The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Appendix A

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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. by Ernest Scott
Appendix A. Baudin's account of Encounter Bay
Nicolas Baudin, translated by Ernest Scott

Appendix A.

BAUDIN'S ACCOUNT OF ENCOUNTER BAY.

[In a long letter of about 30,000 words, written to the French Minister of Marine from Port Jackson in 1802, Captain Baudin described his explorations in Australian waters up to that date. The manuscript is in the Archives Nationales, Paris, BB4, 995, Marine. It has never been published. In this appendix, which relates to Chapter 14 of the book, I translate the portion of the letter concerning the meeting of the Investigator and Le Géographe in Encounter Bay, with a few notes.]

"On the 18th,[1] continuing to follow the coast and the various coves upon it, we sighted towards the north-east a long chain of high mountains, which appeared to terminate at the border of the sea. The weariness we had for a long time experienced at seeing coasts which for the most part were arid, and offered not the slightest resource, was dissipated by the expectation of coming upon a more promising country. A little later, a still more agreeable object of distraction presented itself to our view. A square-sailed ship was perceived ahead. Nobody on board had any doubt that it was Le Naturaliste. As she was tacking south and we were tacking north, we approached each other. But what was our astonishment when the other vessel hoisted a white flag on the mainmast. It was beyond doubt a signal of recognition, to which we responded. A little later, that signal was hauled down, and an English ensign and pennant were substituted.[2] We replied by hoisting our colours; and we continued to advance towards each other. The manoeuvre of the English ship indicating that she desired to speak to us, we stood towards her.[3] When we got within hail, a voice enquired what ship we were. I replied simply that we were French. "Is that Captain Baudin?" "Yes, it is he." The English captain then saluted me graciously, saying "I am very glad to meet you." I replied to the same effect, without knowing to whom I was speaking; but, seeing that arrangements were being made for someone to come on board, I brought the ship to.

"Mr. Flinders, who commanded the English vessel, presented himself. As soon as I learnt his name, I no longer doubted that he, like ourselves, was occupied with the exploration of the south coast of New Holland; and, in spite of the reserve that he showed upon that first visit, I could easily perceive that he had already completed a part of it. Having invited him to come into my cabin, and finding ourselves alone there, the conversation became freer.[4]

"He informed me that he had left Europe about eight months after us, and that he was bound for Port Jackson, having previously refreshed at the Cape of Good Hope.

"I had no hesitation about giving him information concerning what we had been doing upon the coast until that moment. I pointed out to him defects which I had observed in the chart which he had published[5] of the strait separating New Holland from Van Diemen's Land, etc., etc.

"Mr. Flinders observed to me that he was not unaware that the chart required to be checked, inasmuch as the sketch from which it was prepared had been drawn from uncertain information, and that the means employed when the discovery was made did not conduce to securing exact results.[6] Finally, becoming less circumspect than he had hitherto been, he told me that he had commenced his work at Cape Leeuwin, and had followed the coast to the place where we were met. He suggested that our ships should pass the night near together, and that early on the following morning he should come on board again, and give me some particulars which would be useful to me. I accepted his proposition with pleasure, and we tacked about at a short distance from each other during the night. It was seven o'clock in the evening when he returned to his ship.[7]

"On the 19th[8] Mr. Flinders came on board at six o'clock in the morning. We breakfasted together,[9] and talked about our respective work. He appeared to me to have been happier than we had been with respect to the discoveries he had made. He told me about a large island, about a dozen or fifteen leagues away, which had been visited by him. According to his account, he stayed there six weeks to prepare a chart of it;[10] and with the aid of a corvette[11] had explored two deep gulfs, the direction of which he sketched for me, as well as of his Kangaroo Island, which he had so named in consequence of the great quantity of those quadrupeds found there. The island, though not far from the continent, did not appear to him to be inhabited.

