The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Chapter 6

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The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. by Ernest Scott
Chapter 6. The Reliance and the Tom Thumb

Chapter VI.

THE RELIANCE AND THE TOM THUMB.

Apart from Admiral Pasley, two officers who participated in Lord Howe's victory on "the glorious First of June," had an important influence upon the later career of Flinders. The first of these, Captain John Hunter, had served on the flagship Queen Charlotte. The second, Henry Waterhouse, had been fifth lieutenant on the Bellerophon. Flinders was under the orders of both of them on his next voyage.

Hunter had accompanied the first Governor of New South Wales on the Sirius, when a British colony was founded there in 1788, and was commissioned by the Crown to assume the duties of Lieutenant-Governor in case of Phillip's death. When the office fell vacant in 1793, Hunter applied for appointment. He secured the cordial support of Howe, and Sir Roger Curtis of the Queen Charlotte exerted his influence by recommending him as one whose selection "would be a blessing to the colony" on account of his incorruptible integrity, unceasing zeal, thorough knowledge of the country, and steady judgment. He was appointed Governor in February, 1794, and in March of the same year H.M.S. Reliance, with the tender Supply, were commissioned to convey him to Sydney.

Henry Waterhouse was chosen to command the Reliance, under Hunter, at that officer's request. He expressed to the Secretary of State a wish that the appointment might be conferred upon an officer to whom it might be a step in advancement, rather than upon one who had already attained the rank of commander; and he recommended Waterhouse as one who, though a young man and not an old officer, was "the only remaining lieutenant of the Sirius, formerly under my command; and having had the principal part of his nautical education from me, I can with confidence say that he is well qualified for the charge."

It is probable that Flinders heard of the expedition from his Bellerophon shipmate, Waterhouse, who by the end of July was under orders to sail as second captain of the Reliance. Certainly the opportunity of making another voyage to Australian waters, wherein, as he knew, so much work lay awaiting an officer keen for discovery, coincided with his own inclinations. He wrote that he was led by his passion for exploring new countries to embrace the opportunity of going out upon a station which of all others presented the most ample field for his favourite pursuit.

The sailing was delayed for six months, and in the interval young Flinders was able to visit his home in Lincolnshire. Whatever opposition there may have been to his choice of the sea as a profession before 1790, we may be certain that the Donington surgeon was not a little proud of his eldest son when he returned after a wonderful voyage to the isles of the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, and after participation in the recent great naval fight which had thrilled the heart of England with exultation and pride. The boy who had left his father's house four years before as an anxious aspirant for the King's uniform now returned a bronzed seaman on the verge of manhood. His intelligence and zeal as a junior officer had won him the esteem and confidence of distinguished commanders. He had looked upon the strangeness and beauty of the world in its most remote and least-known quarters, had witnessed fights with savages, threaded unmapped straits, and had, to crown his youthful achievements, striven amidst the wrack and thunder of grim-visaged war. We may picture his welcome: the strong grasp of his father's hand, the crowding enthusiasm of his brother and sisters fondly glorying in their hero's prowess. The warnings of uncle John were all forgotten now. When the midshipman's younger brother, Samuel Ward Flinders, desired to go to sea with him, he was not restrained, and, in fact, accompanied him as a volunteer on the Reliance when at length she sailed.

Hunter took not merely an official but a deep and discerning interest in the colonisation of Australia. He foresaw its immense possibilities, encouraged its exploration, promoted the breeding of stock and the cultivation of crops, and had a wise concern for such strategic advantages as would tend to secure it for British occupation. He perceived the great importance of the Cape of Good Hope from the point of view of Australian security; and a letter which he wrote to an official of the Admiralty while awaiting sailing orders for the Reliance (January 25, 1795), is perhaps the first instance of official recognition of Australia's vital interest in the ownership of that post. There was cause for concern. The raw and ill-disciplined levies of the French, having at the outbreak of the Revolutionary wars most unexpectedly turned back the invading armies of Austria and Prussia, and having, after campaigns full of dramatic changes, shaken off the peril of the crushing of the fatherland by a huge European combination, were now waging an offensive war in Holland. Pichegru, the French commander, though not a soldier by training, secured astonishing successes, and, in the thick of a winter of exceptional severity, led his ragged and ill-fed army on to victory after victory, until the greater part of Holland lay conquered within his grip. In January he entered Amsterdam. There was a strong element of Republican feeling among the Dutch, and an alliance with France was demanded.

