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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders by Ernest Scott

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construction of the map of Australia; so much can be said without
disparagement of the adventurous Dutchmen who pieced together the outline
of the western and northern coasts. Flinders was the second; and Bligh,
pupil of the one and teacher of the other, deserves a better fate than to
be remembered chiefly as a sinister figure in two historic mutinies, that
of the Bounty, and that which ended his governorship of New South Wales
in 1808. Much worse men have done much worse things than he, have less
that is brave, honourable, enterprising and original to their credit, and
yet are remembered without ignominy. It is said by Hooker: "as oftentimes
the vices of wicked men do cause other their commendable virtues to be
abhorred, so the honour of great men's virtues is easily a cloak to their
errors." Bligh fell short of being a great man, but neither was he a bad
man; and the merit of his achievements, both as a navigator and amid the
shock of battle (especially at Copenhagen in 1801, under Nelson), must
not be overlooked, even though stern history will not permit his errors
to be cloaked.

Notwithstanding the failure of the Bounty expedition, Sir Joseph Banks
pressed upon the Government the desirableness of transplanting breadfruit
trees to the West Indies. He also proved a staunch friend to Bligh. The
result was that the Admiralty resolved to equip a second enterprise for
the same purpose, and to entrust the command of it to the same officer.

We may now follow the fortunes of Matthew Flinders under the tutelage of
this energetic captain.


Bligh's second expedition was authorised by the admiralty in March, 1791,
and the commander was consulted as to "what sort of vessel may be best
adapted to the object in view." The Providence, a 28-gun ship, was
chosen, with the brig Assistant as a tender. The latter was placed in
charge of Lieutenant Nathaniel Portlock. Flinders, eager for sea
experience, joined the Providence as a midshipman on May 8th, and thus
had the advantage of being under the immediate direction of her captain.

He took this step with Pasley's concurrence, if not actually upon his
advice. The captain wrote him an encouraging letter asking him to send
from time to time observations on places visited during the voyage; and
his protege complied with the injunction. It is to this fact that we owe
some entertaining passages from young Flinders' pen concerning the
voyage. The letters despatched to Pasley are lost; but Flinders, with the
love of neatness which was ever characteristic of him, sent only fair
copies, and some of his original drafts remain in manuscript. Pasley's
letter was as follows:* (*Flinders' Papers.)

Bellerophon, Spithead, June 3rd, 1791.

Dear Flinders,

I am favoured with your letter on your return from visiting your friends
at the country, and I am pleased to hear that you are so well satisfied
with your situation on board the Providence. I have little doubt of your
gaining the good opinion of Capt. Bligh, if you are equally attentive to
your duty there as you were in the Bellerophon. All that I have to
request in return for the good offices I have done you is that you never
fail writing me by all possible opportunities during your voyage; and
that in your letters you will be very particular and circumstantial in
regard to every thing and place you may chance to see or visit, with your
own observations thereon. Do this, my young friend, and you may rest
assured that my good offices will not be wanting some future day for your
advancement. All on board are well. Present my kind remembrances to
Captain and Mrs. Bligh, and believe me, yours very sincerely,


The Providence and Assistant left England on August 2nd. From Santa Cruz
in Teneriffe Flinders sent his first letter to Captain Pasley. It is
worth while to quote a few passages:* (* Flinders' Papers.)

"Not a large town; streets wide, ill-paved and irregular. The houses of
the principal inhabitants large; have little furniture, but are airy and
pleasant, suitable to the climate. Most of them have balconies, where the
owners sit and enjoy the air. Those of the lower classes ill-built,
dirty, and almost without furniture. In the square where the market is
held, near the pier, is a tolerably elegant marble obelisk in honour of
our Lady of Candelaria, the tutelar goddess of the place. The Spaniards
erected this statue, calling it Our Lady, keeping up some semblance of
the ancient worship that they might better keep the Tenerifeans in
subjection. At the top of the obelisk is placed the statue, and at its
base are four well executed figures, representing the ancient kings or
princes of Teneriffe, each of which has the shin-bone of a man's leg in
his hand. This image is held in great honour by the lower classes of
people, who tell many absurd stories of its first appearance in the
island, the many miracles she has wrought, etc.

"We visited a nunnery of the order of St. Dominic. In the chapel was a
fine statue of the Virgin Mary, with four wax candles burning before her.
Peeping through the bars, we perceived several fine young women at
prayers. A middle-aged woman opened the door halfway, but would by no
means suffer us to enter this sanctified spot. None of the nuns would be
prevailed upon to come near us. However, they did not seem at all
displeased at our visit, but presented us with a sweet candy they call
Dulce, and some artificial flowers, in return for which Mr. Smith* (* The
botanist.) gave them a dollar. In general these people appear to be a
merry, good-natured people, and are courteous to and appear happy to see
strangers. We found this always the case, although they said we were no
Christians: but they generally took care to make us pay well for what we
had. They live principally upon fruits and roots, are fond of singing and
dancing, and upon the whole they live as lazily, as contentedly, and in
as much poverty as any French peasant would wish to do."

The Cape of Good Hope was reached in October, and Flinders told Captain
Pasley what he thought of the Dutch colonists:

"The Dutch, from having great quantities of animal food, are rather
corpulent. Nevertheless they keep up their national characteristic for
carefulness. Neither are they very polite. A stranger will be treated
with a great deal of ceremony, but when you come to the solid part of a
compliment their generosity is at a stand. Of all the people I ever saw
these are the most ceremonious. Every man is a soldier and wears his
square-rigged hat, sword, epaulets, and military uniform. They never pass
each other without a formal bow, which even descends to the lowest ranks,
and it is even seen in the slaves."

On April 10th, 1792, Bligh's ships anchored at Tahiti, where they
remained till July 19th. There was no disturbance this time, and the
relations between Bligh and his crew were not embarrassed by the
indulgent kindness of the islanders. Their hospitality was not deficient,
but a wary vigilance was exercised.

At Tahiti Bligh found the major part of the crew of a whaler, the
Matilda, which had been wrecked about six days' sail from the island.
Some of the men accepted passages on the Providence and the Assistant;
some preferred to remain with the natives; one or two had already
departed in one of the lost ship's boats to make their way to Sydney.* (*
This incident is reported in the Star, a London newspaper, March 2nd,
1793.) Two male Tahitians were persuaded to accompany the expedition,
with a view to their exhibition before the Royal Society, in England,
when at length, laden with 600 breadfruit trees, it sailed for the West

The route followed from the Friendly Islands to the Caribbean Sea was not
via Cape Horn (since that cold and stormy passage would have destroyed
every plant), but back across the Pacific, through Torres Strait to
Timor, thence across the Indian Ocean and round the Cape of Good Hope.
St. Helena was reached on December 17, and Bligh brought his ships safely
to Kingston, St. Vincent's, on January 13th 1793. Three hundred
breadfruit trees were landed at that island, and a like number taken to
Jamaica. The plants were in excellent condition, some of them eleven feet
high, with leaves 36 inches long. The gardener in charge reported to Sir
Joseph Banks that the success of the transplantations "exceeded the most
sanguine expectation." The sugar planters were delighted, and voted Bligh
500 pounds for his services.* (* Southey, History of the West Indies,
1827 3 61.) To accentuate the contrast between the successful second
expedition and the lamentable voyage of the Bounty, it is notable that
only one case of sickness occurred on the way, and that from Kingston it
was reported that "the healthy appearance of every person belonging to
the expedition is remarkable."* (* Annual Register 1793 page 6.)

But though nothing in the nature of a mutiny marred the voyage, Flinders'
journal shows that Bligh's harshness occasioned discontent. There was a
shortness of water on the run from the Pacific to the West Indies, and as
the breadfruit plants had to be watered, and their safe carriage was the
main object of the voyage, the men had to suffer. Flinders and others
used to lick the drops that fell from the cans to appease their thirst,
and it was considered a great favour to get a sip. The crew thought they
were unfairly treated, and somebody mischievously watered some plants
with sea-water. When Bligh discovered the offence, he flew into a rage
and "longed to flog the whole company." But the offender could not be
discovered, and the irate captain had to let his passion fret itself out.

Bligh published no narrative of this expedition; but Flinders was already
accustoming himself to keep careful notes of his observations. Twenty
years later, when preparing the historical introduction to his Voyage to
Terra Australis, he wrote out from his journal (and with Bligh's sanction
published) an account of the passage of the Providence and Assistant
through Torres Strait, as a contribution to the history of navigation and
discovery in that portion of Australasia. From the Pacific to the Indian
Ocean the passage was accomplished in nineteen days. "Perhaps," commented
Flinders, "no space of 3 1/2 degrees in length presents more dangers than
Torres Strait, but with caution and perseverance the captains, Bligh and
Portlock, proved them to be surmountable, and within a reasonable time."
Bligh's Entrance and Portlock Reef, marked on modern charts, are
reminders of a feat of navigation which even nowadays, with the dangers
accurately described, and the well-equipped Torres Strait pilot service
to aid them, mariners recognise as pregnant with serious risks. On this
occasion it was also attended with incidents which make it worth while to
utilise Flinders' notes, since they are of some biographical importance.

The high lands of the south-eastern extremity of Papua (New Guinea), were
passed on August 30th, and at dusk on the following day breakers
"thundering on the reef" were sighted ahead. On September 1st the vessels
edged round the north end of Portlock Reef. Thence the monotonous record
of soundings, shoals, reefs seen and charted, passages tried and
abandoned, in the prolonged attempt to negotiate a clear course through
the baffling coral barrier, is relieved by the story of one or two sharp
brushes with armed Papuans in their long, deftly-handled canoes. On
September 5th, while boats were out investigating a supposed passage near
Darnley Island, several large canoes shot into view. One of these, in
which were fifteen "Indians," black and quite naked, approached the
English cutter, and made signs which were interpreted to be amicable. The
officer in charge, however, suspecting treacherous intentions, did not
think it prudent to go near enough to accept a green cocoanut held up to
him, and kept his men rowing for the ship. Thereupon a native sitting on
the shed erected in the centre of the canoe, called a direction to the
Papuans below him, who commenced to string their bows. The officer
ordered his men to fire in self-defence, and six muskets were discharged.

"The Indians fell flat into the bottom of the canoe, all except the man
on the shed. The seventh musket was fired at him, and he fell also.
During this time the canoe dropped astern; and, the three others having
joined her, they all gave chase to the cutter, trying to cut her off from
the ship; in which they would probably have succeeded, had not the
pinnace arrived at that juncture to her assistance. The Indians then
hoisted their sails and steered for Darnley Island." Flinders had watched
the encounter from the deck of the Providence, and his seaman's word of
admiration for the skill of the savages in the management of their
canoes, is notable. "No boats could have been manoeuvred better in
working to windward, than were these canoes of the naked savages. Had the
four been able to reach the cutter, it is difficult to say whether the
superiority of our arms would have been equal to the great difference of
numbers, considering the ferocity of these people and the skill with
which they seemed to manage their weapons."

Five days later, between Dungeness and Warrior Islands, there was a
livelier encounter. A squadron of canoes attacked both ships in a daring
and vigorous fashion. The Assistant was pressed with especial severity,
so that Portlock had to signal for help. A volley of musketry had little
effect upon the Papuans; and when one wing of the attacking squadron,
numbering eight canoes, headed for the Providence, and a musket was fired
at the foremost, the natives responded with a great shout and paddled
forward in a body." Bligh had one of the great guns of the ship loaded
with round and grape shot, and fired fair into the first of the long
Papuan war canoes, which were full of savage assailants. The round shot
raked the whole length of the craft, and struck the high stern. Men from
other canoes, with splendid bravery, leaped into the water, and swam to
the assistance of their comrades, "plunging constantly to avoid the
musket balls which showered thickly about them." So hard was the attack
pressed, that three of the Assistant's crew were wounded, one afterwards
dying; and "the depth to which the arrows penetrated into the decks and
sides of the brig was reported to be truly astonishing." But bows and
arrows, on this as on many another occasion, were no match for gunnery;
so that, after a hot peppering, the Papuans gave up the fight, paddling
back to a safe distance as fast as they could, without exposing
themselves to fire. They rallied beyond reach of musket balls, as though
for a second onslaught, but a shot fired over their heads from the
Providence served to convince them of the hopelessness of their
endeavour, and they abandoned it.

An incident not without heroic pathos is recorded by Flinders. One native
was left sitting alone in the canoe which the gun-shot of the Providence
had raked and splintered. The men in the canoes which had made good their
flight observed their solitary companion, and some of them returned to
him; whereafter "with glasses, signals were perceived to be made by the
Indians to their friends on Dungeness Island, expressive, as was thought,
of grief and consternation." Whether the lone warrior was too severely
wounded to be moved, or whether he was some Papuan Casabianca clinging to
his shattered craft "whence all but he had fled" or been killed, or
hurled into the sea, we are not told. But that canoe had been foremost in
attack, perhaps the flagship of the squadron; and the memory of that
solitary warrior still sitting upon the floating wreck while his defeated
companions returned to him, and then left him, to explain his case with
gestures of grief to those on the island, clings to the memory of the
reader, as it did to that of the young observer and historian of the

No more natives were seen during the passage through Torres Strait, nor
were there other incidents to enliven the narrative, unless we include
the formal "taking possession of all the islands seen in the Strait for
His Britannic Majesty George III, with the ceremonies used on such
occasions" (September 16). The name bestowed upon the whole group of
islands was Clarence's Archipelago.

