Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Sue Asscher
THE LIFE OF
CAPTAIN MATTHEW FLINDERS, R.N.
PROFESSOR OF HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
AUTHOR OF "TERRE NAPOLEON" AND "LIFE OF LAPEROUSE"
WITH PORTRAITS, MAPS, AND FACSIMILES.
ANGUS & ROBERTSON LTD.
89 CASTLEREAGH STREET
The subject of this book died one hundred years ago. Within his forty
years of life, he discovered a very large area of what is now an
important region of the earth; he participated in stirring events which
are memorable in modern history; he applied a vigorous and original mind
to the advancement of knowledge, with useful results; and he was the
victim of circumstances which, however stated, were peculiarly
unfortunate, and must evoke the sympathy of everyone who takes the
trouble to understand them. His career was crowded with adventures: war,
perilous voyages, explorations of unknown coasts, encounters with
savages, shipwreck and imprisonment are the elements which go to make up
his story. He was, withal, a downright Englishman of exceptionally high
character, proud of his service and unsparing of himself in the pursuit
of his duty.
Yet up to this time his biography has not been written. There are, it is
true, outlines of his career in various works of reference, notably that
contributed by Sir J.K. Laughton to the Dictionary of National Biography.
But there is no book to which a reader can turn for a fairly full account
of his achievements, and an estimate of his personality. Of all
discoverers of leading rank Matthew Flinders is the only one about whom
there is no ample and convenient record.
This book endeavours to fill the gap.
The material upon which it is founded is set forth in the footnotes and
the bibliography. Here the author takes pleasure in acknowledging the
assistance he has received from several quarters. A previous book brought
him the acquaintance of the grand-nephew of that Comte de Fleurieu who
largely inspired three famous French voyages to Australia--those of
Laperouse, Dentrecasteaux and Baudin--all of which have an important
bearing upon the subject. The Comte A. de Fleurieu had long been engaged
in collecting material relative to the work and influence of his
distinguished grand-uncle, and in the most generous manner he handed over
to the author his very large collection of manuscripts and note-books to
be read, noted, and used at discretion. Even when a historian does not
actually quote or directly use matter bearing upon his subject, it is of
immense advantage to have access to documents which throw light upon it,
and which enable an in-and-out knowledge of a period and persons to be
obtained. This book owes much of whatever value it may possess to
monsieur de Fleurieu's assistance in this respect, and the author thanks
him most warmly.
The Flinders papers, of which free use has been made, were presented to
the Melbourne Public Library by Professor W.M. Flinders Petrie. They are
described in the bibliography. The transcripts of family and personal
documents were especially valuable. Although they were not supplied for
this book, Professor Flinders Petrie gave them in order that they might
be of use to some biographer of his grandfather, and the author begs to
thank him, and also Mr. E La Touche Armstrong, the chief librarian, in
whose custody they are, and who has given frequent access to them.
The rich stores of manuscripts in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, have been
thoroughly examined, with the assistance of Mr. W.H. Ifould, principal
librarian, Mr. Hugh Wright, and the staff of that institution. Help from
this quarter was accorded with such grace that one came to think giving
trouble was almost like conferring a favour.
All copies of documents from Paris and Caen cited in this book have been
made by Madame Robert Helouis. The author was able to indicate the
whereabouts of the principal papers, but Madame Helouis, developing an
interest in the subject as she pursued her task, was enabled, owing to
her extensive knowledge of the resources of the French archives, to find
and transcribe many new and valuable papers. The author also wishes to
thank Captain Francis Bayldon, of Sydney, who has kindly given help on
several technical points; Miss Alma Hansen, University of Melbourne, who
was generous enough to make a study of the Dutch Generale Beschrijvinge
van Indien--no light task--to verify a point of some importance for the
purpose of the chapter on "The Naming of Australia"; and Mr. E.A.
Petherick, whose manuscript bibliography, containing an immense quantity
of material, the fruit of a long life's labour, has always been
cheerfully made available.
Professor Flinders Petrie has been kind enough to read and make some
useful suggestions upon the personal and family passages of the book,
which has consequently benefited greatly.
The whole work has been read through by Mr. A.W. Jose, author of The
History of Australasia, whose criticism on a multitude of points, some
minute, but all important, has been of the utmost value. The help given
by Mr. Jose has been more than friendly; it has been informed by a keen
enthusiasm for the subject, and great knowledge of the original
authorities. The author's obligations to him are gratefully acknowledged.
It is hoped that these pages will enable the reader to know Matthew
Flinders the man, as well as the navigator; for the study of the
manuscript and printed material about him has convinced the author that
he was not only remarkable for what he did and endured, but for his own
sake as an Englishman of the very best type.
Melbourne, June 1914.
CHAPTER 1. BIRTH AND ORIGINS.
Place of Flinders among Australian navigators.
Connection with the Tennysons.
Possible relationship with Bass.
CHAPTER 2. AT SCHOOL AND AT SEA.
Aspirations for a naval career.
His father's wish.
John Flinders' advice.
Study of navigation.
Introduction to Pasley.
Midshipman on the Bellerophon.
Bligh and the Bounty mutiny.
CHAPTER 3. A VOYAGE UNDER BLIGH.
The second breadfruit expedition.
Flinders in the Providence.
Notes from Santa Cruz.
At the Cape.
In Torres Strait.
Encounter with Papuans.
Return to England.
CHAPTER 4. THE BATTLE OFF BREST.
The naval war with France.
The battle of June 1st, 1794.
Flinders as gunner.
Flinders' journal of the engagement.
Effect of Pasley's wound on the career of Flinders.
CHAPTER 5. AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHY BEFORE FLINDERS.
The predecessors of Flinders.
How Australia grew on the map.
Mediaeval controversies on antipodes.
Period of vague speculation.
Sixteenth century maps.
The Dutch voyagers.
The Batavia on the Abrolhos Reef.
The Duyfhen in the Gulf.
The three periods of Australian maritime discovery.
Geographers and their views of Australia.
The theory of the dividing strait.
Cook and Furneaux.
The untraced southern coast.
CHAPTER 6. THE RELIANCE AND THE TOM THUMB.
Flinders' passion for exploring new countries.
Joins the Reliance.
Hunter on the strategic importance of the Cape.
Sailing of Reliance and Supply for New South Wales.
Arrival at Port Jackson.
The Tom Thumb.
Exploration of George's River.
A perilous cruise.
Meeting with aboriginals.
The midshipman as valet.
Patching up the Reliance.
Voyage to South Africa.
CHAPTER 7. THE DISCOVERY OF BASS STRAIT.
Bass in the Blue Mountains.
Supposed strait isolating Van Diemen's Land.
Bass's whaleboat voyage.
Discovery of Westernport.
Return to Port Jackson.
CHAPTER 8. THE VOYAGE OF THE FRANCIS.
The wreck of the Sydney Cove.
Discovery of Kent's Islands.
CHAPTER 9. CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF TASMANIA.
Flinders in command of the Norfolk.
Bass's association with him.
Discovery of Port Dalrymple.
Bass Strait demonstrated.
CHAPTER 10. THE FATE OF GEORGE BASS.
Part owner of the Venus.
Voyages after pork.
A fishing concession.
South American enterprise.
A "diplomatic-looking certificate."
Bass's last voyage.
Probable fate in Peru.
His missing letters.
CHAPTER 11. ON THE QUEENSLAND COAST.
Flinders and the Isaac Nicholls case.
Exploration on the Queensland coast.
CHAPTER 12. THE INVESTIGATOR.
Return to England in the Reliance.
Sir Joseph Banks.
Marriage of Flinders.
Ann Chappell and Chappell Island.
Publication of Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass
Strait and its Islands.
Anxiety about French expedition.
The Investigator commissioned.
Equipment of ship.
The staff and crew.
East India Company's interest.
Instructions for the voyage.
The case of Mrs. Flinders.
Sailing orders delayed.
The incident at the Roar.
Life on board.
Crossing the Line.
CHAPTER 13. THE FRENCH EXPEDITION.
Origin of Baudin's expedition.
In Tasmanian waters.
CHAPTER 14. SOUTH COAST DISCOVERY.
The south coast of Australia.
Method of research.
Aboriginals at King George's Sound.
Discovery of Spencer's Gulf.
Loss of Thistle and a boat's crew.
St. Vincent's Gulf.
Speculations on the fate of Laperouse.
CHAPTER 15. FLINDERS AND BAUDIN IN ENCOUNTER BAY.
The sighting of Le Geographe.
Flinders visits Baudin.
Flinders invites Baudin to visit Port Jackson.
CHAPTER 16. FLINDERS IN PORT PHILLIP.
Murray discovers Port Phillip.
Flinders enters Port Phillip.
Ascends Arthur's Seat.
The Investigator aground.
Cruise in a boat.
Ascends Station Peak.
Flinders' impression of the port.
Arrival in Port Jackson.
Healthiness of his crew.
CHAPTER 17. THE FRENCH AT PORT JACKSON: PERON THE SPY.
Arrival of Le Geographe at Port Jackson.
State of the crew.
Hospitality of Governor King.
Rumours as to French designs.
Peron's report on Port Jackson.
Freycinet's plan of invasion.
Scientific work of the expedition.
CHAPTER 18. AUSTRALIA CIRCUMNAVIGATED.
Overhaul of the ship.