When this condition of things was reported in England, Hunter was alarmed for the safety of the colony which he was about to govern. The Cape of Good Hope was a Dutch possession. Holland was now under the domination of France. Might not events bring about the establishment of French power at the Cape? "I cannot help feeling much concerned at the rapid progress of the French in Holland," he wrote, "and I own shall not be surprised if in consequence of their success in that country they make a sudden dash at the Cape of Good Hope, if we do not anticipate them in such an attempt. They are so very active a people that it will be done before we know anything of it, and I think it a post of too much importance to be neglected by them. I hope earnestly, therefore, that it will be prevented by our sending a squadron and some troops as early as possible. If the Republicans once get a footing there, we shall probably find it difficult to dislodge them. Such a circumstance would be a sad stroke for our young colony."

The course which Hunter then advised was that which the British Government followed, though more because the Cape was the "half way house" to India, than for the protection of Australian interests. An expedition was despatched later in the year to protect the Cape against French occupation, and in September the colony, by order of the Stadtholder of Holland, accepted British protection.

The Reliance and the Supply left Plymouth on February 15th, 1795, amongst a very large company of merchantmen and ships of the navy convoyed by the Channel Fleet under Lord Howe, which guarded them till they were beyond the range of possible French attacks and then sailed back to port.

From Teneriffe, which Hunter reached on March 6th, he wrote a despatch to the Government stating his
Page 115 memorial (The Life of Matthew Flinders).jpg

MEMORIAL ON MOUNT LOFTY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.

[illustration 1] intention to sail, not to the Cape of Good Hope, but to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and thence to New South Wales. His avoidance of the more direct route was due to the causes explained above. "In the present uncertain state of things between the French and Dutch," he had written before sailing, "it will be dangerous for me to attempt touching at the Cape on my way out;" and writing from Rio de Janeiro in May he explained that he did not "conceive it safe from the uncertain state of the Dutch settlements in India to take the Cape of Good Hope in my way to Port Jackson, lest the French, following up their late successes in Holland, should have been active enough to make an early attack on that very important post." In a despatch to the Duke of Portland he commented strongly on the same circumstance, expressing the opinion that "if the French should be able to possess themselves of that settlement it will be rather unfortunate for our distant colony."

Hunter had to complain of discourteous treatment received from the Portuguese Viceroy, who kept him waiting six days before according an interview, and then fixed an appointment for seven o'clock in the evening, when it was quite dark. "As His Excellency was acquainted with the position I held, I confess I expected a different reception," wrote Hunter; and he was so much vexed that he did not again set foot ashore while his ships lay in port. The incident, though not important in itself, serves, in conjunction with Hunter's avoidance of the Cape, to illustrate the rather limp condition of British prestige abroad at about the time when her authority was being established in Australia. With her army defeated in the Low Countries, her ships deeming it prudent to keep clear of the Cape that formed the key to her eastern and southern possessions, and her King's representative subjected to a studied slight from a Portuguese official in Brazil, she hardly appeared, just then, to be the nation that would soon shatter the naval power of France, demolish the greatest soldier of modern times, and, before her sword was sheathed, float her victorious flag in every continent, in every sea, and over people of every race and colour.

On this voyage, as on all occasions, Flinders kept a careful record of his own observations. Sixteen years later, a dispute arose, interesting to navigators, as to the precise location of Cape Frio in Brazil. An American had pointed out an error in European charts. It was a matter of some importance, because ships bound for Rio de Janeiro necessarily rounded Cape Frio, and the error was sufficiently serious to cause no small risk if vessels trusted to the received reckoning. The Naval Chronicle devoted some attention to the point; and to it Flinders sent a communication stating that on consulting his nautical records he found that on May 2nd, 1795, he made an observation, reduced from the preceding noon, calculating the position of the Cape to be latitude 22° 53' south, longitude 41° 43' west. His memorandum was printed over a facsimile of his signature as that of "a distinguished navigator," and was hailed as "a valuable contribution towards clearing up the difficulty concerning the geographical position of that important headland."[1] For us the incident serves as an indication of Flinders' diligence and carefulness in the study of navigation. He was but a midshipman at the time, and it will be noticed that it was a personal observation which he was able to quote, not one taken as part of his duty as an officer.

