Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/134

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99
DISCOVERY OF BASS STRAIT

Bass now believed the mountains to be hopeless; and, indeed, George Caley, a botanical collector employed by Sir Joseph Banks, having seven years later made another attempt and met with repulse, did not hesitate to tell a committee of the House of Commons, which summoned him to appear as a witness, that the range was impassable. It seemed that Nature had tumbled down an impenetrable bewilderment of rock, the hillsides cracking into deep, dark crevices, and the crests of the mountains showing behind and beyond a massed confusion of crags and hollows, trackless and untraversable. Governor King declared himself satisfied that the effort to cross the range was a task "as chimerical as useless," an opinion strengthened by the fact that, as Allan Cunningham had related,* the aboriginals known to the settlement were "totally ignorant of any pass to the interior."[1]

It was not, indeed, till 1813 that Gregory Blaxland, with Lieutenant Lawson and William Charles Wentworth (then a youth), as companions, succeeded in solving the problem. The story of their steady, persistent, and desperate struggle being beyond the scope of this biography, it is sufficient to say that after fifteen days of severe labour, applied with rare intelligence and bushcraft, they saw beneath them waving grass-country watered by clear streams, and knew that they had found a path to the interior of the new continent.

Bass's eagerness to explore soon found other scope. In 1797, report was brought to Sydney by shipwrecked mariners that, in traversing the coast, they had seen coal. He at once set off to investigate. At the place now called Coalcliff, about twenty miles south of Botany Bay, he found a vein of coal about twenty feet above the surface of the sea. It was six or seven feet thick, and

  1. On "Progress of Interior Discovery in New South Wales," Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1832) Vol. II., 99.