Flinders described the natives whom he saw carefully and accurately; and
his account of their boats, weapons, and mode of warfare is concise and
good. Some friendly Darnley Islanders were described as stoutly made,
with bushy hair; the cartilage between the nostrils cut away; the lobes
of the ears split, and stretched "to a good length." "They had no kind of
clothing, but wore necklaces of cowrie shells fastened to a braid of
fibres; and some of their companions had pearl-oyster shells hung round
their necks. In speaking to each other, their words seemed to be
distinctly pronounced. Their arms were bows, arrows, and clubs, which
they bartered for every kind of iron work with eagerness, but appeared to
set little value on anything else. The bows are made of split bamboo, and
so strong that no man in the ship could bend one of them. The string is a
broad slip of cane fixed to one end of the bow; and fitted with a noose
to go over the other end when strung. The arrow is a cane of about four
feet long, into which a pointed piece of the hard, heavy, casuarina wood
is firmly and neatly fitted; and some of them were barbed. Their clubs
are made of casuarina, and are powerful weapons. The hand part is
indented, and has a small knob, by which the firmness of the grasp is
much assisted; and the heavy end is usually carved with some device. One
had the form of a parrots head, with a ruff round the neck, and was not
ill done.

"Their canoes are about fifty feet in length, and appear to have been
hollowed out of a single tree; and the pieces which form the gunwales are
planks sewed on with fibres of the cocoanut and secured with pegs. These
vessels are low forward, but rise abaft; and, being narrow, are fitted
with an outrigger on each side to keep them steady. A raft, of greater
breadth than the canoe, extends over about half the length, and upon this
is fixed a shed or hut, thatched with palm leaves. These people, in
short, appeared to be dexterous sailors and formidable warriors, and to
be as much at ease in the water as in their canoes."

On September 19th the two ships, with caution and perseverance, had
threaded their dangerous way through the intricate maze of reefs and
shoals of Torres Strait, and found open sea to the westward. In latitude
10 degrees 8 1/2 minutes "no land was in sight, nor did anything more
obstruct Captain Bligh and his associates in their route to the island

It is easy to imagine the delight with which these experiences thrilled
the young midshipman on the Providence. His eighteenth birthday was spent
in the Pacific, in the early Autumn of a hemisphere where the sea was not
yet cloven by innumerable keels, and where beauty, enchantment and
mystery lay upon life and nature like a spell. A few years previously he
had been a schoolboy in the flattest, most monotonous of English shires.
Broad fields, dykes and fen had composed the landscape most familiar to
his eye. In these surroundings he had dreamed, as a boy will, of
palm-fanned islands in distant climes, of adventures with savage peoples,
of strange seas where great fishes are, and where romance touches all
that is with its purple light. Far horizons steeped in marvels had
bounded the vision of his imagining eye. His passion was to see and do in
realms at the back of the sunrise. He wanted to sail and explore in parts
represented by blank spaces on the map.

These dreams of the boy, basking with Robinson Crusoe under remote skies,
were suddenly translated into a reality as dazzling-bright and wonderful
as anything pictured in pages often and fondly conned. This was his first
voyage, and he was serving under a commander who had lived the romance
that other men wrote and read about, who was himself a living part of an
adventure whose story will be told and re-told to the centuries, and who
had served under as great and noble a captain as ever trod an English

The very nature of the voyage was bound to stimulate that "passion for
exploring new countries," to use Flinders' own phrase, the hope for which
was a strong factor in prompting him to choose the sea as a career. It
was a voyage whose primary object involved a stay in two of the loveliest
regions on the earth, the paradise of the Pacific and the gem-like
Antilles. The pride and pleasure of participation in discovery were his
forthwith. A new passage through an intricate and dangerous Strait was
found and charted; a whole archipelago was delineated, named, and taken
possession of for the British nation. The world's knowledge was
increased. There was something put down on the map which was not there
before. The contact with the islanders in the Strait gave a brisk element
of adventure to the expedition; and certainly Papuan warriors are foes as
wild and weird as any adventurer can desire to meet. The rescuing of
wrecked mariners at Tahiti added a spice of adventure of another sort.
From beginning to end, indeed, this voyage must have been as full of
charm as of utility.

The effect it had upon the future life of Matthew Flinders was very
striking. The whole of the salient features of his later career follow
from it. He made the most of his opportunities. Captain Bligh found him a
clever assistant in the preparation of charts and in making astronomical
observations. Indeed, says an expert writer, although Flinders was as yet
"but a juvenile navigator, the latter branch of scientific service and
the care of the timekeepers were principally entrusted to him."* (* Naval
Chronicle Volume 32 180.) These facts indicate that he was applying
himself seriously to the scientific side of his profession, and that he
had won the confidence of a captain who was certainly no over-indulgent
critic of subordinates.

The Providence and the Assistant returned to England in the latter part
of 1793. Before Flinders once more sighted the Australian coastline he
was to experience the sensations of battle, and to take a small part in
the first of the series of naval engagements connected with the
Revolutionary and Napoleonic era.


When Bligh's expedition returned, Europe was staggering under the shock
of the French Revolution. The head of Louis XVI was severed in January;
the knife of Charlotte Corday was plunged into the heart of Marat in
July; Marie Antoinette, the grey discrowned Queen of thirty-eight,
mounted the scaffold in October. The guillotine was very busy, and France
was frantic amid internal disruption and the menace of a ring of foes.

The English governing classes had been clamouring for war. It seemed to
many political observers that it was positively needful to launch the
country into an international struggle to divert attention from demands
for domestic reform. "Democratic ambition was awakened; the desire of
power, under the name of reform, was rapidly gaining ground among the
middling ranks; the only mode of checking the evil was by engaging in a
foreign contest, by drawing off the ardent spirits into active service
and, in lieu of the modern desire for innovation, rousing the ancient
gallantry of the British people."* (* Alison, History of Europe, 1839 2
128.) French military operations in the Netherlands, running counter to
traditional British policy, were provocative, and the feeling aroused by
the execution of Louis immediately led Pitt's ministry to order the
French Ambassador, Chauvelin, to leave London within eight days. He left
at once. On February 1st, acting on Chauvelin's report of the disposition
and preparations of Great Britain, France formally declared war.

Flinders was with Bligh, peacefully landing breadfruit trees in the West
Indies, when this momentous opening of a twenty-two years' conflict
occurred. When the expedition reached England, every port and dockyard on
the south coast was humming with preparations for a great naval struggle.
The Channel Fleet, under Lord Howe's command, was cruising in search of
the enemy's ships of war. Flinders' patron, Pasley, who had hoisted his
broad pennant as commodore on the Bellerophon, was actively engaged in
this service. In October, 1793, he was detached by Howe to look for five
French vessels that had some time before chased the British frigate Circe
into Falmouth. Howe himself, with a fleet of 22 sail, put to sea later in
the same month. On November 18 his squadron sighted six French ships of
the line and some frigates, and gave chase. But they were seen late in
the day, and soon darkness prevented an engagement. On the following
morning the enemy was again sighted by the chasing squadron under Pasley;
but the Latona signalled that the French were in superior strength, and
the British detachment retired.* (* James, Naval History, 1837 1 60.)
Howe's cruise was barren of results, and the British fleet returned to
Torbay. Naval operations were suspended for several months.

Flinders naturally took advantage of the earliest opportunity to report
himself to the friend who had first helped him into the King's Navy.
Pasley, who was promoted on April 12th, 1794, to the rank of Rear-Admiral
of the White, again welcomed him on board the Bellerophon and, hearing
from Captain Bligh excellent accounts of his diligence and usefulness,
appointed him one of his aides-de-camp. It was in this capacity that he
took part in the great battle off Brest on June 1st, 1794, signalised in
British naval history as "the glorious First of June."

Lord Howe, with the Channel Fleet (thirty-four ships of the line and
fifteen frigates) put to sea on May 2nd with two purposes: first, to
convoy to a safe distance from the probable field of hostilities a
squadron of 148 British merchantmen bound for various ports; second, to
intercept and destroy a French fleet which was known to be convoying a
large company of provision-ships from America. War, bad harvests, the
disorganization of industry, and revolutionary upheavals, had produced an
acute scarcity of food in France, and the arrival of these vessels was
awaited with intense anxiety. To prevent their arrival, or to destroy the
French squadron, would be to strike a serious blow at the enemy. Howe had
under him a fleet eager for fight; against him, a foe keenly aware how
vitally necessary to their country was the arrival of the food-ships.

The French fleet (twenty-six ships of the line) under the command of
Villaret-Joyeuse, put to sea from Brest on May 16. Some foggy days
intervened. On the 28th Howe sighted them. The French admiral formed his
ships in a close line. Howe's plan was first to get his fleet to windward
of the enemy, then to sail down, pierce his line, and engage his vessels
to leeward.

The Bellerophon was in action shortly after coming within striking
distance, on the 28th May. Pasley, at six o'clock in the evening,
attacked the French rear, his immediate antagonist being the
Revolutionnaire, 110 guns. A hot duel, maintained with splendid
intrepidity by the British rear-admiral, continued for over an hour and a
quarter, for the other ships of the British fleet were unable to get up
to support the fast-sailing Bellerophon. She was severely handled by her
large antagonist, and was hampered in her ability to manoeuvre by a shot
which injured her mainmast. Pasley therefore, on a signal from the
Admiral, bore up. The Revolutionnaire was now attacked from a distance by
the Russell, the Marlborough and the Thunderer, and endeavoured to make
off, but was blocked by the Leviathan. The Audacious (74) took up the
work which the Bellerophon had commenced, and, laying herself on the lee
quarter of the Revolutionnaire, poured a rain of shot into her. The fight
was continued in a rough sea far into the twilight of that early summer
evening; until, about 10 o'clock, the Revolutionnaire was a mere floating
hulk. Her flag had either been lowered or shot down, but she was not
captured, and was towed into Rochefort on the following day. The
Audacious was so badly knocked about that she was of no use for later
engagements, and was sent home.

This was Matthew Flinders' first taste of war.

Howe's plan for the big battle that was imminent involved much
manoeuvring, and, as Nelson wrote in his celebrated "plan of attack"
before Trafalgar, "a day is soon lost in that business." The British
manoeuvred to get the weather gauge; Villaret-Joyeuse to keep it. On May
29th Howe in the Queen Charlotte pierced the French line with two other
ships, the Bellerophon and the Leviathan, and there was some fighting.
The Bellerophon got to windward of the enemy by passing in front of the
French Terrible (110), and put in some excellent gunnery practice. She
sailed so close to the French ship to starboard as almost to touch her,
and brought down the enemy's topmast and lower yards with a broadside,
whilst at the same time she raked the Terrible with her larboard guns.*
(* There is an interesting engraving of the Bellerophon passing through
the French line and firing both her broadsides in the Naval Chronicle
Volume 1, and a plan of the manoeuvre, showing the course of the
Bellerophon, in James's Naval History.)

May 30 and 31 were foggy days, and neither fleet could see the other. On
June 1st there was a blue sky, a brilliant sun, a lively sea, and a wind
that favoured the plans of the British Admiral. The signal for close
action was flown from the masthead of the Queen Charlotte. Howe ordered
his ships to sail on an oblique course down upon the French line, the two
fleets having during the night lain in parallel lines stretching east and
west. The intention was to break the French line near the centre, each
British captain sailing round the stern of his antagonist, and fighting
her to leeward, thus concentrating the attack on the enemy's rear,
cutting it off from the van, and preventing flight.

The Bellerophon was the second ship in the British line, next after the
Caesar. Flinders was upon the quarterdeck as she steered through her
selected gap, which was on the weather quarter of the Eole; and an
anecdote of his behaviour on that memorable occasion fortunately
survives. The guns on the quarterdeck were loaded and primed ready for
use, but Pasley did not intend to fire them until he had laid himself on
the lee of his chosen adversary, and could pour a broadside into her with
crushing effect. There was a moment when the gunners were aloft trimming
sails. As the Bellerophon was passing close under the stern of the French
three-decker--within musket-shot, James says--* (* Naval History 1 154.)
Flinders seized a lighted match and rapidly fired as many of the
quarterdeck guns as would plump shot fairly into her.* (* Naval Chronicle
32 180.) Pasley saw him and, shaking him by the collar, said, sternly:
"How dare you do that, youngster, without my orders?" Flinders replied
that he "thought it a fine chance to have a shot at 'em." So it was,
though not in conformity with orders; and probably Pasley, as good a
fighter as there was in the fleet, liked his young aide-de-camp rather
the more for his impetuous action.

