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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders by Ernest Scott

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Section of the Staff of the French Army (2 volumes Paris 1910). Colonel
Picard informed me that he did not intend to print the remainder,
thinking that the ground was sufficiently covered by Professor Henri
Prentout's admirable book L'Ile de France sous Decaen. I have, therefore,
had the section relating to Flinders transcribed from the manuscript, and
used it freely for this book.) Thus, when during the campaign of the
Rhine he found that his superior officer, General Jourdan, was taking
about with him as his aide-de-camp a lady in military attire, Decaen,
with a solemnity that seems a little un-French under the circumstances,
condemned the breach of the regulations as conduct "which was not that of
a father of a family, a legislator and a general-in-chief." As for the
lady, "les charmes de cette maussade creature" merely evoked his scorn.
It does not appear that Jourdan's escapade produced any ill effects in a
military sense, but it was against the regulations, and Decaen was as yet
as much lawyer as soldier.

When the revolutionary wars broke out, and France was ringed round by a
coalition of enemies, the voice of "la patrie en danger" rang in the ears
of the young student like a call from the skies. He was twenty-two years
of age when two deputies of the Legislative Assembly came down to Caen
and made an appeal to the manhood of the country to fly to arms. Decaen,
fuming with patriotic indignation, threw down his quill, pitched his
calf-bound tomes on to their shelf, and was the first to inscribe his
name upon the register of the fourth battalion of the regiment of
Calvados, an artillery corps. He was almost immediately despatched to
Mayence on the Rhine, where Kleber (who was afterwards to serve with
distinction under Bonaparte in Egypt) hard pressed by the Prussians,
withdrew the French troops into the city (March, 1793) and prepared to
sustain a siege.

Decaen rose rapidly, by reason not merely of his bull-dog courage and
stubborn tenacity, but also of his intelligence and integrity. He
received his "baptism of fire" in an engagement in April, when Kleber
sent a detachment to chase a Prussian outpost from a neighbouring village
and to collect whatever forage and provisions might be obtained. He was
honest enough to confess--and his own oft-proved bravery enabled him to
do so unashamed--that, when he first found the bullets falling about him,
he was for a moment afraid. "I believe," he wrote, "that there are few
men, however courageous they may be, who do not experience a chill, and
even a feeling of fear, when for the first time they hear around them the
whistling of shot, and above all when they first see the field strewn
with killed and wounded comrades."* (* Memoires 1 13.) But he was a
sergeant-major by this time, and remembered that it was his duty to set
an example; so, screwing up his courage to the sticking-place by an
effort of will, and saying to himself that it was not for a soldier of
France to quail before a ball, he deliberately wheeled his horse to the
front of a position where a regiment was being shaken by the enemy's
artillery fire, and by his very audacity stiffened the wavering troops
and saved the situation.

After the capitulation of Mayence in July, 1793, Decaen fought with
distinction in the war in La Vendee. In this cruel campaign he displayed
unusual qualities as a soldier, and attained the rank of
adjutant-general. Kleber gave him a command calling for exceptional
nerve, with the comment, "It is the most dangerous position, and I
thought it worthy of your courage." It was Decaen, according to his own
account, who devised the plan of sending out a number of mobile columns
to strike at the rebels swiftly and unexpectedly. But though he was
succeeding in a military sense, these operations against Frenchmen, while
there were foreign foes to fight beyond the frontiers, were thoroughly
distasteful to him. The more he saw of the war in La Vendee, and the more
terribly the thumb of the national power pressed upon the throat of the
rebellion, the more he hated the service. It was at his own solicitation,
therefore, that he was transferred to the army of the Rhine in January,

Here he served under the ablest general, saving only Bonaparte himself,
whom the wars of the Revolution produced to win glory for French arms,
Jean Victor Moreau. His bravery and capacity continued to win him
advancement. Moreau promoted him to the command of a brigade, and
presented him with a sword of honour for his masterly conduct of a
retreat through the Black Forest, when, in command of the rear-guard, he
fought the Austrians every mile of the road to the Rhine.

He became a general of division in 1800. At the battle of Hohenlinden,
where Moreau concentrated his troops to give battle to the Austrians
under the Archduke John, Decaen performed splendid service; indeed it was
he who chose the position, and recommended it as a favourable place for
taking a stand.* (* Memoires 2 89.) Moreau knew him well by now, and on
the eve of the fight (December 2nd) when he brought up his division to
the plateau in the forest of Ebersberg, where the village of Hohenlinden
stands, and presented himself at headquarters to ask for orders, the
commander-in-chief rose to greet him with the welcome, "Ah, there is
Decaen, the battle will be ours to-morrow." It was intended for a
personal compliment, we cannot doubt, though Decaen in his Memoires (2
136) interpreted it to mean that the general was thinking of the 10,000
troops whose arrival he had come to announce.

Moreau's plan was this. He had posted his main force strongly fronting
the Austrian line of advance, on the open Hohenlinden plateau. The enemy
had to march through thickly timbered country to the attack. The French
general instructed Decaen and Richepance to manoeuvre their two
divisions, each consisting of 10,000 men, through the forest, round the
Austrian rear, and to attack them there, as soon as they delivered their
attack upon the French front. The Archduke John believed Moreau to be in
full retreat, and hurried his army forward from Haag, east of
Hohenlinden, amid falling snow.

"By torch and trumpet fast array'd
Each horseman drew his battle-blade,
And furious every charger neigh'd
To join the dreadful revelry.
Then shook the hills with thunder riven;
Then rush'd the steed, to battle driven,
And louder than the bolts of Heaven
Far flashed the red artillery."

Decaen's division marched at five o'clock on the morning of December 3rd,
and shortly before eight the boom of the Austrian cannon was heard. His
troops pressed forward in a blinding snowstorm. An officer said that the
guns seemed to show that the Austrians were turning the French position.
"Ah, well," said Decaen, "if they turn ours, we will turn theirs in our
turn." It was one of the few jokes he made in his whole life, and it
exactly expressed the situation. The Austrian army was caught like a nut
in a nut-cracker. Battered from front and rear, their ranks broke, and
fugitives streamed away east and west, like the crumbled kernel of a
filbert. Decaen threw his battalions upon their rear with a furious
vigour, and crumpled it up; and almost at the very moment of victory the
snow ceased to fall, the leaden clouds broke, and a brilliant sun shone
down upon the scene of carnage and triumph. Ten thousand Austrians were
killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, whilst 80 guns and about two hundred
baggage waggons fell as spoils to the French. In this brilliant victory
Decaen's skill and valour, rapidity and verve, had been of inestimable
value, as Moreau was prompt to acknowledge.

