiers, "everything that comes from General Decaen is well received." But there was no spirit of despatch. Finally Barois did obtain an interview with Napoleon, through the aid of the Empress Josephine. He referred to "l'affaire Flinders," of which Napoleon knew little; but "he appeared to approve the reasons invoked to justify the conduct of Decaen." The Emperor had no time just then for examining the facts, and his approval simply reflected his trust in Decaen. As he said to the General's brother Rene, at a later interview, "I have the utmost confidence in Decaen." But meanwhile no direction was given as to what was to be done. It will be seen later how it was that pressure of business delayed the despatch of an intimation to Ile-de-France of a step that was actually taken.

That at this time Decaen was simply waiting for an order from Paris to release Flinders is clear from observations which he made, and from news which came to the ears of the occupant of the Garden Prison. In March, 1804, he told Captain Bergeret of the French navy, who showed Flinders friendly attentions, to tell him to "have a little patience, as he should soon come to some determination on the affair." In August of the same year Flinders wrote to King that Decaen had stated that "I must wait until orders were received concerning me from the French Government."* (* Historical Records 6 411.) A year later (November, 1805) he wrote: "I firmly believe that, if he had not said to the French Government, during the time of his unjust suspicion of me, that he should detain me here until he received their orders, he would have gladly suffered me to depart long since."* (* Historical Records 6 737.) Again, in July, 1806,* (* Ibid 6 106.) he wrote: "General Decaen, if I am rightly informed, is himself heartily sorry for having made me a prisoner," but "he remitted the judgment of my case to the French Government, and cannot permit me to depart or even send me to France, until he shall receive orders."

The situation was, then, that Decaen, having referred the case to Paris in order that the Government might deal with it, could not now, consistently with his duty, send Flinders away from the island until instructions were received; and the Department concerned had too much pressing business on hand at the moment to give attention to it. Flinders had to wait.

His health improved amidst the healthier surroundings of his new abode, and he made good progress with his work. His way of life is described in a letter of May 18th, 1804:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "My time is now employed as follows: Before breakfast my time is devoted to the Latin language, to bring up what I formerly learnt. After breakfast I am employed in making out a fair copy of the Investigator's log in lieu of my own, which was spoiled at the shipwreck. When tired of writing I apply to music, and when my fingers are tired with the flute, I write again till dinner. After dinner we amuse ourselves with billiards until tea, and afterwards walk in the garden till dusk. From thence till supper I make one at Pleyel's quartettes; afterwards walking half an hour, and then sleep soundly till daylight, when I get up and bathe."

A letter to his stepmother, dated August 25th, of the same year, comments on his situation in a mood of courageous resignation:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "I have gone through some hardships and misfortunes within the last year, but the greatest is that of having been kept here eight months from returning to my dear friends and family. My health is, however, good at this time, nor are my spirits cast down, although the tyranny of the Governor of this island in treating me as a spy has been grievous. I believe my situation is known by this time in England, and will probably make some noise, for indeed it is almost without example. The French inhabitants even of this island begin to make complaints of the injustice of their Governor, and they are disposed to be very kind to me. Four or five different people have offered me any money I may want, or any service that they can do for me, but as they cannot get me my liberty their services are of little avail. I have a companion here in one of my officers, and a good and faithful servant in my steward, and for these last four months have been allowed to walk in a garden. The Governor pretends to say that he cannot let me go until he receives orders from France, and it is likely that these will not arrive these four months. I am obliged to call up all the patience that I can to bear this injustice; my great consolation is that I have done nothing to forfeit my passport, or that can justify them for keeping me a prisoner, so I must be set at liberty with honour when the time comes, and my country will, I trust, reward me for my sufferings in having supported her cause with the spirit becoming an Englishman."

A letter to Mrs. Flinders (August 24th, 1804) voices the yearning of the captive for the solace of home:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "I yesterday enjoyed a delicious piece of misery in reading over thy dear letters, my beloved Ann. Shall I tell thee that I have never before done it since I have been shut up in this prison? I have many friends, who are kind and much interested for me, and I certainly love them. But yet before thee they disappear as stars before the rays of the morning sun. I cannot connect the idea of happiness with anything without thee. Without thee, the world would be a blank. I might indeed receive some gratification from distinction and the applause of society; but where could be the faithful friend who would enjoy and share this with me, into whose bosom my full heart could unburthen itself of excess of joy? Where would be that sweet intercourse of soul, the fine seasoning of happiness, without which a degree of insipidity attends all our enjoyments?...I am not without friends even among the French. On the contrary. I have several, and but one enemy, who unfortunately, alas, is all-powerful here; nor will he on any persuasion permit me to pass the walls of the prison, although some others who are thought less dangerous have had that indulgence occasionally."

"When my family are the subject of my meditation," he said in a letter to his step-mother, "my bonds enter deep into my soul."

His private opinion of Decaen is expressed in a letter written at this period:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "The truth I believe is that the violence of his passion outstrips his judgment and reason, and does not allow them to operate; for he is instantaneous in his directions, and should he do an injustice he must persist in it because it would lower his dignity to retract. His antipathy, moreover, is so great to Englishmen, who are the only nation that could prevent the ambitious designs of France from being put into execution, that immediately the name of one is mentioned he is directly in a rage, and his pretence and wish to be polite scarcely prevent him from breaking out in the presence even of strangers. With all this he has the credit of having a good heart at the bottom."

The captain of a French ship, M. Coutance, whom Flinders had known at Port Jackson, saw Decaen on his behalf, and reported the result of the interview. "The General accused me of nothing more than of being trop vive; I had shown too much independence in refusing to dine with a man who had accused me of being an impostor, and who had unjustly made me a prisoner."

Meanwhile two playful sallies penned at this time show that his health and appetite had mended during his residence at the Maison Despeaux:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "My appetite is so good that I believe it has the intention of revenging me on the Governor by occasioning a famine in the land. Falstaff says, 'Confound this grief, it makes a man go thirsty; give me a cup of sack.' Instead of thirsty read hungry, and for a cup of sack read mutton chop, and the words would fit me very well." The second passage is from his private journal, and may have been the consequence of too much mutton chop: "Dreamt that General Decaen was sitting and lying upon me, to devour me; was surprised to find devouring so easy to be borne, and that after death I had the consciousness of existence. Got up soon after six much agitated, with a more violent headache than usual."

Flinders lost no opportunity of appealing to influential Frenchmen, relating the circumstances of his detention. He offered to submit himself to an examination by the officers of Admiral Linois' squadron, and that commander promised to speak to Decaen on the subject, adding that he should be "flattered in contributing to your being set at liberty." Captain Halgan, of Le Berceau, who had been in England during the short peace, and had heard much of Flinders' discoveries, visited him several times and offered pecuniary assistance if it were required. Flinders wrote to the French Minister of the Treasury, Barbe-Marbois, urging him to intercede, and to the Comte de Fleurieu, one of the most influential men in French scientific circles, who was particularly well informed concerning Australian exploration.

The flat roof of the Maison Despeaux commanded a view of Port Louis harbour; and, as Flinders was in the habit of sitting upon the roof in the cool evenings, enjoying the sight of the blue waters, and meditating upon his work and upon what he hoped still to do, Decaen thought he was getting to know too much. In June, 1804, therefore, the door to the roof was ordered to be nailed up, and telescopes were taken away from the imprisoned officers. At this time also occurred an incident which shows that Flinders' proud spirit was by no means broken by captivity. The sergeant of the guard demanded the swords of all the prisoners, that of Flinders among the rest. It was an affront to him as an officer that his sword should be demanded by a sergeant, and he promptly refused. He despatched the following letter to the Governor:* (* Decaen Papers Volume 84.)

"To His Excellency Captain-General Decaen, "Governor-in-Chief, etc., etc., etc.


The sergeant of the guard over the prisoners in this house has demanded of me, by the order of Captain Neuville, my sword, and all other arms in my possession.

"Upon this subject I beg leave to represent to Your Excellency that it is highly inconsistent with my situation in His Britannic Majesty's service to deliver up my arms in this manner. I am ready to deliver up to an officer bearing your Excellency's order, but I request that that officer will be of equal rank to myself.

"I have the honour to be,

"Your Excellency's most obedient servant and prisoner,


"Maison Despeaux, June 2, 1804."

In a few days Captain Neuville called to apologise. It was, he said, a mistake on the part of the sergeant to ask for the sword. Had the Governor required it, an officer of equal rank would have been sent, "but he had no intention to make me a prisoner until he should receive orders to that effect." Not a prisoner! What was he, then? Certainly not, said Captain Neuville; he was merely "put under surveillance for a short period." Inasmuch as Flinders was being treated with rather more strictness than those who were confessedly prisoners of war, the benefit of the distinction was hard to appreciate.

Flinders considered that he had been treated rather handsomely in the matter of the sword. But about three months later a junior officer, who behaved with much politeness, came under the orders of Colonel D'Arsonville, the town major, to demand it. D'Arsonville had been instructed by Decaen to take possession of it, but had been unable to come himself. Flinders considered that under the circumstances he had better give up the sword to save further trouble, and did so. The significance of the incident is that, having received no orders from France, Decaen from this time regarded Flinders as a prisoner of war in the technical sense. He felt bound to hold him until instructions arrived, and could only justifiably hold him as a prisoner.

