The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Chapter 12

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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. by Ernest Scott
Chapter 12. The Investigator

Chapter XII.

THE INVESTIGATOR

Flinders sailed from Port Jackson for England in the Reliance on March 3rd, 1800. The old ship was in such a bad condition that Governor Hunter "judged it proper to order her home while she may be capable of performing the voyage." She carried despatches, which Captain Waterhouse was directed to throw overboard in the event of meeting with an enemy's ship of superior force and being unable to effect his escape. She lived through a tempestuous voyage, making nine or ten inches of water per hour, according to the carpenter's report, and providing plenty of pumping exercise for a couple of convict stowaways who emerged from hiding two days out of Sydney. At St. Helena, reached at the end of May, company was joined with four East India ships, and off Ireland H.M.S. Cerberus took charge of the convoy till the arrival at Portsmouth on August 26th.

When Flinders left England six years before, he was a midshipman. He passed the examination qualifying him to become lieutenant at the Cape of Good Hope in 1797, and was appointed provisionally to that rank on the return of the Reliance to Sydney from the South African voyage in that year. The prompt confirmation of his promotion by the admiralty he attributed to the kind interest of Admiral Pasley.

When he quitted his ship at Deptford in October, 1800, he was a man of mark. His name was honourably known to the elders of his profession, whilst he was esteemed by men concerned with geography, navigation, and kindred branches of study, for the importance of the work he had done, and for the thorough scientific spirit manifested in it.

Chief among those who recognised his quality was Sir Joseph Banks, the learned and wealthy squire who was ever ready to be to zealous men of science a friend, a patron, and an influence. Banks was, indeed, memorable for the men and work he helped, rather than for his own original contributions to knowledge. During his presidency of the Royal Society, from 1777 to 1820—a long time for one man to occupy the principal place in the most distinguished learned body in the world—he not only encouraged, but promoted and directed, a remarkable radiation of research work, and was the accessible friend of every man of ability concerned in extending the bounds of enquiry into phenomena.

Banks took a special interest in the young navigator, who was a native of his own bit of England, Lincolnshire. He knew well what a large field for geographical investigation there was in Australia, and recognised that Flinders was the right man to do the work. Banks had always foreseen the immense possibilities of the country; he was the means of sending out the naturalists George Caley, Robert Brown, and Allan Cunningham, to study its natural products. That he was quick to recognise the sterling capacity of Matthew Flinders constitutes his principal claim to our immediate attention. The spirit of our age is rather out of sympathy with the attitude of patronage, which, as must be confessed, it gratified Banks to assume; but at all events it was, in this instance, patronage of the only tolerable sort, that which helps an able man to fulfil himself and serve his kind.

Before he went to sea again, Flinders was married (April 1801) to Miss Ann Chappell, stepdaughter of the Rev. William Tyler, rector of Brothertoft, near Boston. She was a sailor's daughter, her own father
Page 218 cairn (The Life of Matthew Flinders).jpg

CAIRN ERECTED ON FLINDERS' LANDING-PLACE, KANGAROO ISLAND, S.A.

having died while in command of a ship out of Hull, engaged in the Baltic trade. It is probable that there was an attachment between the pair before Flinders left England in 1794; for during the Norfolk expedition in 1798 he had named a smooth round hill in Kent's group Mount Chappell, and had called a small cluster of islands the Chappell Isles. He does not tell us why they were so named, as was his usual practice. He merely speaks of them as "this small group to which the name of Chappell Isles is affixed in the chart." But a tender little touch of sentiment may creep in, even in the making of charts; and we cannot have or wish to have, any doubt as to the reason in this case.

In his Observations, published in the year of his marriage, Flinders remarks (p. 24) that the hill "had received the name of Mount Chappell in February, 1798, and the name is since extended to the isles which lie in its immediate neighbourhood." The fact that the name was given in 1798, indicates that a kindly feeling, to say the least of it, was entertained for Miss Chappell before Flinders left England in 1795. The lover in As You Like It carved his lady's name on trees:

      "O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
       And in their barks my thoughts I'll character."

Here we find our young navigator writing his lady's name on the map. It is rather an uncommon symptom of a very common complaint.

Miss Chappell and her sister, the sisters of Flinders, and the young ladies of the Franklin family, were a group of affectionate friends who lived in the same neighbourhood, and were constantly together. The boys of the families were brothers to all the girls, who were all sisters to them. Matthew on the Reliance wrote to them letters intended to be read by all, addressing them as "my charming sisters." In one of these epistles he told the girls: "never will there be a more happy soul than when I return. O, may the Almighty spare me all those dear friends without whom my joy would be turned into sorrow and mourning." But that he nourished the recollection of Ann Chappell in his heart with especial warmth is apparent from a letter he wrote to her very shortly after the Reliance returned to England (September 25th, 1800):[1] "You are one of those friends," he assured her, "whom I consider it indispensably necessary to see. I should be glad to have some little account of your movements, where you reside, and with whom, that my motions may be regulated accordingly. … You see that I make everything subservient to business. Indeed, my dearest friend, this time seems to be a very critical period of my life. I have long been absent—have done services abroad that were not expected, but which seem to be thought a good deal of. I have more and greater friends than before, and this seems to be the moment that their exertions may be most serviceable to me. I may now perhaps make a bold dash forward, or may remain a poor lieutenant all my life." And he ended this letter, which Miss Chappell would not fail to read "between the lines," by assuring "my dear friend Annette," that "with the greatest sincerity, I am her most affectionate friend and brother, Matthew Flinders."

From this point the comforting understanding between the two young people developed in ways as to which there is no evidence in correspondence; but shortly after Flinders received promotion he must have proposed marriage. He wrote a short time afterwards in these terms:

"H.M.S. Investigator, at the Nore,
My dearest friend,
April 6, 1801.
 

