The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Chapter 22
At four o'clock in the afternoon of December 17th the Cumberland entered Port Louis, where Flinders learnt that Le Géographe had sailed for France on the previous day. As soon as he could land he went ashore to present himself to the Governor, whom he found to be at dinner. To occupy the time until an interview could be arranged, he joined a party of officers who were lounging in a shady place, and gossiped with them about his voyage, about Baudin's visit to Port Jackson, about the English settlement there, "and also concerning the voyage of Monsieur Flindare, of whom, to their surprise, I knew nothing, but afterwards found it to be my own name which they so pronounced."
In a couple of hours he was conducted to Government House, where, after a delay of half an hour, he was shown into a room. At a table stood two officers. One was a short, thick man in a gold-laced mess jacket, who fixed his eyes sternly on Flinders, and at once demanded his passport and commission. This was General Decaen. Beside him stood his aide-de-camp, Colonel Monistrol. The General glanced over the papers, and then enquired "in an impetuous manner," why Flinders had come to Ile-de-France in the Cumberland, when his passport was for the Investigator. The necessary explanation being given, Decaen exclaimed impatiently, "You are imposing on me, sir! It is not probable that the Governor of New South Wales should send away the commander of a discovery expedition in so small a vessel." Decaen's own manuscript Mémoires show that when this story was told to him, he thought it " very extraordinary that he should have left Port Jackson to voyage to England in a vessel of 29 tons;" and, in truth, to a man who knew nothing of Flinders' record of seamanship it must have seemed unlikely. He handed back the passport and commission, and gave some orders to an officer; and as Flinders was leaving the room "the Captain-General said something in a softer tone about my being well treated, which I could not comprehend."
It is clear that Decaen's brusque manner made Flinders very angry. He did not know at this time that it was merely the General's way, and that he was not at all an ill-natured man if discreetly handled. On board the Cumberland, in company with the interpreter and an officer, who were very polite, he confesses having "expressed my sentiments of General Decaen's manner of receiving me," adding "that the Captain-General's conduct must alter very much before I should pay him a second visit, or even set my foot on shore again." It is very important to notice Flinders' state of mind, because it is apparent that a whole series of unfortunate events turned upon his demeanour at the next interview. His anger is perfectly intelligible. He was a British officer, proud of his service; he had for years been accustomed to command, and to be obeyed; he knew that he was guiltless of offence; he felt that he had a right to protection and consideration under his passport. Believing himself to have been affronted, he was not likely to be able to appreciate the case as it presented itself at the moment to this peppery general; that here was the captain of an English schooner who, as reported, had chased a French vessel into Baye du Cap, and who gave as an explanation that he had called to seek assistance while on a 16,000 mile voyage, in a 29-ton boat. Surely Flinders' story, as Decaen saw it at this time, was not a probable one; and at all events he, as Governor of Ile-de-France, had a duty to satisfy himself of its truth. We can well understand Flinders' indignation; but can we not also appreciate Decaen's doubt?
The officers, acting under instructions, collected all the charts, papers, journals, letters, and packets, found on board, and put them in a trunk which, says Flinders, "was sealed by me at their desire." They then requested him to go ashore with them, to a lodging at an inn, which the General had ordered to be provided for him. In fact, they had orders to take him there. "What! I exclaimed in the first transports of surprise and indignation, I am then a prisoner!" The officers expressed the hope that the detention would not last more than a few days, and assured him that in the meantime he should want for nothing. Flinders, accompanied by Aken, went ashore, and the two were escorted to a large house in the middle of the town, the Cafe Marengo, where they were shown into a room approached by a dark entry up a dirty staircase, and left for the night with a sentry on guard in the passage outside.