The Reliance arrived at Port Jackson on September 7th, and in the following month Flinders, with a companion of whom it is time to speak, commenced the series of explorations which made his fame.

This companion was George Bass, a Lincolnshire man like Flinders himself, born at Aswarby near Sleaford. He was a farmer's son, but his father died when he was quite a child, and his mother moved to Boston. She managed out of her widow's resources to give her son an excellent education, and designed that he should enter the medical profession. In due course he was apprenticed to a Boston surgeon, Mr. Francis—a common mode of securing training in medicine at that period. He "walked" the Boston hospital for a finishing course of instruction, and won his surgeon's diploma with marked credit.

Bass had from his early years shown a desire to go to sea. His mother was able to buy for him a share in a merchant ship; but this was wrecked, whereupon, not cured of his love of the ocean, he entered the navy as a surgeon. It was in that capacity that he sailed in the Reliance. He was then, in 1795, thirty-two years of age.

All the records of Bass, both the personal observations of those who came in contact with him, and the tale of his own deeds, leave the impression that he was a very remarkable man. He was six feet in height, dark-complexioned, handsome in countenance, keen in expression, vigorous, strong, and enterprising. His father-in-law spoke of his "very penetrating countenance." Flinders called him "the penetrating Bass." Governor Hunter, in official despatches, said he was "a young man of a well-informed mind and an active disposition," and one who was "of much ability in various ways out of the line of his profession." He was gifted with a mind capable of intense application to any task that he took in hand. Upon his firm courage, resourcefulness and strength of purpose, difficulties and dangers acted merely as the whetstone to the finely tempered blade. He undertook hazardous enterprises from the sheer love of doing hard things which were worth doing. "He was one," wrote Flinders, "whose ardour for discovery was not to be repressed by any obstacle nor deterred by danger." He seemed to care nothing for rewards, and was not hungry for honours. The pleasure of doing was to him its own recompense. That "penetrating countenance" indexed a brain as direct as a drill, and as inflexible. A loyal and affectionate comrade, preferring to enter upon a task with his chosen mate, he nevertheless could not wait inactive if official duties prevented co-operation, but would set out alone on any piece of work on which he had set his heart. The portrait of Bass which we possess conveys an impression of alert and vigorous intelligence, of genial temper and hearty relish. It is the picture of a man who was abundantly alive in every nerve.

Flinders and Bass, being both Lincolnshire men, born within a few miles of each other, naturally became very friendly on the long voyage to Australia. It was said of two other friends, who achieved great distinction in the sphere of art, that when they first met in early manhood they "ran together like two drops of mercury," so completely coincident were their inclinations. So it was in this instance. Two men more predisposed to formulate plans for exploration could not have been thrown together. A passion for maritime discovery was common to both of them. Flinders, from his study of charts and books of voyages, had a sound knowledge of the field of work that lay open, and Bass's keen mind eagerly grasped the plans explained to him. It would not have taken the surgeon and the midshipman long to find that their ambitions were completely in tune on this inviting subject. "With this friend," Flinders wrote, "a determination was found of completing the examination of the east coast of New South Wales by all such opportunities as the duty of the ship and procurable means could admit. Projects of this nature, when originating in the minds of young men, are usually termed romantic; and so far from any good being anticipated, even prudence and friendship join in discouraging, if not in opposing them. Thus it was in the present case." The significance of that passage is that the two friends made for themselves the opportunities by which they won fame and rendered service. They did not wait on Fortune; they forced her hand. They showed by what they did on their own initiative, with very limited resources, that they were the right men to be entrusted with work of larger scope.