"Thou hast asked me if there is a possibility of our living together. I think I see a probability of living with a moderate share of comfort. Till now I was not certain of being able to fit myself out clear of the world. I have now done it, and have accommodation on board the Investigator, in which as my wife a woman may, with love to assist her, make herself happy. This prospect has recalled all the tenderness which I have so sedulously endeavoured to banish. I am sent for to London, where I shall be from the 9th to the 19th, or perhaps longer. If thou wilt meet me there, this hand shall be thine for ever. If thou hast sufficient love and courage, say to Mr. and Mrs. Tyler[2] that I require nothing more with thee than a sufficient stock of clothes and a small sum to answer the increased expenses that will necessarily and immediately come upon me; as well for living on board as providing for it at Port Jackson; for whilst I am employed in the most dangerous part of my duty, thou shalt be placed under some friendly roof there. I need not, nor at this time have I time to enter into a detail of my income and prospects. It will, I trust, be sufficient for me to say that I see a fortune growing under me to meet increasing expenses. I only want a fair start, and my life for it, we will do well and be happy. I will write further to-morrow, but shall most anxiously expect thy answer at 86 Fleet Street, London, on my visit on Friday; and, I trust, thy presence immediately afterwards. I have only time to add that most anxiously I am, Most sincerely thine,

Matthew Flinders."

He appended a postscript which covertly alludes to the manner in which Sir Joseph Banks might be expected to regard the marriage on the eve of commencing the new voyage: "It will be much better to keep this matter entirely secret. There are many reasons for it yet, and I have also a powerful one: I do not know how my great friends might like it."

But, taking all the risks in this direction, he snatched the first opportunity that presented itself to hurry down to Lincolnshire, get married, and bring his bride up to London, stuffing into his boot, for safe keeping, a roll of bank notes given to him by Mr. Tyler at the moment of farewell.

In a letter[1]to his cousin Henrietta, he relates how hurriedly the knot matrimonial was at length tied, on the 17th of April:

"Everything was agreed to in a very handsome manner, and just at this time I was called up to town and found that I might be spared a few days from thence. I set off on Wednesday evening from town, arrived next evening at Spilsby, was married next morning,[3] which was Friday; on Saturday we went to Donington, on Sunday reached Huntingdon, and on Monday were in town. Next morning I presented myself before Sir Joseph Banks with a grave face as if nothing had happened, and then went on with my business as usual. We stayed in town till the following Sunday, and came on board the Investigator next day, and here we have remained ever since, a few weeks on shore and a day spent on the Essex side of the Thames excepted."

In a letter[4] written on the day of the marriage to Elizabeth Flinders the bride's fluttered and mixed emotions were apparent. At this time she believed that she was to make the voyage to Australia in the Investigator with her husband, and hardly knew whether the happiness of her new condition or the regretful prospect of a long farewell to her circle of friends prevailed most in her heart.

"My beloved Betsy,
"April 17th, 1801.
 

"Thou wilt be much surprised to hear of this sudden affair; indeed I scarce believe it myself, tho' I have this very morning given my hand at the altar to him I have ever highly esteemed, and it affords me no small pleasure that I am now a part, tho' a distant one, of thy family, my Betsy. It grieves me much thou art so distant from me. Thy society would have greatly cheered me. Thou wilt to-day pardon me if I say but little. I am scarce able to coin one sentence or to write intelligibly. It pains me to agony when I indulge the thought for a moment that I must leave all I value on earth, save one, alas, perhaps for ever. Ah, my Betsy, but I dare not, must not, think [that]. Therefore, farewell, farewell. May the great God of Heaven preserve thee and those thou lovest, oh, everlastingly. Adieu, dear darling girl; love as ever, though absent and far removed from your poor

Annette."

We are afforded a confidential insight into Mrs. Flinders' opinion of her husband in a letter from her to another girl friend. It was written after the marriage, and when Matthew was again at sea, prosecuting that voyage from which he was not to return for over nine years. "I don't admire want of firmness in a man. I love courage and determination in the male character. Forgive me, dear Fanny, but insipids I never did like, and having not long ago tasted such delightful society I have now a greater contempt than in former days for that cast of character." An "insipid" Ann Chappell certainly had not married, and she found in Matthew Flinders no lack of the courage and determination she admired.

A second marriage contracted by the elder Matthew Flinders, connecting his family with the Franklins, had an important influence upon the life of another young sailor who had commenced his career in the Navy in the previous year. The Franklin family, which sprang from the village of Sibsey (about six miles north-east of Boston), was now resident at Spilsby. At the time of the Flinders-Chappell wedding, young John Franklin was serving on the Polyphemus, and had only a few days previously (April 1) taken part in the battle of Copenhagen. In the ordinary course of things he would, there can hardly be a doubt, have followed his profession along normal lines. His virile intellect and resourceful courage would probably have won him eminence, but it is not likely that he would have entered upon that career of exploration which shed so much lustre on his name, and in the end found him a grave beneath the immemorial snows of the frozen north. It was by Flinders that young Franklin was diverted into the glorious path of discovery; from Flinders that he learnt the strictly scientific part of navigation. "It is very reasonable for us to infer," writes one of Franklin's biographers[5] "that it was in all probability in exploring miles of practically unknown coastline, and in surveying hitherto undiscovered bays, reefs, and islands in the southern hemisphere, that John Franklin's mind became imbued with that ardent love of geographical research which formed such a marked and prominent feature in his future professional career. Flinders was the example, and Australian exploration was the school, that created one of our greatest Arctic navigators and one of the most eminent geographers of his day."

Another matter with which Flinders was occupied during his stay in England was the preparation of a small publication dealing with his recent researches. It was entitled "Observations on the coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait and its Islands, and on parts of the coasts of New South Wales, intended to accompany the charts of the late discoveries in those countries, by Matthew Flinders, second lieutenant of His Majesty's ship Reliance." It consisted of thirty-five quarto pages, issued without a wrapper, and stitched like a large pamphlet. John Nichols, of Soho, was the publisher, but some copies were issued with the imprint of Arrowsmith, the publisher of charts. Very few copies now remain, and the little book, which is one of the rare things of bibliography, is not to be found even in many important libraries.

Flinders dedicated the issue to Sir Joseph Banks. "Your zealous exertions to promote geographical and nautical knowledge, your encouragement of men employed in the cultivation of the sciences that tend to this improvement, and the countenance you have been pleased to show me in particular, embolden me to lay the following observations before you." Generally speaking, the Observations contain matter that was afterwards embodied in the larger Voyage to Terra Australis, and taken from reports that have been used in the preceding pages. The special purpose of the book was to be of use to navigators who might sail in Australian waters, and it is therefore full of particulars likely to guide them. He pointed out that there might be some errors in the longitude records of the Norfolk voyage because "no time-keepers could be procured for this expedition," but he pointed out that the survey was made with great care. "The sloop was kept close to the shore, and brought back every morning within sight of the same point it had been hauled off during the preceding evening, by which means the chain of angles was never broken." This was, as will be seen later, the method employed on the more important voyage about to be undertaken.

