Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/210

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Chapter XI.


Two more incidents in the career of Flinders will concern us before we deal with his important later voyages. The first of these is only worth mentioning for the light it throws upon the character of the man. In March, 1799, he sat as a member of a court of criminal judicature in Sydney, for the trial of Isaac Nichols, who was charged with receiving a basket of tobacco knowing it to have been stolen. The case aroused passionate interest at the time. People in the settlement took sides upon it, as upon a matter of acute party politics, and the Governor was hotly at variance with the Judge Advocate, the chief judicial officer.

Nichols had been a convict, but his conduct was good, and he was chosen to be chief overseer of a gang employed in labour of various kinds. On the expiration of his sentence, he acquired a small farm, and by means of sobriety and industry built himself a comfortable house. Through his very prosperity he became "an object to be noticed," as the Governor wrote, and by reason of his diligent usefulness securing him official employment, "he stood in the way of others." In Hunter's opinion, the ruin of Nichols was deliberately planned; and he was convicted on what the Governor believed to be false and malicious evidence.

The striking feature of the trial was that the Court (consisting of seven members—three naval officers and three officers of the New South Wales Corps, presided over by the Judge Advocate) was sharply divided in opinion. The three naval men, Flinders, Waterhouse, and Lieutenant Kent, were convinced of the accused