December, 1804, arrived, and still no order of release came. On the anniversary of his arrest, Flinders wrote the following letter to Decaen:* (* Decaen Papers.)

"Maison Despeaux, December 16, 1804.


"Permit me to remind you that I am yet a prisoner in this place, and that it is now one year since my arrestation. This is the anniversary of that day on which you transferred me from liberty and my peaceful occupations to the misery of a close confinement.

"Be pleased, sir, to consider that the great occupations of the French Government may leave neither time nor inclination to attend to the situation of an Englishman in a distant colony, and that the chance of war may render abortive for a considerable time at least any attempts to send out despatches to this island. The lapse of one year shows that one or other of these circumstances has already taken place, and the consequence of my detainer until orders are received from France will most probably be, that a second year will be cut out of my life and devoted to the same listless inaction as the last, to the destruction of my health and happiness, and the probable ruin of all my further prospects. I cannot expect, however, that my private misfortunes should have any influence upon Your Excellency's public conduct. It is from being engaged in a service calculated for the benefit of all maritime nations; from my passport; the inoffensiveness of my conduct; and the probable delay of orders from France. Upon these considerations it is that my present hope of receiving liberty must be founded.

"But should a complete liberation be so far incompatible with Your Excellency's plan of conduct concerning me as that no arguments will induce you to grant it; I beg of you, General, to reflect whether every purpose of the most severe justice will not be answered by sending me to France; since it is to that Government, as I am informed, that my case is referred for decision.

"If neither of these requests be complied with, I must prepare to endure still longer this anxious tormenting state of suspense, this exclusion from my favourite and, I will add, useful employment, and from all that I have looked forward to attain by it. Perhaps also I ought to prepare my mind for a continuance of close imprisonment. If so, I will endeavour to bear it and its consequences with firmness, and may God support my heart through the trial. My hopes, however, tell me more agreeable things, that either this petition to be fully released with my people, books and papers will be accorded, or that we shall be sent to France, where, if the decision of the Government should be favourable, we can immediately return to our country, our families and friends, and my report of our investigations be made public if it shall be deemed worthy of that honour.

"My former application for one of these alternatives was unsuccessful, but after a year's imprisonment and a considerable alteration in the circumstances, I hope this will be more fortunate.

"With all due consideration I have the honour to be, Your Excellency's most obedient humble servant.


To this appeal the General vouchsafed no response.

The return of the hot weather aggravated a constitutional internal complaint from which Flinders suffered severely. The principal physician of the medical staff visited him and recommended a removal to the high lands in the interior of the island. John Aken, the companion of his captivity, also became very ill, and his life was despaired of. In May, 1805, having somewhat recovered, he applied to be allowed to depart with several other prisoners of war who were being liberated on parole. Very much to his surprise the permission was accorded. Aken left on May 20th in an American ship bound for New York, the captain of which gave him a free passage; taking with him all the charts which Flinders had finished up to date, as well as the large general chart of Australia, showing the extent of the new discoveries, and all papers relating to the Investigator voyage. There was at this time a general exchange of prisoners of war, and by the middle of August the only English prisoners remaining in Ile-de-France were Flinders, his servant, who steadfastly refused to avail himself of the opportunity to leave, and a lame seaman.


Flinders continued to reside at the Garden prison till August, 1805. In that month he was informed that the Governor was disposed to permit him to live in the interior of the island, if he so desired. This change would give him a large measure of personal freedom, he would no longer be under close surveillance, and he would be able to enjoy social life. He had formed a friendship with an urbane and cultivated French gentleman, Thomas Pitot, whom he consulted, and who found for him a residence in the house of Madame D'Arifat at Wilhelm's Plains.

Here commenced a period of five years and six months, of detention certainly, but no longer of imprisonment. In truth, it was the most restful period of Flinders' whole life; and, if he could have banished the longing for home and family, and the bitter feeling of wrong that gnawed at his heart, and could have quietened the desire that was ever uppermost in his mind to continue the exploratory work still remaining to be done, his term under Madame D'Arifat's roof would have been delightfully happy.

Those twenty months in Port Louis had made him a greatly changed man. Friends who had known him in the days of eager activity, when fatigues were lightly sustained, would scarcely have recognised the brisk explorer in the pale, emaciated, weak, limping semi-invalid who took his leave of the kind-hearted sergeant of the guard on August 19th, and stepped feebly outside the iron gate in company with his friend Pitot. A portrait of him, painted by an amateur some time later, crude in execution though it is, shows the hollow cheeks of a man who had suffered, and conveys an idea of the dimmed eyes whose brightness and commanding expression had once been remarked by many who came in contact with him.

But at all events over five years of fairly pleasant existence were now before him. The reason why the period was so protracted will be explained in the next chapter. This one can be devoted to the life at Wilhelm's Plains.

A parole was given, by which Flinders bound himself not to go more than two leagues from his habitation, and to conduct himself with that degree of reserve which was becoming in an officer residing in a colony with whose parent state his nation was at war.

The interior of Mauritius is perhaps as beautiful a piece of country as there is in the world. The vegetation is rich and varied, gemmed with flowers and plentifully watered by cool, pure, never-failing streams. To one who had been long in prison pent, the journey inland was a procession of delights. Monsieur Pitot, who was intimate with the country gentlemen, made the stages easy, and several visits were paid by the way. The cultivated French people of the island were all very glad to entertain Flinders, of whom they had heard much, and who won their sympathy by reason of his wrongs, and their affection by his own personality. Charming gardens shaded by mango and other fruit trees, cool fish-ponds, splashing cascades and tumbling waterfalls, coffee and clove plantations, breathing out a spicy fragrance, stretches of natural forest—a perpetual variety in beauty—gratified the traveller, as he ascended the thousand feet above which stretched the plateau whereon the home of Madame D'Arifat stood.

In the garden of the house were two comfortable pavilions. One of these was to be occupied by Flinders, the other by his servant, Elder, and the lame seaman who accompanied him. Madame D'Arifat hospitably proposed that he should take his meals with her family in the house, and his glad acceptance of the invitation commenced a pleasant and profitable friendship with people to whom he ever after referred with deep respect.

A note about the kindness of these gentle friends is contained in a letter to his wife:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "Madame and her amiable daughters said much to console me, and seemed to take it upon themselves to dissipate my chagrin by engaging me in innocent amusement and agreeable conversation. I cannot enough be grateful to them for such kindness to a stranger, to a foreigner, to an enemy of their country, for such they have a right to consider me if they will, though I am an enemy to no country in fact, but as it opposes the honour, interest, and happiness of my own. My employment and inclinations lead to the extension of happiness and of science, and not to the destruction of mankind."

The kindly consideration of the inhabitants was unfailing. Their houses were ever open to the English captain, and they were always glad to have him with them, and hear him talk about the wonders of his adventurous life. He enjoyed his walks, and restored health soon stimulated him to renewed mental activity.

He studied the French language, and learnt to speak and write it clearly. He continued to read Latin, and also studied Malay, thinking that a knowledge of this tongue would be useful to him in case of future work upon the northern coasts of Australia and the neighbouring archipelagoes. He never lost hope of pursuing his investigations in the field where he had already won so much distinction. To his brother Samuel, in a letter of October, 1807, he wrote:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "You know my intention of completing the examination of Australia as soon as the Admiralty will give me a ship. My intentions are still the same, and the great object of my present studies is to render myself more capable of performing the task with reputation." He cogitated a scheme for exploring the interior of Australia "from the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria to the head of the great gulf on the south coast," i.e., Spencer's Gulf. "In case of being again sent to Australia I should much wish that this was part of my instructions." Much as he longed to see his friends in England, work, always work, scope for more and more work, was his dominating passion. "Should a peace speedily arrive," he told Banks (March, 1806), "and their Lordships of the Admiralty wish to have the north-west coast of Australia examined immediately, I will be ready to embark in any ship provided for the service that they may choose to send out. My misfortunes have not abated my ardour in the service of science." If there was work to do, he would even give up the chance of going home before commencing it. "In the event of sending out another Investigator immediately after the peace, probably Lieutenant Fowler or my brother might be chosen as first lieutenant to bring her out to me." He spoke of directing researches to the Fiji Islands and the South Pacific. Rarely has there been a man so keen for the most strenuous service, so unsparing of himself, so eager to excel.

Occasionally in the letters and journals appear lively descriptions of life at Wilhelm's Plains. The following is a tinted vignette of this kind: "In the evening I walked out to visit my neighbour, whom I had not seen for near a week. I met the whole family going out in the following order: First, Madame, with her youngest daughter, about six years old, in a palankin with M. Boistel walking by the side of it. Next, Mademoiselle Aimee, about 16, mounted astride upon an ass, with her younger sister, about 7, behind her, also astride. Third, Mademoiselle her sister, about 15, mounted upon M. Boistel's horse, also astride; and two or three black servants carrying an umbrella, lanthorn, etc., bringing up the rear. The two young ladies had stockings on to-day,* (* On a previous day, mentioned in the journal, they had worn none.) and for what I know drawers also; they seemed to have occasion for them. Madame stopped on seeing me, and I paid my compliments and made the usual enquiries. She said they were taking a promenade, going to visit a neighbour, and on they set. I could perceive that the two young ladies were a little ashamed of meeting me, and were cautious to keep their coats well down to their ankles, which was no easy thing. I stood looking after and admiring the procession some time; considering it a fair specimen of the manner in which the gentry of the island, who are not very well provided with conveyances, make visits in the country. I wished much to be able to make a sketch of the procession. It would have been as good, with the title of 'Going to See our Neighbour' under it, as the Vicar of Wakefield's family 'Going to Church.'"