The task that mainly occupied his attention during these few months in England, was the making of preparations for a voyage of discovery intended to complete the exploration of the coasts of Australia. It has already been remarked that the initiative in regard to the Francis and Norfolk explorations sprang from Flinders' own eager desire, and not from the governing authorities. Precisely the same occurred in the case of the far more important Investigator voyage. He did not wait for something to turn up. Immediately after his arrival in England, he formulated a plan, pointed out the sphere of investigation to which attention ought to be directed, and approached the proper authorities. He wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, "offering my services to explore minutely the whole of the coasts, as well those which were imperfectly known as those entirely unknown, provided the Government would provide me with a proper ship for the purpose. I did not address myself in vain to this zealous promoter of science; and Earl Spencer, then First Lord of the Admiralty, entering warmly into the views of his friend, obtained the approbation of his Majesty, and immediately set out a ship that could be spared from the present demands of war, which Great Britain then waged with most of the Powers of Europe."[1]

Lord Spencer's prompt and warm acquiescence in the proposition is not less to be noted than the friendly interest of Banks. His administration of the Admiralty in Pitt's Government was distinguished by his selection of Nelson as the admiral to frustrate the schemes of the French in sea warfare; and it stands as an additional tribute to his sagacity that he at once recognised Flinders to be the right man to maintain the prowess of British seamanship in discovery.

Three reasons made the Government the more disposed to equip an expedition for the purpose. The first was that in June, 1800, L. G. Otto, the representative of the French Republic in London, applied for a passport for two discovery ships which were being despatched to the south seas. French men of science had for many years interested themselves in the investigation of these unknown portions of the globe. The expeditions of Laperouse (1785 to 1788) and of Dentrecasteaux (1791 to 1796) were evidence of their concern with the problems awaiting elucidation. The professors of the Museum in Paris were eager that collections of minerals and plants should be made in the southern hemisphere. The Institute of France was led by keen men of science, one of whom, the Comte de Fleurieu, had prepared the instructions for the two previous voyages. They had found a warm friend to research in Louis XVI, and the fall of the monarchy did not diminish their anxiety that France should win honour from pursuing the enquiry. They represented to Napoleon, then First Consul, the utility of undertaking another voyage, and his authorisation was secured in May. A passport was granted by Earl Spencer when Otto made the application, but there was a suspicion that the French Government was influenced by motives of policy lying deeper than the ostensible desire to promote discovery.

Secondly, the East India Company was concerned lest the French should establish themselves somewhere on the coast of Australia, and, with a base of operations there, menace the Company's trade.

Thirdly, Sir Joseph Banks, after conversations with Flinders and an examination of his charts, saw the importance of the work remaining to be done, and used his influence with the Admiralty to authorise a ship to be detailed for the purpose.

Thus imperial policy, trade interests and scientific ardour combined to procure the equipment of a new research expedition. In view of the fact that the Admiralty became officially aware in June of the intentions of the French, it cannot be said that they were precipitate in making their own plans; for it was not until December 12 that they issued their orders.

The vessel allotted for the employment was a 334-ton sloop, built in the north of England for the merchant service. She had been purchased by the Government for naval work, and, under the name of the Xenophon, had been employed in convoying merchant vessels in the Channel. Her name was changed to the Investigator, her bottom was re-coppered, the plating being put on "two streaks higher than before," and she was equipped for a three years' voyage. Flinders took command of her at Sheerness on January 25th, 1801. He was promoted to the rank of commander on the 16th of the following month.

The renovated ship was good enough to look at, and she commended herself to Flinders' eye as being the sort of vessel best fitted for the work in contemplation. In form she "nearly resembled the description of vessel recommended by Captain Cook as best calculated for voyages of discovery." But, though comfortable, she was old and unsound. Patching and caulking merely plugged up defects which the buffetings of rough seas soon revealed. But she was the best ship the Admiralty was able to spare at the time. Long before she had completed her outward voyage, however, the senility of the Investigator had made itself uncomfortably evident. Writing of the leaks experienced on the run down to the Cape, Flinders said:—

"The leakiness of the ship increased with the continuance of the southwest winds, and at the end of a week amounted to five inches of water an hour. It seemed, however, that the leaks were above the water's edge, for on tacking to the westward they were diminished to two inches. This working of the oakum out of the seams indicated a degree of weakness which, in a ship destined to encounter every hazard, could not be contemplated without uneasiness. The very large ports, formerly cut in the sides to receive thirty-two pound carronades, joined to what I have been able to collect from the dockyard officers, had given me an unfavourable opinion of her strength; and this was now but too much confirmed. Should it be asked why representations were not made and a stronger vessel procured, I answer that the exigencies of the navy were such at that time, that I was given to understand no better ship could be spared from the service; and my anxiety to complete the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis did not admit of refusing the one offered."

The history of maritime discovery is strewn with rotten ships. Certainly if the great navigators, before venturing to face the unknown, had waited to be provided with vessels fit to make long voyages, the progress of research would have been much slower than was the case. It sounds like hyperbole to say that, when pitch and planks failed, these gallant seamen stopped their leaks with hope and ardour; but really, something like that is pretty near the truth.

The fitting out of the Investigator proceeded busily during January and February, 1801. The Admiralty was liberal in its allowances. Indeed, the equipment was left almost entirely to Banks and Flinders. The commander "obtained permission to fit her out as I should judge necessary, without reference to the supplies usually allotted to vessels of the same class." The extent to which the Admiralty was guided by Banks is indicated in a memorandum by the Secretary, Evan Nepean, penned in April. Banks wrote "Is my proposal for an alteration in the undertaking in the Investigator approved?" Nepean replied "Any proposal you may make will be approved; the whole is left entirely to your decision."