That Flinders had no doubt that he would soon be released, is shown by the fact that he wrote from the tavern the following letter to the captain of the American ship Hunter, then lying in Port Louis: "Sir, understanding that you are homeward bound, I have to represent to you that I am here with an officer and nine men belonging to His Britannic Majesty's ship Investigator, lately under my command, and if I am set at liberty should be glad to get a passage on board your vessel to St. Helena, or on any other American who does not touch at the Cape of Good Hope and may be in want of men. I am, Sir, etc., etc., Matthew Flinders.
"If it is convenient for you to call upon me at the tavern where I am at present confined, I shall be glad to see you as soon as possible."
Early in the afternoon of the following day Colonel Monistrol came to the inn to take Flinders and Aken before the General, who desired to ask certain questions. The interrogatories were read from a paper, as dictated by Decaen, and Flinders' answers were translated and written down. In the document amongst Decaen's papers the French questions and answers are written on one side of the paper, with the English version parallel; the latter being signed by Flinders. The translation is crude (the scribe was a German with some knowledge of English) but is printed below literally:—
"Questions made to the commanding officier of an English shooner anchored in Savanna Bay, at the Isle of France, on the 24th frimaire 12th year (on the 17th December, 1803) chasing a coaster, which in consequence of the declaration of war between the French Republic and Great Britain, had intention to avoid the poursuit of said shooner. Said shooner carried the next day in the harbour of Port North-West, where she anchored under cartel colours, the commanding officer having declared to the officer of the health boat that his name was Matthew Flinders, and his schooner the Cumberland.
"Demanded: the Captain's name?
"Answered: Matthew Flinders.
"D.: From what place the Cumberland sailed?
"A.: From Port Jackson.
"D.: At what time?
"A.: The Captain does not recollect the date of his departure. He thinks it is on the 20th of September.
"D.: What is the purpose of his expedition?"A.: His only motive was to proceed on to England
VIEW OF PORT LOUIS, ILE-DE-FRANCE.
"D.: What can be the reason which has determined Captain Flinders to undertake a voyage on board of the so small a vessel?
"A.: To avoid losing two months on proceeding by China, for a ship sailing from Port Jackson was to put in China.
"D.: Does not Port Jackson offer frequent opportunities for Europe?
"A.: There are some, as he has observed it above, but that ship putting in China is the reason which determined him not to proceed that way.
"D.: At what place had the Cumberland put in?
"A.: At Timor.
"D.: What could be the reason of her putting in at Timor?
"A.: To take fresh provision and water. He has left Timor 34 days ago.
D.: What passports or certificates has he taken in that place?
"D.: What has been his motive for his coming at the Isle of France?
"A.: The want of water. His pumpers (sic) are bad, and his vessel is very leaky.
"D.: To what place does Captain Flinders intend to go to from this island?
"A.: Having no passport for the Dutch Government, he cannot put in the Cape, according to his wishes, and will be obliged to stop at St. Helena.
"D.: What can be the reason of his having none of his officiers, naturalis, or any of the other persons employed in said expedition?
"A.: Two of these gentlemen have remained in Port Jackson to repair on board of the ship Captain Flinders expected to obtain in England,* and the rest have proceeded on to China.
"D.: What reason induced Captain Flinders to chase a boat in sight of the island?
"A.: Being never to this island, he was not acquainted with the harbour. Seeing a French vessel he chased her for the only purpose of obtaining a pilot, and seeing her entering a bay he followed her.
"D.: What reason had he to make the land to leewards, the different directories pointing out the contrary route to anchor in the harbour.
"A.: He came to windwards, but the wind shifting contrary he took to leewards and perceiving said vessel he followed her and anchored in the same bay. He has no chart of the island.
"D.: Why has he hoisted cartel colours?
"A.: He answers that it is the custom, since Captain Baudin coming to Port Jackson hoisted the colours of both nations.
"D.: Was he informed of the war?
"D.: Has he met with any ship either at sea or in the different ports where he put in?
"A.: He met one ship only, by the 6 or 7 degrees to the east of the Isle of France. He did not speak her, though desirous of so doing, being prevented by the night. He met with no ship at Timor.