He was much interested in an inspection of the Mesnil estate, where Laperouse had resided when as an officer of the French navy he had visited Ile-de-France, and which in conjunction with another French officer he purchased. It was here, though Flinders does not seem to have been aware of the romantic fact, that the illustrious navigator fell in love with Eleanore Broudou, whom, despite family opposition, he afterwards married.* (* The charming love-story of Laperouse has been related in the author's Laperouse, Sydney 1912.) "I surveyed the scene," wrote Flinders, "with mingled sensations of pleasure and melancholy: the ruins of his house, the garden he had laid out, the still blooming hedgerows of China roses, emblems of his reputation, everything was an object of interest and curiosity. This spot is nearly in the centre of the island, and upon the road from Port Louis to Port Bourbon. It was here that the man lamented by the good and well-informed of all nations, whom science illumined, and humanity, joined to an honest ambition, conducted to the haunts of remote savages, in this spot he once dwelt, perhaps little known to the world, but happy; when he became celebrated he had ceased to exist. Monsieur Airolles promised me to place three square blocks of stone, one upon the other, in the spot where the house of this lamented navigator had stood; and upon the uppermost stone facing the road to engrave 'Laperouse.'"

Investigations made in later years by the Comite des Souvenirs Historiques of Mauritius, show that Airolles carried out his promise to Flinders, and erected a cairn in the midst of what had been the garden of Laperouse. But the stones were afterwards removed by persons who had little sentiment for the associations of the place. In the year 1897, the Comite des Souvenirs Historiques obtained from M. Dauban, then the proprietor of the estate, permission to erect a suitable memorial, such as Flinders had suggested. This was done. The inscription upon the face of the huge conical rock chosen for the purpose copies the words used by Flinders. It reads:



A achete ce terrain en Avril 1775 et l'a habite.


"In this spot he once dwelt, perhaps little known to the world, but happy."

(Comite des Souvenirs Historiques. 1897.)

Flinders' pen was very busy during these years. Access to his charts and papers, printed volumes and log-books (except the third log-book, containing details of the Cumberland's voyage), having been given to him, he wrote up the history of his voyages and adventures. By July, 1806, he had completed the manuscript as far as the point when he left the Garden prison. An opportunity of despatching it to the Admiralty occurred when the French privateer La Piemontaise captured the richly laden China merchantman Warren Hastings and brought her into Port Louis as a prize. Captain Larkins was released after a short detention, and offered to take a packet to the Admiralty. Finished charts were also sent; and Sir John Barrow, who wrote the powerful Quarterly Review article of 1810, wherein Flinders' cause was valiantly championed, had resort to this material. A valuable paper by Flinders, upon the use of the marine barometer for predicting changes of wind at sea, was also the fruit of his enforced leisure. It was conveyed to England, read before the Royal Society by Sir Joseph Banks, and published in the Transactions of that learned body in 1806.

The friendship of able and keen-minded men was not lacking during these years. There existed in Ile-de-France a Societe d'Emulation, formed to promote the study of literary and philosophical subjects, whose members, learning what manner of man Flinders was, addressed a memorial to the Institute of France relating what had happened to him, and eulogising his courage, his high character, his innocence, and the worth of his services. They protested that he was a man into whose heart there had never entered a single desire, a single thought, the execution of which could be harmful to any individual, of whatever class or to whatever nation he might belong. "Use then, we beg of you," they urged, "in favour of Captain Flinders the influence of the first scientific body in Europe, the National Institute, in order that the error which has led to the captivity of this learned navigator may become known; you will acquire, in rendering this noble service, a new title to the esteem and the honour of all nations, and of all friends of humanity."

The Governor-General of India, Lord Wellesley, took a keen interest in Flinders' situation, and in 1805 requested Decaen's "particular attention" to it, earnestly soliciting him to "release Captain Flinders immediately, and to allow him either to take his passage to India in the Thetis or to return to England in the first neutral ship." Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, commander-in-chief of the British naval forces in the East Indies, tried to effect an exchange by the liberation of a French officer of equal rank. But in this direction nothing was concluded.

Under these circumstances, with agreeable society, amidst sympathetic friends, in a charming situation, well and profitably employed upon his own work, Flinders spent over five years of his captivity. He never ceased to chafe under the restraint, and to move every available influence to secure his liberty, but it cannot be said that the chains were oppressively heavy. Decaen troubled him very little. Once (in May, 1806) the General's anger flamed up, in consequence of a strong letter of protest received from Governor King of New South Wales. King's affection for Flinders was like that of a father for a son, and on receipt of the news about the Cumberland his indignation poured itself out in this letter to Decaen, with which he enclosed a copy of Flinders' letter to him. It happened that, at the time of the arrival of the letter in Ile-de-France, Flinders was on a visit to Port Louis, where he had been permitted to come for a few days. The result of King's intervention was that Decaen ordered him to return to Wilhelm's Plains, and refused the application he had made to be allowed to visit two friends who were living on the north-east side of the island.

John Elder, Flinders' servant, remained with him until June, 1806. He might have left when there was a general exchange of prisoners in August, 1805, and another opportunity of quitting the island was presented in April, 1806, when the lame seaman departed on an American ship bound for Boston. But Elder was deeply attached to his master, and would have remained till the end had not his mind become somewhat unhinged by frequent disappointments and by his despair of ever securing liberation. When his companion, the lame seaman, went away, Elder developed a form of melancholy, with hallucinations, and appeared to be wasting away from loss of sleep and appetite. Permission for him to depart was therefore obtained, and from July, 1806, Flinders was the only remaining member of the Cumberland's company.

Throughout the period of detention Flinders was placed on half-pay by the Admiralty. It cannot be said that he was treated with generosity by the Government of his own country at any time. He was not a prisoner of war in the strict sense, and the rigid application of the ordinary regulations of service in his peculiar case seems to have been a rather stiff measure. Besides, the Admiralty had evidence from time to time, in the receipt of new charts and manuscripts, that Flinders was industriously applying himself to the duties of the service on which he had been despatched. But there was the regulation, and someone in authority ruled that it had to apply in this most unusual instance. There is some pathos in a letter written by Mrs. Flinders to a friend in England (August, 1806) "The Navy Board have thought proper to curtail my husband's pay, so it behoves me to be as careful as I can; and I mean to be very economical, being determined to do with as little as possible, that he may not deem me an extravagant wife."


The several representations concerning the case of Flinders that were made in France, the attention drawn to it in English newspapers, and the lively interest of learned men of both nations, produced a moving effect upon Napoleon's Government. Distinguished Frenchmen did not hesitate to speak plainly. Fleurieu, whose voice was attentively heard on all matters touching geography and discovery, declared publicly that "the indignities imposed upon Captain Flinders were without example in the nautical history of civilised nations. Malte-Brun, a savant of the first rank, expressed himself so boldly as to incur the displeasure of the authorities. Bougainville, himself a famous navigator, made personal appeals to the Government. Sir Joseph Banks, whose friendly relations with French men of science were not broken by the war, used all the influence he could command. He had already, "from the gracious condescension of the Emperor," obtained the release of five persons who had been imprisoned in France,* and had no doubt that if he could get Napoleon's ear he could bring about the liberation of his protege. (* Banks to Flinders, Historical Records 5 646.)

At last, in March, 1806, the affair came before the Council of State in Paris, mainly through the instrumentality of Bougainville. Banks wrote to Mrs. Flinders:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "After many refusals on the part of Bonaparte to applications made to him from different quarters, he at last consented to order Captain Flinders' case to be laid before the Council of State."

On the first of March an order was directed to be sent to Decaen, approving his previous conduct, but informing him that, moved "by a sentiment of generosity, the Government accord to Captain Flinders his liberty and the restoration of his ship." Accompanying the despatch was an extract from the minutes of the Council of State, dated March 1st, 1806, recording that: "The Council of State, which, after the return of His Majesty the Emperor and King, has considered the report of its Marine section on that of the Minister of Marine and the Colonies concerning the detention of the English schooner Cumberland and of Captain Flinders at Ile-de-France (see the documents appended to the report), is of opinion that the Captain-General of Ile-de-France had sufficient reason for detaining there Captain Flinders and his schooner; but by reason of the interest that the misfortunes of Captain Flinders has inspired, he seems to deserve that His Majesty should authorise the Minister of Marine and the Colonies to restore to him his liberty and his ship." This document was endorsed: "Approuve au Palais des Tuileries, le onze Mars, 1806.