The quick soldier's eye of Bonaparte recognised him at once as a man of
outstanding worth. The Consulate had been established in December, 1799,
and the First Consul was anxious to attach to him strong, able men. In
1802 Decaen ventured to use his influence with the Government regarding
an appointment to the court of appeal at Caen, for which Lasseret, his
old master in law, was a candidate; and we find Bonaparte writing to
Cambaceres, who had charge of the law department, that "if the citizen
possesses the requisite qualifications I should like to defer to the
wishes of General Decaen, who is an officer of great merit."* (*
Napoleon's Correspondance Document 5596.) He saw much of Bonaparte in
Paris during 1801 and 1802, when the part he had to play was an extremely
difficult one, demanding the exercise of tact and moral courage in an
unusual measure. The Memoires throw a vivid light on the famous quarrel
between Moreau and Napoleon, which in the end led to the exile of the
victor of Hohenlinden.

Moreau was Decaen's particular friend, the commander who had given him
opportunities for distinction, one whom he loved and honoured as a man
and a patriot. But he was jealous of Napoleon's success, was disaffected
towards the consular government, and was believed to be concerned in
plots for its overthrow. On the other hand, Napoleon was not only the
head of the State, but was the greatest soldier of his age. Decaen's
admiration of him was unbounded, and Napoleon's attitude towards Decaen
was cordial. He tried to reconcile these two men whom he regarded with
such warm affection, but failed. One day, when business was being
discussed, Napoleon said abruptly, "Decaen, General Moreau is conducting
himself badly; I shall have to denounce him." Decaen was moved to tears,
and insisted that Napoleon was ill informed. "You are good yourself,"
said the First Consul, "and you think everybody else is like you. Moreau
is corresponding with Pichegru," whose conspiracy was known to the
Government. "It is not possible." "But I have a letter which proves it."
Moreover, Moreau was openly disrespectful to the Government. He had
presented himself out of uniform on occasions when courtesy demanded that
he should wear it. If Moreau had anything to complain about, he did not
make it better by associating with malcontents. "He has occupied a high
position, which gives him influence, and a bad influence upon public
opinion hampers the work of the Government. I have not fallen here out of
the sky, you know; I follow my glory. France wants repose, not more
disturbance." Decaen manfully championed his friend, "I am persuaded," he
said, "that if you made overtures to Moreau you would easily draw him
towards you." "No," said Napoleon "he is a shifting sand." Moreau said to
Decaen, "I am too old to bend my back"; but the latter was of opinion
that the real source of the mischief was that Moreau had married a young
wife, and that she and his mother-in-law considered they were entitled to
as much attention as Madame Bonaparte received. Pride, jealousy and
vanity, he declared, were the real source of the quarrel. Decaen, indeed,
has a story that when Madame Moreau once called upon Josephine at
Malmaison, she returned in an angry state of mind because she was not at
once admitted, bidding a servant tell her mistress that the wife of
General Moreau was not accustomed to be kept waiting. The simple
explanation was that Josephine was in her bath!

Decaen came to be appointed Governor of Ile-de-France in this way. One
day, after dining with Napoleon at Malmaison, the First Consul took a
stroll with him, and in the course of conversation asked him what he
wanted to do. "I have my sword for the service of my country," said
Decaen. "Very good," answered Napoleon, "but what would you like to do
now?" Decaen then mentioned that he had been reading the history of the
exploits of La Bourdonnaye and Dupleix in India, and was much attracted
by the possibilities for the expansion of French power there. "Have you
ever been to India?" enquired Napoleon. "No, but I am young, and,
desiring to do something useful, I should like to undertake a mission
which I believe would not be likely to be coveted by many, having regard
to the distance between France and that part of the world. And even if it
were necessary to spend ten years of my life awaiting a favourable
opportunity of acting against the English, whom I detest because of the
injury they have done to our country, I should undertake the task with
the utmost satisfaction." Napoleon merely observed that what he desired
might perhaps be arranged.

A few months later Decaen was invited to breakfast with Napoleon at
Malmaison. He was asked whether he was still inclined to go to India, and
replied that he was. "Very well, then, you shall go." "In what capacity?"
"As Captain-General. Go and see the Minister of Marine, and tell him to
show you all the papers relative to the expedition that is in course of
being fitted out."

Under the treaty of Amiens, negotiated in 1801, Great Britain agreed to
restore to the French Republic and its allies all conquests made during
the recent wars except Trinidad and Ceylon. From the British point of
view it was an inglorious peace. Possessions which had been won in fair
fight, by the ceaseless activity and unparalleled efficiency of the Navy,
and by the blood and valour of British manhood, were signed away with a
stroke of the pen. The surrender of the Cape was especially lamentable,
because upon security at that point depended the safety of India and
Australia. But the Addington ministry was weak and temporising, and was
alarmed about the internal condition of England, where dear food,
scarcity of employment and popular discontent, consequent upon prolonged
warfare, made the King's advisers nervously anxious to put an end to the
struggle. The worst feature of the situation was that everybody
thoroughly well understood that it was a mere parchment peace. Cornwallis
called it "an experimental peace." It was also termed "an armistice" and
"a frail and deceptive truce"; and though Addington declared it to be "no
ordinary peace but a genuine reconciliation between the two first nations
of the world," his flash of rhetoric dazzled nobody but himself. He was
the Mr. Perker of politics, an accommodating attorney rubbing his hands
and exclaiming "My dear sir!" while he bartered the interests of his
client for the delusive terms of a brittle expediency.

Decaen was to go to India to take charge of the former French possessions
there, under the terms of the treaty, and from Pondicherry was also to
control Ile-de-France (Mauritius) which the English had not taken during
the war. Napoleon's instructions to him clearly indicated that he did not
expect the peace to endure. Decaen was "to dissimulate the views of the
Government as much as possible"; "the English are the tyrants of India,
they are uneasy and jealous, it is necessary to behave towards them with
suavity, dissimulation and simplicity." He was to regard his mission
primarily as one of observation upon the policy and military dispositions
of the English. But Napoleon informed him in so many words that he
intended some day to strike a blow for "that glory which perpetuates the
memory of men throughout the centuries." For that, however, it was first
necessary "that we should become masters of the sea."* (* Memoires 2

Decaen sailed from Brest in February, 1803. Lord Whitworth, the British
ambassador to Paris, watched the proceedings with much care, and promptly
directed the attention of his Government to the disproportionate number
of officers the new Captain-General was taking with him. The Government
passed the information on to the Governor-General of India, Lord
Wellesley, who was already determined that, unless absolutely ordered so
to do, he would not permit a French military force to land. Before Decaen
arrived at Pondicherry, indeed, in June, 1803, Wellesley had received a
despatch from Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies,
warning him that, notwithstanding the treaty of Amiens, "certain
circumstances render desirable a delay in the restitution of their
possessions in India" to the French, and directing that territory
occupied by British troops was not to be evacuated by them without fresh
orders. Great Britain already perceived the fragility of the peace, and,
in fact, was expediting preparations for a renewal of war, which was
declared in May, 1803.