The guns of the Bellerophon were opened upon the Eole at 8.45, and
battered her severely. The British vessel was subjected in turn, however,
not only to the fire of her chosen victim, but also to that of the
Trajan. At ten minutes to eleven o'clock a shot from the Eole took off
Pasley's leg, and he was carried down to the cockpit, whereupon the
command devolved upon Captain William Hope. It must have been a
distressing moment for Flinders, despite the intense excitement of
action, when his friend and commander fell; it was indeed, as will be
seen, a crucial moment in his career. A doggerel bard of the time
enshrined the event in a verse as badly in need of surgical aid as were
the heroes whom it celebrates:

"Bravo, Bowyer, Pasley, Captain Hutt,
Each lost a leg, being sorely hurt;
Their lives they valued but as dirt,
When that their country called them!"*

(* Naval Songs and Ballads, Publications of the Navy Record Society,
Volume 33 270.)

The fight was continued with unflagging vigour, in the absence of the
gallant rear-admiral, who, as another lyrist of the event informs us,
smiled and said:

"Fight on my lads and try
To make these rebel Frenchmen know
That British courage still will flow
To make them strike or die."

At a quarter before noon the Eole had received such a hammering that she
endeavoured to wear round under shelter of her leader; but in doing so
she lost mainmast and foretopmast. The Bellerophon, too, had by this time
been sufficiently hard hit to cause Hope to signal to the Latona for
assistance. Her foretopmast and maintopmast had gone, and her mainmast
was so badly damaged as to be dangerous. Her rigging was cut to pieces,
all her boats were smashed, and she was practically as crippled as was
her brave commander, upon whom the surgeons had been operating down
below, amid the blood of the cockpit and the thunder and smoke of the

The battle ended about 1 p.m. The French fleet was badly beaten, and
Villaret-Joyeuse at the end of the day drew back to Brest only a
battered, splintered and ragged remnant of the fine squadron which he had
commanded. Still, the French provision ships slipped by and arrived
safely in port. The squadron had been sent out to enable them to get in,
and in they were, though it had cost a fleet to get them in. Nelson used
the phrase "a Lord Howe victory" disparagingly. Nothing short of a
complete smashing of the enemy and the utter frustration of his purposes
would ever satisfy that ardent soul.

For the sake of clearness, the general scheme of the battle has been
described, together with the part played in it by the Bellerophon; but we
fortunately have a detailed account of it by Flinders himself. Young as
he was, only a few weeks over 20 years of age, he was evidently cool, and
his journal is crowded with carefully observed facts, noted amidst the
heat and confusion of conflict; and it is doubtful whether there is in
existence a better story of this important fleet action. The manuscript
of his journal occupies forty foolscap pages. It is much damaged by
sea-water, the paper in some parts having been rendered quite pulpy. But
the sheets relating to the 1st of June are entirely legible. As the
reader will see, there is here no rhetoric, no excited use of vivid
adjectives to give colour to the story. It is a calmly observed piece of
history. Read attentively, it enables one to live through the stirring
events with which it deals in a singularly thrilling style. We feel the
crash and thunder and hustle of battle far more keenly from the detailed
accumulation of occurrences here presented than any scene-painting prose
could make us do. The journal begins on September 7th, 1793, when
Flinders joined the Bellerophon, and continues till August 10th, 1794,
when he quitted her. In the early part it deals principally with cruising
up and down the Channel looking for the enemy's ships. Occasionally there
was a skirmish. We may select a few instances from this period, before
coming to what immediately preceded the great day:

"Wednesday, 11th (September, 1793) a.m. Hoisted a broad pennant by order
of Lord Howe, Capt.
Pasley being appointed a commodore of the fleet. Weighed and anchored in
our station in Torbay.

"Monday, November 18th.* (* See note below.) Saw nine or ten sail,
seemingly large ships, standing towards us. The admiral made the Russell
and Defence signals to chase, also the Audacious; and soon after ours. By
this time the strange ships had brought to, hull down, to windward,
seemingly in some confusion. The Ganges' signal was also made to chase.
At 9 the Admiral made the sign for the strange fleet being an enemy, and
for our sternmost ships to make more sail. At 10 the signal to engage as
the other ships came up was made. The enemy had now hauled their wind,
and standing from us with as much sail as they could carry. Split one
jib; got another bent as fast as possible. We were now the headmost line
of battle ship and gaining fast upon the enemy; but the main part of our
fleet seemed rather to drop from them. St. Agnes north 34 degrees east 89
miles. Ship all clear for action since 9 o'clock.

"Tuesday, November 19th, 1793. Judge six of the enemy's ships to be of
the line, two frigates and two brigs...On the wind shifting at 4 in a
squall, tacked, as did the Latona, which brought her near the rear of the
enemy's ships, at which she fired several shot; she tacked again at 5,
and fired, which the sternmost of their ships returned. At dark the enemy
passed to windward of us, about 5 or 6 miles...12, set top-gallant-sails,
but obliged to take them in again for fear of carrying away the masts.
Sundry attempts were made during the night to set, but as often obliged
to take them in. At 12 lost sight of all our ships except one frigate.
The weather very hazy, with squalls at times, and at 2 a heavy shower of
rain, which lasted a considerable time. When it cleared a little, saw two
or three of the enemy's ships ahead of the others on the lee bow. Very
thick and hazy, with much rain. Made the signal that the enemy had bore
away. Saw the Latona and Phoenix, who seemed suspicious of each other,
but on discovering they were friends both bore away after one of the
enemy's ships...About 9 the Phoenix and Latona being the only friends in
sight, the latter made the signal for the enemy being superior to the
ships chasing. Soon after we made the signal to call the frigates in...In
the firing the preceding evening the Latona received a shot between wind
and water in the breadroom, and another in the galley; but happily no one
was hurt and but little injury received."

An amusing example of an attempt to "dodge," under false colours, is
related on the following day. The trick did not succeed.

"Wednesday, November 27th, 1793, a.m. Hazy weather. Squadron in company.
Saw a strange ship
to the southward, who hoisted an Union Jack at the main topmast head and
a red flag at the fore. The Phoenix being ahead made the private signal,
but the stranger not answering she made the signal for an enemy. We
immediately made the general signal to chase. At 10 the Phoenix and
Latona fired a few shots at her, upon which she hoisted French colours,
discharged her guns, and struck. She proved to be La Blonde of 28 guns
and 190 men. The squadron brought to. The French captain came on board
and surrendered his sword to the commodore. Separated the prisoners
amongst the squadron. An officer of the Phoenix sent to take charge of
the prize and a party of men from each ship.

"Tuesday, December 1st, 1793. Brought to. The Phoenix sent into Falmouth,
Mr. Waterhouse, Lieutenant, sent in her to take charge of the Blonde

The French fleet, as related above, put out of Brest on May 16, 1794.
Flinders tells us how they were sighted, and what happened during the
days preceding the great battle:

"Friday, May 23rd. The Southampton brought a strange brig into the fleet
and destroyed her...a.m. A fine little ship, called the Albion, of
Bermuda, set on fire by the Glory. The Aquilon brought a strange ship
into the fleet. A galliot, with Dutch colours inverted, passed through
the fleet, having been set on fire by the Niger...A French man-of-war,
captured and brought into the fleet by the frigates, was set on fire.

"Saturday, May 24. The ship brought into the fleet by the Aquilon left us
and stood to the eastward. She was bound to Hull, and was part of a Dutch
convoy, most of which had been taken and destroyed by the French fleet on
Wednesday last.

"Sunday, May 25th. At daybreak saw four sail to windward; our squadron
sent in chase. Fired a shot and brought to a French brig, man-of-war.
Made signal that the prize was not secure, and chased a large ship
further to windward, apparently of the line, and with another ship in
tow. Tacked as soon as she was on our beam. She had cast off her prize as
soon as we fired at the brig. In passing, fired at and brought to a
French corvette; but left her for the fleet to pick up. Passed to leeward
of the ship the chase had in tow. She appeared to be a large merchantman
and had up American colours. The frigates in chase picked her up soon
after. At 10 the chase was nearly hull down, and gained upon us. Stood
back to the fleet, being recalled by signal. Saw one of the prizes in
flames, and found the three had been destroyed at noon; 162 leagues west
by south of Ushant."

In the ensuing pages we are brought into the thick of the battle.

"Wednesday, May 28th. Saw two strange sail, one of which the Phoenix
spoke, and soon after made signal for a strange fleet south-south-west.
About 8, we counted 33 sail, 24 or 25 of which appeared to be of the
line, and all standing down towards us. At 8.30 our signal was made to
reconnoitre the enemy--as we were now certain they were. A frigate of
their's was likewise looking at us. At noon the enemy's fleet south-west
to west-south-west, on the larboard tack under an easy sail in line
ahead, and distant 3 or 4 leagues. Our fleet 3 or 4 leagues to leeward in
the order of sailing or under a press of sail. Ushant north 82 degrees
east 143 leagues.

"Thursday, May 29th, 1794. Fresh gales with rain at times, and a swell
from the westward. Repeated the general signals for chase, battle, etc.
Kd.* ship occasionally, working to windward under a press of sail, our
squadron and the frigates in company, and our fleet a few miles to

(* "Kd. ship" is an expression which puzzled Professor Flinders Petrie,
who appended a note to the Flinders papers, suggesting that it could
hardly mean kedged. Captain Bayldon supplies an exceedingly interesting

"Without the least doubt 'Kd. ship' means 'tacked ship.' 'Kd.' is either
a private abbreviation of Flinders' for 'tacked' or else he intended to
have written 'Tkd.' There is no nautical term beginning with K which
would make the least sense under the circumstances. 'Kedged' is utterly
inadmissable; both fleets were under way in pretty heavy weather.
'Working to windward' practically means 'tacking ship.' So why did
Flinders mention an obvious fact, 'tacked ship'? Because the weather was
bad, strong breezes, heavy swell, and therefore it was very hazardous to
tack ship (on account of throwing the sails aback) and also many ships
could not be forced into tacking with a heavy head swell. Consequently it
is usual to wear ship under these conditions (turn her round before the
wind). So he then mentions 'under a press of sail,' to force her up into
the wind (also making it a risky manoeuvre, for they could easily lose
their masts--foremast especially). Hence he was proud of the manoeuvre,
so mentions, 'tacked ship occasionally, under a press of sail.' On the
29th May at 8 a.m., the French van wore in succession. (Fresh wind, heavy
head sea). Soon after noon (Flinders' old nautical time gives May 30th)
Lord Howe signalled the British fleet to tack in succession. The leading
ship, the Caesar, instead of obeying, made the signal of inability and
wore round. The next ship, the Queen, also wore. So (at 1.30 p.m.) Lord
Howe set the example in the Queen Charlotte and tacked. Pasley's
Bellerophon followed him, and tacked also; the Leviathan tacked and
followed her. These three ships were the only ones to tack. All the
remainder wore, and so did the French. Either their captains would not
take the risk, or else could not force their ships through the heavy head
sea. So I expect Flinders and the 'Bully ruffians' felt elated at their
performance and he intended to record 'Tkd. ship.'")

"About 3 the Russell, being a mile or two to windward of us, began to
fire on the enemy's rear, as they were hauling on the larboard tack, and
continued to stand on with the Thunderer and frigates, to get into their
wake. We tacked a little before the rear ship was on our beam, which
enabled us to bring them to action a considerable time before the other
ships could come up to our assistance. Our first fire was directed on a
large frigate which brought up the enemy's rear, but she soon made sail
and went to windward of the next ship (a three-decker)* (* The
Revolutionnaire.) on whom we immediately pointed our guns. In a few
minutes she returned it with great spirit, our distance from her being
something more than a mile. My Lord Howe, seeing us engaged with a
three-decked ship, and the next ahead of him frequently giving us a few
guns, made the Russell and Marlborouqh's signals to come to our
assistance, they being on the weather quarter. About dusk more of the
fleet had got up with us, the signal having been made to chase without
regard to order. The Leviathan and Audacious, particularly, passed to
windward of us, and came to close engagement; the first keeping as close
to him to leeward as she could fetch, and the latter fetching to windward
of him, laid herself athwart his stern and gave a severe raking. The
headmost of the French fleet were apparently hove to, but made no effort
to relieve their comrade. At this time our maincap was seen to be so
badly sprung as to oblige us to take in the main topsail; the larboard
topsail sheet block was likewise shot away. Got down the top-gallant yard
and mast, and, the ship being scarcely under command, we made the signal
for inability. Soon after the Admiral called us by signal into his wake.
The enemy's rear ship about 9 had his mizzenmast gone and he bore down
towards us, the Russell and Thunderer striking close to his weather
quarter and lee bow, keeping up a severe fire, but he scarcely returned a
shot. Having got clear of them he continued coming down on us, apparently
with the intention of striking to our flag, but firing a shot now and
then. He was intercepted by one of our ships, who running to leeward of
him soon silenced his guns, and, we concluded, had obliged him to strike.
The enemy's fleet were now collected about 3 miles to windward, carrying
lights, as did ours. We were in no regular order, it having been broken
up by the chase. A.M., employed securing the maincap, etc. All hands kept
at quarters. Fresh breezes and hazy weather. At daybreak the enemy's line
was formed about 2 miles distant, and our commander in chief made the
signal to form the line of battle, and take stations as most convenient.
We bore down and took ours astern of the Queen Charlotte, the Marlborough
and Royal Sovereign following. About 8 our fleet tacked in succession,
with a view to cut off the enemy's rear, the Caesar leading and my Lord
Howe the 10th ship. As soon as our van were sufficiently near to bring
them to action, the enemy's whole fleet wore in succession, and ran to
leeward of their line in order to support their rear, and edged down van
to van. At 10 the firing commenced between the headmost ships of both
lines, but at too great a distance to do much execution, and the Admiral
made the signal to tack in succession in order to bring the enemy to
close action, but not being taken notice of, about noon it was repeated
with a gun. The Leviathan, being next ahead of the Admiral, fired some
guns, but the Queen Charlotte and those astern did not attempt it. Hazy
weather at noon with a considerable swell from the westward. Latitude
observed to be 47 degrees 35 minutes north. NOTE--We found this morning
at daybreak that the Audacious was missing, and we concluded was the ship
who had secured the prize, neither being in sight.* (* Of course this
surmise was incorrect. The Audacious had not secured the Revolutionnaire
which was towed into Rochefort by the Audacieux (curious similarity in
names). The Audacious badly crippled made her way to Plymouth
alone.--[Captain Bayldon's note].)