The terms of the despatch with which the order was transmitted contained a remarkable statement. Decres informed Decaen that he, as Minister, had on the 30th July, 1804—nearly one year and nine months before the order of release—brought Flinders' case under the notice of the Council of State. But nothing was done: the Emperor had to be consulted, and at that date Napoleon was not accessible. He was superintending the army encamped at Boulogne, preparing for that projected descent upon England which even his magnificent audacity never dared to make. He did not return to St. Cloud, within hail of Paris, till October 12th.* (* The movements of Napoleon day by day can be followed in Schuerman's Itineraire General de Napoleon.) Then the officials surrounding him were kept busy with preparations for crowning himself and the Empress Josephine, a ceremony performed by Pope Pius VII, at Notre Dame, on December 2nd. The consequence was that this piece of business about an unfortunate English captain in Ile-de-France—like nearly all other business concerned with the same colony at the time—got covered up beneath a mass of more urgent affairs, and remained in abeyance until the agitation stimulated by Banks, Fleurieu, Bougainville, Malte-Brun and others forced the case under the attention of the Emperor and his ministers.

Even then the despatch did not reach Ile-de-France till July, 1807, sixteen months after the date upon it; and it was then transmitted, not by a French ship, but by an English frigate, the Greyhound, under a flag of truce. The reason for that was unfortunate for Flinders as an individual, but entirely due to the efficiency of the navy of which he was an officer. In 1805 the British fleet had demolished the French at Trafalgar, and from that time forward until the end of the war, Great Britain was mistress of the ocean in full potency. Her frigates patrolled the highways of the sea with a vigilance that never relaxed. In January, 1806, she took possession of the Cape of Good Hope for the second time, and has held it ever since. The consequences to Decaen and his garrison were very serious. With the British in force at the Cape, how could supplies, reinforcements and despatches get through to him in Ile-de-France? He saw the danger clearly, but was powerless to avert it. Of this particular despatch four copies were sent from France on as many ships. One copy was borne by a French vessel which was promptly captured by the British; and on its contents becoming known the Admiralty sent it out to Admiral Pellew, in order that he might send a ship under a flag of truce to take it to Decaen. The Secretary to the Admiralty, Marsden, wrote to Pellew (December, 1806) that the despatch "has already been transmitted to the Isle of France in triplicate, but as it may be hoped that the vessels have been all captured you had better take an opportunity of sending this copy by a flag of truce, provided you have not heard in the meantime of Flinders being at liberty." As a fact, one other copy did get through, on a French vessel.

Pellew lost no time in informing Flinders of the news, and the captive wrote to Decaen in the following terms:* (* Decaen Papers.)

"July 24, 1807.


"By letters from Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, transmitted to me yesterday by Colonel Monistrol, I am informed that orders relating to me have at length arrived from His Excellency the Marine Minister of France, which orders are supposed to authorize my being set at liberty.

"Your Excellency will doubtless be able to figure to yourself the sensations such a communication must have excited in me, after a detention of three years and a half, and my anxiety to have such agreeable intelligence confirmed by some information of the steps it is in Your Excellency's contemplation to take in consequence. If these letters have flattered me in vain with the hopes of returning to my country and my family, I beg of you, General, to inform me; if they are correct, you will complete my happiness by confirming their contents. The state of incertitude in which I have so long remained will, I trust, be admitted as a sufficient excuse for my anxiety to be delivered from it.

"I have the honour to be, Your Excellency's most obedient humble servant,


"His Excellency the Captain-General Decaen."

In reply Decaen transmitted to Flinders a copy of the despatch of the Minister of Marine, and informed him through Colonel Monistrol "that, so soon as circumstances will permit, you will fully enjoy the favour which has been granted you by His Majesty the Emperor and King."

But now, having at length received orders, countersigned by Napoleon himself, that Flinders should be liberated, Decaen came to a decision that on the face of it seems extremely perplexing. We have seen that in August, 1805, Flinders, well informed by persons who had conversed with Decaen, believed that the General "would be very glad to get handsomely clear of me," and that in November of the same year he made the assertion that Decaen "would have gladly suffered me to depart long since" but for the reference of the case to Paris. We have direct evidence to the same effect in a letter from Colonel Monistrol regarding Lord Wellesley's application for Flinders' release.* (* Historical Records 5 651.) The Colonel desired "with all my heart" that the request could be acceded to, but the Captain-General could not comply until he had received a response to his despatch. Yet, when the response was received, and Flinders might have been liberated with the full approbation of the French Government, Decaen replied to the Minister's despatch in the following terms (August 20th, 1807):

"I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that by the English frigate Greyhound, which arrived here on July 21st under a flag of truce, in the hope of gathering information concerning His British Majesty's ships Blenheim and Java, I have received the fourth copy of Your Excellency's despatch of March 21st, 1806, Number 8, relative to Captain Flinders. Having thought that the favourable decision that it contains regarding that officer had been determined at a time when the possibility of some renewal of friendliness with England was perceived, I did not consider that the present moment was favourable for putting into operation that act of indulgence on the part of His Majesty. I have since received the second copy of the same despatch; but, the circumstances having become still more difficult, and that officer appearing to me to be always dangerous, I await a more propitious time for putting into execution the intentions of His Majesty. My zeal for his service has induced me to suspend the operations of his command. I trust, Monsieur, that that measure of prudence will obtain your Excellency's approbation. I have the honour to be, etc., etc., etc., DECAEN."* (* This despatch was originally published by M. Albert Pitot, in his Esquisses Historiques de l'Ile-de-France. Port Louis, 1899.)

It will be observed that in this despatch Decaen describes the circumstances of the colony he governed as having become "more difficult," and Flinders as appearing to him to be "always dangerous." We must, then, examine the circumstances to ascertain why they had become so difficult, and why he considered that it would now be dangerous to let Flinders go.

It is easy enough to attribute the General's refusal to obstinacy or malignity. But his anger had cooled down by 1807; his prisoner was a charge on the establishment to the extent of 5400 francs a year, and Decaen was a thrifty administrator; why, then, should he apparently have hardened his heart to the extent of disobeying the Emperor's command? The explanation is not to be found in his temper, but in the military situation of Ile-de-France, and his belief that Flinders was accurately informed about it; as was, indeed, the case.

At this time Decaen was holding Ile-de-France by a policy fairly describable as one of "bluff." The British could have taken it by throwing upon it a comparatively small force, had they known how weak its defences were. But they did not know; and Decaen, whose duty it was to defend the place to the utmost, did not intend that they should if he could prevent information reaching them. After the crushing of French naval power at Trafalgar and the British occupation of the Cape, Decaen's position became untenable, though a capitulation was not forced upon him till four years later. He constantly demanded reinforcements and money, which never came to hand. The military and financial resources of France were being strained to prosecute Napoleon's wars in Europe. There were neither men nor funds to spare for the colony in the Indian Ocean. Decaen felt that his position was compromised.* (* "Il sentait sa position compromise." Prentout page 521; who gives an excellent account of the situation.) He addressed the Emperor personally "with all the sadness of a wounded soul," but nothing was done for Ile-de-France. There was not enough money to repair public buildings and quays, which fell into ruins. There was no timber, no sail-cloth to re-fit ships. Even nails were lacking. A little later (1809) he complained in despatches of the shortness of flour and food. There was little revenue, no credit. Now that the British had asserted their strength, and held the Cape, prizes were few. Above all he represented "the urgent need for soldiers." He felt himself abandoned. But still, with a resolute tenacity that one cannot but admire, he hung on to his post, and maintained a bold front to the enemy.

Did Flinders know of this state of things? Unquestionably he did; and Decaen knew that he knew. He could have informed the British Government, had he chosen to violate his parole; but he was in all things a scrupulously honourable man, and, as he said, "an absolute silence was maintained in my letters." He was constantly hoping that an attack would be made upon the island, and "if attacked with judgment it appeared to me that a moderate force would carry it."* (* Voyage to Terra Australis 2 419.) But all this while the British believed that Ile-de-France was strong, and that a successful assault upon it would require a larger force than they could spare at the time. Even after Flinders had returned to England, when he was asked at the Admiralty whether he thought that a contemplated attack would succeed, his confident assurance that it would was received with doubt. Decaen's "bluff" was superb.

On one point, if we may believe St. Elme le Duc, Decaen did Flinders a grave injustice. It was believed, says that writer's manuscript, that Flinders had several times managed to go out at night, that he had made soundings along the coast, and had transmitted information to Bengal which was of use when ultimately the colony was taken by the English. For that charge there is not a shadow of warrant. There is not the faintest ground for supposing that he did not observe his parole with the utmost strictness. Had he supplied information, Ile-de-France would have passed under British rule long before 1810.* (* The belief that Flinders took soundings appears to have been common among the French inhabitants of Port Louis. In the Proceedings of the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographical Society, 1912 to 1913 page 71, is printed a brief account of the detention of Flinders, by a contemporary, D'Epinay, a lawyer of the town. Here it is stated: "It is found out that at night he takes soundings off the coast and has forwarded his notes to India." Those who gave credence to this wild story apparently never reflected that Flinders had no kind of opportunity for taking soundings.)

A few passages written for inclusion in the Voyage to Terra Australis, but for some reason omitted, may be quoted to show how rigorously visiting ships were treated lest information should leak out.* (* Manuscript, Mitchell Library.)