When, therefore, the French frigate Marengo, with Decaen on board,
arrived at Pondicherry, the British flag still flew over the Government
buildings, and he soon learnt that there was no disposition to lower it.
Moreover, La Belle Poule, which had been sent in advance from the Cape to
herald the Captain-General's coming, was anchored between two British
ships of war, which had carefully ranged themselves alongside her. Decaen
grasped the situation rapidly. A few hours after his arrival, the French
brig Belier appeared. She had left France on March 25th, carrying a
despatch informing the Captain-General that war was anticipated, and
directing him to land his troops at Ile-de-France, where he was to assume
the governorship.

Rear-Admiral Linois, who commanded the French division, wanted to sail at
once. Decaen insisted on taking aboard some of the French who were
ashore, but Linois pointed to the strong British squadron in sight, and
protested that he ought not to compromise the safety of his ships by
delaying departure. Linois was always a very nervous officer. Decaen
stormed, and Linois proposed to call a council of his captains. "A
council!" exclaimed Decaen, "I am the council!" It was worthy of what
Voltaire attributed to Louis XIV: "l'etat, c'est mois." After sunset
Decaen visited the ships of the division in a boat, and warned their
captains to get ready to follow the Marengo out of the roadstead of
Pondicherry in the darkness. He considered that it would be extremely
embarrassing if the British squadron, suspecting their intentions,
endeavoured to frustrate them. At an appointed hour the Marengo quietly
dropped out of the harbour, cutting the cable of one of her anchors
rather than permit any delay.

On August 15th Decaen landed at Port Louis, Ile-de-France, and on the
following day he took over the government. He had therefore been in
command exactly four months when Matthew Flinders, in the Cumberland, put
into Baye du Cap on December 15th.

For his conduct in the Flinders affair Decaen has been plentifully
denounced. "A brute," "a malignant tyrant," "vindictive, cruel and
unscrupulous"--such are a few shots from the heavy artillery of language
that have been fired at his reputation. The author knows of one admirer
of Flinders who had a portrait of Decaen framed and hung with its face to
the wall of his study. It is, unfortunately, much easier to denounce than
to understand; and where resonant terms have been flung in freest
profusion, it does not appear that an endeavour has been made to study
what occurred from the several points of view, and to examine Decaen's
character and actions in the light of full information. A postponement of
epithets until we have ascertained the facts is in this, as in so many
other cases, extremely desirable.

No candid reader of Decaen's Memoires, and of Prentout's elaborate
investigation of his administration, can fail to recognise that he was a
conspicuously honest man. During his governorship he handled millions of
francs. Privateers from Ile-de-France captured British merchant ships, to
a value, including their cargo, of over 3 million pounds sterling,* a
share of which it would have been easy for Decaen to secure. (*
"Prentout, page 509, estimates the value of captures at 2 million pounds,
but Mr. H. Hope informed Flinders in 1811, that insurance offices in
Calcutta had actually paid 3 million pounds sterling on account of ships
captured by the French at Mauritius. Flinders, writing with exceptional
opportunities for forming an opinion, calculated that during the first
sixteen months of the war the French captures of British merchant ships
brought to Ile-de-France were worth 1,948,000 pounds (Voyage 2 416).) But
his financial reputation is above suspicion. His management was
economical and efficient. He ended his days in honourable poverty.

He was blunt and plainspoken; and though he could be pleasant, was when
ruffled by no means what Mrs. Malaprop called "the very pineapple of
politeness." His quick temper brought him into continual conflict with
superiors and subordinates. He quarrelled repeatedly with generals and
ministers; with Admiral Linois, with Soult, with Decres, with Barras,
with Jourdan, and with many others. When General Lecourbe handed him a
written command during the Rhine campaign, he says himself that, "when I
received the order I tightened my lips and turned my back upon him." He
speaks of himself in one place as being "of a petulant character and too
free with my tongue." That concurs with Flinders' remark, after bitter
experience of Decaen, that he possessed "the character of having a good
heart, though too hasty and violent."

Decaen's military capacity was much higher than his historical reputation
might lead one to suppose. During the fierce wars of the Napoleonic
empire, whilst Ney, Oudinot, Murat, Junot, Augereau, Soult, St. Cyr,
Davoust, Lannes, Marmont, Massena and Suchet, were rendering brilliant
service under the eye of the great captain, and were being converted into
dukes and princes, Decaen was shut up in a far-off isle in the Indian
Ocean, where there was nothing to do but hold on under difficulties, and
wait in vain for the turn of a tide that never floated a French fleet
towards the coveted India. Colonel Picard, than whom there is hardly a
better judge, is of opinion that had Decaen fought with the Grand Army in
Europe, his military talents would have designated him for the dignity of
a marshal of the Empire. On his return he did become a Comte, but then
the Napoleonic regime was tottering to its fall.

Such then was the man--stubborn, strong-willed, brusque, honest,
irritable, ill-tempered, but by no means a bad man at heart--with whom
Matthew Flinders had to do. We may now follow what occurred.


At four o'clock in the afternoon of December 17th the Cumberland entered
Port Louis, where Flinders learnt that Le Geographe had sailed for France
on the previous day. As soon as he could land he went ashore to present
himself to the Governor, whom he found to be at dinner. To occupy the
time until an interview could be arranged, he joined a party of officers
who were lounging in a shady place, and gossiped with them about his
voyage, about Baudin's visit to Port Jackson, about the English
settlement there, "and also concerning the voyage of Monsieur Flindare,
of whom, to their surprise, I knew nothing, but afterwards found it to be
my own name which they so pronounced."

In a couple of hours he was conducted to Government House, where, after a
delay of half an hour, he was shown into a room. At a table stood two
officers. One was a short, thick man in a gold-laced mess jacket, who
fixed his eyes sternly on Flinders, and at once demanded his passport and
commission. This was General Decaen. Beside him stood his aide-de-camp,
Colonel Monistrol. The General glanced over the papers, and then enquired
"in an impetuous manner," why Flinders had come to Ile-de-France in the
Cumberland, when his passport was for the Investigator. The necessary
explanation being given, Decaen exclaimed impatiently, "You are imposing
on me, sir! It is not probable that the Governor of New South Wales
should send away the commander of a discovery expedition in so small a
vessel." Decaen's own manuscript Memoires show that when this story was
told to him, he thought it "very extraordinary that he should have left
Port Jackson to voyage to England in a vessel of 29 tons;" and, in truth,
to a man who knew nothing of Flinders' record of seamanship it must have
seemed unlikely. He handed back the passport and commission, and gave
some orders to an officer; and as Flinders was leaving the room "the
Captain-General said something in a softer tone about my being well
treated, which I could not comprehend."