In addition to plentiful supplies and special provision for a large store of water, the Investigator carried an interesting assortment of "gauds, nick-nacks, trifles," to serve as presents to native peoples with whom it was desired to cultivate friendly relations. The list included useful articles as well as glittering toys, and is a curious document as illustrating a means by which civilisation sought to tickle the barbarian into complaisance. Flinders carried for this purpose 500 pocket-knives, 500 looking-glasses, 100 combs, 200 strings of blue, red, white and yellow beads, 100 pairs of ear-rings, 200 finger rings, 1000 yards of blue and red gartering, 100 red caps, 100 small blankets, 100 yards of thin red baize, 100 yards of coloured linen, 1000 needles, five pounds of red thread, 200 files, 100 shoemakers' knives, 300 pairs of scissors, 100 hammers, 50 axes, 300 hatchets, a quantity of other samples of ironmongery, a number of medals with King George's head imprinted upon them, and some new copper coins.

It is a curious assortment, but it may be observed that the materials, as well as the method of ingratiation, were very much the same with the earlier as with the later navigators. An early instance occurs in Rene Laudonniere's account of his relations with the natives of Florida in 1565:[6] "I gave them certaine small trifles, which were little knives or tablets of glasse, wherein the image of King Charles the Ninth was drawen very lively … I recompensed them with certaine hatchets, knives, beades of glasse, combes and looking-glasses."

The crew of the Investigator was selected with particular care. Flinders desired to carry none but young sailors of good character. He was given permission to take men from the Zealand, and he explained to those who volunteered the nature of the service, and its probably severe and protracted character. The readiness with which men came forward gave him much pleasure.

"Upon one occasion, when eleven volunteers were to be received from the Zealand, a strong instance was given of the spirit of enterprise prevalent amongst British seamen. About three hundred disposable men were called up, and placed on one part of the deck; and after the nature of the voyage, with the number of men wanted, had been explained to them, those who volunteered were desired to go over to the opposite side. The candidates were no less than two hundred and fifty, most of whom sought with eagerness to be received; and the eleven who were chosen proved, with one single exception, to be worthy of the preference they obtained."

Of the whole crew (and the total ship's company numbered 83) only two caused any trouble to the commander. As these two "required more severity in reducing to good order than I wished to exercise in a service of this nature," when the Investigator reached the Cape, Flinders arranged with the Admiral there, Sir Roger Curtis, to exchange them—as well as two others who from lack of sufficient strength were not suitable—for four sailors upon the flagship, who made a pressing application to go upon a voyage of discovery. Thus purged of a very few refractories and inefficients, the ship's company was a happy, loyal and healthy crew, of whom the commander was justifiably proud.

The officers and scientific staff were chosen with a view to making the voyage fruitful in utility. The first lieutenant, Robert Fowler, had served on the ship when she was the Xenophon. He was a Lincolnshire man, hailing from Horncastle, and had been a schoolfellow of Banks. But it was not through Sir Joseph's influence that he was selected. Flinders made his acquaintance while the refitting of the vessel was in progress, and found him desirous of making the voyage. As his former captain spoke well of him, his services were accepted. Samuel Ward Flinders went as second lieutenant, and there were six midshipmen, of whom John Franklin was one.

Originally it was intended that Mungo Park, the celebrated African traveller, who was at this time in England looking round for employment, should go to Australia on the Investigator, and act as naturalist. But no definite engagement was entered into; the post remained vacant, and a Portuguese exile living in London, Correa de Sena, introduced to Banks a young Scottish botanist who desired to go, describing him as one "fitted to pursue an object with a staunch and a cold mind." Robert Brown was then not quite twenty-seven years of age. Like the gusty swashbuckler, Dugald Dalgetty, he had been educated at the Marischal College, Aberdeen. For a few years he served as ensign and assistant surgeon of a Scottish regiment, the Fife Fencibles. Always a keen botanist, he found a ready friend in Banks, who promised to recommend him "for the purpose of exploring the natural history, amongst other things." His salary was £420 a year, and he earned it by admirable service. Brown remained in Australia for two years after the discovery voyage, and his great ', which won the praise of Humboldt, is a classic monument to the extent and value of his researches.

William Westall was appointed landscape and figure draftsman to the expedition at a salary of £315 per annum. The nine fine engravings which adorn the Voyage to Terra Australis are his work. He was but a youth of nineteen when he made this voyage. Afterwards he attained repute as a landscape painter, and was elected as Associate of the Royal Academy. One hundred and thirty-eight of his drawings made on the Investigator are preserved.

Ferdinand Bauer was appointed botanical draftsman to the expedition at a salary of £315. He was an Austrian, forty years of age, an enthusiast in his work, and a man of uncommon industry. He made 1600 botanical drawings which, in Robert Brown's opinion, were "for beauty, accuracy and completion of detail unequalled in this or in any other country in Europe." Bauer's, published in 1814, consisted of plates which were drawn, engraved and coloured by his own hand. Flinders formed a very high opinion of the capacity of both Brown and Bauer. "It is fortunate for science," he wrote to Banks "that two men of such assiduity and abilities have been selected; their application is beyond what I have been accustomed to see."

Peter Good, appointed gardener to the expedition at a salary of £105, was a foreman at the Kew Gardens when he was selected for this service. Brown found him a valuable assistant, and an indefatigable worker. He died in Sydney in June, 1803, from dysentery contracted at Timor. Of John Allen, engaged as a miner at a salary of £105, nothing is known.

John Crossley was engaged to sail as astronomer, at a salary of £420, but he did not accompany the Investigator further than the Cape of Good Hope, where his health broke down, and he returned to England. The instruments with which he had been furnished by the Board of Longitude were, however, left on board, and Flinders undertook to do his work in cooperation with his brother Samuel, who had been assisting Crossley, and was able to take charge of the astronomical clocks and records.

The interest taken by the East India Company's Court of Directors in the expedition was manifested in their vote of £600 for the table money of the officers and staff.[7] They gave this sum "from the voyage being within the limits of the Company's charter, from the expectation of the examinations and discoveries proving advantageous, and partly, as they said"—so Flinders
Page 237 portrait (The Life of Matthew Flinders).jpg

GEORGE JOHN, SECOND EARL SPENCER, K.G.
Who, as First Lord of the Admiralty, despatched Flinders on his discovery voyage in the Investigator.