"It may not be amiss to mention the rules which a ship is obliged to observe on arriving at Port North-West, since it will of itself give some idea of the nature of the Government. The ship is boarded by a pilot one or two miles from the entrance to the port, who informs the commander that no person must go on shore, or any one be suffered to come on board until the ship has been visited by the officer of health, who comes soon after the ship has arrived at anchor in the mouth of the port, accompanied with an officer from the captain of the port, and, if it is a foreign ship, by an interpreter. If the health of the crew presents no objection, and after answering the questions put to him concerning the object of his coming to the island, the commander goes on shore in the French boat, and is desired to take with him all papers containing political information, and all letters, whether public or private, that are on board the vessel; and although there should be several parcels of newspapers of the same date, they must all go. On arriving at the Government House, to which he is accompanied by the officer and interpreter, and frequently by a guard, he sooner or later sees the Governor, or one of his aides-de-camp, who questions him upon his voyage, upon political intelligence, the vessels he has met at sea, his intentions in touching at the island, etc.; after which he is desired to leave his letters, packets, and newspapers, no matter to whom they are addressed. If he refuse this, or to give all the information he knows, however detrimental it may be to his own affairs, or appears to equivocate, if he escapes being imprisoned in the town he is sent back to his ship under a guard, and forbidden all communication with the shore. If he gives satisfaction, he is conducted from the General to the Prefect, to answer his questions, and if he satisfies him also, is then left at liberty to go to his consul and transact his business. The letters and packets left with the General, if not addressed to persons obnoxious to the Government, are sent unopened, according to their direction. I will not venture to say that the others are opened and afterwards destroyed, but it is much suspected. If the newspapers contain no intelligence but what is permitted to be known, they are also sent to their address. The others are retained; and for this reason it is that all the copies of the same paper are demanded, for the intention is not merely to gain intelligence, but to prevent what is disagreeable from being circulated."

Decaen's conduct in refusing to liberate Flinders when the order reached him need not be excused, but it should be understood. To impute sheer malignity to him does not help us much, nor does it supply a sufficient motive. What we know of his state of mind, as well as what we know of the financial position of the colony, induce the belief that he would have been quite glad to get rid of Flinders in 1807, had not other and stronger influences intervened. But he was a soldier, placed in an exceedingly precarious situation, which he could only maintain by determining not to lose a single chance. War is an affliction that scourges a larger number of those who do not fight than of those who do; and Flinders, with all his innocence, was one of its victims. He was thought to know too much. That was why he was "dangerous." A learned French historian* stigmatises Decaen's conduct as "maladroit and brutal, but not dishonest." (* Prentout page 661.) Dishonest he never was; as to the other terms we need not dispute so long as we understand the peculiar twist of circumstances that intensified the maladroitness and brutality that marked the man, and without which, indeed, he would not perhaps have been the dogged, tough, hard-fighting, resolute soldier that he was.

Flinders could have escaped from Ile-de-France on several occasions, had he chosen to avail himself of opportunities. He did not, for two reasons, both in the highest degree honourable to him. The first was that he had given his parole, and would not break it; the second that escape would have meant sacrificing some of his precious papers. In May, 1806, an American captain rejoicing in the name of Gamaliel Matthew Ward called at Port Louis, and hearing of Flinders' case, actually made arrangements for removing him. It was Flinders himself who prevented the daring skipper from carrying out his plan. "The dread of dishonouring my parole," he wrote, "made me contemplate this plan with a fearful eye."* (* Flinders' Papers.) In December of the same year he wrote to John Aken: "Since I find so much time elapse, and no attention paid to my situation by the French Government, I have been very heartily sorry for having given my parole, as I could otherwise have made my escape long ago." Again, he wrote to his wife: "Great risks must be run and sacrifices made, but my honour shall remain unstained. No captain in His Majesty's Navy shall have cause to blush in calling me a brother officer."

As time went on, and release was not granted, he several times thought of surrendering his parole, which would have involved giving up the pleasant life at Wilhelm's Plains, and being again confined in Port Louis. But escape would have meant the loss of many of his papers, the authentic records of his discoveries; and he could not bring himself to face that.

Consequently the captivity dragged itself wearily out for three years after the order of release was received. The victim chafed, protested, left no stone unturned, but Decaen was not to be moved. Happily depression did not drag illness in its miserable train. "My health sustains itself tolerably well in the midst of all my disappointments," he was able to write to Banks in 1809.


From June, 1809, the British squadron in the Indian Ocean commenced to blockade Ile-de-France.* (* Flinders to Banks, Historical Records 7 202.) Decaen's fear of Flinders' knowledge is revealed in the fact that he ordered him not for the future to go beyond the lands attached to Madame D'Arifat's habitation. Flinders wrote complying, and henceforth declined invitations beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the plantation. He amused himself by teaching mathematics and the principles of navigation to the two younger sons of the family, and by the study of French literature.

After October the blockade increased in strictness, under Commodore Rowley. Decaen's situation was growing desperate. Fortunately for him, the French squadron brought in three prizes in January, 1810, slipping past Rowley's blockade, much to that enterprising officer's annoyance. The situation was temporarily relieved, but the assistance thus afforded was no better than a plaster on a large wound. Here again we find Flinders accurately and fully informed: Decaen did not underrate his "dangerous" potentialities. "The ordinary sources of revenue and emolument were nearly dried up, and to have recourse to the merchants for a loan was impossible, the former bills upon the French treasury, drawn it was said for three millions of livres, remaining in great part unpaid; and to such distress was the Captain-General reduced for ways and means that he had submitted to ask a voluntary contribution in money, wheat, maize, or any kind of produce from the half-ruined colonists. It was even said to have been promised that, if pecuniary succour did not arrive in six months, the Captain-General would retire and leave the inhabitants to govern themselves."

Decaen, in fact, saw clearly that the game was up. His threat to retire in six months did not mean that he would not have given the British a fight before he lowered the tricolour. He was not the man to surrender quite tamely; but he knew that he could no longer hold out for more than a measurable period, the length of which would depend upon the enemy's initiative.

There was, therefore, no longer any purpose in prolonging the captivity of the prisoner who was feared on account of his knowledge of the situation; and Decaen availed himself of the first opportunity presented in 1810 to grant Flinders his longed-for release. In March, Mr. Hugh Hope was sent to Ile-de-France by Lord Minto (who had become Governor-General of India in 1807) to negotiate for the exchange of prisoners. This gentleman had done his best to secure Flinders' release on a former occasion, and had been refused. But now Decaen realised that the end was drawing near, and there was no sound military purpose to serve in keeping the prisoner any longer. It is quite probable that he would have been glad if information had been conveyed to the British which would expedite the inevitable fight and the consequent fall of French power in Mauritius.

On March 15th Flinders received a letter from Mr. Hope informing him that the Governor had consented to his liberation. A fortnight later came official confirmation of the news in a letter from Colonel Monistrol, who assured him of the pleasure he had in making the announcement. His joy was great. At once he visited his French friends in the neighbourhood to give them the news and bid them farewell; next day he took an affectionate leave of the kind family who had been his hosts for four years and a half; and as soon as possible he departed for Port Louis, where he stayed with his friend Pitot until he went aboard the cartel. At the end of the month a dinner was given in his honour by the president of the Societe D'Emulation, to which a large number of English men and women were invited. When Flinders arrived in Ile-de-France, more than six years before, he could speak no French and could only decipher a letter in that language with the aid of a dictionary; but now, when he found himself again in the company of his own countrymen, he experienced a difficulty in speaking English!

On June 13th, Flinders' sword was restored to him. He was required to sign a parole, wherein he pledged himself not to act in any service which might be considered as directly or indirectly hostile to France or her allies during the present war. On the same day the cartel Harriet sailed for Bengal. Flinders was free: "after a captivity of six years five months and twenty-seven days I at length had the inexpressible pleasure of being out of the reach of General Decaen."

Rowley's blockading squadron was cruising outside the port, and the Harriet communicated with the commodore. It was ascertained that the sloop Otter was running down to the Cape with despatches on the following day, and Flinders had no difficulty in securing a passage in her. After dining with Rowley he was transferred to the Otter. He was delayed for six weeks at the Cape, but in August embarked in the Olympia, and arrived in England on the 23rd of October, after an absence of nine years and three months.

News of his release had preceded him, and his wife had come up from Lincolnshire to meet him. He speaks in a letter to a friend of the meeting with the woman whom he had left a bride so many years before:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "I had the extreme good fortune to find Mrs. Flinders in London, which I owe to the intelligence of my liberty having preceded my arrival. I need not describe to you our meeting after an absence of nearly ten years. Suffice it to say I have been gaining flesh ever since." John Franklin, then a midshipman on the Bedford, had come up to London to welcome his old commander, and, much to his disturbance, witnessed the meeting of Flinders and his wife, as we find from a letter written by him: "Some apology would be necessary for the abrupt manner in which I left you, except in the peculiar circumstances wherein my departure was taken. I felt so sensibly the affecting scene of your meeting Mrs. Flinders that I would not have remained any longer in the room under any consideration."

