The Discoveries Of Bass And Flinders

#1.# No community has ever been more completely isolated than the first

inhabitants of Sydney. They were three thousand miles away from the

nearest white men; before them lay a great ocean, visited only at rare

intervals, and, for the greater part, unexplored; behind them was an

unknown continent, a vast, untrodden waste, in which they formed but a

speck. They were almost completely shut out from intercourse with the

vilised world, and few of them could have any hope of returning to

their native land. This made the colony all the more suitable as a place

of punishment; for people shrank with horror at the idea of being

banished to what seemed like a tomb for living men and women. But, for

all that, it was not desirable that Australia should remain always as

unknown and unexplored as it then was; and, seven years after the first

settlement was made, two men arrived who were determined not to suffer

it so to remain.

When Governor Hunter came in 1795, he brought with him, on board his

ship the Reliance, a young surgeon, George Bass, and a midshipman

called Matthew Flinders. They were young men of the most admirable

character, modest and amiable, filled with a generous and manly

affection for one another, and fired by a lofty enthusiasm which

rejoiced in the wide field for discovery and fame that spread all around

them. Within a month after their arrival they purchased a small boat

about eight feet in length, which they christened the Tom Thumb. Its

crew consisted of themselves and a boy to assist--truly a poor equipment

with which to face a great and stormy ocean like the Pacific. They

sailed out, and after tossing for some time like a toy on the huge

waves, they succeeded in entering Botany Bay, which they thoroughly

explored, making a chart of its shores and rivers. On their return,

Governor Hunter was so highly pleased with their work, that, shortly

after, he gave them a holiday, which they spent in making a longer

expedition to the south. It was said that a very large river fell into

the sea south of Botany Bay, and they went out to search for its mouth.

Boat Excursion. In this trip they met with some adventures which

will serve to illustrate the dangers of such a voyage. On one occasion,

when their boat had been upset on the shore, and their powder was wetted

by the sea-water, about fifty natives gathered round them, evidently

with no friendly intention. Bass spread the powder out on the rocks to

dry, and procured a supply of fresh water from a neighbouring pond. But

they were in expectation every moment of being attacked and speared, and

there was no hope of defending themselves till the powder was ready.

Flinders, knowing the fondness of the natives for the luxury of a shave,

persuaded them to sit down one after another on a rock, and amused them

by clipping their beards with a pair of scissors. As soon as the powder

was dry the explorers loaded their muskets and cautiously retreated to

their boat, which they set right, and pushed off without mishap.

Once more on the Pacific, new dangers awaited them. They had been

carried far to the south by the strong currents, and the wind was

unfavourable. There was therefore no course open to them but to row as

far as they could during the day, and at night throw out the stone which

served as an anchor, and lie as sheltered as they could, in order to

snatch a little sleep. On one of these nights, while they lay thus

asleep, the wind suddenly rose to a gale, and they were roughly wakened

by the splashing of the waves over their boat. They pulled up their

stone anchor and ran before the tempest--Bass holding the sail and

Flinders steering with an oar. As Flinders says: "It required the utmost

care to prevent broaching to; a single wrong movement or a moment's

inattention would have sent us to the bottom. The task of the boy was to

bale out the water, which, in spite of every care, the sea threw in upon

us. The night was perfectly dark, and we knew of no place of shelter,

and the only direction by which we could steer was the roar of the waves

upon the neighbouring cliff's." After an hour spent in this manner, they

found themselves running straight for the breakers. They pulled down

their mast and got out the oars, though without much hope of escape.

They rowed desperately, however, and had the satisfaction of rounding

the long line of boiling surf. Three minutes after they were in smooth

water, under the lee of the rocks, and soon they discovered a

well-sheltered cove, where they anchored for the rest of the night.

It was not till two days later that they found the place they were

seeking. It turned out not to be a river at all, but only the little bay

of Port Hacking, which they examined and minutely described. When they

reached Sydney they gave information which enabled accurate maps to be

constructed of between thirty and forty miles of coast.

Clarke. On arriving at Port Jackson, they found that an accident

had indirectly assisted in exploring that very coast on which they had

landed. A vessel called the Sydney Cove, on its way to Port Jackson,

had been wrecked on Furneaux Island, to the north of Van Diemen's Land.