(Photographed, by permission of Lord Spencer, from the painting by Copley, at Althorp, Northamptonshire.)

modestly observed—"for my former services." The Company's charter gave to it a complete monopoly of trade with the east and the Pacific, and it was therefore interested in the finding of fresh harbours for its vessels in the South Seas. But, despite this display of concern, the East India Company had been no friend to Australian discovery and colonization. In the early years of the settlement at Port Jackson, it resisted the opening of direct trade between Great Britain and New South Wales, with as jealous a dislike as ever the Spanish monopolists at Seville displayed in the sixteenth century concerning all trade with America that did not flow through their hands. Even so recently as 1806 the Company opposed—and, strangely enough, successfully—the sale of a cargo of sealskins and whale oil from Sydney, on the ground "that the charter of the colony gave the colonists no right to trade, and that the transaction was a violation of Company's charter and against its welfare." The grant to Flinders was not, therefore, a manifestation of zeal for Australian development, except in the matter of finding harbours, and except, also, that there was an uneasy feeling that the French would be mischievously busy on the north coast. "I hope the French ships of discovery will not station themselves on the north-west coast of Australia," wrote C.F. Greville, one of the Company's directors.

The instructions furnished to Flinders prescribed the course of the voyage very strictly. They were that he should first run down the coast from 130 degrees of east longitude (that is, from about the head of the Great Australian Bight) to Bass Strait, and endeavour to discover such harbours as there might be. Then, proceeding through the Strait, he was to call at Sydney to refresh his company and refit the ship. After that he was to return along the coast and diligently examine it as far as King George's Sound. As the sailing was delayed till the middle of July, Flinders expressed a wish that he should not be ordered to return to the south coast from Port Jackson. "If my orders do not forbid it, I shall examine the south coast more minutely in my first run along it, and if anything material should present itself, as a strait, gulf, or very large river, shall take as much time in its examination as the remaining part of the summer shall then consist of; for I consider it very material to the success of the voyage and to its early completion that we should be upon the northern coasts in winter and the southern ones in summer."

This was written to Banks, who, as we have seen, could probably have secured an alteration of the official instructions had he desired to do so. But they were not modified; and about a fortnight later (July 17) Flinders wrote: "The Admiralty have not thought good to permit me to circumnavigate New Holland in the way that appears to me (underlined) best suited to expedition and safety." It is probable that, if Banks discussed the proposed alteration with the Admiralty, the more rapid run along the south coast was insisted upon, because that was the field to which the French expedition might be expected to apply itself with most diligence; as, in fact, was actually the case. Governor King had also written to Banks pointing out the importance of a southern survey, "to see what shelter it affords in case a ship should be taken before she can clear the land to the southward and the western entrance to the Strait."

The instructions continued that after the exploration of the south of New Holland, the Investigator was to sail to the north-west and examine the Gulf of Carpentaria, carefully investigating Torres Strait and the whole of the remainder of the north-west and north-east coasts. After that, the east coast was to be more fully explored; and when the whole programme was finished Flinders was to return to England for further instructions.

The functions of the "scientific gentlemen" were carefully defined. Flinders was directed to afford facilities for the naturalists to collect specimens and the artists to make drawings. The hand of Banks is apparent in the nice balancing of liberty of independent study with liability to direction from the commander; and his forethought in these particulars was probably inspired by his experience with Cook's expedition many years before.

One other set of instructions from the Admiralty is of great importance in view of what subsequently occurred, and had a bearing upon the expedition as it affected political relations. Great Britain was at war with France, and the Investigator, though on a peaceful mission, was a sloop belonging to the British navy. Flinders wrote to the Admiralty (July 2) soliciting instructions as to what he was to do in case he met French vessels at sea, "for without an order to desist, the articles of war will oblige me to act inimically to them." The directions that he received were explicit. He was to act towards any French ship "as if the two countries were not at war; and with respect to the ships and vessels of other powers with which this country is at war, you are to avoid, if possible, having any communication with them; and not to take letters or packets other than such as you may receive from this office or the office of his Majesty's Secretary of State." The concluding words of the instruction intimately concern the events which, in the next year but one, commenced that long agony of imprisonment which Flinders had to endure in Ile-de-France.

He was also provided with a passport from the French Government, and the terms in which it was couched are of the utmost importance for the understanding of what followed. It was issued for the Investigator, commanded by Captain Matthew Flinders, for a voyage of discovery of which the object was to extend human knowledge and promote the progress of nautical science. It commanded all French officers, at sea or on shore, not to interfere with the ship and its officers, but on the contrary to assist them if they needed help. But this treatment was only to be extended as long as the Investigator did not announce her intention of committing any act of hostility against the French Republic and her allies, did not render assistance to her enemies, and did not traffic in merchandise or contraband goods. The passport was signed by the French Minister of Marine and Colonies, Forfait, on behalf of the First Consul.[8]

Before the expedition sailed, Flinders became engaged in a correspondence which must have been embarrassing to him, relating to his wife. He was married, as has been stated, in April, after he had been promoted commander, and while the Investigator was lying at Sheerness, awaiting sailing orders. As the voyage would in all probability extend over several years, his intention was to take his bride with him to Sydney, and leave her there while he prosecuted his investigations in the south, north and east. He had no reason to think that his doing so would give offence in official quarters, especially as he was aware of cases where commanders of ships had been permitted to take their wives on cruises when their vessels were not protected by passports securing immunity from attack. There are even instances of wives of British naval officers being on board ship during engagements. During Nelson's attack on Santa Cruz, in 1797, Captain Fremantle of the Seahorse had with him his wife, whom he had lately married. It was in that engagement that Nelson lost an arm; and when he returned, bleeding and in great pain, he would not go on board the Seahorse, saying that he would not have Mrs. Fremantle alarmed by seeing him in such a condition, without any news of her husband, who had accompanied the landing. The amputation of the shattered limb was therefore performed on the Theseus.

The wisdom of permitting a naval officer to take his wife on a long voyage in a ship of the navy may well be questioned, and the contrary rule is now well established. But it was not invariably observed a century or more ago; and that Flinders acted in perfect good faith in the matter is evident from the correspondence, which, on so delicate a subject, he conducted with a manliness and good taste that display his character in an amiable light.