Nevertheless it is unwarrantable to assume that Governor Hunter discountenanced their earliest efforts. It was presumably on the passage quoted above that the author of a chapter in the most elaborate modern naval history founded the assertion that "the plans of the young discoverers were discouraged by the authorities. They, however, had resolution and perseverance. All official help and countenance were withheld."[2] But Flinders does not say that "the authorities" discouraged the effort. "Prudence and friendship" did. They were not yet tried men in such hazardous enterprises; the settlement possessed scarcely any resources for exploratory work, and the dangers were unknown. Official countenance implies official responsibility, and there was not yet sufficient reason for setting the Governor's seal on the adventurous experiments of two young and untried though estimable men. When they had shown their quality, Hunter gave them every assistance and encouragement in his power, and proved himself a good friend to them. In the circumstances, "prudence and friendship" are hardly to be blamed for a counsel of caution. The remark of Flinders is not to be interpreted to mean that the Governor put hindrances in their way. They were under his orders, and his positive discountenance would have been effectual to block their efforts. They could not even have obtained leave of absence without his approval. But John Hunter was not the man to prevent them from putting their powers to the test.

No sooner had the two friends reached Sydney than they began to look about them for means to undertake the exploratory work upon which their minds were bent. Bass had brought out with him from England a small boat, only eight feet long, with a five foot beam, named by him the Tom Thumb on account of her size.[3] In this diminutive craft the two friends made preparations for setting out along the Coast. Taking with them only one boy, named Martin, with provisions and ammunition for a very short trip, they sailed the Tom Thumb out of Port Jackson and made southward to Botany Bay, which they entered. They pushed up George's River, which had been only partly explored, and pursued their investigation of its winding course for twenty miles beyond the former limit of survey. Upon their return they presented to Hunter a report concerning the quality of the land seen on the borders of the river, together with a sketch map. The Governor was induced from what they told him to examine the country himself; and the result was that he founded the settlement of Bankstown, which still remains, and boasts the distinction of being one of the pioneer towns of Australia.

The adventurers were delayed from the further pursuit of their ambition by ship's duties. The Reliance was ordered to convey to Norfolk Island an officer of the New South Wales Corps required for duty there, as well as the Judge Advocate. She sailed in January, 1796. After her return in March, Bass and Flinders, being free again, lost no time in fitting out for a second cruise. Their object this time was to search for a large river, said to fall into the sea to the south of Botany Bay, which was not marked on Cook's chart. As before, the crew consisted only of themselves and the boy.

It has always been believed that the boat in which this second cruise was made, was the same Tom Thumb as that which carried the two young explorers to George's River; indeed, Flinders himself, in his Voyage to Terra Australis, Volume 1, page 97, says that "Mr. Bass and myself went again in Tom Thumb." But in his unpublished Journal there is a passage that suggests a doubt as to whether, when he wrote his book, over a decade later, he had not forgotten that a second boat was obtained for the second adventure. He may not have considered the circumstance important enough to mention. At all events in the Journal, he writes: "As Tom Thumb had performed so well before, the same boat's crew had little hesitation in embarking in another boat of nearly the same size, which had been since built at Port Jackson." There was, it is evident, a second boat, no larger than the first, or that fact would have been mentioned, and she was also known as the Tom Thumb. She was Tom Thumb the Second. Only by that assumption can we reconcile the Voyage statement with the Journal, which, having been written up at the time, is an authoritative source of information.

They left Sydney on March 25th, intending to stand off to sea till evening, when it was expected that the breeze would bring them to the coast. But they drifted on a strong current six or seven miles southward, and being unable to land, passed the night in the boat. Next day, being in want of water, but unable to bring the Tom Thumb to a safe landing place, Bass swam ashore. While the filled cask was being got off a wave carried the boat shoreward and beached her, leaving the three on the beach with their clothes drenched, their provisions partly spoiled, and their arms and ammunition thoroughly wet. The emptying and launching of the boat on a surfy shore, and the replacing of the stores and cask in her, were managed with some difficulty; and they ran for two islands for shelter late in the afternoon. Finding a landing to be dangerous they again spent the night, cramped, damp, and uncomfortable, in their tossing little eight-foot craft, with their stone anchor dropped under the lee of a tongue of land. Bass could not sleep because, from having for so many hours during the day had his naked body exposed to the burning sun, he was "one continued blister." On the third day they took aboard two aboriginals—"two Indians," Flinders calls them—natives of Botany Bay, who offered to pilot them to a place where they could obtain not only water but also fish and wild duck.

