Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/206

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153
THE FATE OF GEORGE BASS

in a despatch to the Secretary of State that he had been "in constant expectation" of hearing from Bass, "to whom, there is no doubt, some accident has occurred." The Harrington had reported the capture of the Venus before King wrote that. Why did he not mention the circumstance to the British Government? Why did he not allude to the country to which he well knew that Bass intended to sail? It would seem that King carefully avoided referring in his official despatches to an enterprise upon which he had good reason to be aware that Bass had embarked.

War between Great Britain and Spain did not break out till December, 1804, after the seizure of the Spanish treasure fleet by British frigates off Cadiz (October 5th). But in previous years, while Spain, under pressure from Napoleon, lent her countenance to his aggressive policy, English privateers had freely plundered Spanish commerce in the south Pacific, and some of them had brought their prizes to Sydney. That this was done with the knowledge of the authorities cannot be doubted. Everybody knew about it. When the French exploring ships were lying at Sydney in 1802, Peron saw there vessels "provided with arms, fitting out for the western coast of America, stored with merchandise of various kinds. These vessels were intended to establish, by force of arms, a contraband commerce with the inhabitants of Peru, extremely advantageous to both parties."

It would not, therefore, be wonderful that the Spanish authorities in Chili or Peru should regard Port Jackson as a kind of wasp's nest, and should look with suspicion on any vessel coming thence which might fall into their hands, however much her commander might endeavour to make of his official certificate declaring the Governor's "full belief" in his lawful intentions. The irritation