In all probability Mrs. Flinders would have been allowed to proceed to Port Jackson unchallenged but for the unlucky circumstance that, when the commissioners of the Admiralty paid an official visit of inspection to the ship, she was seen "seated in the captain's cabin without her bonnet."[1] They considered this to be "too open a declaration of that being her home." Her husband first heard of the matter semi-officially from Banks, who wrote on May 21st:—

"I have but time to tell you that the news of your marriage, which was published in the Lincoln paper, has reached me. The Lords of the Admiralty have heard also that Mrs. Flinders is on board the Investigator, and that you have some thought of carrying her to sea with you. This I was very sorry to hear, and if that is the case I beg to give you my advice by no means to adventure to measures so contrary to the regulations and the discipline of the Navy; for I am convinced by language I have heard, that their Lordships will, if they hear of her being in New South Wales, immediately order you to be superseded, whatever may be the consequences, and in all likelihood order Mr. Grant to finish the survey.

To threaten to supercede Flinders if it were even heard that his wife was in New South Wales was surely an excess of rigour. His reply was written from the Nore, May 24th, 1801:

"I am much indebted to you, Sir Joseph, for the information contained in your letter of the 21st. It is true that I had an intention of taking Mrs. Flinders to Port Jackson, to remain there until I should have completed the voyage, and to have then brought her home again in the ship, and I trust that the service would not have suffered in the least by such a step. The Admiralty have most probably conceived that I intended to keep her on board during the voyage, but this was far from my intentions. As some vindication of the step I was about to take, I may be permitted to observe that until it was intended to apply for a passport, I not only did not take the step, but did not intend it—which is perhaps a greater attention to that article of the Naval Instructions than many commanders have paid to it. If their Lordships understood this matter in its true light, I should hope that they would have shown the same indulgence to me as to Lieutenant Kent of the Buffalo, and many others who have not had the plea of a passport.

"If their Lordships' sentiments should continue the same, whatever may be my disappointment, I shall give up the wife for the voyage of discovery; and I would beg of you, Sir Joseph, to be assured that even this circumstance will not damp the ardour I feel to accomplish the important purpose of the present voyage, and in a way that shall preclude the necessity of any one following after me to explore.

"It would be too much presumption in me to beg of Sir Joseph Banks to set this matter in its proper light, because by your letters I judge it meets with your disapprobation entirely; but I hope that this opinion has been formed upon the idea of Mrs. Flinders continuing on board the ship when engaged in real service."

Banks promised to lay before the Admiralty the representations made to him, but Flinders a few days later (June 3rd) wrote another letter in which he conscientiously expressed his determination not to risk a misunderstanding with his superiors by taking his wife:

"I feel much obliged by your offer to lay the substance of my letter before the Admiralty, but I foresee that, although I should in the case of Mrs. Flinders going to Port Jackson have been more particularly cautious of my stay there, yet their Lordships will conclude naturally enough that her presence would tend to increase the number of and to lengthen my visits. I am therefore afraid to risk their Lordships' ill opinion, and Mrs. Flinders will return to her friends immediately that our sailing orders arrive.

It can well be believed that "my Lords" of the Admiralty did not feel very considerate towards ladies just at that time; for one of their most brilliant officers, Nelson, was, while this very correspondence was taking place, gravely compromising himself with Emma Hamilton at Naples. St. Vincent and Troubridge, salt-hearted old veterans as they were, were just the men to be suspicious on the score of petticoats fluttering about the decks of the King's ships. It seems that they were inclined unjustly and ungallantly to frown and cry cherchez la femme about small things that went wrong, even when Flinders was in no way to blame for them. They blamed him for some desertions before properly apprehending the circumstances, and when he had merely reported a fact for which he was not responsible.

The next two letters close the whole incident, which gave more annoyance to all parties than ought to have been the case in connection with an officer so sedulously scrupulous in matters concerning the honour and efficiency of the service as Flinders was. Banks, in quite a patron's tone, wrote on June 5th:

"I yesterday went to the Admiralty to enquire about the Investigator, and was indeed much mortified to learn there that you had been on shore in Hythe Bay, and I was still more mortified to hear that several of your men had deserted, and that you had had a prisoner entrusted to your charge, who got away at a time when the quarter-deck was in charge of a midshipman. I heard with pain many severe remarks on these matters, and in defence I could only say that as Captain Flinders is a sensible man and a good seaman, such matters could only be attributed to the laxity of discipline which always takes place when the captain's wife is on board, and that such lax discipline could never again take place, because you had wisely resolved to leave Mrs. Flinders with her relations."

It was a kindly admonishment from an elderly scholar to a young officer of twenty-seven only recently married; but to attribute affairs for which Flinders was not to blame to the presence of his bride, was a little unamiable. With excellent taste, Flinders, in his answer, avoided keeping his wife's name in the controversy, and he disposed of the allegations both effectively and judiciously:

"My surprise is great that the Admiralty should attach any blame to me for the desertion of these men from the Advice brig, which is the next point in your letter, Sir Joseph. These men were lent, among others, to the brig, by order of Admiral Graeme. From her it was that they absented themselves, and I reported it to the Admiralty. I had been so particular as to send with the men a request to the commanding officer to permit none of them to go on shore, but Lieutenant Fowler pointed out to him such of them as might be most depended on to go in boats upon duty. Nothing more could have been done on our part to prevent desertion, and if blame rests anywhere it must be upon the officers of the Advice. The three men were volunteers for this voyage, but having gotten on shore with money in their pockets most probably stayed so long that they became afraid to return."

On the subject of discipline he said: "It is only a duty to myself to assert that the discipline and good order on board the Investigator is exceeded in very few ships of her size, and is at least twice what it was under her former commander. I beg to refer to Lieutenant Fowler on this subject, who knows the ship intimately both as the Xenophon and Investigator. On the last subject I excuse myself from not having thought the occurrence of sufficient consequence to trouble Sir Joseph with, and it was what I least suspected that my character required a defender, for it was in my power to have suppressed almost the whole of those things for which I am blamed; but I had the good of the service sufficiently at heart to make the reports which brought them into light. That the Admiralty have thrown blame on me, and should have represented to my greatest and best friend that I had gotten the ship on shore, had let a prisoner escape, and three of my men run away, without adding the attendant circumstances, is most mortifying and grievous to me; but it is impossible to express so gratefully as I feel the anxious concern with which you took the part of one who has not the least claim to such generosity."

The last two paragraphs refer to an incident which will be dealt with presently.