They were conducted to a small stream descending from a lagoon, and rowed up it for about a mile until it became too shallow to proceed. Eight or ten aboriginals put in an appearance, and Bass and Flinders began to entertain doubts of securing a retreat from these people should they be inclined to be hostile. "They had the reputation at Port Jackson of being exceedingly ferocious, if not cannibals."

The powder having become wet and the muskets rusty, Bass and Flinders decided to land in order that they might spread their ammunition in the sun to dry, and clean their weapons. The natives, who increased in number to about twenty, gathered round and watched with curiosity. Some of them assisted Bass in repairing a broken oar. They did not know what the powder was, but, when the muskets were handled, so much alarm was excited that it was necessary to desist. Some of them had doubtless learnt from aboriginals about Port Jackson of the thunder and lightning made by these mysterious pieces of wood and metal, and had had described to them how blackfellows dropped dead when such things pointed and smoked at them. Flinders, anxious to retain their confidence (because, had they assumed the offensive, they must speedily have annihilated the three whites), hit upon an amusing method of diverting them. The aboriginals were accustomed to wear their coarse black hair and beards hanging in long, shaggy, untrimmed locks, matted with accretions of oil and dirt. When the two Botany Bay blacks were taken on board the Tom Thumb as pilots, a pair of scissors was applied to their abundant and too emphatically odorous tresses. Flinders tells the rest of the story:—

"We had clipped the hair and beards of the two Botany Bay natives at Red Point,[4] and they were showing themselves to the others and persuading them to follow their example. Whilst therefore the powder was drying, I began with a large pair of scissors to execute my new office upon the eldest of four or five chins presented to me, and as great nicety was not required, the shaving of a dozen of them did not occupy me long. Some of the more timid were alarmed at a formidable instrument coming so near to their noses, and would scarcely be persuaded by their shaven friends to allow the operation to be finished. But when their chins were held up a second time, their fear of the instrument, the wild stare of their eyes, and the smile which they forced, formed a compound upon the rough savage countenance not unworthy the pencil of a Hogarth. I was almost tempted to try what effect a little snip would produce; but our situation was too critical to admit of such experiments."

Flinders treats the incident lightly, and as a means of creating a diversion while preparing a retreat it was useful; but it can hardly be supposed to have been an agreeable occupation to barber a group of aboriginals. What the heads were like that received Flinders' ministrations, may be gathered from the description by Clarke, the supercargo of the wrecked Sydney Cove, concerning the natives whom he encountered in the following year (March 1797): "Their hair is long and straight, but they are wholly inattentive to it, either as to cleanliness or in any other respect. It serves them in lieu of a towel to wipe their hands as often as they are daubed with blubber or shark oil, which is their principal article of food. This frequent application of rancid grease to their heads and bodies renders their approach exceedingly offensive."

But the adventure, by putting the blacks into a good humour, enabled Bass and Flinders to collect their dried powder, obtain fresh water, and get back to their boat. The natives became vociferous for them to go up to the lagoon, but the natives "dragged her along down the stream shouting and singing," until the depth of water placed them in safety. Flinders, in his Journal, expressed the view that "we were perhaps considerably indebted for the fear the natives entertained of us to an old red jacket which Mr. Bass wore, and from which they took us to be soldiers, whom they were particularly afraid of; and though we did not much admire our new name, Soja, we thought it best not to undeceive them."

On March 25 they anchored "under the innermost of the northern islets … We called these Martin's Isles after our young companion in the boat."[5]

They were now in the Illawarra district, one of the most prolific in New South Wales;[6] and the observation of Flinders that the land they saw was "probably fertile, and the slopes of the back hills had certainly that appearance," has been richly justified by a century's experience.

The two friends and their boy had to remain on the Tom Thumb for a third night; but next afternoon (March 28) they were able to land unmolested, to cook a meal, and to take some rest on the shore. "The sandy beach was our bed, and after much fatigue and passing three nights of cramp in Tom Thumb it was to us a bed of down."