"Friday, May 30th. Fresh breezes and hazy weather. The signal for the van
to tack was again repeated, when the Caesar made the signal of inability;
but at last they got round, and the Admiral made signal to cut through
the enemy's line; but finding our leading ships were passing to leeward,
we tacked a considerable time before the ships came in succession, and
luffed up as close to them as possible. The enemy were now well within
point-blank shot, which began to fall very thick about us, and several
had passed through our sails before we tacked. Immediately we came into
the Queen Charlotte's wake we tacked, lay up well for the enemy's rear,
and began a severe fire, giving it to each ship as we passed. My Lord
Howe in the Charlotte kept his luff, and cut through their line between
the 4th and 5th ship in the rear. We followed, and passed between the 2nd
and 3rd. The rest of the fleet passed to leeward. Their third ship gave
us a severe broadside on the bow as we approached to pass under her
stern, and which we took care to return by two on her quarter and stern.
Before we had cleared her, her fore and maintop masts fell over the side,
and she was silenced for a while, but it was only till we had passed her.
Their rear ship received several broadsides even from our three-deckers,
but kept her colours up. The Orion ran down to her, but getting upon her
beam and too far to leeward was obliged to leave her, and she got to her
own fleet, whom we were now to windward of. Lord Howe made the signal to
tack, and for a general chase, but few of the van ships were able to
follow him. For ourselves, we lay to, to reeve new braces and repair the
rigging, which was entirely cut to pieces forward. The foresail was
rendered useless, and was cut away, and being only able to set a
close-reefed main topsail for fear of the cap giving way, we were not
able to follow his lordship. The French perceiving how few followed them,
rallied, tacked, and supported their disabled ships, and even made a
feint to cut off the Queen, who was rendered a wreck. The Admiral, seeing
their intention, bore down with several of the heavy ships who had not
been engaged, and forced them to leeward of our disabled ships. At 5.30
having got a new foresail bent, and the rigging in a little order, we
bore down and joined the Admiral, who soon after formed the line in two
divisions, and stood to the westward under an easy sail abreast of the
enemy, who were to leeward in a line ahead; the disabled ships in both
fleets repairing their damages, several of theirs being without topmasts
and topsail yards. At sunset saw two ships pass to windward, conjectured
to be the Audacious and prize. Employed splicing and knotting the
rigging, and repairing sails, not one of which but had several shot
through them. The truck of the foretopgallant mast was likewise shot
away. A.M., thick foggy weather. Saw the enemy at times north-north-west
4 or 5 miles. At noon very foggy. Latitude 47 degrees 39 minutes north by
dull observation.

"Saturday, May 31st, 1794. Lost sight of the enemy and only four of our
own ships in sight. People employed repairing sail, rigging, etc., with
all expedition. At noon thick and foggy. No enemy in sight; 30 sail of
our own ships.

"Sunday, June 1st, 1794.* (* Nautical reckoning in Flinders' day was 12
hours ahead; i.e., his June 1 began at noon on May 31. Occurrences
following "a.m.," happened on June 1 by the Almanac.) Moderate breezes
and foggy weather. Before two it began to clear up. Saw the enemy to
leeward, 8 or 9 miles distant, and made the signal for that purpose. Soon
after the whole fleet bore down towards them by signal. The enemy were
edging away from the wind, and several of their ships were changing
stations in the line; some of them without topmasts and topsail yards.
About 7, the van of our fleet being within three miles of the enemy's
centre, the heavy ships in the rear a considerable way astern, the
Admiral made the signal to haul to the wind together on the larboard
tack, judging we should not be able to bring on a general action
to-night. At sunset the enemy were in a line ahead from north-west by
west to north-east by east about four miles distant, and apparently
steering about two points from the wind. At 11 the Phaeton passed along
the line, and informed the different ships that Lord Howe intended
carrying single reefed T.S.F. sail, jib and M.T.M.S. sail.* (* Letters
probably denote single reefed Top Sails, Fore sail, jib and Main Topmast
and Main Stay sails.) After speaking us he kept on our lee bow; each ship
carrying a light by signal. A.M., fresh breezes and cloudy. At daybreak
the enemy not in sight, our rear ships a long way astern, their signal
made to make more sail; when the line became tolerably connected, the
whole fleet bore away and steered north-west by signal. A little before
six saw the enemy in the north by east about 3 leagues. Made the signal
to the Admiral for that purpose, who by signal ordered the fleet to alter
the course to starboard together, bearing down towards them. About 8,
being nearly within shot of the enemy's van, hove to for the rear of the
fleet to come up. Lord Howe made the signal 34, which we understood was
to pass through the enemy's line, but it did not seem to be understood by
the rest of the fleet. At 8.10 the signal was made to bear up and each
engage his opponent. We accordingly ran down within musket shot of our
opponent, and hove to, having received several broadsides from their van
ships in so doing. We now began a severe fire upon our opponent, the
second ship in the enemy's van, which she returned with great briskness.
The van ship likewise fired many shot at us, his opponent the Caesar
keeping to windward, not more than two points before our beam in general,
and of course nearly out of point-blank shot. About 8.30 Admiral Graves
made his and the Russell's signal to engage their opponent; we likewise
made Captain Molloy's (the Caesar) signal twice to bear down and come to
close action. About 9 the action became general throughout the two
fleets, but the Tremendous kept out of the line, but on being ordered in
by signal from the Admiral, she bore down after some time. A little
before 11 our brave Admiral (Pasley) lost his leg by an 18-pound shot,
which came through the barricading of the quarter-deck. It was now the
heat of the action. The Caesar was not yet come close to his opponent,
who in consequence of that fired all his after guns at us. Our own ship
kept up a severe fire, and by keeping well astern to let the Caesar take
her station, their third van ship shot up on our quarter, and for some
time fired all his fore guns upon us. Our shot was directed on three
different ships as the guns could be got to bear. In ten or fifteen
minutes we saw the foremast of the third ship go by the board, and the
second ship's main-top-sail-yard down upon the cap. Otherwise the two
headmost had not received much apparent injury, at least in the rigging.
At 11 1/4, however, they both bore away and quitted the line, their
Admiral being obliged to do the same some time before by the Queen
Charlotte. On seeing the two van ships hauling upon the other tack, we
conjectured they meant to give us their starboard guns. The Caesar's
signal was immediately made by us to chase the flying ships. On his
bearing down they were put into confusion, and their ship falling down
upon them they received several broadsides from the Leviathan and us,
before they could get clear; which when they effected they kept away a
little, then hauled their wind in the starboard tack, and stood away from
the opposing fleets. And now, being in no condition to follow, we ceased
firing; the main and foretopmast being gone, every main shroud but one on
the larboard side cut through, and many on the other, besides having the
main and foremasts with all the rigging and sails in general much
injured. We made the Latona's signal to come to our assistance, and got
entirely out of action. When the smoke cleared away, saw eleven ships
without a mast standing, two of whom proved to be the Marlborough and
Defence. The rest were enemy's, who, notwithstanding their situation kept
their colours up, and fired at any of our ships that came near them. The
Leviathan's opponent particularly (the same ship whose foremast we shot
away) lying perfectly dismasted, the Leviathan ran down to him to take
possession; but on her firing a gun to make him haul down his colours, he
returned a broadside, and a severe action again commenced between them
for nearly half an hour, and we could see shot falling on the water on
the opposite side of the Frenchman, which appeared to have gone through
both his sides, the ships being at half a cable's length from each other.
The Leviathan falling to leeward could not take the advantage of him her
sails gave her, and, seeing his obstinacy, left him, but not before his
fire was nearly silenced. About 11.30 the firing was pretty well ceased
on all sides, the Queen having only a foremast standing was fallen to
leeward between the two fleets. She stood on the larboard tack to fetch
our fleet, keeping to the wind in an astonishing manner, which we
afterwards learnt was effected by getting up boat's sails abaft. In this
situation every ship she passed gave her a broadside or more, which she
returned with great spirit, keeping up an almost incessant blaze. After
she had stood on past the fleets, she wore round and stood back, pursuing
the same conduct as before, but the French, having collected their
best-conditioned ships in a body, and being joined by two or three other
disabled ships, were making off, having apparently given up all ideas of
saving the rest. On this our fleet stood down a little, and the Queen
joined. We were now employed knotting, splicing, repairing, etc. the
rigging, cutting away the wrecks of the fore and main topmasts, and
securing the lower masts. Fortunately no accident happened with the
powder, or with guns bursting. We had but three men killed outright (a
fourth died of his wounds very soon after) and about 30 men wounded,
amongst whom five lost their limbs, and the other leg of one man was so
much shattered as to be taken off some time after. Our brave Admiral was
unfortunately in this list, as before observed. Captain Smith of the
Marines and Mr. Chapman, boatswain, were amongst the wounded on the
second day. Most of our spars were destroyed, and the boats severely
injured. About noon we had still fine weather and the enemy standing away
from us, except one ship, which did not seem injured, and paraded to
windward, as if with the intention of giving some of us disabled ships a
brush. However, we were well prepared for him, having got tolerably clear
of the wreck, and he stood back again and out of sight, having spoken one
of their wrecks. Lord Howe made the signal to form the line as most
convenient, but it was a long time before that movement could be

Flinders wrote in his journal an estimate of the French sailors who were
put on board his ship as prisoners. It is of some historical value:

"Their seamen, if we may judge from our own prisoners, are in a very bad
state both with respect to discipline and knowledge of their profession;
both which were evidently shown by the condition we saw them in on the
31st, many of them being without topmasts and topsail yards, and nearly
in as bad a state as on the 29th after the action. 'Tis true they were
rather better when we saw them in the morning of June 1st. Out of our 198
prisoners there certainly cannot be above 15 or 20 seamen, and all
together were the dirtiest, laziest set of beings conceivable. How an
idea of liberty, and more so that of fighting for it, should enter into
their heads, I know not; but by their own confession it is not their wish
and pleasure, but that of those who sent them; and so little is it their
own that in the Brunswick (who was engaged yardarm and yardarm with the
Vengeur) they could see the French officers cutting down the men for
deserting their quarters. Indeed, in the instances of the Russell and
Thunderer when close to the Revolutionnaire, and ours when cutting the
line, the French do not like to come too close. A mile off they will
fight desperately."

Pasley's loss of a leg had a decisive effect upon the career of Matthew
Flinders. So fine a sailor and so tough a fighting man would
unquestionably, if not partially incapacitated, have had conferred upon
him during the following years of war commands that would have led to his
playing a very prominent part in fleet operations. As it was, he did not
go to sea again, though he was promoted through various ranks to that of
Admiral of the Blue (1801). He became commander in chief at the Nore in
1798, and at Plymouth in 1799. Had he received other sea commands, his
vigorous, alert young aide-de-camp might have continued to serve with
him, and would thus have just missed the opportunities that came to him
in his next sphere of employment. What young officer would not have
eagerly followed a gallant and warm-hearted Admiral who had first placed
him upon a British quarterdeck and had made him an aide-de-camp? As it
was, the chance that came to Flinders about two months after the battle
off Brest was one that ministered to his decided preference for service
in seas where there was exploratory work to do.