A large party, headed by Mr. Clarke, the supercargo, had started in

boats, intending to sail along the coasts and obtain help from Sydney.

They were thrown ashore by a storm at Cape Howe, and had to begin a

dreary walk of three hundred miles through dense and unknown country.

Their small store of provisions was soon used, and they could find no

food and little fresh water on their path. Many dropped down, exhausted

by hunger and fatigue, and had to be abandoned to their fate. Of those

who contrived to approach within thirty miles of Sydney, the greater

part were murdered by the same tribe of blacks from whom Bass and

Flinders had apprehended danger. Clarke and one or two others reached

Port Jackson; their clothes in tatters, their bodies wasted almost to

the bones, and in such a state that, when a boat was brought to carry

them over the bay to Sydney, they had to be lifted on board like

infants. Mr. Clarke, on his recovery, was able to give a very useful

account of a great tract of land not previously explored. The crew of

the Sydney Cove were meanwhile living on one of the Furneaux Group,

and several small ships were sent down from Sydney to rescue the crew

and cargo; these also served to make the coast better known. Flinders

was very anxious to go in one of them, in order to make a chart of the

places he might pass; but his ship, the Reliance, sailed for Norfolk

Island, and he had to be a long time absent.

Discovery of Bass Straits. His friend Bass was more fortunate; for

Governor Hunter gave him an open whaleboat, together with provisions for

six weeks, and six men to manage the boat. With these he discovered the

harbour and river of Shoalhaven; entered and mapped out Jervis Bay;

discovered Twofold Bay, then rounded Cape Howe, and discovered the

country now called Victoria. After sailing along the Ninety-mile Beach,

he saw high land to the south-west; and, standing out towards it,

discovered the bold headland which was afterwards named Wilson's

Promontory. Bad weather drove him to seek for shelter, and this led to

the discovery of Western Port, where he remained thirteen days. But as

his provisions were running short, he was forced, with a heavy heart, to

turn homeward. He had again to seek shelter, however, from strong head

winds, and in doing so discovered what is called Corner Inlet. In all he

prolonged his voyage to eleven weeks, before he again reached Sydney:

during that time he had explored six hundred miles of coast, and had

discovered four important bays, as well as what is perhaps the most

important cape in Australia. His greatest service, however, was the

proof that Van Diemen's Land is not joined to Australia, but is divided

from it by the wide strait to which Bass's name is now so justly given.

All this, effected in an open whaleboat on a great ocean, may well fill

us with admiration for the courage and skill of the young surgeon.

Flinders. When Flinders returned from Norfolk Island, he obtained

leave to join the next vessel that should start for the wreck of the

Sydney Cove. Having arrived at Furneaux Island, during the time that

the wreckage and remaining cargo were being gathered, he obtained the

loan of a small boat for five days, and in it made careful surveys of

the islands and straits to the north of Van Diemen's Land. It was in

this trip that he made the first discovery of that peculiar Australian

animal, the wombat.

Circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land. Next year (1798) Governor

Hunter gave to the two ardent young men a small sloop--the Norfolk--in

which to prosecute their discoveries. They received three months' leave

of absence, in which time they proposed to sail round Van Diemen's Land.

This they did, and discovered during their voyage the river Tamar and

its estuary, Port Dalrymple. It was not in discovery alone that they

were successful. Flinders made the most beautiful and exact charts of

all the coasts; he sometimes spent whole days in careful and laborious

observations and measurements, in order to have the latitude and

longitude of a single place correctly marked.

Fate of Bass. On their return to Sydney Bass met some friends,

who persuaded him to join them in making their fortune by carrying

contraband goods into South America, in spite of the Spaniards. What

became of Bass is not known, but it is supposed that he was captured by

the Spaniards and sent to the silver mines, where he was completely lost

from sight. He who entered those dreary mines was lost for ever to human

knowledge; and Bass may have perished there after years of wearisome and

unknown labour. After all his hardships and adventures, his enthusiasm

and his self-devotion, he passed away from men's eyes, and no one was

curious to know whither he had gone; but Australians of these days have

learnt to honour the memory of the man who first, in company with his

friend, laid the foundation of so much of their geography.