It is clear that Decaen's brusque manner made Flinders very angry. He did
not know at this time that it was merely the General's way, and that he
was not at all an ill-natured man if discreetly handled. On board the
Cumberland, in company with the interpreter and an officer, who were very
polite, he confesses having "expressed my sentiments of General Decaen's
manner of receiving me," adding "that the Captain-General's conduct must
alter very much before I should pay him a second visit, or even set my
foot on shore again." It is very important to notice Flinders' state of
mind, because it is apparent that a whole series of unfortunate events
turned upon his demeanour at the next interview. His anger is perfectly
intelligible. He was a British officer, proud of his service; he had for
years been accustomed to command, and to be obeyed; he knew that he was
guiltless of offence; he felt that he had a right to protection and
consideration under his passport. Believing himself to have been
affronted, he was not likely to be able to appreciate the case as it
presented itself at the moment to this peppery general; that here was the
captain of an English schooner who, as reported, had chased a French
vessel into Baye du Cap, and who gave as an explanation that he had
called to seek assistance while on a 16,000 mile voyage, in a 29-ton
boat. Surely Flinders' story, as Decaen saw it at this time, was not a
probable one; and at all events he, as Governor of Ile-de-France, had a
duty to satisfy himself of its truth. We can well understand Flinders'
indignation; but can we not also appreciate Decaen's doubt?

The officers, acting under instructions, collected all the charts,
papers, journals, letters, and packets, found on board, and put them in a
trunk which, says Flinders, "was sealed by me at their desire." They then
requested him to go ashore with them, to a lodging at an inn, which the
General had ordered to be provided for him. In fact, they had orders to
take him there. "What! I exclaimed in the first transports of surprise
and indignation, I am then a prisoner!" The officers expressed the hope
that the detention would not last more than a few days, and assured him
that in the meantime he should want for nothing. Flinders, accompanied by
Aken, went ashore, and the two were escorted to a large house in the
middle of the town, the Cafe Marengo, where they were shown into a room
approached by a dark entry up a dirty staircase, and left for the night
with a sentry on guard in the passage outside.

That Flinders had no doubt that he would soon be released, is shown by
the fact that he wrote from the tavern the following letter to the
captain of the American ship Hunter, then lying in Port Louis: "Sir,
understanding that you are homeward bound, I have to represent to you
that I am here with an officer and nine men belonging to His Britannic
Majesty's ship Investigator, lately under my command, and if I am set at
liberty should be glad to get a passage on board your vessel to St.
Helena, or on any other American who does not touch at the Cape of Good
Hope* and may be in want of men. I am, Sir, etc., etc., MATTHEW FLINDERS.

"If it is convenient for you to call upon me at the tavern where I am at
present confined, I shall be glad to see you as soon as possible."

(* He did not wish to call at the Cape, because if he got clear of the
French frying-pan he did not want to jump into the Dutch fire.)

Early in the afternoon of the following day Colonel Monistrol came to the
inn to take Flinders and Aken before the General, who desired to ask
certain questions. The interrogatories were read from a paper, as
dictated by Decaen, and Flinders' answers were translated and written
down. In the document amongst Decaen's papers the French questions and
answers are written on one side of the paper, with the English version
parallel; the latter being signed by Flinders. The translation is crude
(the scribe was a German with some knowledge of English) but is printed
below literally:

"Questions made to the commanding officier of an English shooner anchored
in Savanna Bay, at the Isle of France, on the 24th frimaire 12th year (on
the 17th December, 1803) chasing a coaster, which in consequence of the
declaration of war between the French Republic and Great Britain, had
intention to avoid the poursuit of said shooner. Said shooner carried the
next day in the harbour of Port North-West, where she anchored under
cartel colours, the commanding officer having declared to the officer of
the health boat that his name was Matthew Flinders, and his schooner the

"Demanded: the Captain's name?

"Answered: Matthew Flinders.

"D.: From what place the Cumberland sailed?

"A.: From Port Jackson.

"D.: At what time?

"A.: The Captain does not recollect the date of his departure. He thinks
it is on the 20th of September.

"D.: What is the purpose of his expedition?

"A.: His only motive was to proceed on to England as soon as possible, to
make the report of his voyages and to request a ship to continue them.

"D.: What can be the reason which has determined Captain Flinders to
undertake a voyage on board of the so small a vessel?

"A.: To avoid losing two months on proceeding by China, for a ship
sailing from Port Jackson was to put in China.

"D.: Does not Port Jackson offer frequent opportunities for Europe?

"A.: There are some, as he has observed it above, but that ship putting
in China is the reason which determined him not to proceed that way.

"D.: At what place had the Cumberland put in?

"A.: At Timor.

"D.: What could be the reason of her putting in at Timor?

"A.: To take fresh provision and water. He has left Timor 34 days ago.

D.: What passports or certificates has he taken in that place?

"A.: None.

"D.: What has been his motive for his coming at the Isle of France?

"A.: The want of water. His pumpers (sic) are bad, and his vessel is very

"D.: To what place does Captain Flinders intend to go to from this

"A.: Having no passport for the Dutch Government, he cannot put in the
Cape, according to his wishes, and will be obliged to stop at St. Helena.

"D.: What can be the reason of his having none of his officiers,
naturalis, or any of the other persons employed in said expedition?

"A.: Two of these gentlemen have remained in Port Jackson to repair on
board of the ship Captain Flinders expected to obtain in England,* and
the rest have proceeded on to China. (* "Pour s'embarquer sur le vaisseau
que le Cap. Flinders a espoir d'obtenir en Angleterre," in the French.
That is to say, Brown and Bauer remained behind till Flinders came out
again with another ship.)

"D.: What reason induced Captain Flinders to chase a boat in sight of the

"A.: Being never to this island, he was not acquainted with the harbour.
Seeing a French vessel he chased her* for the only purpose of obtaining a
pilot, and seeing her entering a bay he followed her. (* It is singular
that Flinders did not take exception to this word "chased" in the
translation when he signed it. The French version of his statement is
correct: "il forca de voile, NON POUR LUY APPUYER CHASSE mais pour luy
demander un pilote." The German translator boggled between the French and
the English.)

"D.: What reason had he to make the land to leewards, the different
directories pointing out the contrary route to anchor in the harbour.

"A.: He came to windwards, but the wind shifting contrary he took to
leewards and perceiving said vessel he followed her and anchored in the
same bay. He has no chart of the island.

"D.: Why has he hoisted cartel colours?

"A.: He answers that it is the custom, since Captain Baudin coming to
Port Jackson hoisted the colours of both nations.

"D.: Was he informed of the war?

"A.: No.

"D.: Has he met with any ship either at sea or in the different ports
where he put in?

"A.: He met one ship only, by the 6 or 7 degrees to the east of the Isle
of France. He did not speak her, though desirous of so doing, being
prevented by the night. He met with no ship at Timor.