At about ten o'clock at night, on March 29th, the little craft was in extreme danger of foundering in a gale. The anchor had been cast under the lee of a range of cliffs, but the situation was insecure, so that Bass and Flinders considered it prudent to haul up the stone and run before the wind. The night was dark, the wind burst in a gale, and the adventurers had no knowledge of any place of security to which they could run. The frowning cliffs above them and the smashing of the surf on the rocks, were their guide in steering a course parallel with the coast. Bass held the sheet, Flinders steered with an oar, and the boy bailed out the water which the hissing crests of wind-lashed waves flung into the boat. "It required the utmost exertion to prevent broaching to; a single wrong movement or a moment's inattention would have sent us to the bottom."

They drove along for an hour in this precarious situation, hoping for an opening to reveal itself into which they could run for shelter. At last, Flinders, straining his eyes in the darkness, distinguished right ahead some high breakers, behind which there appeared to be no shade of cliffs. So extremely perilous was their position at this time, with the water increasing despite the efforts of the boy, that Flinders, an unusually placid and matter-of-fact writer when dealing with dangers of the sea, declares that they could not have lived ten minutes longer. On the instant he determined to turn the boat's head for these breakers, hoping that behind them, as there were no high cliffs, there might be sheltered water. The boat's head was brought to the wind, the sail and mast were taken down, and the oars were got out. "Pulling thus towards the reef, through the intervals of the heaviest seas, we found it to terminate in a point, and in three minutes were in smooth water under its lee. A white appearance further back kept us a short time in suspense, but a nearer approach showed it to be the beach of a well-sheltered cove, under which we anchored for the rest of the night." They called the place of refuge Providential Cove. The native name was Watta-Mowlee (it is now called Wattamolla).

On the following morning, March 30th, the weather having moderated, the Tom Thumb's sail was again hoisted, and she coasted northward. After a progress of three or four miles, Flinders and Bass found the entrance of Port Hacking, for the exploration of which they had made this cruise. It was a much-indented inlet directly south of Botany Bay, divided from it by a broad peninsula, and receiving at its head the waters of a wide river, besides several small creeks; and was named after Henry Hacking, a pilot who had indicated its whereabouts, having come near it "in his kangaroo-hunting excursions." The two young explorers spent the better part of two days in examining the neighbourhood; and anyone who has had the good fortune to traverse that piece of country, with its grassed glades, its timbered hillsides, its exquisite glimpses of sapphire sea and cool silver river, its broken and diversified surface, rich with floral colour—for they saw it in early autumn—can realise how satisfied they must have felt with their work. After a nine days' voyage, they sailed out of Port Hacking early on April 2nd, and, aided by a fine wind, drew up alongside the Reliance in Port Jackson on the evening of the same day.

The Reliance was an old and leaky ship. She had seen much service and was badly in need of repairs. "She is so extremely weak in her whole frame that it is in our situation a difficult matter to do what is necessary," wrote Hunter to the Secretary of State. Shipwrights' conveniences could hardly be expected to be ample in a settlement that was not yet ten years old, and where skilled labour was necessarily deficient. But she had to be repaired with the best material and direction available, for she was the best ship which His Majesty's representative had at his disposal. The Supply was pretty well beyond renovation. She was American built, and her timbers of black birch were never suitable for service in warm waters. Shortly after the discovery of Port Hacking, Hunter set about the overhauling of the vessel that was at once his principal means of naval defence, his saluting battery, his official inspecting ship, his transport, and his craft of all work. He wanted her especially just now, for a useful piece of colonial service.

The Governor had received intelligence from Major-General Craig, who had commanded the land forces when Admiral Elphinstone occupied the Cape of Good Hope, that a British protectorate had been established at that very important station. As Hunter had himself made the suggestion to the Government that such a step should be taken, the news was especially gratifying to him. Amongst his instructions from the Secretary of State was a direction to procure from South Africa live cattle for stocking the infant colony. He had brought out with him, at Sir Joseph Banks' suggestion, a supply of growing vegetables for transplantation and of seeds for sowing at appropriate seasons. He now set about obtaining the live stock.