Pasley's influence upon the life of Flinders was so important, that a
characterisation of him by one who has perused his letters and journals
must be quoted.* (* Memoir of Admiral Sir T.S. Pasley, by Louisa M.
Sabine Pasley. Sir T.S. Pasley was the grandson of Flinders' Admiral. It
unfortunately happens that the Journals of "old Sir Thomas" which are
extant do not cover the period when Flinders acted as his aide-de-camp.
Miss Sabine Pasley was kind enough to have a search made among his papers
for any trace of Flinders' relations with him, but without success.) "It
is impossible," writes Miss L.M. Sabine Pasley, "not to be impressed from
these journals with a strong feeling of respect for the writer, so
simple-minded, so kind-hearted, such a brave old sailor of his
time--rough, no doubt, in manners and language, but with an earnest and
genuine piety that shows itself from time to time in little ejaculations
and prayers, contrasting, it must be owned, rather strongly with the
terms in which the 'rascally Yankies' are alluded to in the same pages."
What Howe thought of him is recorded in a letter which he sent to the
Rear-Admiral a fortnight after the battle, regretting that "the services
of a friend he so highly esteemed and so gallant an officer, capable of
such spirited exertions, should be restrained by any disaster from the
continued exertion of them." There is also on record a letter to Pasley
from the Prime Minister, a model of grace and delicate feeling, in which
Pitt signified that the King had conferred on him a baronetcy "as a mark
of the sense which His Majesty entertains of the distinguished share
which you bore in the late successful and glorious operations of His
Majesty's fleet," and assured him "of the sincere satisfaction which I
personally feel in executing this commission."

On the south-western coast of Australia, eight years later, Flinders
remembered his first commander when naming the natural features of the
country. Cape Pasley, at the western tip of the arc of the great
Australian Bight, celebrates "the late Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, under
whom I had the honour of entering the naval service."* (* Flinders,
Voyage to Terra Australis 1 87.) On some current maps of Australia the
cape is spelt "Paisley," an error which obscures the interesting
biographical fact with which the name is connected.

It is noteworthy that though the career of Flinders as a naval officer
covers the stormiest period in British naval history, the whole of his
personal experience of battle was confined to these five days, May 28 to
June 1, 1794. The whole significance of his life lies in the work of
discovery that he accomplished, and in the contributions he made to
geography and navigation. Yet he was destined to feel the effect of the
enmity of the French in a peculiarly distressing form. His useful life
was cut short largely by misfortunes that came upon him as a consequence
of war, and work which he would have done to the enhancement of his
reputation and the advancement of civilisation was thwarted by it.


In order that the importance of the work done by Flinders may be
adequately appreciated, it is necessary to understand the state of
information concerning Australian geography before the time of his
discoveries. Not only did he complete the main outlines of the map of the
continent, but he filled in many details in parts that had been traversed
by his predecessors. This is a convenient point whereat to interrupt the
narrative of his life with a brief sketch of what those predecessors had
done, and of the curiously haphazard mode in which a partial knowledge of
this fifth division of the globe had been pieced together.

There never was, until Flinders applied himself to the task, any
deliberately-planned, systematic, persistent exploration of any portion
of the Australian coast. The continent grew on the map of the world
gradually, slowly, almost accidentally. It emerged out of the unknown,
like some vast mythical monster heaving its large shoulders dank and
dripping from the unfathomed sea, and metamorphosed by a kiss from the
lips of knowledge into a being fair to look upon and rich in kindly
favours. It took two centuries and a half for civilised mankind to know
Australia, even in form, from the time when it was clearly understood
that there was such a country, until at length it was mapped, measured
and circumnavigated. Before this process began, there was a dialectical
stage, when it was hotly contested whether there could possibly be upon
the globe lands antipodean to Europe; and both earlier and later there
were conjectural stages when makers of maps, having no certain data, but
feeling sure that the blank southern hemisphere ought to be filled up
somehow, exercised a vagrant fancy and satisfied a long-felt want by
decorating their drawings with representations of a Terra Incognita
having not even a casual resemblance to the reality.

The process presents few points of resemblance to that by which the
discovery of America was accomplished. Almost as soon as Europe came into
touch with the western hemisphere, discovery was pursued with unflagging
energy, until its whole extent and contour were substantially known.
Within fifty years after Columbus led the way across the Atlantic (1492),
North and South America were laid down with something approaching
precision; and Gerard Mercator's map of 1541 presented the greater part
of the continent with the name fairly inscribed upon it. There were, it
is true, some errors and some gaps, especially on the west coast, which
left work for navigators to do. But the essential point is that in less
than half a century Europe had practically comprehended America as an
addition to the known world. There was but a brief twilight interval
between nescience and knowledge. How different was the case with
Australia! Three hundred years after the date of Columbus' first voyage,
the mere outline of this continent had not been wholly mapped.

During the middle ages, when ingenious men exercised infinite subtlety in
speculation, and wrote large Latin folios to prove each other wrong in
matters about which neither party knew anything at all, there was much
dissertation about the possibility of antipodes. Bishops and saints waxed
eloquent upon the theme. The difficulty of conceiving of lands where
people walked about with their heads hanging downwards, and their feet
exactly opposite to those of Europeans, was too much for some of the
scribes who debated "about it and about." The Greek, Cosmas
Indicopleustes, denounced the "old wives' fable of Antipodes," and asked
how rain could be said to "fall," as in the Scriptures, in regions where
it would have to "come up"* (* The Christian Topography of Cosmas,
translated by J.W. McCrindle, page 17 (Hakluyt Society).) Some would have
it that a belief in Antipodes was heretical. But Isidore of Seville, in
his Liber de Natura Rerum, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, and
Vergil Bishop of Salzburg, an Irish saint, declined to regard the
question as a closed one. "Nam partes eius (i.e. of the earth) quatuor
sunt," argued Isidore. Curiously enough, the copy of the works of the
Saint of Seville used by the author (published at Rome in 1803), was
salvaged from a wreck which occurred on the Australian coast many years
ago. It is stained with seawater, and emits the musty smell which tells
of immersion. An inscription inside the cover relates the circumstance of
the wreck. Who possessed the book one does not know; some travelling
scholar may have perused it during the long voyage from Europe; and one
fancies him, as the ship bumped upon the rocks, exclaiming "Yes, Isidore
was right, there ARE antipodes!"

From about the fourth quarter of the sixteenth century until the date of
Abel Tasman's voyages, 1642 to 1644, there was a period of vague
speculation about a supposed great southern continent. The maps of the
time indicate the total lack of accurate information at the disposal of
their compilers. There was no general agreement as to what this region
was like in its outlines, proportions, or situation. Some cartographers,
as Peter Plancius (1594) and Hondius (1595), trailed a wavy line across
the foot of their representations of the globe, inscribed Terra Australis
upon it, and by a fine stroke of invention gave an admirable aspect of
finish and symmetry to the form of the world. The London map of 1578,
issued with George Best's Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie,
barricaded the south pole with a Terra Australis not unlike the design of
a switch-back railway. Molyneux' remarkable map, circa 1590, dropped the
vast imaginary continent, and displayed a small tongue of land in about
the region where the real Australia is; suggesting that some voyager had
been blown out of his course, had come upon a part of the western
division of the continent, and had jotted down a memorandum of its
appearance upon his chart. It looks like a sincere attempt to tell a bit
of the truth. But speaking generally, the Terra Australis of the old
cartographers was a gigantic antipodean imposture, a mere piece of
map-makers' furniture, put in to fill up the gaping space at the south
end of the globe.

A few minutes devoted to the study of a map of the Indian Ocean,
including the Cape of Good Hope and the west coast of
Australia--especially one indicating the course of currents--will show
how natural it was that Portuguese and Dutch ships engaged in the spice
trade should occasionally have found themselves in proximity to the real
Terra Australis. It will also explain more clearly than a page of type
could do, why the western and north-western coasts were known so early,
whilst the eastern and southern shores remained undelineated until James
Cook and Matthew Flinders sailed along them.

A change of the route pursued by the Dutch on their voyages to the East
Indies had already conduced to an acquaintance with the Australian coast.
Originally, after rounding the Cape, their ships had sailed north-east to
Madagascar, and had thence struck across the Indian Ocean to Java, or to
Ceylon. As long as this course was followed, there was little prospect of
sighting the great continent which lay about three thousand miles east of
their habitual track. But this route, though from the map it appeared to
be the most direct, was the longest in duration that they could take. It
brought them into the region of light winds and tedious tropical calms;
so that very often a vessel would lie for weeks "as idle as a painted
ship upon a painted ocean," and would occupy over a year upon the outward
voyage. In 1611, however, one of their commanders discovered that if,
after leaving the Cape, a ship ran not north-east, but due east for about
three thousand miles, she would be assisted by the winds, not baffled by
calms. Henrick Brouwer, who made the experiment, arrived in Java seven
months after leaving Holland, whereas some ships had been known to be as
long as eighteen months at sea. The directors of the Dutch East India
Company, recognising the importance of the discovery, ordered their
commanders to follow the easterly route from the Cape in future, and
offered prizes to those who completed the voyage in less than nine
months. The result was that the Dutch skippers became exceedingly anxious
to make the very utmost of the favourable winds, which carried them
eastward in the direction of the western coasts of Australia.

Thus it happened that in 1616 the Eendragt stumbled on Australia opposite
Shark's Bay. Her captain, Dirk Hartog, landed on the long island which
lies as a natural breakwater between the bay and the ocean, and erected a
metal plate to record his visit; and Dirk Hartog Island is the name it
bears to this day. The plate remained till 1697, when another Dutchman,
Vlaming, substituted a new one for it; and Vlaming's plate, in turn,
remained till 1817, when the French navigator, Freycinet, took it and
sent it to Paris.

After Hartog reported his discovery, the Dutch directors ordered their
ships' captains to run east from the Cape till they sighted the land.
This would enable them to verify their whereabouts; for in those days the
means of reckoning positions at sea were so imperfect that navigators
groped about the oceans of the globe almost as if they were sailing in
darkness. But here was a means of verifying a ship's position after her
long run across from the Cape, and if she found Dirk Hartog Island, she
could safely thence make her way north to Java.

But ships did not always sight the Australian coast at the same point.
Hence it came about that in 1619 J. de Edel "accidentally fell in with"
the coast at the back of the Abrolhos. Pieter Nuyts, in 1627,
"accidentally discovered" a long reach of the south coast. Similarly, in
1628, the Vianen was "accidentally," as the narrative says, driven on to
the north-west coast, and her commander, De Wit, gave his name to about
200 miles of it. In 1629 the Dutch ship Batavia was separated in a storm
from a merchant fleet of eleven sail, and ran upon the Abrolhos Reef. The
captain, Francis Pelsart, who was lying sick in his cabin at the time of
the misadventure, "called up the master and charged him with the loss of
the ship, who excused himself by saying he had taken all the care he
could; and that having discerned the froth at a distance he asked the
steersman what he thought of it, who told him that the sea appeared white
by its reflecting the rays of the moon. The captain then asked him what
was to be done, and in what part of the world he thought they were. The
master replied that God only knew that; and that the ship was on a bank
hitherto undiscovered." The story of Pelsart's adventure was recorded,
and the part of the coast which he saw was embodied on a globe published
in 1700.

To the accidental discoveries must be added those made by the Dutch
prompted by curiosity as to the possibility of drawing profit from the
lands to the south of their great East India possessions. Thus the Dutch
yacht Duyfhen, sent in 1605 to examine the Papuan islands, sailed along
the southern side of Torres Strait, found Cape York, and believed it to
be part of New Guinea. The great discovery voyages of Tasman, 1643 and
1644, were planned in pursuit of the same policy. He was directed to find
out what the southern portion of the world was like, "whether it be land
or sea, or icebergs, whatever God has ordained to be there."

In 1606 the Spaniard, Torres, also probably saw Cape York, and sailed
through the strait which bears his name. He had accompanied Quiros across
the Pacific, but had separated from his commander at the New Hebrides,
and continued his voyage westward, whilst Quiros sailed to South America.

It is needless for present purposes to catalogue the various voyages made
by the Dutch, or to examine claims which have been preferred on account
of other discoveries. It may, however, be observed that there are three
well defined periods of Australian maritime discovery, and that they
relate to three separate zones of operation.

First, there was the period with which the Dutch were chiefly concerned.
The west and north-west coasts received the greater part of their
attention, though the voyage of Tasman to the island now bearing his name
was a variation from their habitual sphere. The visits of the Englishman,
Dampier, to Western Australia are comprehended within this period.

The second period belongs to the eighteenth century, and its hero was
James Cook. He sailed up the whole of the east coast in 1770, from Point
Hicks, near the Victorian border, to Cape York at the northern tip of the
continent, and accomplished a larger harvest of discovery than has ever
fallen to the fortune of any other navigator in a single voyage. To this
period also belongs Captain George Vancouver, who in 1791, on his way to
north-western America from the Cape of Good Hope, came upon the
south-western corner of Australia and discovered King George's Sound. In
the following year the French Admiral, Dentrecasteaux, despatched in
search of the missing expedition of Laperouse, also made the south-west
corner of the continent, and followed the coast of the Great Australian
Bight for some hundreds of miles. His researches in southern Tasmania
were likewise of much importance.