"An accident like that which had unfortunately happened to us on the coast of Van Diemen's Land had overtaken Mr. Flinders.[12] He had lost a boat and eight men. His ship was also short of stores, and he was not without uneasiness as to what would happen.

"Before we separated the Captain asked me if I had any knowledge of an island which was said to exist to the north of the Bass Strait islands. I replied that I had not, inasmuch as, having followed the coast fairly closely after leaving the Promontory as far as Westernport, I had not met with any land placed in the position which he indicated.[13] He appeared to be well pleased with my response, doubtless in the hope of being the first to discover it. Perhaps Le Naturaliste, in searching for us in the Strait, will have discovered it.[14] At the moment of his departure, Mr. Flinders presented me with several new charts, published by Arrowsmith, and a printed memoir by himself, dealing with discoveries in the strait, the north coast of Van Diemen's Land, the east coast, etc., etc. He also invited me to sail, like himself, for Port Jackson, the resources of which he perhaps exalted too highly, if I had to remain long in these seas. At eight o'clock we[15] separated. He sailed south and we went to the west."
  1. That is, the 18th Germinal in the French revolutionary calendar; April 8th by the Gregorian calendar.
  2. Flinders says: "Our colours being hoisted, she showed a French ensign, and afterwards an English jack forward, as we did a white flag."
  3. Flinders' own explanation of his manoeuvring is: "We veered round as Le Géographe was passing so as to keep our broadside to her lest the flag of truce should be a deception."
  4. "Nous trouvant seul, la conversation devint plus libre." Flinders says that Brown accompanied him, and went into the cabin with him. "No person was present at our conversations except Mr. Brown."
  5. "la carte qu'il nous a donné des détroits." From this it appears that Baudin knew Flinders as the author of the chart, even while pointing out its defects. Flinders had the impression that Baudin did not know him till he was about to leave Le Géographe at the end of the second interview.
  6. Flinders: "On my pointing out a note upon the chart, explaining that the north side of the strait was seen only in an open boat by Mr. Bass, who had no good means of fixing either latitude or longitude, he appeared surprised, not having before paid attention to it."
  7. Flinders: "I told him that some other and more particular charts of the strait and its neighbourhood had since been published; and that if he would keep company until next morning I would bring him a copy with a small memoir belonging to them. This was agreed to."
  8. April 9th.
  9. Flinders does not mention this incident.
  10. A mistake; Flinders was at Kangaroo Island only six days.
  11. Péron also had the erroneous impression that the Investigator had been accompanied by a corvette, which foundered in Spencer's Gulf, and so wrote in his Voyage de Decouvertes. Baudin must have confused what Flinders told him about the drowning of Thistle and the boat's crew, with an idea of his own that this boat was a consort of the Investigator as Le Naturaliste was of Le Géographe.
  12. Baudin was referring to a boat party of his own, consisting of Boullanger, one of his hydrographers, a lieutenant and eight sailors. They had gone out in a boat to chart a portion of the coast which Le Géographe could not reach. They did not return, and Baudin supposed them to have been lost. But they were in fact picked up by the sealing brig Snow-Harrington from Sydney, which afterwards sighted Le Naturaliste, and handed the men over to her.
  13. What Flinders asked Baudin was whether he had any "knowledge concerning a large island said to lie in the western entrance of Bass Strait. But he had not seen it and seemed to doubt much of its existence." The reference was to King Island. Baudin marked on his chart, in consequence of this enquiry, an island "believed to exist," guessing at its situation and placing it wrongly; though he subsequently stayed at King Island himself.
  14. This sentence is interesting, as showing that Baudin wrote this part of his letter to the Minister at the time, not at Port Jackson weeks later. If the sentence had been written later, he would not have said that Le Naturaliste would perhaps sight the island. He by then knew that she did not.
  15. Flinders: "I returned with Mr. Brown on board the Investigator at half-past-eight in the morning, and we then separated from Le Géographe; Captain Baudin's course being directed to the north-west and ours to the southward."