The Lady Nelson.
Flinders sails north.
Discovery of Port Curtis and Port Bowen.
Through the Barrier Reef.
Remarks on Coral Reefs.
The Gulf of Carpentaria.
Rotten condition of the ship.
Melville Bay discovered.
Sails for Timor.
The Investigator condemned.
Illness of Flinders.
News of father's death.
Letter to step-mother.
Letters to Mrs. Flinders.
Letter to Bass.
The end of the Investigator.
CHAPTER 19. WRECKED ON THE BARRIER REEF.
Flinders sails in the Porpoise.
Remarks on Sydney.
Conduct of the Bridgewater.
Plans for relief.
Voyage in the Hope to Sydney.
Franklin's description of the wreck.
CHAPTER 20. TO ILE-DE-FRANCE IN THE CUMBERLAND.
King receives news of the wreck.
Wreck Reef reached.
Voyage to Timor.
Determination to sail to Ile-de-France.
Arrival at Baye du Cap.
Arrival at Port Louis.
CHAPTER 21. GENERAL DECAEN.
Decaen's early career.
His baptism of fire.
War in the Vendee.
The Army of the Rhine.
Battle of Hohenlinden.
Moreau and Napoleon.
The peace of Amiens.
Decaen's arrival at Pondicherry.
Leaves for Ile-de-France.
His character and abilities.
CHAPTER 22. THE CAPTIVITY.
Flinders' reception by Decaen.
Imprisoned at the Cafe Marengo.
His papers and books.
Refusal of invitation to dinner.
His determination to detain Flinders.
Decaen's statement of motives.
Flinders asks to be sent to France.
CHAPTER 23. THE CAPTIVITY PROLONGED.
A delayed reply.
The sword incident.
Anniversary of the imprisonment.
The faithful Elder.
CHAPTER 24. THE CAPTIVITY MODIFIED.
Removal to Wilhelm's Plains.
Madame D'Arifat's house.
Flinders studies French and Malay.
Further exploration schemes.
The residence of Laperouse.
Work upon the charts.
King's protest and Decaen's anger.
CHAPTER 25. THE ORDER OF RELEASE.
Influences to secure release.
The order of release.
Receipt of the despatch.
Flinders a dangerous man.
Reason for Decaen's refusal.
State of Ile-de-France.
Project for escape.
Flinders' reasons for declining.
CHAPTER 26. THE RELEASE.
Blockade of Ile-de-France.
Decaen at the end of his tether.
Release of Flinders.
Return to England.
The plagiarism charge.
Work of Peron and Freycinet.
CHAPTER 27. LAST YEARS AND DEATH OF FLINDERS.
Flinders in London.
Prolonged and severe work.
Death of Flinders.
His last words.
Treatment of his widow by the Admiralty.
CHAPTER 28. CHARACTERISTICS.
Flinders' commanding look.
Kindness to wounded French officer.
Advice to young officers.
An eager student.
CHAPTER 29. THE NAVIGATOR.
The marine barometer.
Variations in the compass.
Praise of other navigators.
Love for his work.
CHAPTER 30. THE NAMING OF AUSTRALIA.
The name Australia given to the continent by Flinders.
The "Austrialia del Espiritu Santo" of Quiros.
De Brosses and "Australasia."
Dalrymple and "Australia."
Flinders' use of the word in 1804.
His use of it in a French essay in 1810.
Persistent employment of the word in letters.
Proposes the word "Australia" to Banks.
His fight for his word.
The footnote of 1814.
APPENDIX A. BAUDIN'S NARRATIVE OF THE MEETING IN ENCOUNTER BAY.
APPENDIX B. PERON'S REPORT ON PORT JACKSON.
APPENDIX C. NAMES GIVEN BY FLINDERS TO AUSTRALIAN COASTAL FEATURES.
MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
1. PORTRAIT OF MATTHEW FLINDERS, AGED 27.
From the engraving in the "Naval Chronicle," 1814, after a miniature in
the possession of Mrs. Flinders.
2. FLINDERS' BIRTHPLACE, DONINGTON, LINCOLNSHIRE.
(From photograph lent by Mr. George Gordon McCrae.)
3. FACSIMILE OF LETTER TO SIR JOSEPH BANKS, 1794.
Spithead March 20th 1794.
Yesterdays Post brought me a Letter from Mr. Miles, in Answer to the one
I wrote him for his Power of Attorney, after I had the Honour of waiting
upon you in the Country, at which Time you were pleased to express a
Desire to be informed when it should arrive; in Compliance with which, I
now take the Liberty of addressing you. It seems he has not sent the
Power, but says he enclosd something like one to you by which it appears
he is not exactly acquainted with the Business in Question, he tells me
he has explained his Sense of the Matter in your Letter and begd that the
remaining Sum might be paid to Mr. Dixon or Mr. Lee, from whom he wishes
me to receive it. When I wrote for the Power, I explaind to him (as far
as my Knowledge of the Subject extended) the Necessity of his sending it,
that he was to consider himself as employd by Government, that it was
from the Treasury his Salary was to be got and that they would require
some Authority for paying it to me--at present Sir, I am at a Loss how
to proceed; whether what he has sent will be sufficient, or whether it
will still be necessary to get a regular Power is what I must trespass
upon your Generosity for a Knowledge of the doing which will add to the
Obligation your Goodness before conferd upon me; with a gratefull Sense
of which I beg leave to subscribe myself, Sir Joseph
your much obligd and
most humble Servant
To Sir Jos Banks Bart.
4. TABLET ON MEMORIAL ERECTED BY SIR JOHN FRANKLIN AT PORT LINCOLN, SOUTH
from which the Gulf and its
Shores were first surveyed
on 26. Feb, 1802 by
MATTHEW FLINDERS, R.N.
Commander of H.M.S. Investigator
the Discoverer of the Country
now called South Australia
was set apart
on 12. Jan. 1841
with the sanction of
LT. COL. GAWLER. K.H.
then Governor of the Colony
and in the first year of the
government of CAPT. G. GREY
adorned with this Monument
to the perpetual Memory
of the illustrious Navigator
his honored Commander by JOHN FRANKLIN. CAPT. R.N.
LT. GOVERNOR OF
VAN DIEMEN'S LAND.
5. MEMORIAL ON MOUNT LOFTY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
IN HONOUR OF MATTHEW FLINDERS
COMMANDER OF THE INVESTIGATOR
WHO FROM KANGAROO HEAD, KANGAROO ISLAND
DISCOVERED AND NAMED MOUNT LOFTY
ON TUESDAY 23RD. MARCH 1802
THIS TABLET WAS UNVEILED AND THE COLUMN NAMED
BY HIS EXCELLENCY LORD TENNYSON. 22ND. MARCH 1902.
6. MAP OF FLINDERS' VOYAGES IN BASS STRAIT.
FLINDERS' VOYAGES IN BASS STRAIT IN THE FRANCIS, NORFOLK, AND
7. BASS'S EYE-SKETCH OF WESTERNPORT.
on the South Coast of
NW. SOUTH WALES
from Mr. Bass's Eye-sketch.
8. PORTRAIT OF GEORGE BASS.
9. PAGE FROM FLINDERS' MANUSCRIPT NARRATIVE OF THE VOYAGE OF THE FRANCIS,
(Melbourne Public Library.)
FEBRUARY SATURDAY 10 close round the rock. At 8, when off a rocky point
on which are two eminences of white stone in the form of oblique cones
inclining inwards, we stood to the southward, and off and on during the
night, keeping the peak and high land of Cape Barren in sight, the wind,
from the westward.
SUNDAY 11 At the following noon, the observed latitude was 40 degrees 41
1/2, Cape Barren bearing north-by-west. The wind being strong at
west-south-west we continued standing off and on, and lying to
occasionally, till day light next morning, when we made sail
MONDAY 12 west-north-west for the south end of Clarkes Island, having the
wind now at north by east. A little to the westward of the rocky point,
which has the inclining cones upon it, lies an island, between which and
the point, is a deep channel of between half and three-quarters of a mile
wide; and about the same distance to the westward of this island, is
another of nearly the same size: they are rather low and covered with
brush and grass. Between these islands and Clarkes Island, we observed
two low islets, and two rocks above water, the latter not more than three
or four miles from us. To the southward also, we saw the land extending a
great distance; but the whole are better seen in the sketch.
About ten o'clock, the ebb tide was running with such violence, that
although the schooner was going one knot and a half through the water,
yet by the land we were evidently going retrograde almost as much, and
towards the land withal: but the light air that remained enabled us to
draw the ???
10. MEMORIAL ON THE SUMMIT OF STATION PEAK, PORT PHILLIP.
MATTHEW FLINDERS, R.N.,
STOOD ON THIS ROCK TO SURVEY THE BAY.
MAY 1, 1802.
NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION,
11. PORT DALRYMPLE, DISCOVERED IN THE NORFOLK, 1798.
DISCOVERED 1798 IN THE NORFOLK SLOOP BY
12. PAGE FROM BASS'S MANUSCRIPT ACCOUNT OF THE VOYAGE OF THE NORFOLK.
New South Wales; Western Port, excepted. Notwithstanding this evident
superiority, the vegetable Mould, is frequently, of nor great depth, and
is sometimes, (perhaps advantageously) mixed with small quantities of
The best of the soil, lies upon the sides of sloping hills, and in the
broad vallies between them. Some parts that are low and level, have a
wet, peaty, surface, bounded by small tracts of flowering heath and
oderiferous plants, that perfume the air with the fragrance of their
The Plants, retain in general, the air of those of New South Wales,
while, they are in reality, different. The rich & vivid colouring of the
more northern flowers, and that soft & exquisite graduation of their
tints, for which they are so singularly distinguished, hold with them
here, but in a less eminent degree. The two countries present a perfect
similarity in this, that the more barren spots are the most adorned.
Except in these useless places, the grass does not grow in tufts, but
covers the land equally, with a short, nutritious herbage, better adapted
possibly, to the bite of small, than of large cattle. The food for the
latter, is grown in the bottoms of the vallies & upon the damp flats. A
large proportion of the soil, promises a fair return, for the labours of
the cultivator, and a smaller, insures an ample reward: but the greater
part, would perhaps turn to more advantage, if left for pasturage, than
if thrown into cultivation; it would be rich as the one, but poor as the
other. Water is found in runs, more than in Ponds, and the not
13. CAIRN ERECTED ON FLINDERS' LANDING-PLACE, KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTH
14. PORTRAIT OF EARL SPENCER.
GEORGE JOHN, SECOND EARL SPENCER, K.G.
Who, as First Lord of the Admiralty, despatched Flinders on his discovery
voyage in the Investigator.
(Photographed, by permission of Lord Spencer, from the painting by
Copley, at Althorp, Northamptonshire.)
15. TABLET AT MEMORY COVE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
16. VIEW ON KANGAROO ISLAND, BY WESTALL.
(Reproduced from the engraving in Flinders' Journal, after Westall's
17. FLINDERS'S CHART OF SPENCER'S GULF, ST. VINCENT'S GULF, AND ENCOUNTER
18. TABLET AT ENCOUNTER BAY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, COMMEMORATING THE MEETING
OF FLINDERS AND BAUDIN.
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE MEETING NEAR THIS BLUFF
BETWEEN H.M.S. 'INVESTIGATOR'--MATTHEW FLINDERS
WHO EXPLORED THE COAST OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
AND M.F. 'LE GEOGRAPHE'--NICOLAS BAUDIN, APRIL 8, 1802.
ON BOARD THE 'INVESTIGATOR' WAS JOHN FRANKLIN
THE ARCTIC DISCOVERER: THESE ENGLISH AND FRENCH EXPLORERS
HELD FRIENDLY CONFERENCE. AND FLINDERS NAMED
THE PLACE OF MEETING 'ENCOUNTER BAY.'
UNVEILED BY HIS EXCELLENCY LORD TENNYSON.
APRIL 8, 1902.
19. VIEW OF THE WESTERN ARM OF PORT PHILLIP, BY WESTALL.
From the copy (in the Mitchell Library) of Westall's original drawing in
the Royal Colonial Institute, London.
Distant view of the West arm of the Western Port.
Looking to south-west.
April 30th 1802.
The view appears to be one of Indented Head. On April 30, 1802, the date
of the sketch, Flinders was "nearly at the northern extremity of Indented
Head" and took some bearings "from the brow of a hill a little way back."
20. FLINDERS' MAP OF PORT PHILLIP AND WESTERNPORT.
21. VIEW OF SYDNEY HARBOUR, FROM VAUCLUSE, BY WESTALL.
(Reproduced from the engraving in Flinders' Journal, after Westall's
22. FLINDERS' CHART OF TORRES STRAIT, ALSO SHOWING COOK'S AND BLIGH'S
23. FLINDERS' MAP OF THE GULF OF CARPENTARIA.
24. FLINDERS' MAP OF AUSTRALIA, SHOWING HIS PRINCIPAL VOYAGES.
25. VIEW ON THE HAWKESBURY RIVER, BY WESTALL.
From the copy (in the Mitchell Library) of Westall's original drawing in
the Royal Colonial Institute, London.
26. WRECK REEF ISLAND, BY WESTALL.
(Reproduced from the engraving in Flinders' Journal, after Westall's
27. FLINDERS' MAP OF WRECK REEF.
FLINDERS' TRACKS IN THE VICINITY OF WRECK REEF.
28. PORTRAIT OF GENERAL DECAEN.
29. VIEW OF PORT LOUIS. ILE-DE-FRANCE.
30. MAP OF ILE-DE-FRANCE.
(From the Atlas of Milbert, 1812.)
31. PAGE FROM FLINDERS' COPY OF HIS MEMORIAL TO THE FRENCH MINISTER OF
MARINE (WRITTEN IN ILE-DE-FRANCE).
(Melbourne Public Library.)
To his Excellency the
Minister of the marine and colonies
The memorial of Matthew Flinders Esq.
Prisoner in the Isle of France.
May it please Your Excellency
Your memorialist was commander of His Britannic Majesty's ship the
Investigator, despatched by the Admiralty of England to complete the
discovery of New Holland and New South Wales, which had been begun by the
early Dutch navigators, and continued at different periods by Cook,
D'Entrecasteaux, Vancouver, and your memorialist. He was furnished with a
passport by order of His Imperial and Royal Majesty, then first Consul of
France; and signed by the marine minister Forfait the 4th Prarial, year
9; which passport permitted the Investigator to touch at French ports in
any part of the world, in cases of distress, and promised assistance and
protection to the commander and company, provided they should not have
unnecessarily deviated from their route, or have done, or announced the
intention of doing any thing injurious to the French nation or its
allies: Your memorialist sailed from England in July 1801, and in April
1802, whilst pursuing the discovery of the unknown part of the south
coast of New South Wales, he met with the commandant Baudin, who being
furnished with a passport by the Admiralty of Great Britain, had been
sent by the French government with the ships Geographe and Naturaliste
upon a nearly similar expedition some months before. From Port Jackson,
where the commandant was again met with, your memorialist, accompanied by
the brig Lady Nelson, continued his examinations and discoveries
northward, through many difficulties and dangers, but with success, until
December 1802, when, in the Gulf of Carpentaria
32. PORTRAIT OF FLINDERS IN 1808.
(From portrait drawn by Chazal at Ile-de-France.)
33. SILHOUETTE OF FLINDERS, MADE AFTER HIS RETURN FROM ILE-DE-FRANCE.
(By permission of Professor Flinders Petrie.)
34. REDUCED FACSIMILE OF ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT DEDICATION OF FLINDERS'
the right hon. George John, Earl Spencer,
the right hon. John, Earl of St. Vincent,
the right hon. Charles Phillip Yorke,
the right hon. Robert Saunders, Viscount Melville,
as first Lords Commissioners of the
successively honoured the Investigator's voyage
with their patronage,
this account of it is respectfully dedicated,
by Their Lordships
most obliged, and
35. PAGE FROM MANUSCRIPT OF FLINDERS' ABRIDGED NARRATIVE (UNPUBLISHED).
(Melbourne Public Library.)
from the general's conduct, that he has sought to impose upon him, and
this for the purpose, perhaps for the pleasure, of prolonging to the
utmost my unjust detention.
But if apprehensions for the safety of this land are not the cause of the
order of the French government remaining unexecuted, what reason can
there be, sufficiently strong to have induced the captain-general to
incur the risk of misobedience, first to the passport, and afterwards to
the order for my liberation. This I shall endeavour to explain in the
following and last chapter of this discussion; promising, however, that
what I shall have to offer upon this part of the subject, can only be
what a consideration of the captain-general's conduct has furnished me,
as being the most probable. I am not conscious of having omitted any
material circumstance, either here or in the narration, or of having
misrepresented any; as if after an attentive perusal, the reader thinks
my explanation not borne out by the facts, I submit it to his judgment to
deduce a better; and should esteem myself obliged by his making it
public, so that it may reach so far as even to me.
Chapter XII. Probable causes of my imprisonment, and of the marine
minister's order for my liberation being suspended by the captain-general
Before explaining what I conceive to have been the true causes which led
the captain-general to act so contrary to my passport, as to imprison me
and seize my vessel, charts, and papers; it will be proper to give the
reader a knowledge of some points in His Excellency's character, in
addition to those he will have extracted from the abridged narrative. At
the time of my arrival, he entertained, and does I believe still
entertain, an indiscriminate animosity against Englishmen, whether this
arose from his having been deprived of the advantage of fixing the seat
of his government at Pondicherry, by the renewal of war in 1803, or from
any antecedent circumstance, I cannot pretend to say; but that he did
harbour such animosity, and that in an uncommon degree, is averred by his
keeping in irons, contrary to the usages of war, the first English seamen
that were brought to the island (Narrative page 58 and 70); by the
surprise he testified at the proceeding of a French gentleman, who
interceded with him for the liberty on parole of a sick English officer;
on which occasion he said amongst other things, that had he his own will,
he would send all the English prisoners to the Marquis Wellesley without
their ears: this animosity is, besides, as well known at the Isle of
France, as the existence of the island.
It is probably owing to an original want of education, and to having
passed the greater part of his life in the tumult of camps during the
French revolution, that arises his indifference for the arts and
sciences, other than those which have an immediate relation to war. His
Excellency's ideas seem even to be so strictly military, that the
profession of a seaman has very little share in his estimation; and his
ignorance of nautical affairs has been shewn by various circumstances to
be greater than would be supposed in a moderately well informed man, who
had made a voyage from Europe to India.