"In consequence of the questions made to Captain Flinders respecting to
his wreck, he declares that after putting in at Port Jackson with the
ship under his command, he was through her bad condition obliged to leave
her, being entirely decayed. The Governor at that time furnished him with
a ship thought capable of transporting him to Europe. He had the
misfortune to wreck on the east coast of New Holland by the 22 degrees 11
minutes of latitude south on some rock distant 700 miles from Port
Jackson, and 200 miles from the coast. He embarked in the said ship's
boat, taking with him 14 men, and left the remainder of his crew on a
sand bank. He lost on this occasion three charts respecting his voyages
and particularly Golph Carpentary. After 14 days' passage he arrived at
Port Jackson. After tarrying in said place 8 or 9 days, the Governor
furnished him with the small vessel he is now in, and a ship to take the
remainder of the crew left on the bank. This vessel not being a
government ship and bound to China, proceeded on her intended voyage with
the officers and the crew which had been left on the bank.

"Captain Flinders declares that of the two boxes remitted by him one
contains despatches directed to the Secretary of State and the other was
entrusted to him by the commanding officer of the troops in Port Jackson,
and that he is ignorant what they contain.

"Captain Mw. Flinders to ascertain the legality of this expedition and
the veracity of what he expose,* (* "La verite de son expose," i.e., the
truth of his statement.) has opened in our presence a trunk sealed by him
containing the papers having a reference to his expedition, and to give
us a copy by him certified of the passport delivered to him by the First
Consul and His Majesty King of Great Britain; equally the communication
of his journal since the condemnation of his ship Investigator.

"Port North-West, Ile of France, the 26th frimaire 12th year of the
French Republic (answering to the 19th December, 1803).


Flinders corroborates the statement regarding the taking of papers from
the trunk, stating that they consisted of the third volume of his rough
log-book, which contained "the whole of what they desired to know,"
respecting his voyage to Ile-de-France. He told Decaen's Secretary to
make such extracts as were considered requisite, "pointing out the
material passages." "All the books and papers, the third volume of my
rough log-book excepted, were then returned into the trunk, and sealed as
before." It is important to notice that at no time were papers taken from
the trunk without Flinders' knowledge and concurrence, because the charge
has frequently been made, even by historical writers of authority,* that
his charts were plagiarised by the cartographers of Baudin's expedition.
(* In the Cambridge Modern History, for instance (9 739): "The French
authorities at Mauritius having captured and imprisoned the explorer
Flinders on his passage to England, attempted by the use of his papers to
appropriate for their ships the credit of his discoveries along the south
coast of Australia.") Flinders himself never made any such allegation,
nor is there any foundation for it. On the contrary, as will be made
clear hereafter, neither Decaen and his officers, nor any of the French,
ever saw any of Flinders' charts at any time.

Immediately after the examination the General, on behalf of Madame
Decaen, sent Flinders an invitation to dine, dinner being then served. At
this point, one cannot help feeling, he made a tactical mistake. It is
easily understood, and allowance can be made for it, but the consequences
of it were serious. He was angry on account of his detention, irritated
by the treatment to which he had been subjected, and unable in his
present frame of mind to appreciate the Governor's point of view. He
refused to go, and said he had already dined. The officer who bore the
invitation pressed him in a kindly manner, saying that at all events he
had better go to the table. Flinders replied that he would not; if the
General would first set him at liberty he would accept the invitation
with pleasure, and be flattered by it. Otherwise he would not sit at
table with Decaen. "Having been grossly insulted both in my public and
private character, I could not debase the situation I had the honour to

The effect of so haughty a refusal upon an inflammatory temper like that
of Decaen may be readily pictured. Presently an aide-de-camp returned
with the message that the General would renew the invitation when Captain
Flinders was set at liberty. There was a menace in the cold phrase.

Now, had Flinders bottled up his indignation and swallowed his pride--had
he frankly recognised that he was in Decaen's power--had he acknowledged
that some deference was due to the official head of the colony of a
foreign nation with whom his country was at war--his later troubles might
have been averted. An opportunity was furnished of discussing the matter
genially over the wine and dessert. He would have found himself in the
presence of a man who could be kind-hearted and entertaining when not
provoked, and of a charming French lady in Madame Decaen. He would have
been assisted by the secretary, Colonel Monistrol, who was always as
friendly to him as his duty would permit. He would have been able to hold
the company spell-bound with the story of the many adventures of his
active, useful life. He would have been able to demonstrate his bona
fides completely. It is a common experience that the humane feelings of
men of Decaen's type are easily touched; and his conduct regarding the
Napoleon-Moreau quarrel has been related above with some fulness for the
purpose of showing that there was milk as well as gunpowder in his
composition. But Flinders was angry; justifiably angry no doubt, but
unfortunately angry nevertheless, since thereby he lost his chance.

He learnt afterwards that "some who pretended to have information from
near the fountain-head hinted that, if his invitation to dinner had been
accepted, a few days would have been the whole" of his detention.* (*
Flinders Voyage 2 398.) That seems probable. He had no better friend than
Sir Joseph Banks; and he learnt to his regret that Banks "was not quite
satisfied with his conduct to the Government of Mauritius, thinking he
had treated them perhaps with too much haughtiness." His comment upon
this was, "should the same circumstances happen to me again I fear I
should follow nearly the same steps."* (* Flinders' Papers.) That is the
sort of thing that strong-willed men say; but a knowledge of the good
sense and good feeling that were native to the character of Matthew
Flinders enables one to assert with some confidence that if, after this
experience, the choice had been presented to him, on the one hand of
conquering his irritation and going to enjoy a pleasant dinner in
interesting company with the prospect of speedy liberation; on the other
of scornfully disdaining the olive branch, with the consequence of
six-and-a-half years of heart-breaking captivity; he would have chosen
the former alternative without much reluctance. There is a sentence in
one of his own letters which indicates that wisdom counted for more than
obstinacy in his temperament: "After a misfortune has happened, we all
see very well the proper steps that ought to have been taken to avoid it;
to be endowed with a never-failing foresight is not within the power of

That the view presented above is not too strong is clear from a passage
in an unpublished portion of Decaen's Memoires. He stated that after the
examination of Flinders, "I sent him an invitation from my wife* to come
to dine with us, (* Flinders does not state that the invitation came from
Madame Decaen. He may not have understood. But the refusal of it would on
that account have been likely to make the General all the more angry.)
although he had given me cause to withhold the invitation on account of
his impertinence; but from boorishness, or rather from arrogance, he
refused that courteous invitation, which, if accepted, would indubitably
have brought about a change favourable to his position, through the
conversation which would have taken place."* (* Decaen Papers Volume 10.
Decaen said in his despatch to the Minister: "Captain Flinders imagined
that he would obtain his release by arguing, by arrogance, and especially
by impertinence; my silence with regard to his first letter led him to
repeat the offence.") Here it is distinctly suggested that if the
invitation had been accepted, and a pleasant discussion of the case had
ensued, the detention of the Cumberland and her commander would probably
not have been prolonged.