The third period is principally that of Flinders, commencing shortly
before the dawn of the nineteenth century, and practically completing the
maritime exploration of the continent.

A map contained in John Pinkerton's Modern Geography shows at a glance
the state of knowledge
about Australia at the date of publication, 1802. Flinders had by that
time completed his explorations, but his work was not yet published. The
map delineates the contour of the continent on the east, west, and north
sides, with as much accuracy as was possible, and, though it is defective
in details, presents generally a fair idea of the country's shape. But
the line along the south coast represents a total lack of information as
to the outline of the land. Pinkerton, indeed, though he was a leading
English authority on geography when his book was published, had not
embodied in his map some results that were then available.

The testimony of the map may be augmented by a reference to what
geographical writers understood about Australia before the time of

Though Cook had discovered the east coast, and named it New South Wales,
it was not definitely known whether this extensive stretch of country was
separate from the western "New Holland" which the Dutch had named, or
whether the two were the extremities of one vast tract of land.
Geographical opinion rather inclined to the view that ultimately a strait
would be found dividing the region into islands. This idea is mentioned
by Pinkerton. Under the heading "New Holland" he wrote:* "Some suppose
that this extensive region, when more thoroughly investigated, will be
found to consist of two or three vast islands intersected by narrow seas,
an idea which probably arises from the discovery that New Zealand
consists of two islands, and that other straits have been found to divide
lands in this quarter formerly supposed to be continuous." The discovery
that Bass Strait divided Australia from Tasmania was probably in
Pinkerton's mind; he mentions it in his text (quoting Flinders), though
his map does not indicate the Strait's existence. He also mentions "a
vast bay with an isle," possibly Kangaroo Island. (* Modern Geography 2

Perhaps it was not unnatural that competent opinion should have favoured
the idea that there were several large islands, rather than one immense
continent stretching into thirty degrees of latitude and forty-five of
longitude. The human mind is not generally disposed to grasp very big
things all at once. Indeed, in the light of fuller knowledge, one is
disposed to admire the caution of these geographers, whose beliefs were
carefully reasoned but erroneous, in face of, for instance, such a wild
ebullition of venturesome theory as that attributed to an aforetime
Gottingen professor,* (*Professor Blumenbach according to Lang,
Historical Account of New South Wales, 1837 2 142.) who considered that
not only was Australia one country, but that it made its appearance upon
this planet in a peculiarly sudden fashion. His opinion was that "the
vast continent of Australia was originally a comet, which happening to
fall within the limits of the earth's attraction, alighted at length upon
its surface." "Alighted at length" is a mild term, suggestive of a
nervous lady emerging from a tram-car in a crowded street. "Splashed,"
would probably convey a more vigorous impression.

The belief that a strait would be found completely dividing New Holland
was a general one, as is shown by several contemporary writings. Thus
James Grant in his Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery (1803), expressing
his regret that his orders did not permit him to take his ship, the Lady
Nelson, northward from Port Jackson in 1801, speculated that "we might
also betimes have ascertained if the Gulf of Carpentaria had any inlet to
Bass Straits, and if it be discovered secure more quickly to Great
Britain the right of lands which some of our enterprising neighbours
might probably dispute with us. And this I trust will not be thought
chimerical when it was not known whether other Straits did not exist as
well as that dividing New Holland from Van Diemen's Land." Again, the
Institute of France in preparing instructions for the voyage of
exploration commanded by Nicolas Baudin (1800) directed a search to be
made for a strait which it was supposed divided Australia "into two great
and nearly equal islands."

Another interesting geographical problem to be determined, was whether a
great river system drained any part of the Australian continent. In the
existing state of knowledge the country presented an aspect in regard to
fluvial features wholly different from any other portion of the world. No
river of considerable importance had been found. Students of geography
could hardly conceive that there should be so large an area of land
lacking outlets to the sea; and as none had been found in the parts
investigated so far, it was believed that the exploration of the south
coast would reveal large streams flowing from the interior. Some had
speculated that within the country there was a great inland sea, and if
so there would probably be rivers flowing from it to the ocean.

A third main subject for elucidation when Flinders entered upon this
work, was whether the country known as Van Diemen's Land was part of the
continent, or was divided from it by a strait not yet discovered. Captain
Cook entertained the opinion that a strait existed. On his voyage in the
Endeavour in 1770, he was "doubtful whether they are one land or no." But
when near the north-eastern corner of Van Diemen's Land, he had been
twenty months at sea, and his supplies had become depleted. He did not
deem it advisable to sail west and settle the question forthwith, but,
running up the eastern coast of New Holland, achieved discoveries
certainly great enough for one voyage. He retained the point in his mind,
however, and would have determined it on his second voyage in 1772 to
1774 had he not paid heed to information given by Tobias Furneaux. The
Adventure, commanded by Furneaux, had been separated from the Resolution
on the voyage to New Zealand, and had cruised for some days in the
neighbourhood of the eastern entrance to Bass Strait. But Furneaux
convinced himself that no strait existed, and reported to that effect
when he rejoined Cook in Queen Charlotte's Sound. Cook was not quite
convinced by the statement of his officer; but contrary winds made a
return to the latitude of the supposed strait difficult, and Cook though
"half inclined to go over to Van Diemen's Land and settle the question of
its being part of New Holland" decided to proceed westward. As will be
seen hereafter, Flinders helped to show that the passage existed.

There were also many smaller points requiring investigation. Cook in
running along the east coast had passed several portions in the night, or
at such a distance in the daytime as to render his representation of the
coastline doubtful. Some groups of islands also required to be accurately
charted. Indeed, it may be said that there was no portion of the world
where, at this period, there was so much and such valuable work to be
done by a competent and keen marine explorer, as in Australia.

A passage in a manuscript by Flinders may be quoted to supplement what
has been written above, as it indicates the kind of speculations that
were current in the conversation of students of geography.* (* Called an
Abridged Narrative--Flinders' Papers.)

"The interior of this new region, in extent nearly equal to all Europe,
strongly excited the curiosity of geographers and naturalists; and the
more so as, ten years after the establishment of a British Colony at Port
Jackson on the east coast, and the repeated effort of some enterprising
individuals, no part of it beyond 30 leagues from the coast had been seen
by an European. Various conjectures were entertained upon the probable
consistence of this extensive space. Was it a vast desert? Was it
occupied by an immense lake--a second Caspian Sea, or by a Mediterranean
to which existed a navigable entrance in some part of the coasts hitherto
unexplored? or was not this new continent rather divided into two or more
islands by straits communicating from the unknown parts of the south to
the imperfectly examined north-west coast or to the Gulf of Carpentaria,
or to both? Such were the questions that excited the interest and divided
the opinion of geographers."

Apart from particular directions in which enquiry needed to be pursued,
it was felt in England that the only nation which had founded a
settlement on the Australian continent was under an obligation to
complete the exploration of the country. The French had already sent out
two scientific expeditions with instructions to examine the unknown
southern coasts; and if shipwreck had not destroyed the first, and want
of fresh water diverted the second, the credit of finishing the outline
of the map of Australia would have been earned for France. "Many
circumstances, indeed," wrote Flinders, "united to render the south coast
of Terra Australis one of the most interesting parts of the globe to
which discovery could be directed at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. Its investigation had formed a part of the instructions to the
unfortunate French navigator, Laperouse, and afterwards of those to his
countryman Dentrecasteaux; and it was not without some reason attributed
to England as a reproach that an imaginary line of more than two hundred
and fifty leagues' extent in the vicinity of one of her colonies should
have been so long suffered to remain traced upon the charts under the
title of Unknown Coast. This comported ill with her reputation as the
first of maritime powers."

We shall see how predominant was the share of Flinders in the settlement
of these problems, the filling up of these gaps.


Apart from Admiral Pasley, two officers who participated in Lord Howe's
victory on "the glorious First of June," had an important influence upon
the later career of Flinders. The first of these, Captain John Hunter,
had served on the flagship Queen Charlotte. The second, Henry Waterhouse,
had been fifth lieutenant on the Bellerophon. Flinders was under the
orders of both of them on his next voyage.

Hunter had accompanied the first Governor of New South Wales on the
Sirius, when a British colony was founded there in 1788, and was
commissioned by the Crown to assume the duties of Lieutenant-Governor in
case of Phillip's death. When the office fell vacant in 1793, Hunter
applied for appointment. He secured the cordial support of Howe, and Sir
Roger Curtis of the Queen Charlotte exerted his influence by recommending
him as one whose selection "would be a blessing to the colony" on account
of his incorruptible integrity, unceasing zeal, thorough knowledge of the
country, and steady judgment. He was appointed Governor in February,
1794, and in March of the same year H.M.S. Reliance, with the tender
Supply, were commissioned to convey him to Sydney.

Henry Waterhouse was chosen to command the Reliance, under Hunter, at
that officer's request. He expressed to the Secretary of State a wish
that the appointment might be conferred upon an officer to whom it might
be a step in advancement, rather than upon one who had already attained
the rank of commander; and he recommended Waterhouse as one who, though a
young man and not an old officer, was "the only remaining lieutenant of
the Sirius, formerly under my command; and having had the principal part
of his nautical education from me, I can with confidence say that he is
well qualified for the charge."

It is probable that Flinders heard of the expedition from his Bellerophon
shipmate, Waterhouse, who by the end of July was under orders to sail as
second captain of the Reliance. Certainly the opportunity of making
another voyage to Australian waters, wherein, as he knew, so much work
lay awaiting an officer keen for discovery, coincided with his own
inclinations. He wrote that he was led by his passion for exploring new
countries to embrace the opportunity of going out upon a station which of
all others presented the most ample field for his favourite pursuit.

The sailing was delayed for six months, and in the interval young
Flinders was able to visit his home in Lincolnshire. Whatever opposition
there may have been to his choice of the sea as a profession before 1790,
we may be certain that the Donington surgeon was not a little proud of
his eldest son when he returned after a wonderful voyage to the isles of
the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, and after participation in the recent
great naval fight which had thrilled the heart of England with exultation
and pride. The boy who had left his father's house four years before as
an anxious aspirant for the King's uniform now returned a bronzed seaman
on the verge of manhood. His intelligence and zeal as a junior officer
had won him the esteem and confidence of distinguished commanders. He had
looked upon the strangeness and beauty of the world in its most remote
and least-known quarters, had witnessed fights with savages, threaded
unmapped straits, and had, to crown his youthful achievements, striven
amidst the wrack and thunder of grim-visaged war. We may picture his
welcome: the strong grasp of his father's hand, the crowding enthusiasm
of his brother and sisters fondly glorying in their hero's prowess. The
warnings of uncle John were all forgotten now. When the midshipman's
younger brother, Samuel Ward Flinders, desired to go to sea with him, he
was not restrained, and, in fact, accompanied him as a volunteer on the
Reliance when at length she sailed.

Hunter took not merely an official but a deep and discerning interest in
the colonisation of Australia. He foresaw its immense possibilities,
encouraged its exploration, promoted the breeding of stock and the
cultivation of crops, and had a wise concern for such strategic
advantages as would tend to secure it for British occupation. He
perceived the great importance of the Cape of Good Hope from the point of
view of Australian security; and a letter which he wrote to an official
of the Admiralty while awaiting sailing orders for the Reliance (January
25, 1795), is perhaps the first instance of official recognition of
Australia's vital interest in the ownership of that post. There was cause
for concern. The raw and ill-disciplined levies of the French, having at
the outbreak of the Revolutionary wars most unexpectedly turned back the
invading armies of Austria and Prussia, and having, after campaigns full
of dramatic changes, shaken off the peril of the crushing of the
fatherland by a huge European combination, were now waging an offensive
war in Holland. Pichegru, the French commander, though not a soldier by
training, secured astonishing successes, and, in the thick of a winter of
exceptional severity, led his ragged and ill-fed army on to victory after
victory, until the greater part of Holland lay conquered within his grip.
In January he entered Amsterdam. There was a strong element of Republican
feeling among the Dutch, and an alliance with France was demanded.

When this condition of things was reported in England, Hunter was alarmed
for the safety of the colony which he was about to govern. The Cape of
Good Hope was a Dutch possession. Holland was now under the domination of
France. Might not events bring about the establishment of French power at
the Cape? "I cannot help feeling much concerned at the rapid progress of
the French in Holland," he wrote, "and I own shall not be surprised if in
consequence of their success in that country they make a sudden dash at
the Cape of Good Hope, if we do not anticipate them in such an attempt.
They are so very active a people that it will be done before we know
anything of it, and I think it a post of too much importance to be
neglected by them. I hope earnestly, therefore, that it will be prevented
by our sending a squadron and some troops as early as possible. If the
Republicans once get a footing there, we shall probably find it difficult
to dislodge them. Such a circumstance would be a sad stroke for our young

The course which Hunter then advised was that which the British
Government followed, though more because the Cape was the "half way
house" to India, than for the protection of Australian interests. An
expedition was despatched later in the year to protect the Cape against
French occupation, and in September the colony, by order of the
Stadtholder of Holland, accepted British protection.