Although the Investigator was ready to sail in April, 1801, the Admiralty withheld orders till the middle of July. Flinders, vexed as he naturally was at having to leave his young wife behind, was impatient at the delay for two good reasons. First, he was anxious to have the benefit of the Australian summer months, between November and February, for the exploration of the south-west, the winter being the better time for the northern work; and secondly, reports had appeared in the journals about the progress of the French expedition, and he did not wish to be forestalled in the making of probably important discoveries. The "Annual Register" for 1801, for example (p. 33) stated that letters were received from the Isle of France, dated April 29th, stating that Le Naturaliste and Le Geographe had left that station on their voyage to New Holland. While "my Lords" were warming up imaginary errors in the heat of an excited imagination on account of poor Mrs. Flinders, the commander of the Investigator was losing valuable time. In May he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks: "The advanced state of the season makes me excessively anxious to be off. I fear that a little longer delay will lose us a summer and lengthen our voyage at least six months. Besides that, the French are gaining time upon us."

On May 26th, the Investigator left the Nore for Spithead to wait further orders. She was provided, by the Admiralty itself, with a chart published by J.H. Moore, upon which a sandbank known as the Roar, extending from Dungeness towards Folkestone, between 2½ to 4 miles from land, was not marked. On the evening of the 28th, in a perfectly calm sea, and at a time when, sailing by the chart, there was no reason to apprehend any danger, the ship glided on to the bank. She did not suffer a particle of injury, and in a very short time had resumed her voyage. If Flinders had said nothing at all about the incident, nobody off the ship would have been any the wiser. But as the Admiralty had furnished him with a defective chart, and might do the same to other commanders, who might strike the sand in more inimical circumstances, he considered it to be his duty to the service to report the matter; when lo! the Admiralty, instead of censuring its officials for supplying the Investigator with a faulty chart, gravely shook its head, and made those "severe remarks" about Flinders, which induced Sir Joseph Banks to admonish him so paternally in the letter already quoted. The Investigator had, it seemed to be the opinion of their Lordships, struck the sand, not because it was uncharted, but because Mrs. Flinders was on board between the Nore and Spithead! Flinders' letter to Banks, June 6th, stated his position quite conclusively:

"Finding so material a thing as a sandbank three or four miles from the shore unlaid down in the chart, I thought it a duty incumbent upon me to endeavour to prevent the like accident from happening to others, by stating the circumstances to the Admiralty, and giving the most exact bearings from the shoal that our situation would enable me to take, with the supposed distance from the land. It would have been very easy for me to have suppressed every part of the circumstance, and thus to have escaped the blame which seems to attach to me, instead of some share of praise for my good intentions. I hope that it will not be thought presumptuous in me to say that no blame ought to be attributed to me … The Admiralty do not seem to take much into consideration that I had no master appointed, who ought to be the pilot, or that having been constantly employed myself in foreign voyages I cannot consequently have much personal knowledge of the Channel. In truth, I had nothing but the chart and my own general observations to direct me; and had the former been at all correct we should have arrived here as safe as if we had any number of pilots."

It is significant of Flinders' truth-telling habit of mind that when he came to write the history of the voyage, published thirteen years later, he did not pass over the incident at the Roar, though he can hardly have remembered as agreeable an event for which he was blamed when he was not wrong. But perhaps he found satisfaction in being able to write that the circumstance "showed the necessity there was for a regulation, since adopted, to furnish His Majesty's ships with correct charts." A natural comment is that it is odd that so obviously sensible a thing was not done until an accident showed the danger of not doing it. The blame temporarily put upon Flinders did no harm to his credit, and was probably merely an oblique form of self-reproach on the part of the Admiralty.

The Investigator arrived at Spithead on June 2nd, but did not receive final sailing orders till more than another month had elapsed. "I put an end, I hope, to our correspondence for some months, concluding that you will sail immediately," wrote Sir Joseph Banks in June, "and with sincere good wishes for your future prosperity, and with a firm belief that you will, in your future conduct, do credit to yourself as an able investigator, and to me as having recommended you." The true spirit of friendship breathes in those words, the friendship, too, of a discerning judge of character for a younger man whom he respected and trusted. The trust was nobly justified. Flinders undertook the work with the firm determination to do his work thoroughly. "My greatest ambition," he had written some weeks previously (April 29),"is to make such a minute investigation of this extensive and very interesting country that no person shall have occasion to come after me to make further discoveries." It was with that downright resolve that Flinders set out, and in that spirit did he pursue his task to its end. It was not for nothing that this man was the nautical grandson of Cook.

Sailing orders arrived from London on July 17th, and on the following day the Investigator sailed from Spithead. Mrs. Flinders was at this time residing with her friends in Lincolnshire. She had been ill from fretful disappointment when forbidden to sail with her husband, but had recovered before they parted. Many a weary, bitter year was to pass before she would see him again; years of notable things done, and of cruel wrongs endured; and then they were only to meet for a few months, till death claimed the brave officer and fine-spirited gentleman who was Matthew Flinders.

From the correspondence of these weeks a few passages may be chosen, as showing the heart-side of a gallant sailor's nature. He wrote to his wife in June: "The philosophical calmness which I imposed upon thee is fled from myself, and I am just as awkward without thee as one half of a pair of scissors without its fellow," an image for separation which may be commended to any poet ingenious enough to find a rhyme for "scissors." The following is dated July 7th: "I should not forget to say that the gentle Mr. Bauer seldom forgets to add 'and Mrs. Flinders' good health' after the cloth is withdrawn, and even the bluff Mr. Bell does not forget you … Thou wilt write me volumes, my dearest love, wilt thou not? No pleasure is at all equal to that I receive from thy letters. The idea of how happy we MIGHT be will sometimes intrude itself and take away the little spirits that thy melancholy situation leaves me. I can write no longer with this confounded pen. I will find a better to-morrow. May the choicest blessings of Heaven go with thee, thou dearest, kindest, best of women."

This one was written from the Cape in November: "Write to me constantly; write me pages and volumes. Tell me the dress thou wearest, tell me thy dreams, anything, so do but talk to me and of thyself. When thou art sitting at thy needle and alone, then think of me, my love, and write me the uppermost of thy thoughts. Fill me half a dozen sheets, and send them when thou canst. Think only, my dearest girl upon the gratification which the perusal and reperusal fifty times repeated will afford me, and thou wilt write me something or other every day. Adieu, my dearest, best love. Heaven bless thee with health and comfort, and preserve thy full affection towards thy very own, Matthew Flinders."