Further light is thrown on these regrettable occurrences by a manuscript
history of Ile-de-France, written by St. Elme le Duc,* (* Bibliotheque
Nationale, nouveaux acquisitions, France Number 1 775.) a friend of
Decaen, who possessed intimate knowledge of the General's feelings. It is
therein stated that Decaen received Flinders "in uniform, the head
uncovered," but that "Captain Flinders presented himself with arrogance,
his hat upon his head; they had to ask him to remove it." The same writer
alleges that Flinders disregarded all the rules of politeness. It is fair
to state these matters, since the candid student must always wish to see
a case presented from several points of view. But it must be said that
only an intense feeling of resentment could have unhinged the courteous
disposition which was habitual with Flinders. A gentler man in his
relations with all could hardly have been found. He was not more
respectful to authority than he was considerate to subordinates; and
throughout his career a close reading of his letters and journals, and of
documents relating to him, can discover no other instance of even
temporary deviation from perfect courtesy. Even in this case one can
hardly say that he was to blame. There was sufficient in what occurred to
make an honest man angry. But we wish to understand what occurred and why
it occurred, and for that reason we cannot ignore or minimise the
solitary instance wherein a natural flame of anger fired a long train of
miserable consequences.

What, then, did Decaen intend to do with Flinders, at the beginning? He
never intended to keep him six-and-a-half years. He simply meant to
punish him for what he deemed to be rudeness; and his method of
accomplishing that object was to report to Paris, and allow the case to
be determined by the Government, instead of settling it himself
forthwith. Here again Flinders was well informed. His journal for May
24th, 1806, contains the following entry:* (* Flinders' Papers.) "It has
been said that I am detained a prisoner here solely because I refused the
invitation of General Decaen to dine; that to punish me he referred the
judgment of my case to the French Government, knowing that I should
necessarily be detained twelve months before an answer arrived." Or, as
he stated the matter in his published book (2 489): "My refusal of the
intended honour until set at liberty so much exasperated the
Captain-General that he determined to make me repent it."

It will be seen presently that the term of detention, originally intended
to endure for about a year, was lengthened by circumstances that were
beyond Decaen's control; that the punishment which sprang from the hasty
ire of a peppery soldier increased, against his own will, into what
appeared to all the world, and most of all to the victim, to be a piece
of malevolent persecution. The ball kicked off in a fit of spleen rolled
on and on beyond recovery.

There was, it must be admitted, quite enough in the facts brought under
Decaen's notice to warrant a reference to Paris, if he chose to be
awkward. In the first place, Flinders was carrying on board the
Cumberland a box of despatches from Governor King for the Secretary of
State. As pointed out in Chapter 12, the Admiralty instructions for the
Investigator voyage cautioned him "not to take letters or packets other
than those such as you may receive from this office or the office of His
Majesty's Secretary of State." Governor King was well aware of this
injunction. Yet he entrusted to Flinders this box of despatches,
containing material relative to military affairs. It is true that a state
of war was not known to exist at the time when the Cumberland sailed from
Port Jackson in September, 1803, although as a matter of fact it had
broken out in the previous May. But it was well known that war was
anticipated. It is also true that Flinders knew nothing of the contents
of the despatches. But neither, as a rule, does any other despatch
carrier in war time. When the Cumberland's papers were examined by
Decaen's officers, and these despatches were read and translated, there
was at once a prima facie ground for saying, "this officer is not engaged
on purely scientific work; he is the bearer of despatches which might if
delivered have an influence upon the present war." Flinders himself,
writing to Banks,* (* Historical Records 6 49.) said: "I have learnt
privately that in the despatches with which I was charged by Governor
King, and which were taken from me by the French General, a demand was
made for troops to be sent out to Port Jackson for the purpose of
annoying Spanish America in the event of another war, and that this is
considered to be a breach of my passport. 'Tis pity that Governor King
should have mentioned anything that could involve me in the event of a
war, either with the French at Mauritius, or the Dutch at Timor or the
Cape; or that, having mentioned anything that related to war, he did not
make me acquainted in a general way with the circumstances, in which case
I should have thrown them overboard on learning that war was declared;
but as I was situated, having little apprehension of being made a
prisoner, and no idea that the despatches had any reference to war, since
it was a time of peace when I left Port Jackson, I did not see the
necessity of throwing them overboard at a hazard. To be the bearer of any
despatches in time of peace cannot be incorrect for a ship on discovery
more than for any other; BUT WITH A PASSPORT, AND IN TIME OF WAR, IT
CERTAINLY IS IMPROPER." With characteristic straightforwardness, Flinders
did not hesitate to tell King himself that the despatches had cast
suspicion on him:* (* Historical Records 6 105.) "I have learned
privately that in your despatches to the Secretary of State there is
mention of Spanish America, which rendered me being the bearer, criminal
with respect to my passport. 'Tis pity I had not known anything of this,
for on finding myself under the necessity of stopping at the Isle of
France, and learning the declaration of war, I should have destroyed the
despatches; but leaving Port Jackson in time of peace, and confiding in
my passport, I did not think myself authorised to take such a step, even
after I knew of the war, having no idea there was anything in the
despatches that could invalidate my passport; neither, indeed, is it
invalidated in justice, but it is said to be the under-plea against me."

These despatches of King are preserved among Decaen's papers,* (* Decaen
Papers Volumes 84 and 105.) and an examination of them reveals that they
did contain material of a military character. In one of them, dated
August 7th, 1803, King referred to the possibility in any future war "of
the Government of the Isle of France annoying this colony, as the voyage
from hence may be done in less than seven weeks; and on the same idea
this colony may hereafter annoy the trade of the Spanish settlements on
the opposite coast. But to defend this colony against the one, and to
annoy the other, it would be necessary that some regard should be had to
the military and naval defences. The defences of the port may be made as
strong as in any port I know of. By the return of cannon and batteries
your Lordship will observe that those we have are placed in the best
situation for annoying an enemy. Still, a small establishment of
artillery officers and men are wanted to work those guns effectually in
case of necessity." King went on to make recommendations for the increase
of the military strength in men, officers, and guns. The originals of
those despatches, which could furnish the French Government with valuable
information concerning Port Jackson and the Flinders affair, are
endorsed, "letters translated and sent to France;" and Decaen commented
upon them that in his opinion the despatches alone afforded a sufficient
pretext for detaining Flinders. "Ought a navigator engaged in discovery,
and no longer possessing a passport for his ship, to be in time of war in
command of a despatch-boat,* especially when, having regard to the
distance between the period of the declaration of war and his departure
from Port Jackson he could have obtained there the news that war had
broken out?" (* "Devait-il en temps de guerre conduire un paquebot?")

In reporting to his Government Decaen related the story of the
Cumberland's arrival from his point of view at considerable length. He
expressed himself as satisfied that her commander really was Captain
Flinders of the Investigator, to whom the French Government had issued a
passport; detailed the circumstances of the examination; and complained
of Flinders' "impertinence" and "arrogance." Then he proceeded to
describe "several motives which have caused me to judge it to be
indispensable to detain Captain Flinders."