The Reliance and the Supply sailed by way of Cape Horn to South Africa, where they took on board a supply of domestic animals. The former vessel carried 109 head of cattle, 107 sheep and three mares. Some of the officers brought live stock on their own account. Thus Bass had on board a cow and nineteen sheep, and Waterhouse had enough stock to start a small farm; but it does not appear that Flinders brought any animals. "I believe no ship ever went to sea so much lumbered," wrote Captain Waterhouse; and the unpleasantness of the voyage can be imagined, apart from that officer's assurance that it was "one of the longest and most disagreeable passages I ever made." The vessels left Cape Town for Sydney on April 11th, 1797. The Supply was so wretchedly leaky that it was considered positively unsafe for her to risk the voyage. But her commander, Lieutenant William Kent, had a high sense of duty, and his courage was guided by the fine seamanship characteristic of the service. Having in view the importance to the colony of the stock he had on board, he determined to run her through. As a matter of fact, the Supply arrived in Sydney forty-one days before the Reliance (May 16), though Hunter reported that she reached port "in a most distressed and dangerous condition," and would never be fit for sea again. Kent's memory is worthily preserved on the map of Australia by the name (given by Flinders or by Hunter himself) of the Kent group of islands at the eastern entrance of Bass Strait.

The Reliance, meeting with very bad weather, made a very slow passage. Captain Waterhouse mentioned that one fierce gale was "the most terrible I ever saw or heard of," so that he "expected to go to the bottom every moment." He wondered how they escaped destruction, but rounded off his description with a seaman's joke: "possibly I may be intended to be hung in room of being drowned." The ship was very leaky all the way, and Hunter reported that she returned to port with her pumps going. She reached Sydney on June 26th.

The unseaworthy condition of the Reliance had an important bearing on the share Flinders took in Australian discovery, for it was unquestionably in consequence of his being engaged upon her repair that he was prevented from accompanying his friend Bass on the expedition which led to the discovery of Bass Strait. This statement is proved not only by the testimony of Flinders himself, but by concurrent facts. Waterhouse wrote on the return of the ship to Port Jackson, "we have taken everything out of her in hopes of repairing her." This was in the latter part of 1797. A despatch from Hunter to the British Government in January, 1798, shows that at that time she was still being patched up. Flinders recorded that "the great repairs required by the Reliance would not allow of my absence," but that "my friend Mr. Bass, less confined by his duty, made several excursions." Finally, it was on December 3rd, 1797, while the refitting was in progress, that Bass started out on the adventurous voyage which led to the discovery of the stretch of water separating Tasmania from the mainland of Australia. But for the work on the Reliance, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that Flinders would have been with him. Duty had to be done, however; the "ugly commanded work," in which, as the sage reminds us, genius has to do its part in common with more ordinary mortals, made demands that must take precedence of adventurous cruising along unknown coasts. So it was that the cobbling of a debilitated tub separated on an historic occasion two brave and loyal friends whose names will be thought of together as long as British people treasure the memory of their choice and daring spirits.

  1. N.C., Vol. XXVI.
  2. Sir Clements Markham in The Royal Navy, a History, IV., 565.
  3. Flinders' Papers "Brief Memoir" manuscripts page 5. Some have supposed the measurements given in Flinders' published work to have been a misprint, the size of the boat being so absurdly small. But Flinders' Journal is quite clear on the point: "We turned our eyes towards a little boat of about 8 feet keel and 5 feet beam which had been brought out by Mr. Bass and others in the Reliance, and from its size had obtained the name of Tom Thumb."
  4. Near Port Kembla; named by Cook.
  5. Journal.
  6. McFarlane, Illawarra and Monaro, (Sydney, 1872) p. 8.
  1. Transcription of illustration.
    FLINDERS COLUMN
    In honour of Matthew Flinders
    Commander of the Investigator who from Kangaroo Head, Kangaroo Island, discovered and named Mount Lofty on Tuesday 23rd March 1802
    This tablet was unveiled and the column named by His Excellency Lord Tennyson, 22nd March 1902 (Wikisource contributor note)