To return from these personal relations to the voyage: Some days before the Investigator reached Madeira, a Swedish brig was met, and had to receive a lesson in nautical manners during war-time. The incident is reported by seaman Samuel Smith with a pretty mixture of pronouns, genders and tenses: "At night we was piped all hands in the middle watch to quarters. A brig was bearing down upon our starboard bow. Our Captn spoke her, but receiving no answer we fired a gun past his stern. Tacked ship and spoke her, which proved to be a Swede."[9]

Flinders was, it has been said, the nautical grandson of Cook. How thoroughly he followed the example of the great sailor is apparent from the lines upon which he managed his ship and governed his crew. This is what he was able to write of the voyage down to the Cape of Good Hope, reached on October 16th: "At this time we had not a single person in the sick list, both officers and men being fully in as good health as when we sailed from Spithead. I had begun very early to put in execution the beneficial plan first practised and made known by the great Captain Cook. It was in the standing orders of the ship, that on every fine day the deck below and the cockpit should be cleaned, washed, aired with stoves, and sprinkled with vinegar. On wet and dull days they were cleaned and aired, without washing. Care was taken to prevent the people from sleeping upon deck or lying down in their wet clothes; and once in every fortnight or three weeks, as circumstances permitted, their beds, and the contents of their chests and bags were opened out and exposed to the sun and air. On the Sunday and Thursday mornings, the ship's company was mustered, and every man appeared clean-shaved and dressed; and when the evenings were fine the drum and fife announced the forecastle to be the scene of dancing; nor did I discourage other playful amusements which might occasionally be more to the taste of the sailors, and were not unseasonable.

"Within the tropics lime juice and sugar were made to suffice as antiscorbutics; on reaching a higher latitude, sour-krout and vinegar were substituted; the essence of malt was served for the passage to New Holland, and for future occasions, on consulting with the surgeon, I had thought it expedient to make some slight changes in the issuing of the provisions. Oatmeal was boiled for breakfast four days in the week, as usual; and at other times, two ounces of portable broth, in cakes, to each man, with such additions of onions, pepper, etc., as the different messes possessed, made a comfortable addition to their salt meat. And neither in this passage, nor, I may add, in any subsequent part of the voyage, were the officers or people restricted to any allowance of fresh water. They drank freely at the scuttled cask, and took away, under the inspection of the officer of the watch, all that was requisite for culinary purposes; and very frequently two casks of water in the week were given for washing their clothes. With these regulations, joined to a due enforcement of discipline, I had the satisfaction to see my people orderly and full of zeal for the service in which we were engaged; and in such a state of health that no delay at the Cape was required beyond the necessary refitment of the ship."

How wise, considerate, and farseeing this policy was! It reads like the sageness of a gray-headed veteran. Yet Flinders had only attained his 27th birthday precisely seven months before he reached the Cape on this voyage. He had learned how men, as well as ships, should be managed. "It was part of my plan for preserving the health of the people to promote active amusements amongst them," he said of the jollity on crossing the line; and we can almost see the smile of recollection which played upon his lips when he wrote that "the seamen were furnished with the means and the permission to conclude the day with merriment." Seaman Smith, who shared in the fun, tells us what occurred with his own peculiar disregard of correct spelling and grammatical construction: "we crossd the equinocial line and had the usuil serimony of Neptune and his attendance hailing the ship and coming on board. The greatest part of officers and men was shaved, not having crossd the line before. At night grog was servd out to each watch, which causd the evening to be spent in merriment."

At the Cape the seams were re-caulked, and the ship gave less trouble on the voyage across the Indian Ocean
Page 254 tablet (The Life of Matthew Flinders).jpg

TABLET AT MEMORY COVE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.

than she had done on the run south. She left False Bay on November 4th. The run across the Indian Ocean was uneventful, except that the ship ran foul of a whale apparently sleeping on the water, and "caused such an alarm that he sank as expeditiously as possible"; and that an albatross was captured which, "being caught with hook and line it had its proper faculties and appeared of a varocious nature."[10] On December 6th the coast of Australia was sighted near Cape Leeuwin.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Flinders Papers
  2. Her mother and stepfather.
  3. Captain F.J. Bayldon, of the Nautical Academy, Sydney, tells me an interesting story about the Flinders-Chappell marriage registration. His father was rector of Partney, Lincolnshire, a village lying two or three miles from Spilsby. When the Captain and his brothers were boys, they found in the rectory a large book, such as was used for parish registers. It was apparently unused. They asked their father if they might have the blank pages for drawing paper, and he gave them permission. But they found upon a single page, a few marriage entries, and one of these was the marriage of Matthew Flinders to Ann Chappell. Captain Bayldon, a student of navigation then as he has been ever since, knew Flinders' name at once, and took the book to his father. The marriage was celebrated at Partney, where the Tylers lived.
  4. Mitchell Library MSS.
  5. Admiral Markham, Life of Sir John Franklin p. 43.
  6. Hakluyt's Voyages (edition of 1904) Vol. IX., pp. 31 and 49.
  7. The East India Company, through its Court of Directors, actually voted £1200 in May, 1801; but only £600 of this sum was paid at the commencement of the voyage. The remainder was to be paid to the commander and officers as a reward if they successfully accomplished their task. Flinders' manuscript letter-book contains a copy of a letter dated November 14, 1810, wherein he reminds the Company of their promise. I have found no record of the payment of the remaining £600, but Flinders' Journal shows him to have dined with the directors a few weeks after the letter was sent, and a little later the Journal contains a record of a merry evening spent together by Flinders and a party of his old Investigator shipmates. It is a fair assumption that the money was divided up on that occasion.
  8. A transcript of Flinders' own copy of the French passport is now at Caen, amongst the Decaen Papers Vol. 84 p. 133.
  9. MS., Mitchell Library: "Journal of Samuel Smith, Seaman, who served on board the Investigator, Captain Flinders, on a voyage of discovery in the South Seas." The manuscript covers 52 small quarto pages, and is neatly written. Some of Smith's dates are wrong. It may be noted here that Smith, on his return from the voyage, was impressed in the Downs and retained in the Navy till 1815. He died at Thornton's Court, Manchester, in 1821, aged 50. He was therefore 30 years of age when he made this voyage.
  10. Smith's Journal, Mitchell Library MSS.