The capture of Ile-de-France by the British, when ultimately an attack was made (on 3rd December, 1810), gave peculiar pleasure to naval officers and Anglo-Indians. "It is incredible," Mr. Hope wrote to Flinders, "the satisfaction which the capture of that island has diffused all over India, and everyone is now surprised that an enterprise of such importance should never have been attempted before." When the change of rulers took place, some of the French inhabitants objected to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown, and a letter on the subject was sent to Napoleon. His comment was pithy: "I should like to see anybody refuse me the oath of allegiance in any country I conquered!"* (* Flinders' Papers.)

It will be convenient to deal at this point with the oft-repeated charge, to which reference has been made previously, that charts were taken from Flinders during his imprisonment, and were used in the preparation of the Atlas to Peron and Freycinets' Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes.

The truth is that no charts were at any time taken from the trunks wherein they were deposited in 1803, except by Flinders himself, nor was a single one of his charts ever seen by any French officer unless he himself showed it. He never made any such charge of dishonesty against his enemy, Decaen, or against the General's countrymen. He had, as will be seen, a cause of grievance against Freycinet, who was responsible for the French charts, and gave voice to it; but plagiarism was neither alleged nor suspected by him.

On each occasion when Flinders applied to Decaen to be supplied with papers from the trunks, he gave a formal receipt for them. The first occasion when papers were removed was on December 18th, 1803, when Flinders took from one of his trunks his Cumberland log-book, in order that Decaen might ascertain from it his reasons for calling at Ile-de-France. It was never restored to him. Mr. Hope made application for it in 1810, when he was set free, but Decaen did not give it up; and in 1813 Decres was still demanding it unavailingly. This book and the box of despatches were the only papers of Flinders that Decaen ever saw. When it was handed over, all other books and papers were replaced in the trunk, "and sealed as before." The second occasion was on December 27th, 1803, when the trunk containing printed books was restored to Flinders at his request in order that he might employ himself in confinement at the Port Louis tavern. The third occasion was on December 29th, when he was conducted to Government House, and was allowed to take out of the sealed trunk there his private letters and journals, two log-books, and other memoranda necessary to enable him to construct a chart of the Gulf of Carpentaria. All other papers were "locked up in the trunk and sealed as before." The fourth occasion was in July, 1804, when Flinders was allowed to take out of the same trunk a quantity of other books, papers and charts, which he required for the pursuit of his work. For these also a receipt was duly given. In that instance Flinders was especially vigilant. He had received a private warning that some of his charts had been copied, but when the seals were broken and he examined the contents he was satisfied that this was not true. He asked Colonel Monistrol, an honourable gentleman who was always of friendly disposition, whether the papers had been disturbed, and "he answered by an unqualified negative." The fifth occasion was in August, 1807, when all the remaining papers, except the log-book and the despatches, were restored to him. He then gave the following receipt:* (* Decaen Papers.)

"Received from Colonel Monistrol, chef d'etat-major general of the Isle of France, one trunk containing the remainder of the books, papers, etc., which were taken from me in Port North-West on December 16th, 1803, and December 20th of the same year, whether relating to my voyage of discovery or otherwise; which books and papers, with those received by me at two different times in 1804, make up the whole that were so taken; with the following exceptions: First, Various letters and papers, either wholly or in part destroyed by rats, of which the remains are in the trunk. Second, The third volume of my rough log-books, containing the journal of my transactions and observations on board the Investigator, the Porpoise, the Hope cutter, and the Cumberland schooner, from some time in June, 1803, to December 16th, 1803, of which I have no duplicate. Third, Two boxes of despatches; the one from his Excellency Governor King of New South Wales, addressed to His Majesty's principal Secretary of State for the Colonies; the other from Colonel Paterson, Lieutenant-Governor at Port Jackson, the address of which I do not remember. In truth of which I hereunto sign my name at Port Napoleon, Isle of France this 24th day of August, 1807.


"Late commander of H.M. Sloop the Investigator, employed on discoveries to the South Seas, with a French passport."

The papers which the rats had destroyed were not described; but there is a letter of Flinders to the Admiralty, written after his return to England (November 8th, 1810), which informs us what they were.* (* Flinders' Papers.) In this letter he explained that, when the trunk containing the papers was restored, "I found the rats had gotten into the trunk and made nests of some of them. I transmitted the whole from the Isle of France in the state they then were, and now find that some of the papers necessary to the passing of my accounts as commander and purser of His Majesty's sloop Investigator are wanting. I have therefore to request you will lay my case before their Lordships and issue an order to dispense with the papers which from the above circumstances it is impossible for me to produce." It is apparent, therefore, that none of the navigation papers or charts were destroyed. Had any been abstracted Flinders, who was a punctiliously exact man, would have missed them. His intense feeling of resentment against Decaen would have caused him to call attention to the fact if any papers whatever had been disturbed.

The Quarterly Review pointed out the circumstance that the French charts were "VERY LIKE" those of Flinders, giving sinister emphasis to the words in italics. They were very like in so far as they were good. It is evident that if two navigators sail along the same piece of coast, and each constructs a chart of it, those charts will be "very like" each other to exactly the degree in which they accurately represent the coast charted. Freycinet, who did much of the hydrographical work on Baudin's expedition, was an eminently competent officer. Wherever we find him in charge of a section, the work is well done. His Atlas contained some extremely beautiful work. There is no reason whatever for suggesting that it was not his own work. He certainly saw no chart of Flinders, except the one shown to him at Port Jackson, until the Atlas to the Voyage to Terra Australis was published.

Moreover, the reports and material prepared by Baudin's cartographers, upon which Freycinet worked, are in existence. The reports* to the commander give detailed descriptions of sections of the Australian coast traversed and charted, and show conclusively that some parts were examined with thoroughness. (* I have read the whole of these reports from copies of the originals in the Depot de la Marine, Service Hydrographique, Paris, but have not thought it necessary to make further use of them in this book.) For regions in which Baudin's expeditions sailed, Freycinet had no need to resort to Flinders' material. He had enough of his own. The papers of Flinders which Freycinet might have wished to see were those relating to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Torres Strait, and the Queensland coast, which Baudin's vessels did not explore. But the French maps contain no new features in respect to these parts. They present no evidence that Freycinet was acquainted with the discoveries made there by Flinders.

The accusation of plagiarism arose partly from the intense animosity felt against Frenchmen by English writers in a period of fierce national hatred; partly from natural resentment of the treatment accorded to Flinders; partly from the circumstance that, while he was held in captivity, French maps were published which appeared to claim credit for discoveries made by him; and partly from a misunderstanding of a charge very boldly launched by an eminent French geographer. Malte-Brun, in his Annales des Voyages for 1814 (Volume 23 page 268) made an attack upon the French Atlas. He detested the Napoleonic regime, and published his observations while Napoleon was in exile at Elba. He pointed out the wrong done to Flinders in labelling the southern coast of Australia "Terre Napoleon," and in giving French names to geographical features of which Flinders, not Baudin, was the discoverer. He continued: "the motive for that species of national plagiarism* is evident. (* "Le motif de cette espece de plagiat national.") The Government wished to create for itself a title for the occupation of that part of New Holland." Malte-Brun should have known Napoleon better than that. When he wanted territory, and was strong enough to take it, he did not "create titles." He took: his title was the sword.

But the point of importance is that Malte-Brun did not allege "plagiarism" against the authors of the French maps. His charge was made against the Government. It was not that Freycinet had plagiarised Flinders' charts, but that the Government had plagiarised his discoveries by, as Malte-Brun thought, ordering French names to be strewn along the Terre Napoleon coasts. In a later issue of the Annales des Voyages* Malte-Brun testified to having seen Freycinet working at the material upon which his charts were founded. (* Volume 24 273.) But his former use of the word "plagiat" had created a general impression that Flinders' charts had been dishonestly taken from him in Mauritius, and used by those responsible for the French maps; a charge which Malte-Brun never meant to make, and which, though still very commonly stated and believed, is wholly untrue.

The really deplorable feature of the affair is that Peron and Freycinet, in their published book and atlas, gave no credit to Flinders for discoveries which they knew perfectly that he had made. They knew where he was while they were working up their material. It does not appear that either of them ever moved in the slightest degree to try to secure his liberation. Peron died in December, 1810. Malte-Brun, who saw him frequently after the return of Baudin's expedition, says that in conversation on the discoveries of Flinders, Peron "always appeared to me to be agitated by a secret sorrow, and has given me to understand that he regretted not being at liberty to say in that regard all that he knew." Flinders also believed Peron to be a worthy man who acted as he did "from overruling authority." Those who have read the evidence printed in this book, exhibiting the detestable conduct of both Peron and Freycinet in repaying indulgence and hospitality by base espionage, will hardly be precipitate in crediting either of them with immaculate motives. There is no evidence that authority was exercised to induce them to name the southern coasts Terre Napoleon, or to give the name Golfe Bonaparte to the Spencer's Gulf of Flinders, that of Golfe Josephine to his St. Vincent's Gulf, that of Ile Decres to his Kangaroo Island, that of Detroit de Lacepede to his Investigator Strait, and so forth. They knew that Flinders had made these discoveries before their own ships appeared in the same waters; they knew that only the fact of his imprisonment prevented his charts from being published before theirs. The names with which they adorned their maps were a piece of courtiership and a means of currying favour with the great and powerful, just as their espionage, and their supply of illicitly-obtained and flavoured information to Decaen in Mauritius, were essays to advance their own interests by unworthy services.