36. EXTRACT FROM FLINDERS' LETTER-BOOK, REFERRING TO OXLEY'S APPOINTMENT
(Melbourne Public Library.)
To Captain Thos. Hurd, Hydrographer, Admiralty Office.
London April 2, 1812.
My dear Sir
Understanding that Lieut. John Oxley of the Navy is going out
surveyor-general of Lands in New South Wales, I wish to point out to you,
that if he should be enabled, in intervals of his land duty, to
accomplish the following nautical objects, in the vicinity of Port
Jackson, and of the settlements in Van Diemen's Land, our knowledge of
those coasts would be thereby improved, and some material advantages to
the colonies probably obtained.
1st. Jervis Bay, a large piece of water whose entrance is in 35.5 south,
and not from than 75 miles from Port Jackson, has never yet, to my
knowledge been surveyed. There have been two or three eye sketches made
of it; but it would be desirable to have it surveyed, with the streams
which are said to fall into its North and western sides; and also the
corresponding line of the sea coast, in which there are thought to be
strata of coal.
The great semicircular range of mountains which has hitherto resisted all
attempts to penetrate into the interior country behind Port Jackson,
appears to terminate at Point Bass in latitude about 34.43; and the land
behind Jervis Bay is represented to be low and flat. It is, therefore,
probable, that a well conducted effort to obtain some knowledge of the
interior of that vast country, would be attended with success if made by
steering a West or N.N.W. course from the head of Jervis Bay.
37. FLINDERS' MEMORIAL IN PARISH CHURCH, AT HIS BIRTHPLACE, DONINGTON,
IN MEMORY OF
CAPTAIN MATTHEW FLINDERS, R.N.
WHO DIED JULY 19TH 1814,
AGED 40 YEARS.
AFTER HAVING TWICE CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE GLOBE, HE WAS
SENT BY THE ADMIRALTY IN THE YEAR 1801, TO MAKE
DISCOVERIES ON THE COAST OF TERRA AUSTRALIS.
RETURNING FROM THIS VOYAGE HE SUFFERED SHIPWRECK,
AND BY THE INJUSTICE OF THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT
WAS IMPRISONED SIX YEARS IN THE
ISLAND OF MAURITIUS.
IN 1810, HE WAS RESTORED TO HIS NATIVE LAND, AND NOT
LONG AFTER WAS ATTACKED BY AN EXCRUCIATING DISEASE,
THE ANGUISH OF WHICH HE BORE UNTIL DEATH
WITH UNDEVIATING FORTITUDE.
HIS COUNTRY WILL LONG REGRET THE LOSS OF ONE WHOSE
EXERTIONS IN HER CAUSE WERE ONLY EQUALLED BY
BUT HIS FAMILY WILL MOST DEEPLY FEEL THE
THEY DO NOT MERELY LAMENT A MAN OF SUPERIOR INTELLECT.
THEY MOURN AN AFFECTIONATE HUSBAND,
A TENDER FATHER, A KIND BROTHER,
AND A FAITHFUL FRIEND.
38. MEMORIAL TO BASS AND FLINDERS AT THE COMMONWEALTH NAVAL BASE,
The maps have been copied from Flinders' Atlas, with the omission of a
few details, which, on the small scale necessarily adopted, would have
caused confusion; it has been thought better to make what is given quite
legible to the unassisted eye. All names on the maps are as Flinders
spelt them, but in the body of the book modern spellings have been
adopted. In the case of the Duyfhen the usual spelling, which is also
that of Flinders, is retained; but the late J. Backhouse Walker has shown
reason to believe that the real name of the vessel was Duyfken.
1774 (March 16) : Born at Donington.
1789 (October 23) : Enters the Royal Navy.
1790 (July 31) : Midshipman on the Bellerophon.
1791 to 1793 : Voyage in the Providence.
1793 (September) : Rejoins the Bellerophon.
1794 (June) : Participates in the battle off Brest.
1795 (February) : Sails for Australia in the Reliance. Meets George Bass.
1796 (March) : Cruise of the Tom Thumb.
1797 (December) : Bass's whaleboat voyage.
1798 (January) : Discovery of Westernport.
1798 (January) : Flinders' voyage in the Francis.
1798 (January 31) : Flinders obtains lieutenant's commission.
1798 (October) : Voyage of the Norfolk.
1798 (November) : Discovery of Port Dalrymple.
1798 (December) : Bass Strait demonstrated.
1799 : Return to Port Jackson.
1799 (July) : Exploration on Queensland coast.
1800 (March) : Return to England in the Reliance.
1800 (October) : Arrival in England.
Plan of Australian Exploration.
1800 (December) : The Investigator commissioned.
1801 (January 17) : Publication of Observations.
1801 (February 16) : Obtains commander's rank.
1801 (April) : Marriage of Flinders.
1801 (July 18) : Sailing of the Investigator.
1801 (December) : Australia reached.
1802 (February) : Discovery of Spencer's Gulf.
1802 (March) : Discovery of Kangaroo Island and St. Vincent's Gulf.
1802 (April) : Meeting of Flinders and Baudin in Encounter Bay.
1802 (May) : Flinders in Port Phillip.
1802 (July) : Voyage to Northern Australia.
1802 (August) : Discovery of Port Curtis and Port Bowen.
1802 (November) : In the Gulf of Carpentaria.
1803 (April) : Return voyage; Australia circumnavigated.
1803 (June) : Sydney reached; the Investigator condemned.
1803 (July 10) : Sails in the Porpoise.
1803 (August 17) : Wrecked on the Barrier Reef.
Voyage in the Hope to Sydney.
1803 (September 8) : Arrival in Port Jackson.
1803 (September 21) : Sails in the Cumberland.
1803 (November) : Timor reached.
1803 (December 17) : Arrival at Ile-de-France; made a prisoner.
1804 (April) : Removal to the Garden Prison (Maison Despeaux).
1805 : Removal to Wilhelm's Plains.
1806 (March 21) : French Government orders release of Flinders.
1810 (June 13) : Release of Flinders.
1810 (October 24) : Return to England.
1814 (July 19) : Death of Flinders.
THE LIFE OF MATTHEW FLINDERS.
CHAPTER 1. BIRTH AND ORIGINS.
Matthew Flinders was the third of the triad of great English sailors by
whom the principal part of Australia was revealed. A poet of our own
time, in a line of singular felicity, has described it as the "last
sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space; "* (* Bernard O'Dowd,
Dawnward, 1903.) and the piecemeal, partly mysterious, largely accidental
dragging from the depths of the unknown of a land so immense and
bountiful makes a romantic chapter in geographical history. All the great
seafaring peoples contributed something towards the result. The Dutch
especially evinced their enterprise in the pursuit of precise information
about the southern Terra Incognita, and the nineteenth century was well
within its second quarter before the name New Holland, which for over a
hundred years had borne testimony to their adventurous pioneering, gave
place in general and geographical literature to the more convenient and
euphonious designation suggested by Flinders himself, Australia.* (* Not
universally, however, even in official documents. In the Report of the
Committee of the Privy Council, dated May 1, 1849, "New Holland" is used
to designate the continent, but "Australia" is employed as including both
the continent and Tasmania. See Grey's Colonial Policy 1 424 and 439.)
But, important as was the work of the Dutch, and though the contributions
made by French navigators (possibly also by Spanish) are of much
consequence, it remains true that the broad outlines of the continent
were laid down by Dampier, Cook and Flinders. These are the principal
names in the story. A map of Australia which left out the parts
discovered by other sailors would be seriously defective in particular
features; but a map which left out the parts discovered by these three
Englishmen would gape out of all resemblance to the reality.
Dampier died about the year 1712; nobody knows precisely when. Matthew
Flinders came into the world in time to hear, as he may well have done as
a boy, of the murder of his illustrious predecessor in 1779. The news of
Cook's fate did not reach England till 1781. The lad was then seven years
of age, having been born on March 16th, 1774.
His father, also named Matthew, was a surgeon practising his profession
at Donington, Lincolnshire, where the boy was born. The Flinders family
had been settled in the same town for several generations. Three in
succession had been surgeons. The patronymic indicates a Flemish origin,
and the work on English surnames* that bids the reader looking for
information under "Flinders" to "see Flanders," sends him on a reasonable
quest, if to no great resulting advantage. (* Barker, Family Surnames
1903 page 143.)
The English middle-eastern counties received frequent large migrations of
Flemings during several centuries. Sometimes calamities due to the
harshness of nature, sometimes persecutions and wars, sometimes adverse
economic conditions, impelled companies of people from the Low Countries
to cross the North Sea and try to make homes for themselves in a land
which, despite intervals of distraction, offered greater security and a
better reward than did the place whence they came. England derived much
advantage from the infusion of this industrious, solid and dependable
Flemish stock; though the temporary difficulty of absorption gave rise to
local protests on more than one occasion.
