Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/156

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115
DISCOVERY OF BASS STRAIT

attribute the paucity of the observations made, and the defective account given of the port itself. It contains two islands: Phillip Island, facing the strait, and French Island, the larger of the two, lying between Phillip Island and the mainland. Bass was not aware that this second island was not part of the mainland. Its existence was first determined by the Naturaliste, one of the ships of Baudin's French expedition, in 1802.

Bass's men had great difficulty in procuring good water. He considered that there was every appearance of an unusual drought in the country. This may also have been the reason why he saw only three or four blacks, who were so shy that the sailors could not get near them. There must certainly have been fairly large families of blacks on Phillip Island at one time, for there are several extensive middens on the coast, with thick deposits of fish bones and shells; and the author has found there some good specimens of "blackfellows' knives"—that is, sharpened pieces of flat, hard stone, with which the aboriginals opened their oysters and mussels—besides witnessing the finding of a few fine stone axes. Bass records the sight of a few brush kangaroos and "Wallabah"; of black swan he observed hundreds, as well as ducks, "a small but excellent kind," which flew in thousands, and "an abundance of most kinds of wild fowl."

By the time the stay in Westernport came to an end, Bass had been at sea a month and two days, and had sailed well into the strait now bearing his name, though he was not yet quite sure that it was a strait. His provisions had necessarily run very low. The condition of the boat, whose repair occupied some time, increased his anxiety. Prudence pointed to the desirableness of a return to Port Jackson with the least possible delay. Yet one cannot but regret that so intrepid an explorer, who was making such magnificent use of