Freycinet's anxiety to get his maps out before Flinders had time to publish is curiously exhibited in a letter from him to the Minister of Marine (August 29th, 1811). Flinders was then back in England, hard at work upon his charts. A volume of text, and one thin book of plates, containing only two maps, had been published at Paris in 1807. Then delay occurred, and in 1811 the engravers, not having been paid for their work, refused to continue. Freycinet appealed to the Minister in these terms:* (* Manuscripts, Archives Nationales, Marine BB4 996.) "Very powerful reasons, Monsieur, appear to demand that the atlas should be published with very little delay, and even before the text which is to accompany it. Independently of the advantages to me personally as author, of which I shall not speak, the reputation of the expedition ordered by His Majesty appears to me to be strongly involved. I have the honour to remind your Excellency that Captain Flinders was sent on discovery to Terra Australis a short while after the French Government had despatched an expedition having the same object. The rival expeditions carried out their work in the same field, but the French had the good fortune to be the first to return to Europe. Now that Flinders is again in England, and is occupied with the publication of the numerous results of his voyage, the English Government, jealous on account of the rivalry between the two expeditions, will do all it can for its own. The conjectures I have formed acquire a new force by the recent announcement made by the newspapers, that Captain Flinders' voyages in the South Seas are to be published by command of the Lords of the Admiralty. If the English publish before the French the records of discoveries made in New Holland, they will, by the fact of that priority of publication, take from us the glory which we have a right to claim. The reputation of our expedition depends wholly upon the success of our geographical work, and the more nearly our operations and those of the English approach perfection, and the more nearly our charts resemble each other, the more likelihood there is of our being accused of plagiarism, or at all events of giving rise to the thought that the English charts were necessary to aid us in constructing ours; because there will be no other apparent motive for the delay of our publication."

Here, it will be seen, Freycinet anticipated the charge of plagiarism, but thought it would spring from the prior publication of Flinders' charts. He had no suspicion at this time that the accusation would be made that he used charts improperly taken from Flinders when he was under the thumb of Decaen; and when this unjust impeachment was launched a few years later he repudiated it with strong indignation. In that he was justified; and our sympathy with him would be keener if his own record in other respects had been brighter.


One of the first matters which occupied Flinders after his arrival in England was the use of his influence with the Admiralty to secure the release of a few French prisoners of war who were relatives of his friends in Mauritius. In a letter he pointed out that these men were connected with respectable families from whom he himself and several other English prisoners had received kindness.* (* Flinders' Papers.) His plea was successful. There was, surely, a peculiar beauty in this act of sympathy on the part of one who had so recently felt the pain and distress of captivity.

Flinders was anxious for news about his old Investigator shipmates. The faithful Elder, he found, had secured an appointment as servant to Admiral Hollowell, then on service in the Mediterranean, and was a great favourite. Franklin was able to enlighten him as to some of the others. Purdie, who had been assistant-surgeon, was surgeon on the Pompey. Inman, who had been sent out to act as astronomer during the latter part of the voyage, was a professor at the Naval College, Portsmouth. Lacy and Sinclair, midshipmen, were dead. Louth was a midshipman on the Warrior. Olive was purser on the Heir Apparent, and Matt, the carpenter, filled that post on the Bellerophon. Of Dr. Bell Franklin knew nothing. "The old ship," he said, "is lying at Portsmouth, cut down nearly to the water's edge."

In naval and scientific circles Flinders was the object of much honour and interest. He was received "with flattering attention" at the Admiralty. We find him visiting Lord Spencer, who, having authorised the Investigator voyage, was naturally concerned to hear of its eventful history. Banks took him to the Royal Society and gave a dinner in his honour. The Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV, himself a sailor, wished to meet him and inspect his charts, and he was taken to see the Prince by Bligh. In 1812 he gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons on the penal transportation system.* (* House of Commons Papers, 1812; the evidence was given on March 25th.) What he had to say related principally to the nature of the country he had examined in the course of his explorations. "Were you acquainted with Port Dalrymple?" the chairman asked him. "I discovered Port Dalrymple." "Were you ever at the Derwent?" "I was, and from my report, I believe, it was that the first settlement was made there." He was one of the few early explorers of Australia whose vision was hopeful; and experience has in every instance justified his foreseeing optimism.

But save for a few social events, and for some valuable experiments with the magnetic needle, to be referred to in the final chapter, his time and energies were absorbed by work upon his charts. He laboured incessantly. "I am at my voyage," he said in a letter, "but it does by no means advance according to my wishes. Morning, noon and night I sit close at writing, and at my charts, and can hardly find time for anything else." He was a merciless critic when the proofs came from the engravers. One half-sheet contains 92 corrections and improving marks in his handwriting. Such directions as "make the dot distinct," "strengthen the coast-line," "make this track a fair equal line," "points wanting," are abundant. As we turn over the great folio which represents so much labour, so much endurance, so much suffering, it is good to remember that these superb drawings are the result of the ceaselessly patient toil of perhaps the most masterly cartographer who has ever adorned the British naval service.

He took similar pains with the text of A Voyage to Terra Australis. It was never meant to be a book for popular reading, though there is no lack of entertainment in it. It was a semi-official publication, in which the Admiralty claimed and retained copyright, and its author was perhaps a little hampered by that circumstance. Bligh asked that it should be dedicated to him, but "the honour was declined."* (* Flinders' Papers.) The book was produced under the direction of a committee appointed by the Admiralty, consisting of Banks, Barrow, and Flinders himself.

It abounds in exact data concerning the latitude and longitude of coastal features. The English is everywhere clear and sound; but the book which Flinders could have written had he lived a few years longer, if it had been penned with the freedom which made his conversation so delightful to his friends, might have been one of the most entertaining pieces of travel literature in the language. At first he was somewhat apprehensive about authorship, and thought of calling in the aid of a friend; but the enforced leisure of Ile-de-France induced him to depend upon his own efforts. Before he left England in 1801, he had suggested that he might require assistance. In a letter to Willingham Franklin, John's brother, a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and afterwards a Judge in Madras, he wrote (November 27th, 1801):* (* Flinders' Papers.)

"You must understand that this voyage of ours is to be written and published on our return. I am now engaged in writing a rough account, but authorship sits awkwardly upon me. I am diffident of appearing before the public unburnished by an abler hand. What say you? Will you give me your assistance if on my return a narration of our voyage should be called for from me? If the voyage be well executed and well told afterwards I shall have some credit to spare to deserving friends. If the door now open suits your taste and you will enter, it should be yours for the undertaking. A little mathematical knowledge will strengthen your style and give it perspicuity. Arrangement is the material point in voyage-writing as well as in history. I feel great diffidence here. Sufficient matter I can easily furnish, and fear not to prevent anything unseamanlike from entering into the composition; but to round a period well and arrange sentences so as to place what is meant in the most perspicuous point of view is too much for me. Seamanship and authorship make too great an angle with each other; the further a man advances upon one line the further distant he becomes from any point on the other."

It did not prove so in Flinders' own case, for his later letters and the latter part of his book are written in an easier, more freely-flowing style than marks his earlier writings. He solicited no assistance in the final preparation of his work. He preferred to speak to his public in his own voice, and was unquestionably well advised in so doing. It is a plain, honest sailor's story; that of a cultivated man withal.

Intense application to the work in hand brought about a recurrence of the constitutional internal trouble which had occasioned some pain in Mauritius. The illness became acute at the end of 1813. He was only 39 years of age, but Mrs. Flinders wrote to a friend that he had aged so much that he looked 70, and was "worn to a skeleton." He mentioned in his journal that he was suffering much pain. Yet he was never heard to complain, and was never irritable or troublesome to those about him. He was full of kindness and concern for his friends. We find him attending sittings of the Admiralty Court, where his friend Pitot had a suit against the British Government, and he interested himself in the promotion of two of his old Investigator midshipmen. He urged upon the Admiralty with all his force that his own branch of the naval service was as honourable and as deserving of official recognition as war service. The only inducement for young officers to join a voyage of discovery, and forego the advantages arising from prizes and active service, was the reasonable certainty of promotion on their return. "This," he observed, "certainly has been relied upon and fulfilled in expeditions which returned in time of peace, when promotion is so difficult to be obtained; whereas I sailed and my officers returned during a war in which promotion was never before so liberally bestowed. Yet no one of my officers, so far as I have been able to ascertain, has received promotion for their services in that voyage, although it has been allowed the service was well executed."* (* Flinders' Papers.)

The illness increased during 1814, while the "Voyage" and its accompanying atlas were passing through the press. He never saw the finished book. The first copy of it came from the publishers, G. and W. Nicol, of Pall Mall, on July 18th, on the day before he died; but he was then unconscious. His wife took the volumes and laid them upon his bed, so that the hand that fashioned them could touch them. But he never understood. He was fast wrapped in the deep slumber that preceded the end. On the 19th he died. His devoted wife stood by his pillow, his infant daughter (born April 1st, 1812) was in an adjoining room, and there was one other friend present. Just before the brave life flickered out, he started up, and called in a hoarse voice for "my papers." Then he fell back and died.