As early as 1108, a great part of Flanders "being drowned by an exudation
or breaking in of the sea, a great number of Flemings came into the
country, beseeching the King to have some void place assigned them,
wherein they might inhabit."* (* Holinshed's Chronicle edition of 1807 2
58.) Again in the reign of Edward I we find Flemish merchants carrying on
a very large and important trade in Boston, and representatives of houses
from Ypres and Ostend acquired property in the town.* (* Pishey Thompson
Collections for a Topographical and Historical Account of Boston and the
Hundred of Skirbeck 1820 page 31.) In the middle of the sixteenth
century, when Flanders was boiling on the fire of the Reformation,
Lincolnshire and Norfolk provided an asylum for crowds of harassed
refugees. In 1569 two persons were deputed to ride from Boston to Norwich
to ascertain what means that city adopted to find employment for them;
and in the same year Mr. William Derby was directed to move Mr. Secretary
Cecil, Queen Elizabeth's great minister, to "know his pleasure whether
certain strangers may be allowed to dwell within the borough without
damage of the Queen's laws."* (*Boston Corporation manuscripts quoted in
Thompson, History and Antiquities of Boston 1856.)
During one of these peaceful and useful Flemish invasions the ancestors
of Matthew Flinders entered Lincolnshire. In the later years of his life
he devoted some attention to the history of his family, and found record
of a Flinders as early as the tenth century. He believed, also, that his
people had some connection with two men named Flinders or Flanders, who
fled from Holland during the religious persecutions, and settled, in
Queen Elizabeth's reign, in Nottinghamshire as silk stocking weavers. It
would be very interesting if it were clear that there was a link between
the family and the origins of the great Nottingham hosiery trade. A
Flinders may in that case have woven silk stockings for the Royal
termagant, and Lord Coke's pair, which were darned so often that none of
the original fabric remained, may have come from their loom.
Matthew Flinders himself wrote the note: "Ruddington near Nottingham (it
is four miles south of the town) is the place whence the Flinders came;"
and he ascertained that an ancestor was Robert Flinders, a Nottingham
A family tradition relates that the Lincolnshire Flinders were amongst
the people taken over to England by Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch
engineer of celebrity in his day, who undertook in 1621 to drain 360,000
acres of fen in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. He was financed
by English and Dutch capitalists, and took his reward in large grants of
land which he made fit for habitation and cultivation. Vermuyden and his
Flemings were not allowed to accomplish their work of reclamation without
incurring the enmity of the natives. In a petition to the King in 1637 he
stated that he had spent 150,000 pounds, but that 60,000 pounds of damage
had been done "by reason of the opposition of the commoners," who cut the
banks of his channels in the night and during floods. The peasantry,
indeed, resisted the improvements that have proved so beneficent to that
part of England, because the draining and cultivation of so many miles of
swamp would deprive them of fishing and fowling privileges enjoyed from
time immemorial. Hardly any reform or improvement can be effected without
some disruption of existing interests; and a people deeply sunk in
poverty and toil could hardly be expected to contemplate with
philosophical calm projects which, however advantageous to fortunate
individuals and to posterity, were calculated to diminish their own means
of living and their pleasant diversions. The dislike of the "commoners"
to the work of the "participants" led to frequent riots, and many of
Vermuyden's Flemings were maltreated. He endeavoured to allay discontent
by employing local labour at high wages; and was courageous enough to
pursue his task despite loss of money, wanton destruction, and many other
discouragements.* (* See Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, for
1619, 1623, 1625, 1638, 1639 et seq; and White's Lincolnshire page 542.)
Ebullitions of discontent on the part of fractious Fenlanders did not
cease till the beginning of the eighteenth century.
A very simple calculation shows that the great-grandfather of the first
Matthew Flinders would probably have been contemporary with Sir Cornelius
Vermuyden's reclamation works. He may have been one of the "participants"
who benefited from them. The fact is significant as bearing upon this
conjecture, that no person named Flinders made a will in Lincolnshire
before 1600.* (* See C.W. Foster, Calendar of Lincoln Wills 1320 to 1600,
It is, too, an interesting circumstance that there was a Flinders among
the early settlers in New England, Richard Flinders of Salem, born 1637.*
(* Savage, Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England,
Boston U.S.A. 1860.) He may have been of the same family as the
navigator, for the Lincolnshire element among the fathers of New England
The name Flinders survived at Donington certainly for thirty years after
the death of the sailor who gave lustre to it; for in a directory
published in 1842 occur the names of "Flinders, Mrs. Eliz., Market
Place," and "Flinders, Mrs. Mary, Church Street."* (* William White,
History, Gazetteer and Directory of the City and Diocese of Lincoln, 1842
The Flinders papers, mentioned in the preface, contain material which
enables the family and connections of the navigator to be traced with
certainty for seven generations. The genealogy is shown by the following
John Flinders, born 1682, died 1741, settled at Donington as a farmer,
married Mary Obray or Aubrey in 1702 and had at least 1 child:
John Flinders, surgeon at Spalding, born 1737, still living in 1810, had
at least two children:
1. John Flinders, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, born 1766, died 1793.
2. Matthew Flinders, surgeon at Donington, born 1750, died 1802, married
Susannah Ward, 1752 to 1783, in 1773 and had at least two children:
2. Samuel Ward Flinders, born 1782, died 1842, Lieutenant in the Royal
Navy, married and left several children.
1. Matthew Flinders the Navigator, born March 16, 1774, died July 19,
1814, married Ann Chappell, born 1770, died 1852, in 1801 and had one
Ann Flinders, born 1812, died 1892, married William Petrie, born 1821,
died 1908, in 1851 and had one son:
Professor W.M. Flinders Petrie, eminent scholar and Egyptian
archaeologist, born 1853, married Hilda Urlin in 1897 and had at least
1. John Flinders Petrie.
2. Ann Flinders Petrie.
There is also an interesting connection between Flinders and the
Tennysons, through the Franklin family. The present Lord Tennyson, when
Governor of South Australia, in the course of his official duties, in
March, 1902, unveiled a memorial to his kinsman on Mount Lofty, and in
April of the same year a second one in Encounter Bay. The following table
illustrates the relationship between him who wrote of "the long wash of
Australasian seas" and him who knew them as discoverer:
Matthew Flinders (father of Matthew Flinders the navigator) married as
his second wife Elizabeth Weekes, whose sister, Hannah Weekes, married
Willingham Franklin of Spilsby and had at least two children:
1. Sir John Franklin, born 1786, midshipman of the Investigator, Arctic
explorer, Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) 1837 to
1844, died 1847.
2. Sarah Franklin, married Henry Sellwood, solicitor, of Horncastle, in
1812 and had at least two children:
2. Louisa Sellwood married Charles Tennyson-Turner, poet, brother of
1. Emily Sarah Sellwood, born 1813, died 1896, married Alfred Tennyson,
Poet Laureate, born 1809, died 1892, in 1850 and had at least one son:
Hallam, Lord Tennyson, born 1852; Governor of South Australia 1899 to
1902; Governor-General of Australia, 1902 to 1904.
The Flinders papers also contain a note suggesting a distant connection
between Matthew Flinders and the man who above all others was his choice
friend, George Bass, the companion of his earliest explorations. Positive
proof is lacking, but Flinders' daughter, Mrs. Petrie, wrote "we have
reason to think that Bass was a connection of the family," and the point
is too interesting to be left unstated. The following table shows the
John Flinders of Donington, born 1682, died 1741 (great-grandfather of
the navigator) had:
Mary Flinders, third and youngest daughter, born 1734, married as her
third husband, Bass, and had:
George Bass, who had three daughters, and is believed to have been an
uncle or cousin of George Bass, Matthew Flinders' companion in
It is clear from the particulars stated above that the tree of which
Matthew Flinders was the fruit had its roots deep down in the soil of the
little Lincolnshire market town where he was born; and Matthew himself
would have continued the family tradition, inheriting the practice built
up by his father and grandfather (as it was hoped he would do), had there
not been within him an irresistible longing for the sea, and a bent of
scientific curiosity directed to maritime exploration, which led him on a
path of discovery to achievements that won him honourable rank in the
noble roll of British naval pioneers.
His father earned an excellent reputation, both professional and
personal. The career of a country practitioner rarely affords an
opportunity for distinction. It was even less so then than today, when at
all events careful records of interesting cases are printed in a score or
more of professional publications. But once we find the elder Matthew
Flinders in print. The Memoirs of the Medical Society of London* (* 1779
Volume 4 page 330.) contain a paper read before that body on October
30th, 1797: "Case of a child born with variolar pustules, by Matthew
Flinders, surgeon, Donington, Lincolnshire." The essay occupies three
pages, and is a clear, succinct record of symptoms, treatment and
results, for medical readers. The child died; whereupon the surgeon
expresses his regret, not on account of infant or parents, but, with true
scientific zest, because it deprived him of the opportunity of watching
the development of an uncommon case.
Donington is a small town in the heart of the fen country, lying ten
miles south-west of Boston, and about the same distance, as the crow
flies, from the black, muddy, western fringe of the Wash. It is a very
old town. Formerly it was an important Lincolnshire centre, enjoying its
weekly Saturday market, and its four annual fairs for the sale of horses,
cattle, flax and hemp. During Flinders' youth and early manhood the
district grew large quantities of hemp, principally for the Royal Navy.