The first motive alleged was "the conduct of the English Government in
Europe, where she has violated all treaties, her behaviour before
surrendering the Cape of Good Hope, and her treatment of our ships at
Pondicherry." In no way could it be pretended that Flinders was connected
with these events.

The second motive was "the seizing of Le Naturaliste, as announced by the
newspapers." Decaen was here referring to the fact that, when Le
Naturaliste was on her homeward voyage from Port Jackson, conveying the
natural history collections, she was stopped by the British frigate
Minerva and taken into Portsmouth. But no harm was done to her. She was
merely detained from May 27th, 1803, till June 6th, when she was released
by order of the Admiralty. In any case Flinders had nothing to do with

The third motive was that Captain Flinders' logbook showed an intention
to make an examination of Ile-de-France and Madagascar, from which Decaen
drew the inference that, if the English Government received no check,
they would extend their power, and would seize the French colony. Herein
the General did a serious injustice to Flinders. His log-book did indeed
indicate that he desired "to acquire a knowledge of the winds and weather
periodically encountered at Ile-de-France, of the actual state of the
French colony, and of what utility it and its dependencies in Madagascar
might be to Port Jackson, and whether that island could afford resources
to myself in my future voyages." But information of this description was
such as lay within the proper province of an explorer; and the log-book
contained no hint, nor was there a remote intention, of acquiring
information which, however used, could be inimical to the security of the
French colony.

Decaen's mind had been influenced by reading Francois Peron's report to
him concerning the expansive designs of the British in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans. "There is no doubt," he informed his Government, "that the
English Government have the intention to seize the whole trade of the
Indian Ocean, the China Seas and the Pacific, and that they especially
covet what remains of the Dutch possessions in these waters." He derived
that extravagant idea from Peron's inflammatory communication, as will be
seen from a perusal of that interesting document.

By these strained means, then, did Decaen give a semblance of public
policy to his decision to detain Flinders. It would have been puerile to
attempt to justify his action to his superiors on the personal ground
that the English captain had vexed him; so he hooked in these various
pretexts, though ingenuously acknowledging that they would have counted
for nothing if Flinders had dined with him and talked the matter over

On the day following the examination and the refusal of the invitation,
Flinders was again conducted on board the Cumberland by Colonel Monistrol
and the official interpreter, who "acted throughout with much politeness,
apologising for what they were obliged by their orders to execute." On
this occasion all remaining books and papers, including personal letters,
were collected, locked up in a second trunk, and sealed. The document
noting their deposition and sealing was signed by Flinders,* who was
ordered to be detained in the inn under guard. (* Decaen Papers.) It was,
Decaen reported, the best inn in the island, and orders were given to
furnish the prisoner with all that he could want; but Flinders described
it as an exceedingly dirty place.

On his return to the inn from the ship Flinders wrote a letter to the
Governor, recounting the history of his explorations, and making two
requests: that he might have his printed books ashore, and that his
servant, John Elder, might be permitted to attend him. On the following
day Elder was sent to him. On the 22nd he wrote again, soliciting "that I
may be able to sail as soon as possible after you shall be pleased to
liberate me from my present state of purgatory."* (* Decaen Papers.) On
Christmas Day he sent a letter suffused with indignant remonstrance,
wherein he alleged that "it appears that your Excellency had formed a
determination to stop the Cumberland previously even to seeing me, if a
specious pretext were wanting for it," and reminded Decaen that "on the
first evening of my arrival...you told me impetuously that I was imposing
on you." He continued, in a strain that was bold and not conciliatory: "I
cannot think that an officer of your rank and judgment to act either so
ungentlemanlike or so unguardedly as to make such a declaration without
proof; unless his reason had been blinded by passion, or a previous
determination that it should be so, nolens volens. In your orders of the
21st last it is indeed said that the Captain-General has acquired the
conviction that I am the person I pretend to be, and the same for whom a
passport was obtained by the English Government from the First Consul. It
follows then, as I am willing to explain it, that I AM NOT and WAS NOT an
imposter. This plea was given up when a more plausible one was thought to
be found; but I cannot compliment your Excellency upon this alteration in
your position, for the first, although false, is the more tenable post of
the two."

Decaen's reply was stiff and stern. He attributed "the unreserved tone"
of Flinders to "the ill humour produced by your present situation," and
concluded: "This letter, overstepping all the bounds of civility, obliges
me to tell you, until the general opinion judges of your faults or of
mine, to cease all correspondence tending to demonstrate the justice of
your cause, since you know so little how to preserve the rules of

Flinders in consequence of this snub forebore to make further appeals for
consideration; but three days later he preferred a series of requests,
one of which related to the treatment of his crew:

"To his Excellency Captain-General Decaen,
"Governor in Chief, etc., etc., etc., Isle of France.

"From my confinement, December 28th, 1803.


"Since you forbid me to write to you upon the subject of my detainer I
shall not rouse the anger or contempt with which you have been pleased to
treat me by disobeying your order. The purpose for which I now write is
to express a few humble requests, and most sincerely do I wish that they
may be the last I shall have occasion to trouble your Excellency with.

"First. I repeat my request of the 23rd to have my printed books on shore
from the schooner.

"Second. I request to have my private letters and papers out of the two
trunks lodged in your secretariat, they having no connection with my
Government or the voyage of discovery.

"Third. I beg to have two or three charts and three or four manuscript
books out of the said trunks, which are necessary to finishing the chart
of the Gulf of Carpentaria and some parts adjacent. It may be proper to
observe as an explanation of this last request that the parts wanting
were mostly lost in the shipwreck, and I wish to replace them from my
memory and remaining materials before it is too late. Of these a
memorandum can be taken, or I will give a receipt for them, and if it is
judged necessary to exact it I will give my word that nothing in the
books shall be erased or destroyed, but I could wish to make additions to
one or two of the books as well as to the charts, after which I shall be
ready to give up the whole.

"Fourth. My seamen complain of being shut up at night in a place where
not a breath of air can come to them, which in a climate like this must
be not only uncomfortable in the last degree, but also very destructive
to European constitutions; they say, further, that the people with whom
they are placed are much affected with that disagreeable and contagious
disorder the itch; and that the provisions with which they are fed are
too scanty, except in the article of meat, the proportion of which is
large but of bad quality. Your Excellency will no doubt make such an
amendment in their condition as circumstances will permit.

"A compliance with the above requests will not only furnish me with a
better amusement in this solitude than writing letters to your
Excellency, but will be attended with advantages in which the French
nation may some time share. This application respecting the charts is not
altogether made upon a firm persuasion that you will return everything to
me, for if I could believe that they were never to be given to me or my
Government I should make the same request.