The Publication of Flinders' Charts. Flinders remained in His

Majesty's service, and in the following year was raised to the rank of

lieutenant. With his little ship, the Norfolk, he examined the coasts

of New South Wales, from Sydney northward as far as Hervey Bay. Next

year (1800) he went to London, where his charts were published,

containing the first exact accounts of the geography of Australia. They

were greatly praised, and the English Government resolved to send out an

expedition to survey all the coasts of Australia in like manner.

Flinders was placed at the head of it; a vessel was given to him, which

he called the Investigator; a passport was obtained for him from the

French Government, so that, though England and France were then at war,

he might not be obstructed by French war-ships. Sailing to the south

coast of Australia, he discovered Kangaroo Island and Spencer's Gulf,

and then entered Port Phillip under the impression that he was the

discoverer of that inlet, but afterwards learnt that Lieutenant Murray,

in his ship the Lady Nelson, had discovered it ten weeks before.

Baudin. As Flinders sailed down towards Bass Strait he met with a

French expedition, under M. Baudin, who had been sent out by Napoleon to

make discoveries in Australia. He had loitered so long on the coast of

Tasmania that Flinders had been able to complete the examination of the

southern coast before he even approached it. Yet Baudin sailed into the

very bays which had already been mapped out, gave them French names, and

took to himself the honour of their discovery. Some months later the two

expeditions met one another again in Port Jackson. Flinders showed his

charts, and the French officers allowed that he had carried off the

honours of nearly all the discoveries on the south coast; but, in spite

of that, a report was published in France in which Flinders' claims

were quite ignored, and Baudin represented as the hero of Australian

discovery. The colonists at Port Jackson, however, treated the French

sailors with much kindness. Many of them were suffering from scurvy, and

these were carried to the Sydney hospital and carefully tended; and

though the colonists had themselves eaten only salt meat for months

before, in order to preserve their cattle, yet they killed these very

cattle to provide fresh meat for the sick sailors. Baudin and his

officers were feasted, and everything was done both by Flinders and the

people of Sydney to make their stay agreeable.

Imprisonment of Flinders. Flinders continued his voyage

northwards, rounded Cape York, and examined the northern coasts, making

an excellent chart of Torres Strait; but his vessel becoming too rotten

to be longer used, he was forced to return to Sydney. Desiring to carry

his charts and journals to England, he took his passage in an old

store-ship, but she had not sailed far before she struck on a coral

reef; the crew with difficulty reached a small sandbank, from which they

were not released till two months after. Flinders saved his papers, and

brought them back to Sydney. A small schooner, the Cumberland, was

given him in which to sail for England; but she was too leaky, and too

small a vessel to carry food for so long a voyage; so that he was forced

to put into the Mauritius, which then belonged to France. He fancied

that his passport from Napoleon would be his protection; but the

Governor, De Caen, a low and ignorant fellow, seized him, took his

papers from him, and cast him into prison.

Baudin soon after called at the Mauritius, and would probably have

procured the release of his brother-mariner had he not died immediately

after his arrival. The charts of Flinders, however, were all sent to

France, where they were published with altered names, as if they were

the work of Frenchmen. Meanwhile, Flinders was spending the weary months

in close confinement at the Mauritius.

Death of Flinders. Nearly six years passed away before the approach

of an English fleet compelled the French to release him; and when he

went to England he found that people knew all about those very places

of which he thought he was bringing the first tidings. He commenced,

however, to write his great book, and worked with the utmost pains to

make all his maps scrupulously accurate. After about four years of

incessant labour, the three volumes were ready for the press; but he was

doomed never to see them. So many years of toil, so many nights passed

in open boats or on the wet sands, so many shipwrecks and weeks of

semi-starvation, together with his long and unjust imprisonment, had

utterly destroyed his constitution; and on the very day when his book

was being published, the wife and daughter of Flinders were tending his

last painful hours. He was, perhaps, our greatest maritime discoverer: a

man who worked because his heart was in his work; who sought no reward,

and obtained none; who lived laboriously, and did honourable service to

mankind; yet died, like his friend Bass, almost unknown to those of his

own day, but leaving a name which the world is every year more and more

disposed to honour.