In the days of its prosperity Donington drew to itself the business of an
agricultural neighbourhood which was so far cultivable as it rose above
the level of desolate and foggy swamps. But the drainage of the fens and
the making of good roads over what had once been an area of amphibious
uncertainty, neither wholly land nor wholly water, had the effect of
largely diverting business to Boston. Trade that came to Donington when
it stood over its own tract of fen, like the elderly and respectable
capital of some small island, now went to the thriving and historic port
on the Witham. Donington stopped growing, stagnated, declined. On the map
of Lincolnshire included in Camden's Britannia (1637) it is marked
"Dunington," in letters as large as those given to Boston, Spalding and
Lincoln. On modern maps the name is printed in small letters; on some in
the smallest, or not at all. That fact is fairly indicative of its change
of fortunes. Figures tell the tale with precision. In 1801 it contained
1321 inhabitants; in 1821, 1638; in 1841 it reached its maximum, 2026; by
1891 it had gone down to 1547; in 1901 to 1484; at the census of 1911 it
had struggled up to 1564.* (* Allen, History of Lincolnshire, 1833 Volume
1 342; Victoria History of Lincolnshire Volume 2 359; Census Returns for
The fame conferred by a distinguished son is hardly a recompense for
faded prosperity, but certain it is that Donington commands a wider
interest as the birthplace of Flinders than it ever did in any other
respect during its long, uneventful history. The parish church, a fine
Gothic building with a lofty, graceful spire, contains a monument to the
memory of the navigator, with an inscription in praise of his character
and life, and recording that he "twice circumnavigated the globe." Many
men have encircled the earth, but few have been so distinguished as
discoverers of important portions of it. Apart from this monument, the
church contains marble ovals to the memory of Matthew Flinders' father,
grandfather, and great-grandfather. They were provided from a sum of 100
pounds left by the navigator, in his will, for the purpose.
It is interesting to notice that three of the early Australian explorers
came from Lincolnshire, and were all born at places visible in clear
weather from the tower of St. Botolph's Church at Boston. While Flinders
sprang from Donington, George Bass, who co-operated with him in his first
discoveries, was born at Aswarby, near Sleaford, and Sir John Franklin,
who sailed with him in the Investigator, and was subsequently to become
an Australian Governor and to achieve a pathetic immortality in another
field of exploration, entered the world at Spilsby. Sir Joseph Banks, the
botanist of Cook's first voyage, Flinders' steadfast friend, and the
earliest potent advocate of Australian colonisation, though not actually
born in Lincolnshire, was the son of a squire who at the time of his
birth owned Revesby Abbey, which is within a short ride of each of the
places just named.
CHAPTER 2. AT SCHOOL AND AT SEA.
Young Flinders received his preparatory education at the Donington free
school. This was an institution founded and endowed in 1718 by Thomas
Cowley, who bequeathed property producing nowadays about 1200 pounds a
year for the maintenance of a school and almshouses. It was to be open to
the children of all the residents of Donington parish free of expense,
and in addition there was a fund for paying premiums on the
apprenticeship of boys.
At the age of twelve the lad was sent to the Horbling Grammar School, not
many miles from his own home. It was under the direction of the Reverend
John Shinglar. Here he remained three years. He was introduced to the
Latin and Greek classics, and received the grounding of that mathematical
knowledge which subsequently enabled him to master the science of
navigation without a tutor. If to Mr. Shinglar's instruction was likewise
due his ability to write good, sound, clear English, we who read his
letters and published writings have cause to speak his schoolmaster's
name with respect.
During his school days another book besides those prescribed in the
curriculum came into his hands. He read Robinson Crusoe. It was to
Defoe's undying tale of the stranded mariner that he attributed the
awaking in his own mind of a passionate desire to sail in uncharted seas.
This anecdote happens to be better authenticated than are many of those
quoted to illustrate the youth of men of mark. Towards the end of
Flinders' life the editor of the Naval Chronicle sent to him a series of
questions, intending to found upon the answers a biographical sketch. One
question was: "Juvenile or miscellaneous anecdotes illustrative of
individual character?" The reply was: "Induced to go to sea against the
wishes of friends from reading Robinson Crusoe."
The case, interesting as it is, has an exact parallel in the life of a
famous French traveller, Rene Caille, who in 1828, after years of
extraordinary effort and endurance, crossed Senegal, penetrated Central
Africa, and was the first European to visit Timbuctoo. He also had read
Defoe's masterpiece as a lad, and attributed to it the awaking in his
breast of a yearning for adventure and discovery. "The reading of
Robinson Crusoe," says a French historian, "made upon him a profound
impression." "I burned to have adventures of my own," he wrote later; "I
felt as I read that there was born within my heart the ambition to
distinguish myself by some important discovery."* (* Gaffarel, La
Politique coloniale en France, 1908 page 34.)
Here were astonishing results to follow from the vivid fiction of a gouty
pamphleteer who wrote to catch the market and was hoisted into immortal
fame by the effort: that his book should, like a spark falling on straw,
fire the brains of a French shoemaker's apprentice and a Lincolnshire
schoolboy, impelling each to a career crowded with adventure, and crowned
with memorable achievements. There could hardly be better examples of the
vitalising efficacy of fine literature.
A love of Robinson Crusoe remained with Flinders to the end. Only a
fortnight before his death he wrote a note subscribing for a copy of a
new edition of the book, with notes, then announced for publication. It
must have been one of the last letters from his hand. Though out of its
chronological order, it may be appropriately quoted here to connect it
with the other references to the book which so profoundly influenced his
"Captain Flinders presents his compliments to the Hydrographer of the
Naval Chronicle, and will thank him to insert his home in the list of
subscribers in his new edition of Robinson Crusoe; he wishes also that
the volume on delivery should have a neat, common binding, and be
lettered.--London Street, July 5, 1814."
It seems clear that Flinders had promised himself the pleasure of
re-reading in maturity the tale that had so delighted his youth. Had he
lived to do so, he might well have underlined, as applicable to himself,
a pair of those sententious observations with which Defoe essayed to give
a sober purpose to his narrative. The first is his counsel of "invincible
patience under the worst of misery, indefatigable application, and
undaunted resolution under the greatest and most discouraging
circumstances." The second is his wise remark that "the height of human
wisdom is to bring our tempers down to our circumstances, and to make a
great calm within under the weight of the greatest storm without." They
were words which Flinders during strenuous years had good cause to
translate into conduct.
The edition of the book to which he thus subscribed was undertaken
largely on account of his acknowledgment of its effect upon his life. The
author of the Naval Chronicle sketch of his career* (* 1814 Volume 32.)
wrote in a footnote: "The biographer, also happening to understand that
to the same cause the Navy is indebted for another of its ornaments,
Admiral Sir Sydney Smythe, was in a great measure thereby led to give
another studious reading to that charming story, and hence to adopt a
plan for its republication, now almost at maturity;" and he commended the
new issue especially "to all those engaged in the tuition of youth."
One other anecdote of Flinders' boyhood has been preserved as a family
tradition. It is that, while still a child, he was one day lost for some
hours. He was ultimately found in the middle of one of the sea marshes,
his pockets stuffed with pebbles, tracing the runlets of water, so that
by following them up he might find out whence they came. Many boys might
have done the same; but this particular boy, in that act of enquiry
concerning geographical phenomena on a small scale, showed himself father
to the man.
"Against the wish of friends," Flinders wrote, was his selection of a
naval career. His father steadily but kindly opposed his desire, hoping
that his son would adopt the medical profession. But young Matthew was
not easily thwarted. The call of the sea was strong within him, and
persistency was always a fibrous element in his character.
The surgeon's house at Donington stood in the market square. It remained
in existence till 1908, when it was demolished to give place to what is
described as "a hideous new villa." It was a plain, square, one-story
building with a small, low surgery built on to one side of it. Behind the
door of the surgery hung a slate, upon which the elder Flinders was
accustomed to write memoranda concerning appointments and cases. The lad,
wishing to let his father know how keen was his desire to enter the Navy,
and dreading a conversation on the subject--with probable reproaches,
admonitions, warnings, and a general outburst of parental
displeasure--made use of the surgeon's slate. He wrote upon it what he
wanted his father to know, hung it on the nail, and left it there to tell
its quiet story.
He got his way in the end, but not without discouragement from other
quarters also. He had an uncle in the Navy, John Flinders, to whom he
wrote asking for counsel. John's experience had not made him enamoured of
his profession, and his reply was chilling. He pointed out that there was
little chance of success without powerful interest. Promotion was slow
and favouritism was rampant. He himself had served eleven years, and had
not yet attained the rank of lieutenant, nor were his hopes of rising
better than slender.
From the strictly professional point of view it was not unreasonable
advice for the uncle to give. A student of the naval history of the
period finds much to justify a discouraging attitude. Even the dazzling
career of Nelson might have been frustrated by a long protracted minority
had he not had a powerful hand to help him up the lower rungs of the
ladder--the "interest" of Captain Suckling, his uncle, who in 1775 became
Comptroller of the Navy, "a civil position, but one that carried with it
power and consequently influence." Nelson became lieutenant after seven
years' service, in 1777; but he owed his promotion to Suckling, who "was
able to exert his influence in behalf of his relative by promptly
securing for him not only his promotion to lieutenant, which many waited
for long, but with it his commission, dated April 10, to the Lowestofte,
a frigate of thirty-two guns."* (* Mahan, Life of Nelson edition of 1899
pages 13 and 14.)