"Your prisoner,


On the day when the letter was despatched, Colonel Monistrol called, and
promised that the books and papers requested should be supplied; and, in
fact, the trunk containing them was without delay brought to the inn. The
Colonel courteously expressed his regret that Flinders had adopted such a
tone in his letters to the General, thinking "that they might tend to
protract rather than terminate" his confinement. The complaint respecting
the seamen was attended to forthwith, and they were treated exactly on
the same footing as were French sailors on service.* (* St. Eleme le
Duc's manuscript History.)

The first thing Flinders did, when he received the trunk, was to take out
his naval signal-book and tear it to pieces. Next day he was conducted to
Government House, and was allowed to take from the second trunk all his
private letters and papers, his journals of bearings and observations,
two log-books, and such charts as were necessary to complete his drawings
of the Gulf of Carpentaria. All the other books and papers "were locked
up in the trunk and sealed as before."

Until the end of March, 1804, Flinders was kept at the inn, with a sentry
constantly on guard over the rooms. St. Elme le Duc, in the manuscript
history already cited, declares that "Captain Flinders was never put in
prison," and that his custom of addressing letters "from my prison" was
an "affectation." But a couple of inn rooms wherein a person is kept
against his will, under the strict surveillance of a military custodian,
certainly constitute a prison. It is true that the Governor allotted 450
francs per month for his maintenance, sent a surgeon to attend to him
when scorbutic sores broke out upon his body, and gave him access to the
papers and books he required in order that he might occupy his time and
divert his mind with the work he loved. But it is surely quibbling to
pretend that even under these conditions he was not a prisoner. Even the
surgeon and the interpreter were not admitted without a written order;
and when the interpreter, Bonnefoy, took from Flinders a bill, which he
undertook to negotiate, the sentry reported that a paper had passed
between the two, and Bonnefoy was arrested, nor was he liberated until it
was ascertained that the bill was the only paper he had received. The
bill was the subject of an act of kindness from the Danish consul, who
negotiated it at face value at a time when bills upon England could only
be cashed in Port Louis at a discount of 30 per cent. This liberal
gentleman sent the message that he would have proffered his assistance
earlier but for the fear of incurring the Governor's displeasure.

An attempt was made in February to induce Decaen to send his prisoner to
France for trial. It was submitted in the following terms:* (* Decaen


"Having waited six weeks with much anxiety for your Excellency's decision
concerning me, I made application for the honour of an audience, but
received no answer; a second application obtained a refusal. It was not
my intention to trouble the Captain-General by recounting my grievances,
but to offer certain proposals to his consideration; and in now doing
this by letter it is my earnest wish to avoid everything that can in the
most distant manner give offence; should I fail, my ignorance and not
intention must be blamed.

"First. If your Excellency will permit me to depart with my vessel,
papers, etc., I will pledge my honour not to give any information
concerning the Isle of France, or anything belonging to it, for a limited
time, if it is thought that I can have gained any information; or if it
is judged necessary, any other restrictions can be laid upon me. If this
will not be complied with I request:

"Second, to be sent to France.

"Third. But if it is necessary to detain me here, I request that my
officer and my people may be permitted to depart in the schooner. I am
desirous of this as well for the purpose of informing the British
Admiralty where I am, as to relieve our families and friends from the
report that will be spread of the total loss of the two ships with all on
board. My officer can be laid under what restrictions may be thought
necessary, and my honour shall be a security that nothing shall be
transmitted by me but what passes under the inspection of the officer who
might be appointed for that purpose.

"If your Excellency does not think proper to adopt any of these modes, by
which, with submission, I conceive my voyage of discovery might be
permitted to proceed without any possible injury to the Isle of France or
its dependencies, I then think it necessary to remind the Captain-General
that since the shipwreck of the Porpoise, which happened now six months
back, my officers and people as well as myself have been mostly confined
either on a very small sandbank in the open sea, or in a boat, or
otherwise on board the small schooner Cumberland, where there is no room
to walk, or been kept prisoners as at present; and also, that previous to
this time I had not recovered from a scorbutic and very debilitated state
arising from having been eleven months exposed to great fatigue, bad
climates and salt provisions. From the scorbutic sores which have again
troubled me since my arrival in this port the surgeon who dressed them
saw that a vegetable diet and exercise were necessary to correct the
diseased state of the blood and to restore my health; but his application
through your Excellency's aide-de-camp for me to walk out, unfortunately
for my health and peace of mind, received a negative. The Captain-General
best knows whether my conduct has deserved, or the exigencies of his
Government require, that I should continue to remain closely confined in
this sickly town and cut off from all society.

"With all due consideration, I am,

"Your Excellency's prisoner,


To this petition Decaen returned no reply. Feeling therefore that his
detention was likely to be prolonged, Flinders, weary of confinement, and
longing for human fellowship, applied to be removed to the place where
British officers, prisoners of war, were kept. It was a large house with
spacious rooms standing in a couple of acres of ground, about a mile from
the tavern, and was variously called the Maison Despeaux, or the Garden
Prison. Here at all events fresh air could be enjoyed. The application
was acceded to immediately, and Colonel Monistrol himself came, with the
courtesy that he never lost an opportunity of manifesting, to conduct
Flinders and Aken and to assist them to choose rooms. "This little walk
of a mile," Flinders recorded, "showed how debilitating is the want of
exercise and fresh air, for it was not without the assistance of Colonel
Monistrol's arm that I was able to get through it. Conveyances were sent
in the evening for our trunks, and we took possession of our new prison
with a considerable degree of pleasure, this change of situation and
surrounding objects producing an exhilaration of spirits to which we had
long been strangers."


We shall now see how a detention which had been designed as a sharp
punishment of an officer who had not comported himself with perfect
respect, and which Decaen never intended to be prolonged beyond about
twelve months, dragged itself into years, and came to bear an aspect of
obstinate malignity.

Decaen's despatch arrived in France during the first half of the year
1804. Its terms were not calculated to induce the French Government to
regard Flinders as a man entitled to their consideration, even if events
had been conducive to a speedy determination. But the Departments,
especially those of Marine and War, were being worked to their full
capacity upon affairs of the most pressing moment. Napoleon became
Emperor of the French in that year (May), and his immense energy was
flogging official activities incessantly. War with England mainly
absorbed attention. At Boulogne a great flotilla had been organized for
the invasion of the obdurate country across the Channel. A large fleet
was being fitted out at Brest and at Toulon, the fleet which Nelson was
to smash at Trafalgar in the following year. Matters relating to the
isolated colony in the Indian Ocean did not at the moment command much
interest in France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

"I have the honour to be,

"Your Excellency's most obedient servant and prisoner,


"Maison Despeaux, June 2, 1804."

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

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

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

"Maison Despeaux, December 16, 1804.


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

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

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

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

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

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


To this appeal the General vouchsafed no response.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

(Comite des Souvenirs Historiques. 1897.)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

"July 24, 1807.


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

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

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


"His Excellency the Captain-General Decaen."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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