Upon the manuscript of the friend who wrote an account of his death, there is pencilled a brief memorandum, which chronicles a few words muttered some time before death touched his lips. The pencil-writing is rubbed and only partly decipherable, but the letters "Dr." are distinct. I take the meaning to be that the doctor attending him heard him murmur the words. They are: "But it grows late, boys, let us dismiss!" One can easily realise the kind of picture that floated before the mind of the dying navigator. It was, surely, a happy vision of a night among friends and companions, who had listened with delight to the vivid talk of him who had seen and done so much in his wonderful forty years of life. In such a company his mates would not be the first to wish to break the spell, so he gave the word: "it grows late, boys, let us dismiss."

Flinders died at 14 London Street, Fitzroy Square, and was buried in the graveyard of St. James's, Hampstead Road, which was a burial ground for St. James's, Piccadilly. No man now knows exactly where his bones were laid.* (* The vicar of St. James's, Piccadilly, who examined the burial register in response to an enquiry by Mr. George Gordon McCrae, of Melbourne, in 1912, states that the entry was made, by a clerical error, in the name of Captain Matthew Flanders, aged 40.) A letter written years later by his daughter, Mrs. Petrie, says: "Many years afterwards my aunt Tyler went to look for his grave, but found the churchyard remodelled, and quantities of tombstones and graves with their contents had been carted away as rubbish, among them that of my unfortunate father, thus pursued by disaster after death as in life."

On the 25th of the same month died Charles Dibdin, who wrote the elegy of the perfect sailor:

"Here a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Bowling. The darling of our crew, No more he'll hear the tempest howling For death has broached him to."

During his last years in London, Flinders lodged in six houses successively, and it may be as well to enumerate them. They were, 16 King Street, Soho, from November 5th, 1810; 7 Nassau Street, Soho, from January 19th, 1811; 7 Mary Street, Brook Street, from 30th September, 1811; 45 Upper John Street, Fitzroy Square, from March 30th, 1813; 7 Upper Fitzroy Street, from May 28th, 1813; and 14 London Street, Fitzroy Square, from February 28th, 1814.

A letter from the widow to her husband's French friend Pitot, evidently in answer to a message of sympathy, is poignant: "You who were in a measure acquainted with the many virtues and inestimable qualities he possessed, will best appreciate the worth of the treasure I have lost, and you will easily imagine that, were the whole universe at my command, it could offer no compensation; and even the tenderest sympathy of the truest friend avails but little in a case of such severe trial and affliction. You will not be surprised when I say that sorrow continually circles round my heart and tears are my daily companion. 'Tis true the company of my little girl soothes and cheers many an hour that would otherwise pass most wearily away, but life has lost its chief charm, and the world appears a dreary wilderness to me.

An unpleasant feature of the subject, which cannot be overlooked, relates to the Admiralty's ungenerous treatment of Flinders and his widow. When he returned from Mauritius, the First Lord was Mr. C.P. Yorke after whom Flinders named Yorke's Peninsula, who was inclined to recognise that the special circumstances of the case demanded special treatment. He at once promoted Flinders to the rank of Post-Captain. But in consequence of his long detention Flinders had lost the opportunity for earlier promotion. It was admitted that if he had returned to England in 1804 he would at once have been rewarded for his services by promotion to post-captain's rank. Indeed, Lord Spencer had definitely promised him a step in rank. It was therefore urged in his behalf that, as he had not been a prisoner of war in the ordinary sense, his commission should be ante-dated to 1804. Yorke appeared to think the claim reasonable. The Admiralty conceded that he had not been a prisoner of war, and he was not brought before a court-martial, although the Cumberland, left to rot in Port Louis, had been lost to the service. The First Lord directed that the commission should be ante-dated to the time of the release, but it was not considered that more could be done without an Order in Council. This could not be obtained at the moment, because King George III was mentally incapacitated. When the Regency was established (1811) an application did not meet with a sympathetic response. "The hinge upon which my case depends," said Flinders in a letter, "is whether my having suffered so long and unjustly in the Isle of France is a sufficient reason that I should now suffer in England the loss of six years' rank." The response of the Admiralty officials was that the case was peculiar; there was "no precedent" for ante-dating a promotion.

Flinders asked that he might be put on full pay, while he was writing the Voyage, which would make up the difference in the expense to which he would be put by living in town instead of in the country; but Barrow assured him that the Admiralty would object "for want of a precedent." He showed that he would be 500 or 600 pounds out of pocket, to say nothing of the loss of chances of promotion by remaining ashore. It was to meet this position that the Admiralty granted him 200 pounds; but as a matter of fact he was still 300 pounds out of pocket,* and was put out of health irrecoverably by intense application to the task. (* Flinders' Papers.) His friend, Captain Kent, then of the Agincourt, advised him to abandon the work. "I conjure you," he wrote "to give the subject your serious attention, and do not suffer yourself to be involved in debt to gratify persons who seem to have no feeling." But to have abandoned his beloved work at this stage would have appeared worse to him than loss of life itself. The consequence was that his expenses during this period, even with the strictly economical mode of living which he adopted, entrenched upon the small savings which he was able to leave to his widow. He was compelled to represent that, unless a concession were made, he would have to choose between abandoning his task or reducing his family to distress; and it was for this reason that the Admiralty granted a special allowance of 200 pounds, in supplement of his half-pay. This, with 500 pounds "in lieu of compensation" on account of his detention in Ile-de-France was the entire consideration that he received.

When he died, application was made to the Admiralty to grant a special pension to Mrs. Flinders. The widow of Captain Cook had been granted a pension of 200 pounds a year. (Mrs. Cook, by the way, was still living in England at this time; she did not die till 1835). Stout old Sir Joseph Banks declared that he would not die happy unless something were done for the widow and child of Matthew Flinders. But his influence with the Admiralty was not so great as it had been in Lord Spencer's time, and his efforts were ineffectual. The case was at a later date brought under the notice of William IV, who said that he saw no reason why the widow of Captain Flinders should not receive the same treatment as the widow of Captain Cook. The King mentioned the subject to Lord Melbourne; he, however, was unsympathetic, and nothing whatever was done. Mrs. Flinders was paid only the meagre pension of a post-captain's widow until she died in 1852. No official reward of any kind was granted by the British Government for the truly great services and discoveries of Flinders. The stinginess of a rich nation is a depressing subject to reflect upon in a case of this kind.

A gratifying contrast is afforded by the voluntary action of two Australian colonies. It was learnt, to the surprise of many, some time after 1850, that the widow of the discoverer and her married daughter were living in England, and were not too well provided for. The Colonies of New South Wales and Victoria thereupon (1853) voted a pension of 100 pounds a year each to Mrs. Flinders, with reversion to Mrs. Petrie. The news of this decision did not reach England in time to please the aged widow, but the spirit of the grant gave unfeigned satisfaction to Flinders' daughter. "Could my beloved mother have lived to receive this announcement," she wrote,* (* New South Wales Parliamentary Papers 1854 1 785.) "it would indeed have cheered her last days to know that my father's long-neglected services were at length appreciated. But my gratification arising from the grant is extreme, especially as it comes from a quarter in which I had not solicited consideration; and the handsome amount of the pension granted will enable me to educate my young son in a manner worthy of the name he bears, Matthew Flinders."* (* "My young son" is the present Professor W. Matthew Flinders Petrie.)

The Voyage to Terra Australis, it may be mentioned, was originally sold for 8 or 12 guineas, according to whether or not the atlas was bought with the two quarto volumes. A copy to-day, with the folio Atlas, sells for about 10 guineas.


Matthew Flinders was a short, neatly-built, very lithe and active man. He stood five feet six inches in height.* (* These particulars are from the manuscript sketch by a friend, previously cited; Flinders' Papers.) His figure was slight and well proportioned. When he was in full health, his light, buoyant step was remarked upon by acquaintances. Neither of the two portraits of him conveys a good impression of his alert, commanding look. His nose was "rather aquiline," and his lips were customarily compressed. "He had a noble brow, hair almost black, eyes dark, bright, and with a commanding expression, amounting almost to sternness." So his friend records.

Mrs. Flinders was not satisfied with the engraved portrait published in the Naval Chronicle, 1814, nor with the miniature from which it was reproduced. In a letter to Captain Stuart she wrote: "In the portrait you will not be able to trace much of your departed friend. The miniature from which it was taken is but an indifferent likeness, and the engraver has not done justice to it. He has given the firmness of the countenance but not the intelligence or animation." It is quite certain that a rapid, piercing, commanding expression of eye and features was characteristic of him. During his captivity, the look in his eyes forbad all approach to familiarity. There is record of an occasion—in all probability connected with the sword incident—when he was addressed in terms that appeared to him to be wanting in respect; and the unlucky Frenchman who ventured thus far was so astonished at the sternness of countenance that immediately confronted him, that he started back some paces. He had been accustomed to command from an early age, and had exercised authority on service of a kind that compelled him to demand ceaseless vigilance and indefatigable vigour from himself and those under him. In a passage written in Mauritius* (* Flinders' Papers.) he makes allusion to the stern element in his character; and surely what he says here is worthy of being well pondered by all whose duty demands the exercise of power over other men:

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