Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/372

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287
THE CALAMITY OF WRECK REEF

His leave-taking in August, 1803, was essentially his farewell; and his general observations on the country he had served, and which does not forget the service, are, though brief, full of interest. He had seen the little town grow from a condition of dependence to one of self-reliance, few as were the years of his knowledge of it. Part of his early employment had been to bring provisions to Sydney from abroad. In 1803, he saw large herds spreading over the country. He saw forests giving way before the axe, and spreading fields of grain and fruit ripening for the harvest. The population was increasing, the morale was improving, "and that energetic spirit of enterprise which characterises Britannia's children seemed to be throwing out vigorous shoots in this new world." He perceived the obstacles to progress. The East India Company's charter, which prohibited trade between Sydney and India and the western coasts of America, was one of them. Convict labour was another deterrent. But he had vision, and found in the signs of development which he saw around him phenomena "highly interesting to the contemplator of the rise of nations."

Seven days out of Sydney, on August 17th, the Porpoise struck a reef and was wrecked.

The three vessels were running under easy sail, the Porpoise leading on what was believed to be a clear course. At half-past nine o'clock at night the look-out man on the forecastle called out "Breakers ahead." Aken, the master, who was on watch, immediately ordered the helm to be put down, but the ship answered slowly. Fowler sprang on deck at once; but Flinders, who was conversing in the gun-room, had no reason to think that anything serious had occurred, and remained there some minutes longer. When he went on deck, he found the ship beyond control among the breakers, and a minute later she struck a coral reef and heeled over