That even conduct of singular merit, performed in the crisis of action,
was not sufficient to secure advancement, is illustrated by a striking
fact in the life of Sir John Hindmarsh, the first Governor of South
Australia (1836). At the battle of the Nile, Hindmarsh, a midshipman of
fourteen, was left in charge of the Bellerophon, all the other officers
being killed or wounded. (It was upon this same vessel, as we shall see
later, that Flinders had a taste of sea fighting). When the French
line-of-battle ship L'Orient took fire she endangered the Bellerophon.
The boy, with wonderful presence of mind, called up some hands, cut the
cables, and was running the ship out of danger under a sprit sail, when
Captain Darby came on deck from having his wounds dressed. Nelson,
hearing of the incident, thanked young Hindmarsh before the ship's
company, and afterwards gave him his commission in front of all hands,
relating the story to them. "The sequel," writes Admiral Sir T.S. Pasley,
who relates the facts in his Journal, "does not sound so well. Lord
Nelson died in 1805, and Hindmarsh is a commander still, in 1830, not
having been made one till June, 1814." A man with such a record certainly
had to wait long before the sun of official favour shone upon him; and
his later success was won, not in the navy, but as a colonial governor.
There was, then, much to make John Flinders believe that influence was a
surer way to advancement than assiduous application or natural capacity.
His own naval career did not turn out happily. A very few years
afterwards he received his long-delayed promotion, served as lieutenant
in the Cygnet, on the West Indies station, under Admiral Affleck, and
died of yellow fever on board his ship in 1793.
John Flinders' letter, however, concluded with a piece of practical
advice, in case his nephew should be undeterred by his opinion. He
recommended the study of three works as a preparation for entering the
Navy: Euclid, John Robertson's Elements of Navigation (first edition
published in 1754) and Hamilton Moore's book on Navigation. Matthew
disregarded the warning and took the practical advice. The books were
procured and the young student plunged into their problems eagerly. The
year devoted to their study in that quiet little fen town made him master
of rather more than the elements of a science which enabled him to become
one of the foremost discoverers and cartograhers of a continent. He
probably also practised map-making with assiduity, for his charts are not
only excellent as charts, but also singularly beautiful examples of
After a year of book-work Flinders felt capable of acquitting himself
creditably at sea, if he could secure an opportunity. In those days
entrance to the Royal Navy was generally secured by the nomination of a
senior officer. There was no indispensable examination; no naval college
course was necessary. The captain of a ship could take a youth on board
to oblige his relatives, "or in return for the cancelling of a
tradesman's bill."* (* Masefield's Sea Life in Nelson's Time 1905 gives a
good account of the practice.) It so happened that a cousin of Flinders
occupied the position of governess in the family of Captain Pasley
(afterwards Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley) who at that time commanded H.M.S.
Scipio. One of her pupils, Maria Pasley, developed into a young lady of
decidedly vigorous character, as the following incident sufficiently
shows. While her father was commander-in-chief at Plymouth, she was one
day out in the Channel, beyond the Eddystone, in the Admiral's cutter. As
the country was at war, she was courting danger; and in fact, the cutter
was sighted by a French cruiser, which gave chase. But Miss Pasley
declined to run away. She "popped at the Frenchman with the cutter's two
brass guns." It was like blowing peas at an elephant; and she would
undoubtedly have been captured, had not an English frigate seen the
danger and put out to the rescue.
Flinders' cousin had interested herself in his studies and ambitions, and
gave him some encouragement. She also spoke about him to Captain Pasley,
who seems to have listened sympathetically. It interested him to hear of
this boy studying navigation without a tutor up among the fens. "Send for
him," said Pasley, "I should like to see what stuff he is made of, and
whether he is worth making into a sailor."
Young Matthew, then in his fifteenth year, was accordingly invited to
visit the Pasleys. In the later part of his life he used to relate with
merriment, how he went, was asked to dine, and then pressed to stay till
next day under the captain's roof. He had brought no night attire with
him, not having expected to sleep at the house. When he was shown into
his bedroom, his needs had apparently been anticipated; for there, folded
up neatly upon the pillow, was a sleeping garment ready for use. He
appreciated the consideration; but having attired himself for bed, he
found himself enveloped in a frothy abundance of frills and fal-lals,
lace at the wrists, lace round the neck, with flutters of ribbon here and
there. When, at the breakfast table in the morning, he related how he had
been rigged, there was a shriek of laughter from the young ladies; the
simple explanation being that one of them had vacated her room to
accommodate the visitor, and had forgotten to remove her nightdress.
The visit had more important consequences. Captain Pasley very soon saw
that he had an exceptional lad before him, and at once put him on the
Alert. He was entered as "lieutenant's servant" on October 23rd, 1789. He
remained there for rather more than seven months, learning the practical
part of a sailor's business. On May 17th, 1790, he was able to present
himself to Captain Pasley on the Scipio at Chatham, as an aspirant of
more than ordinary efficiency; and remained under his command until the
next year, following him as a midshipman when he left the Scipio for the
Bellerophon in July, 1790.
This famous ship, which carried 74 guns, and was launched in 1786, is
chiefly known to history as the vessel upon which Napoleon surrendered to
Captain Maitland on July 15th, 1815, after the Waterloo debacle. She took
a prominent part in Nelson's great battles at the Nile and Trafalgar. But
her end was pitifully ignoble. After a glorious and proud career, she was
converted into a convict hulk and re-named the Captivity. A great prose
master has reminded us, in words that glow upon his impassioned page, of
the slight thought given by the practical English to the fate of another
line-of-battle ship that had flown their colours in the stress of war.
"Those sails that strained so full bent into the battle, that broad bow
that struck the surf aside, enlarging silently in steadfast haste full
front to the shot, those triple ports whose choirs of flame rang forth in
their courses, into the fierce avenging monotone, which, when it died
away, left no answering voice to rise any more upon the sea against the
strength of England, those sides that were wet with the long runlets of
English life-blood, like press-planks at vintage, gleaming goodly crimson
down to the cast and clash of the washing foam, those pale masts that
stayed themselves up against the war-ruin, shaking out their ensigns
through the thunder, till sail and ensign drooped, steeped in the
death-stilled pause of Andalusian air, burning with its witness clouds of
human souls at rest--surely for these some sacred care might have been
left in our thoughts, some quiet resting place amidst the lapse of
English waters? Nay, not so, we have stern keepers to trust her glory to,
the fire and the worm. Never more shall sunset lay golden robe on her,
nor starlight tremble on the waves that part at her gliding. Perhaps,
where the gate opens to some cottage garden, the tired traveller may ask,
idly, why the moss grows so green on its rugged wood; and even the
sailor's child may not answer nor know, that the night-dew lies deep in
the war-rents of the wood of the old Temeraire."
But even the decline of might and dignity into decrepitude and oblivion
described in that luminous passage is less pathetic than the conversion
of the glorious Bellerophon, with her untarnished traditions of historic
victories, into a hulk for the punishment of rascals, and the changing of
her unsullied name to an alias significant only of shame.
During this preliminary period Flinders learnt the way about a ship and
acquired instruction in the mechanism of seamanship, but there was as yet
no opportunity to obtain deep-water experience. He was transferred to the
Dictator for a brief period, but as he neither mentions the captain nor
alludes to any other circumstance connected therewith, it was probably a
mere temporary turnover or guardship rating not to lose any time of
service.* (* Naval Chronicle 1814.)
His first chance of learning something about the width of the world and
the wonder of its remote places came in 1791, when he went to sea under
the command of a very remarkable man. William Bligh had sailed with James
Cook on his third and fatal voyage of discovery, 1776 to 1780. He was
twenty-three years of age when he was selected by that sagacious leader
as one of those young officers who "under my direction could be usefully
employed in constructing charts, in taking views of the coasts and
headlands near which we should pass, and in drawing plans of the bays and
harbours in which we should anchor;" for Cook recognised that constant
attention to these duties was "wholly requisite if he would render our
discoveries profitable to future navigators."* (* Cook's Voyages edition
of 1821 5 page 92.)
Bligh's name appears frequently in Cook's Journal, and is also mentioned
in King's excellent narrative of the conclusion of the voyage after
Cook's murder. He was master of the Resolution, and was on several
occasions entrusted with tasks of some consequence: as for instance on
first reaching Hawaii, when Cook sent him ashore to look for fresh water,
and again at Kealakeakura Bay (January 16, 1779) when he reported that he
had found good anchorage and fresh water "in a situation admirable to
come at." It was a fatal discovery, for on the white sands of that bay, a
month later (February 14), the great British seaman fell, speared by the
On each of Cook's voyages a call had been made at Tahiti in the Society
group. Bligh no doubt heard much about the charms of the place before he
first saw it himself. He was destined to have his own name associated
with it in a highly romantic and adventurous manner. The idyllic beauty
of the life of the Tahitians, their amiable and seductive
characteristics, the warm suavity of the climate, the profusion of food
and drink to be enjoyed on the island with the smallest conceivable
amount of exertion, made the place stand out in all the narratives of
Cook's expeditions like a green-and-golden gem set in a turquoise sea, a
lotos-land "in which it seemed always afternoon," a paradise where love
and plenty reigned and care and toil were not. George Forster, the German
naturalist who accompanied Cook on his second voyage, wrote of the men as
"models of masculine beauty," whose perfect proportions would have
satisfied the eye of Phidias or Praxiteles; of the women as beings whose
"unaffected smiles and a wish to please ensure them mutual esteem and
love;" and of the life they led as being diversified between bathing in
cool streams, reposing under tufted trees, feeding on luscious fruits,
telling tales, and playing the flute. In fact, Forster declared, they
"resembled the happy, indolent people whom Ulysses found in Phaeacia, and
could apply the poet's lines to themselves with peculiar propriety:
'To dress, to dance, to sing our sole delight,
The feast or bath by day, and love by night.'"
