Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/336

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
263
THE FRENCH AT PORT JACKSON

asked. "Was he a man destitute of all principle? My answer is that I believe his candour to have been equal to his acknowledged abilities; and that what he wrote was from over-ruling authority, and smote him to the heart." Could Flinders have known what Péron was capable of doing, in the endeavour to advance himself in favour with the rulers of his country, he would certainly not have believed him so blameless.

That Port Jackson was never attacked during these years of war was not due to its own capabilities of defence, which were pitifully weak; nor to reluctance on the part of Napoleon and Decaen; but simply to the fact that the British Navy secured and kept the command of the sea. In 1810 Napoleon directed the equipment of a squadron to "take the English colony of Port Jackson, where considerable resources will be found."[1] But it was a futile order to give at that date. Trafalgar had been fought, and the defence of the colony in Australia was maintained effectively wherever British frigates sailed.

Péron's report, then, did no mischief where he intended that it should. But by inflaming Decaen's mind with suspicions it may not have been ineffectual in another unfortunate direction, as we shall presently see.

The action of Péron in trying to persuade Decaen that the object of Baudin's expedition was not truly scientific was all the more remarkable because he himself, as one of its expert staff, did work which earned him merited repute. His papers on marine life, on phosphorescence in the sea, on the zoology of the South Seas, on the temperature of the sea at measured depths, and on other subjects pertaining to his scientific functions, were marked by conspicuous originality and acumen. But he was not content to allow the value of

  1. Napoleon's Correspondance Volume XX., document 16 544.