The Reliance and the Supply left Plymouth on February 15th, 1795, amongst
a very large company of merchantmen and ships of the navy convoyed by the
Channel Fleet under Lord Howe, which guarded them till they were beyond
the range of possible French attacks and then sailed back to port.

From Teneriffe, which Hunter reached on March 6th, he wrote a despatch to
the Government stating his intention to sail, not to the Cape of Good
Hope, but to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and thence to New South Wales. His
avoidance of the more direct route was due to the causes explained above.
"In the present uncertain state of things between the French and Dutch,"
he had written before sailing, "it will be dangerous for me to attempt
touching at the Cape on my way out;" and writing from Rio de Janeiro in
May he explained that he did not "conceive it safe from the uncertain
state of the Dutch settlements in India to take the Cape of Good Hope in
my way to Port Jackson, lest the French, following up their late
successes in Holland, should have been active enough to make an early
attack on that very important post." In a despatch to the Duke of
Portland he commented strongly on the same circumstance, expressing the
opinion that "if the French should be able to possess themselves of that
settlement it will be rather unfortunate for our distant colony."

Hunter had to complain of discourteous treatment received from the
Portuguese Viceroy, who kept him waiting six days before according an
interview, and then fixed an appointment for seven o'clock in the
evening, when it was quite dark. "As His Excellency was acquainted with
the position I held, I confess I expected a different reception," wrote
Hunter; and he was so much vexed that he did not again set foot ashore
while his ships lay in port. The incident, though not important in
itself, serves, in conjunction with Hunter's avoidance of the Cape, to
illustrate the rather limp condition of British prestige abroad at about
the time when her authority was being established in Australia. With her
army defeated in the Low Countries, her ships deeming it prudent to keep
clear of the Cape that formed the key to her eastern and southern
possessions, and her King's representative subjected to a studied slight
from a Portuguese official in Brazil, she hardly appeared, just then, to
be the nation that would soon shatter the naval power of France, demolish
the greatest soldier of modern times, and, before her sword was sheathed,
float her victorious flag in every continent, in every sea, and over
people of every race and colour.

On this voyage, as on all occasions, Flinders kept a careful record of
his own observations. Sixteen years later, a dispute arose, interesting
to navigators, as to the precise location of Cape Frio in Brazil. An
American had pointed out an error in European charts. It was a matter of
some importance, because ships bound for Rio de Janeiro necessarily
rounded Cape Frio, and the error was sufficiently serious to cause no
small risk if vessels trusted to the received reckoning. The Naval
Chronicle devoted some attention to the point; and to it Flinders sent a
communication stating that on consulting his nautical records he found
that on May 2nd, 1795, he made an observation, reduced from the preceding
noon, calculating the position of the Cape to be latitude 22 degrees 53
minutes south, longitude 41 degrees 43 minutes west. His memorandum was
printed over a facsimile of his signature as that of "a distinguished
navigator," and was hailed as "a valuable contribution towards clearing
up the difficulty concerning the geographical position of that important
headland."* (* Naval Chronicle Volume 26.) For us the incident serves as
an indication of Flinders' diligence and carefulness in the study of
navigation. He was but a midshipman at the time, and it will be noticed
that it was a personal observation which he was able to quote, not one
taken as part of his duty as an officer.

The Reliance arrived at Port Jackson on September 7th, and in the
following month Flinders, with a companion of whom it is time to speak,
commenced the series of explorations which made his fame.

This companion was George Bass, a Lincolnshire man like Flinders himself,
born at Aswarby near Sleaford. He was a farmer's son, but his father died
when he was quite a child, and his mother moved to Boston. She managed
out of her widow's resources to give her son an excellent education, and
designed that he should enter the medical profession. In due course he
was apprenticed to a Boston surgeon, Mr. Francis--a common mode of
securing training in medicine at that period. He "walked" the Boston
hospital for a finishing course of instruction, and won his surgeon's
diploma with marked credit.

Bass had from his early years shown a desire to go to sea. His mother was
able to buy for him a share in a merchant ship; but this was wrecked,
whereupon, not cured of his love of the ocean, he entered the navy as a
surgeon. It was in that capacity that he sailed in the Reliance. He was
then, in 1795, thirty-two years of age.

All the records of Bass, both the personal observations of those who came
in contact with him, and the tale of his own deeds, leave the impression
that he was a very remarkable man. He was six feet in height,
dark-complexioned, handsome in countenance, keen in expression, vigorous,
strong, and enterprising. His father-in-law spoke of his "very
penetrating countenance." Flinders called him "the penetrating Bass."
Governor Hunter, in official despatches, said he was "a young man of a
well-informed mind and an active disposition," and one who was "of much
ability in various ways out of the line of his profession." He was gifted
with a mind capable of intense application to any task that he took in
hand. Upon his firm courage, resourcefulness and strength of purpose,
difficulties and dangers acted merely as the whetstone to the finely
tempered blade. He undertook hazardous enterprises from the sheer love of
doing hard things which were worth doing. "He was one," wrote Flinders,
"whose ardour for discovery was not to be repressed by any obstacle nor
deterred by danger." He seemed to care nothing for rewards, and was not
hungry for honours. The pleasure of doing was to him its own recompense.
That "penetrating countenance" indexed a brain as direct as a drill, and
as inflexible. A loyal and affectionate comrade, preferring to enter upon
a task with his chosen mate, he nevertheless could not wait inactive if
official duties prevented co-operation, but would set out alone on any
piece of work on which he had set his heart. The portrait of Bass which
we possess conveys an impression of alert and vigorous intelligence, of
genial temper and hearty relish. It is the picture of a man who was
abundantly alive in every nerve.

Flinders and Bass, being both Lincolnshire men, born within a few miles
of each other, naturally became very friendly on the long voyage to
Australia. It was said of two other friends, who achieved great
distinction in the sphere of art, that when they first met in early
manhood they "ran together like two drops of mercury," so completely
coincident were their inclinations. So it was in this instance. Two men
more predisposed to formulate plans for exploration could not have been
thrown together. A passion for maritime discovery was common to both of
them. Flinders, from his study of charts and books of voyages, had a
sound knowledge of the field of work that lay open, and Bass's keen mind
eagerly grasped the plans explained to him. It would not have taken the
surgeon and the midshipman long to find that their ambitions were
completely in tune on this inviting subject. "With this friend," Flinders
wrote, "a determination was found of completing the examination of the
east coast of New South Wales by all such opportunities as the duty of
the ship and procurable means could admit. Projects of this nature, when
originating in the minds of young men, are usually termed romantic; and
so far from any good being anticipated, even prudence and friendship join
in discouraging, if not in opposing them. Thus it was in the present
case." The significance of that passage is that the two friends made for
themselves the opportunities by which they won fame and rendered service.
They did not wait on Fortune; they forced her hand. They showed by what
they did on their own initiative, with very limited resources, that they
were the right men to be entrusted with work of larger scope.

Nevertheless it is unwarrantable to assume that Governor Hunter
discountenanced their earliest efforts. It was presumably on the passage
quoted above that the author of a chapter in the most elaborate modern
naval history founded the assertion that "the plans of the young
discoverers were discouraged by the authorities. They, however, had
resolution and perseverance. All official help and countenance were
withheld."* (* Sir Clements Markham in The Royal Navy, a History, 4 565.)
But Flinders does not say that "the authorities" discouraged the effort.
"Prudence and friendship" did. They were not yet tried men in such
hazardous enterprises; the settlement possessed scarcely any resources
for exploratory work, and the dangers were unknown. Official countenance
implies official responsibility, and there was not yet sufficient reason
for setting the Governor's seal on the adventurous experiments of two
young and untried though estimable men. When they had shown their
quality, Hunter gave them every assistance and encouragement in his
power, and proved himself a good friend to them. In the circumstances,
"prudence and friendship" are hardly to be blamed for a counsel of
caution. The remark of Flinders is not to be interpreted to mean that the
Governor put hindrances in their way. They were under his orders, and his
positive discountenance would have been effectual to block their efforts.
They could not even have obtained leave of absence without his approval.
But John Hunter was not the man to prevent them from putting their powers
to the test.

No sooner had the two friends reached Sydney than they began to look
about them for means to undertake the exploratory work upon which their
minds were bent. Bass had brought out with him from England a small boat,
only eight feet long, with a five foot beam, named by him the Tom Thumb
on account of her size.* (* Flinders' Papers "Brief Memoir" manuscripts
page 5. Some have supposed the measurements given in Flinders' published
work to have been a misprint, the size of the boat being so absurdly
small. But Flinders' Journal is quite clear on the point: "We turned our
eyes towards a little boat of about 8 feet keel and 5 feet beam which had
been brought out by Mr. Bass and others in the Reliance, and from its
size had obtained the name of Tom Thumb.") In this diminutive craft the
two friends made preparations for setting out along the Coast. Taking
with them only one boy, named Martin, with provisions and ammunition for
a very short trip, they sailed the Tom Thumb out of Port Jackson and made
southward to Botany Bay, which they entered. They pushed up George's
River, which had been only partly explored, and pursued their
investigation of its winding course for twenty miles beyond the former
limit of survey. Upon their return they presented to Hunter a report
concerning the quality of the land seen on the borders of the river,
together with a sketch map. The Governor was induced from what they told
him to examine the country himself; and the result was that he founded
the settlement of Bankstown, which still remains, and boasts the
distinction of being one of the pioneer towns of Australia.

The adventurers were delayed from the further pursuit of their ambition
by ship's duties. The Reliance was ordered to convey to Norfolk Island an
officer of the New South Wales Corps required for duty there, as well as
the Judge Advocate. She sailed in January, 1796. After her return in
March, Bass and Flinders, being free again, lost no time in fitting out
for a second cruise. Their object this time was to search for a large
river, said to fall into the sea to the south of Botany Bay, which was
not marked on Cook's chart. As before, the crew consisted only of
themselves and the boy.

It has always been believed that the boat in which this second cruise was
made, was the same Tom Thumb as that which carried the two young
explorers to George's River; indeed, Flinders himself, in his Voyage to
Terra Australis, Volume 1, page 97, says that "Mr. Bass and myself went
again in Tom Thumb." But in his unpublished Journal there is a passage
that suggests a doubt as to whether, when he wrote his book, over a
decade later, he had not forgotten that a second boat was obtained for
the second adventure. He may not have considered the circumstance
important enough to mention. At all events in the Journal, he writes: "As
Tom Thumb had performed so well before, the same boat's crew had little
hesitation in embarking in another boat of nearly the same size, which
had been since built at Port Jackson." There was, it is evident, a second
boat, no larger than the first, or that fact would have been mentioned,
and she was also known as the Tom Thumb. She was Tom Thumb the Second.
Only by that assumption can we reconcile the Voyage statement with the
Journal, which, having been written up at the time, is an authoritative
source of information.

They left Sydney on March 25th, intending to stand off to sea till
evening, when it was expected that the breeze would bring them to the
coast. But they drifted on a strong current six or seven miles southward,
and being unable to land, passed the night in the boat. Next day, being
in want of water, but unable to bring the Tom Thumb to a safe landing
place, Bass swam ashore. While the filled cask was being got off a wave
carried the boat shoreward and beached her, leaving the three on the
beach with their clothes drenched, their provisions partly spoiled, and
their arms and ammunition thoroughly wet. The emptying and launching of
the boat on a surfy shore, and the replacing of the stores and cask in
her, were managed with some difficulty; and they ran for two islands for
shelter late in the afternoon. Finding a landing to be dangerous they
again spent the night, cramped, damp, and uncomfortable, in their tossing
little eight-foot craft, with their stone anchor dropped under the lee of
a tongue of land. Bass could not sleep because, from having for so many
hours during the day had his naked body exposed to the burning sun, he
was "one continued blister." On the third day they took aboard two
aboriginals--"two Indians," Flinders calls them--natives of Botany Bay,
who offered to pilot them to a place where they could obtain not only
water but also fish and wild duck.

They were conducted to a small stream descending from a lagoon, and rowed
up it for about a mile until it became too shallow to proceed. Eight or
ten aboriginals put in an appearance, and Bass and Flinders began to
entertain doubts of securing a retreat from these people should they be
inclined to be hostile. "They had the reputation at Port Jackson of being
exceedingly ferocious, if not cannibals."