In Tahiti grew an abundance of breadfruit. It was in connection with this
nutritious food, one of nature's richest gifts to the Pacific, that Bligh
undertook a mission which involved him in a mutiny, launched him upon one
of the most dangerous and difficult voyages in the annals of British
seamanship, and provided a theme for a long poem by one of the greatest
of English authors. Byron it was who, writing as though the trees
sprouted quartern loaves ready baked, said of it (The Island 2 11):
"The bread-tree, which without the ploughshare yields
The unreaped harvest of unfurrowed fields,
And bakes its unadulterated loaves
Without a furnace in unpurchased groves,
And flings off famine from its fertile breast,
A priceless market for the gathering guest."
Breadfruit had been tasted and described by Dampier in the seventeenth
century. His description of it has all the terse directness peculiar to
the writing of the inquisitive buccaneer, with a touch of quaintness that
makes the passage desirable to quote:* (* Dampier's Voyages edition of
1729 1 page 294.)
"The breadfruit, as we call it, grows on a large tree as big and as tall
as our largest apple trees. It hath a spreading head full of branches and
dark leaves. The fruit grows on the boughs like apples; it is as big as a
penny loaf when wheat is at five shillings the bushel. The natives of
this island (Suam) use it for bread. They gather it when full-grown; then
they bake it in an oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black; but
they scrape off the outside black crust and there remains a tender thin
crust and the inside is soft, tender and white, like the crumb of a penny
loaf. There is neither seed nor stone in the inside, but all is of a pure
substance like bread; it must be eaten new, for if it is kept above
twenty-four hours it becomes dry and eats harsh and chokey; but 'tis very
pleasant before it is too stale."
By Dampier, who in the course of his astonishing career had consumed many
strange things--who found shark's flesh "good entertainment," and roast
opossum "sweet wholesome meat"--toleration in the matter of things edible
was carried to the point of latitudinarianism. We never find Dampier
squeamish about anything which anybody else could eat with relish. To
him, naturally, the first taste of breadfruit was pleasing. But Cook was
more critical. "The natives seldom make a meal without it," he said,
"though to us the taste was as disagreeable as that of a pickled olive
generally is the first time it is eaten." That opinion, perhaps, accords
with the common experience of neophytes in tropical gastronomy. But new
sensations in the matter of food are not always to be depended on. Sir
Joseph Banks disliked bananas when he first tasted them.
The immense popularity of Cook's voyages spread afar the fame of
breadfruit as an article of food. Certain West Indian planters were of
opinion that it would be advantageous to establish the trees on their
islands and to encourage the consumption of the fruit by their slaves.
Not only was it considered that the use of breadfruit would cheapen the
cost of the slaves' living, but--a consideration that weighed both with
the planters and the British Government in view of existing relations
with the United States--it was also believed that it would "lessen the
dependence of the sugar islands on North America for food and
necessaries."* (* Bryan Edwards History of the British West Indies 1819 1
The planters petitioned the Government to fit out an expedition to
transplant trees from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Sir Joseph Banks
strongly supported them, and Lord Hood, then First Lord of the Admiralty,
was sympathetic. In August, 1787, Lieutenant Bligh was appointed to the
command of the Bounty, was directed to sail to the Society Islands, to
take on board "as many trees and plants as may be thought necessary," and
to transplant them to British possessions in the West Indies.
The vessel sailed, with two skilled gardeners on board to superintend the
selection and treatment of the plants. Tahiti was duly reached, and the
business of the expedition was taken in hand. One thousand and fifteen
fine trees were chosen and carefully stowed. But the comfortable
indolence, the luxuriant abundance, the genial climate, the happy
hospitality of the handsome islanders, and their easy freedom from
compunction in reference to restraints imposed by law and custom in
Europe, had a demoralising effect upon the crew of the Bounty. A stay of
twenty-three weeks at the island sufficed to subvert discipline and to
persuade some of Bligh's sailors that life in Tahiti was far preferable
to service in the King's Navy under the rule of a severe and exacting
When the Bounty left Tahiti on April 14, 1787, reluctance plucked at the
heart of many of the crew. The morning light lay tenderly upon the plumes
of the palms, and a light wind filled the sails of the ship as she glided
out of harbour. As the lazy lapping wash of the waters against the low
outer fringe of coral was lost to the ear, the Bounty breasted the deep
ocean; and as the distinguishable features of green tree, white sand,
brown earth, and grey rock faded out of vision, wrapped in a haze of
blue, till at last the only pronounced characteristic of the island
standing up against the sky and sea was the cap of Point Venus at the
northern extremity--the departure must have seemed to some like that of
Tannhauser from the enchanted mountain, except that the legendary hero
was glad to make his return to the normal world, whereas all of Bligh's
company were not. For them, westward, whither they were bound,
"There gaped the gate
Whereby lost souls back to the cold earth went."
The discipline of ship's life, and the stormings and objurgations of the
commanding officer, chafed like an iron collar. At length a storm burst.
On April 28 the Bounty was sailing towards Tofoa, another of the Society
Islands. Just before sunrise on the following morning Bligh was aroused
from sleep, seized and bound in his cabin by a band of mutineers, led out
by the master's mate, Fletcher Christian, and, with eighteen companions,
dropped into a launch and bidden to depart. The followers of Christian
were three midshipmen and twenty-five petty officers and sailors. They
turned the head of the Bounty back towards their island paradise; and as
they sailed away, the mariners in the tossing little boat heard them
calling "Hurrah for Tahiti!"
The frail craft in which the nineteen loyalists were compelled to attempt
to traverse thousands of miles of ocean, where the navigation is perhaps
the most intricate in the world, was but 23 feet long by 6 feet 9 inches
broad and 2 feet 9 inches deep. Their provisions consisted of 150 pounds
of bread, 16 pieces of pork, each about two pounds in weight, six quarts
of rum, six bottles of wine, and 28 gallons of water. With this scanty
stock of nourishment, in so small a boat, Bligh and his companions
covered 3618 miles, crossing the western Pacific, sailing through Torres
Strait, and ultimately reaching Timor.
That Bligh was somewhat deficient in tact and sympathy in handling men,
cross-grained, harsh, and obstinate, is probably true. His language was
often lurid, he lavished foul epithets upon his crew, and he was not
reluctant to follow terms of abuse by vigorous chastisement. He called
Christian a "damned hound," some of the men "scoundrels, thieves and
rascals," and he met a respectful remonstrance with the retort: "You
damned infernal scoundrels, I'll make you eat grass or anything you can
catch before I have done with you." Naval officers of the period were not
addicted to addressing their men in the manner of a lady with a pet
canary. Had Bligh's language been the head and front of his offending, he
would hardly have shocked an eighteenth century fo'c'sle. But his
disposition does not seem to have bound men to him. He generated dislike.
Nevertheless it is credible that the explanation which he gave goes far
to explain the mutiny. He held that the real cause was a species of
sensuous intoxication which had corrupted his crew.
"The women of Tahiti," Bligh wrote, "are handsome, mild and cheerful in
their manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have
sufficient delicacy to make them admired and loved. The chiefs were so
much attached to our people that they rather encouraged their stay among
them than otherwise, and even made them promises of large possessions.
Under these and other attendant circumstances equally desirable, it is
perhaps not so much to be wondered at, though scarcely possible to have
been foreseen, that a set of sailors, many of them void of connections,
should be led away; especially when in addition to such powerful
inducements they imagined it in their power to fix themselves in the
midst of plenty on one of the finest islands in the world, where they
need not labour, and where the allurements of dissipation are beyond
anything that can be conceived...Had their mutiny been occasioned by any
grievance, either real or imaginary, I must have discovered symptoms of
their discontent, which would have put me on my guard; but the case was
far otherwise. Christian in particular I was on the most friendly terms
with; that very day he was engaged to have dined with me; and the
preceding night he excused himself from supping with me on pretence of
being unwell, for which I felt concerned, having no suspicions of his
integrity and honour."
Support is given to Bligh's explanation by a statement alleged to have
been made by Fletcher Christian a few years later, the genuineness of
which, however, is open to serious question. If it could be accepted,
Christian acquitted his commander of having contributed to the mutiny by
harsh conduct. He ascribed the occurrence "to the strong predilection we
had contracted for living in Tahiti, where, exclusive of the happy
disposition of the inhabitants, the mildness of the climate, and the
fertility of the soil, we had formed certain tender connections which
banished the remembrance of old England from our breasts." The weight of
evidence justifies the belief that Bligh, though a sailor of unequivocal
skill and dauntless courage, was an unlikeable man, and that aversion to
service under him was a factor contributing to the mutiny which cannot be
Bligh is the connecting link between Cook and Flinders. Bligh learned
under Cook to experience the thrilling pleasure of discovery and to
pursue opportunities in that direction in a scientific spirit. Flinders
learnt the same lesson under Bligh, and bettered the instruction. Cook is
the first great scientific navigator whose name is associated with the