The powder having become wet and the muskets rusty, Bass and Flinders
decided to land in order that they might spread their ammunition in the
sun to dry, and clean their weapons. The natives, who increased in number
to about twenty, gathered round and watched with curiosity. Some of them
assisted Bass in repairing a broken oar. They did not know what the
powder was, but, when the muskets were handled, so much alarm was excited
that it was necessary to desist. Some of them had doubtless learnt from
aboriginals about Port Jackson of the thunder and lightning made by these
mysterious pieces of wood and metal, and had had described to them how
blackfellows dropped dead when such things pointed and smoked at them.
Flinders, anxious to retain their confidence (because, had they assumed
the offensive, they must speedily have annihilated the three whites), hit
upon an amusing method of diverting them. The aboriginals were accustomed
to wear their coarse black hair and beards hanging in long, shaggy,
untrimmed locks, matted with accretions of oil and dirt. When the two
Botany Bay blacks were taken on board the Tom Thumb as pilots, a pair of
scissors was applied to their abundant and too emphatically odorous
tresses. Flinders tells the rest of the story:

"We had clipped the hair and beards of the two Botany Bay natives at Red
Point,* (* Near Port Kembla; named by Cook.) and they were showing
themselves to the others and persuading them to follow their example.
Whilst therefore the powder was drying, I began with a large pair of
scissors to execute my new office upon the eldest of four or five chins
presented to me, and as great nicety was not required, the shaving of a
dozen of them did not occupy me long. Some of the more timid were alarmed
at a formidable instrument coming so near to their noses, and would
scarcely be persuaded by their shaven friends to allow the operation to
be finished. But when their chins were held up a second time, their fear
of the instrument, the wild stare of their eyes, and the smile which they
forced, formed a compound upon the rough savage countenance not unworthy
the pencil of a Hogarth. I was almost tempted to try what effect a little
snip would produce; but our situation was too critical to admit of such

Flinders treats the incident lightly, and as a means of creating a
diversion while preparing a retreat it was useful; but it can hardly be
supposed to have been an agreeable occupation to barber a group of
aboriginals. What the heads were like that received Flinders'
ministrations, may be gathered from the description by Clarke, the
supercargo of the wrecked Sydney Cove, concerning the natives whom he
encountered in the following year (March 1797): "Their hair is long and
straight, but they are wholly inattentive to it, either as to cleanliness
or in any other respect. It serves them in lieu of a towel to wipe their
hands as often as they are daubed with blubber or shark oil, which is
their principal article of food. This frequent application of rancid
grease to their heads and bodies renders their approach exceedingly

But the adventure, by putting the blacks into a good humour, enabled Bass
and Flinders to collect their dried powder, obtain fresh water, and get
back to their boat. The natives became vociferous for them to go up to
the lagoon, but the natives "dragged her along down the stream shouting
and singing," until the depth of water placed them in safety. Flinders,
in his Journal, expressed the view that "we were perhaps considerably
indebted for the fear the natives entertained of us to an old red jacket
which Mr. Bass wore, and from which they took us to be soldiers, whom
they were particularly afraid of; and though we did not much admire our
new name, Soja, we thought it best not to undeceive them."

On March 25 they anchored "under the innermost of the northern
islets...We called these Martin's Isles after our young companion in the
boat."* (* Journal.)

They were now in the Illawarra district, one of the most prolific in New
South Wales;* (* McFarlane, Illawarra and Monaro, Sydney 1872 page 8.)
and the observation of Flinders that the land they saw was "probably
fertile, and the slopes of the back hills had certainly that appearance,"
has been richly justified by a century's experience.

The two friends and their boy had to remain on the Tom Thumb for a third
night; but next afternoon (March 28) they were able to land unmolested,
to cook a meal, and to take some rest on the shore. "The sandy beach was
our bed, and after much fatigue and passing three nights of cramp in Tom
Thumb it was to us a bed of down."

At about ten o'clock at night, on March 29th, the little craft was in
extreme danger of foundering in a gale. The anchor had been cast under
the lee of a range of cliffs, but the situation was insecure, so that
Bass and Flinders considered it prudent to haul up the stone and run
before the wind. The night was dark, the wind burst in a gale, and the
adventurers had no knowledge of any place of security to which they could
run. The frowning cliffs above them and the smashing of the surf on the
rocks, were their guide in steering a course parallel with the coast.
Bass held the sheet, Flinders steered with an oar, and the boy bailed out
the water which the hissing crests of wind-lashed waves flung into the
boat. "It required the utmost exertion to prevent broaching to; a single
wrong movement or a moment's inattention would have sent us to the

They drove along for an hour in this precarious situation, hoping for an
opening to reveal itself into which they could run for shelter. At last,
Flinders, straining his eyes in the darkness, distinguished right ahead
some high breakers, behind which there appeared to be no shade of cliffs.
So extremely perilous was their position at this time, with the water
increasing despite the efforts of the boy, that Flinders, an unusually
placid and matter-of-fact writer when dealing with dangers of the sea,
declares that they could not have lived ten minutes longer. On the
instant he determined to turn the boat's head for these breakers, hoping
that behind them, as there were no high cliffs, there might be sheltered
water. The boat's head was brought to the wind, the sail and mast were
taken down, and the oars were got out. "Pulling thus towards the reef,
through the intervals of the heaviest seas, we found it to terminate in a
point, and in three minutes were in smooth water under its lee. A white
appearance further back kept us a short time in suspense, but a nearer
approach showed it to be the beach of a well-sheltered cove, under which
we anchored for the rest of the night." They called the place of refuge
Providential Cove. The native name was Watta-Mowlee (it is now called

On the following morning, March 30th, the weather having moderated, the
Tom Thumb's sail was again hoisted, and she coasted northward. After a
progress of three or four miles, Flinders and Bass found the entrance of
Port Hacking, for the exploration of which they had made this cruise. It
was a much-indented inlet directly south of Botany Bay, divided from it
by a broad peninsula, and receiving at its head the waters of a wide
river, besides several small creeks; and was named after Henry Hacking, a
pilot who had indicated its whereabouts, having come near it "in his
kangaroo-hunting excursions." The two young explorers spent the better
part of two days in examining the neighbourhood; and anyone who has had
the good fortune to traverse that piece of country, with its grassed
glades, its timbered hillsides, its exquisite glimpses of sapphire sea
and cool silver river, its broken and diversified surface, rich with
floral colour--for they saw it in early autumn--can realise how satisfied
they must have felt with their work. After a nine days' voyage, they
sailed out of Port Hacking early on April 2nd, and, aided by a fine wind,
drew up alongside the Reliance in Port Jackson on the evening of the same

The Reliance was an old and leaky ship. She had seen much service and was
badly in need of repairs. "She is so extremely weak in her whole frame
that it is in our situation a difficult matter to do what is necessary,"
wrote Hunter to the Secretary of State. Shipwrights' conveniences could
hardly be expected to be ample in a settlement that was not yet ten years
old, and where skilled labour was necessarily deficient. But she had to
be repaired with the best material and direction available, for she was
the best ship which His Majesty's representative had at his disposal. The
Supply was pretty well beyond renovation. She was American built, and her
timbers of black birch were never suitable for service in warm waters.
Shortly after the discovery of Port Hacking, Hunter set about the
overhauling of the vessel that was at once his principal means of naval
defence, his saluting battery, his official inspecting ship, his
transport, and his craft of all work. He wanted her especially just now,
for a useful piece of colonial service.

The Governor had received intelligence from Major-General Craig, who had
commanded the land forces when Admiral Elphinstone occupied the Cape of
Good Hope, that a British protectorate had been established at that very
important station. As Hunter had himself made the suggestion to the
Government that such a step should be taken, the news was especially
gratifying to him. Amongst his instructions from the Secretary of State
was a direction to procure from South Africa live cattle for stocking the
infant colony. He had brought out with him, at Sir Joseph Banks'
suggestion, a supply of growing vegetables for transplantation and of
seeds for sowing at appropriate seasons. He now set about obtaining the
live stock.

The Reliance and the Supply sailed by way of Cape Horn to South Africa,
where they took on board a supply of domestic animals. The former vessel
carried 109 head of cattle, 107 sheep and three mares. Some of the
officers brought live stock on their own account. Thus Bass had on board
a cow and nineteen sheep, and Waterhouse had enough stock to start a
small farm; but it does not appear that Flinders brought any animals. "I
believe no ship ever went to sea so much lumbered," wrote Captain
Waterhouse; and the unpleasantness of the voyage can be imagined, apart
from that officer's assurance that it was "one of the longest and most
disagreeable passages I ever made." The vessels left Cape Town for Sydney
on April 11th, 1797. The Supply was so wretchedly leaky that it was
considered positively unsafe for her to risk the voyage. But her
commander, Lieutenant William Kent, had a high sense of duty, and his
courage was guided by the fine seamanship characteristic of the service.
Having in view the importance to the colony of the stock he had on board,
he determined to run her through. As a matter of fact, the Supply arrived
in Sydney forty-one days before the Reliance (May 16), though Hunter
reported that she reached port "in a most distressed and dangerous
condition," and would never be fit for sea again. Kent's memory is
worthily preserved on the map of Australia by the name (given by Flinders
or by Hunter himself) of the Kent group of islands at the eastern
entrance of Bass Strait.

The Reliance, meeting with very bad weather, made a very slow passage.
Captain Waterhouse mentioned that one fierce gale was "the most terrible
I ever saw or heard of," so that he "expected to go to the bottom every
moment." He wondered how they escaped destruction, but rounded off his
description with a seaman's joke: "possibly I may be intended to be hung
in room of being drowned." The ship was very leaky all the way, and
Hunter reported that she returned to port with her pumps going. She
reached Sydney on June 26th.

The unseaworthy condition of the Reliance had an important bearing on the
share Flinders took in Australian discovery, for it was unquestionably in
consequence of his being engaged upon her repair that he was prevented
from accompanying his friend Bass on the expedition which led to the
discovery of Bass Strait. This statement is proved not only by the
testimony of Flinders himself, but by concurrent facts. Waterhouse wrote
on the return of the ship to Port Jackson, "we have taken everything out
of her in hopes of repairing her." This was in the latter part of 1797. A
despatch from Hunter to the British Government in January, 1798, shows
that at that time she was still being patched up. Flinders recorded that
"the great repairs required by the Reliance would not allow of my
absence," but that "my friend Mr. Bass, less confined by his duty, made
several excursions." Finally, it was on December 3rd, 1797, while the
refitting was in progress, that Bass started out on the adventurous
voyage which led to the discovery of the stretch of water separating
Tasmania from the mainland of Australia. But for the work on the
Reliance, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that Flinders would have
been with him. Duty had to be done, however; the "ugly commanded work,"
in which, as the sage reminds us, genius has to do its part in common
with more ordinary mortals, made demands that must take precedence of
adventurous cruising along unknown coasts. So it was that the cobbling of
a debilitated tub separated on an historic occasion two brave and loyal
friends whose names will be thought of together as long as British people
treasure the memory of their choice and daring spirits.


The patching up of the Reliance not being surgeon's work, Bass, throbbing
with energy, looked about him for some useful employment. The whole of
the New South Wales settlement at this time consisted of an oblong--the
town of Sydney itself--on the south side of Port Jackson, a few sprawling
paddocks on either side of the fang-like limbs of the harbour, some small
pieces of cultivated land further west, at and beyond Parramatta, and a
cultivable area to the north-west on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. A
sketch-map prepared by Hunter, in 1796, illustrates these very small
early attempts of the settlement to spread. They show up against the
paper like a few specks of lettuce leaf upon a white table cloth. The
large empty spaces are traversed by red lines, principally to the
south-west, marking "country which has been lately walked over." The red
lines end abruptly on the far side of a curve in the course of the river
Nepean, where swamps and hills are shown. The map-maker "saw a bull" near
a hill which was called Mount Hunter, and marked it down.

West of the settlement, behind Richmond Hill on the Hawkesbury, the map
indicated a mountain range. Bass's first effort at independent
exploration was an endeavour to find a pass through these mountains. The
need was seen to be imminent. As the colony grew, the limits of
occupation would press up to the foot of this blue range, which, with its
precipitous walls, its alluring openings leading to stark faces of rock,
its sharp ridges breaking to sheer ravines, its dense scrub and timber,
defied the energies of successive explorers. Governor Phillip, in 1789,
reached Richmond by way of the Hawkesbury. Later in the same year, and in
the next, further efforts were made, but the investigators were beaten by
the stern and shaggy hills. Captain William Paterson, in 1793, organized
an attacking party, consisting largely of Scottish highlanders, hoping
that their native skill and resolution would find a path across the
barrier; but they proceeded by boat only, and did not go far. In the
following year quartermaster Hacking, with a party of hardy men, spent
ten days among the mountains, but no path or pass practicable for traffic
rewarded his endeavours. Sydney was shut in between the sea and this
craggy rampart. What the country on the other side was like no man knew.

In June, 1796, before the Reliance sailed for South Africa, George Bass
made his try. The task was hard, and worth attempting, two qualifications
which recommended it strongly to his mind. He collected a small party of
men upon whom he could rely for a tough struggle, took provisions for
about a fortnight, equipped himself with strong ropes with which to be
lowered down ravines, had scaling irons made for his feet, and hooks to
fasten on his hands, and set out ready to cut or climb his way over the
mountains, determined to assail their defiant fastnesses up to the limits
of possibility. It was a stiff enterprise, and Bass and his party did not
spare themselves. But the Blue Mountains were a fortress that was not to

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