"In consequence of the questions made to Captain Flinders respecting to his wreck, he declares that after putting in at Port Jackson with the ship under his command, he was through her bad condition obliged to leave her, being entirely decayed. The Governor at that time furnished him with a ship thought capable of transporting him to Europe. He had the misfortune to wreck on the east coast of New Holland by the 22° 11' of latitude south on some rock distant 700 miles from Port Jackson, and 200 miles from the coast. He embarked in the said ship's boat, taking with him 14 men, and left the remainder of his crew on a sand bank. He lost on this occasion three charts respecting his voyages and particularly Golph Carpentary. After 14 days' passage he arrived at Port Jackson. After tarrying in said place 8 or 9 days, the Governor furnished him with the small vessel he is now in, and a ship to take the remainder of the crew left on the bank. This vessel not being a government ship and bound to China, proceeded on her intended voyage with the officers and the crew which had been left on the bank.
"Captain Flinders declares that of the two boxes remitted by him one contains despatches directed to the Secretary of State and the other was entrusted to him by the commanding officer of the troops in Port Jackson, and that he is ignorant what they contain.
"Captain Mw. Flinders to ascertain the legality of this expedition and the veracity of what he expose, has opened in our presence a trunk sealed by him containing the papers having a reference to his expedition, and to give us a copy by him certified of the passport delivered to him by the First Consul and His Majesty King of Great Britain; equally the communication of his journal since the condemnation of his ship Investigator.
"Port North-West, Ile of France, the 26th frimaire 12th year of the French Republic (answering to the 19th December, 1803).
Flinders corroborates the statement regarding the taking of papers from the trunk, stating that they consisted of the third volume of his rough log-book, which contained "the whole of what they desired to know," respecting his voyage to Ile-de-France. He told Decaen's Secretary to make such extracts as were considered requisite, "pointing out the material passages." "All the books and papers, the third volume of my rough log-book excepted, were then returned into the trunk, and sealed as before." It is important to notice that at no time were papers taken from the trunk without Flinders' knowledge and concurrence, because the charge has frequently been made, even by historical writers of authority, that his charts were plagiarised by the cartographers of Baudin's expedition. Flinders himself never made any such allegation, nor is there any foundation for it. On the contrary, as will be made clear hereafter, neither Decaen and his officers, nor any of the French, ever saw any of Flinders' charts at any time.
Immediately after the examination the General, on behalf of Madame Decaen, sent Flinders an invitation to dine, dinner being then served. At this point, one cannot help feeling, he made a tactical mistake. It is easily understood, and allowance can be made for it, but the consequences of it were serious. He was angry on account of his detention, irritated by the treatment to which he had been subjected, and unable in his present frame of mind to appreciate the Governor's point of view. He refused to go, and said he had already dined. The officer who bore the invitation pressed him in a kindly manner, saying that at all events he had better go to the table. Flinders replied that he would not; if the General would first set him at liberty he would accept the invitation with pleasure, and be flattered by it. Otherwise he would not sit at table with Decaen. "Having been grossly insulted both in my public and private character, I could not debase the situation I had the honour to hold."
The effect of so haughty a refusal upon an inflammatory temper like that of Decaen may be readily pictured. Presently an aide-de-camp returned with the message that the General would renew the invitation when Captain Flinders was set at liberty. There was a menace in the cold phrase.
Now, had Flinders bottled up his indignation and swallowed his pride—had he frankly recognised that he was in Decaen's power—had he acknowledged that some deference was due to the official head of the colony of a foreign nation with whom his country was at war—his later troubles might have been averted. An opportunity was furnished of discussing the matter genially over the wine and dessert. He would have found himself in the presence of a man who could be kind-hearted and entertaining when not provoked, and of a charming French lady in Madame Decaen. He would have been assisted by the secretary, Colonel Monistrol, who was always as friendly to him as his duty would permit. He would have been able to hold the company spell-bound with the story of the many adventures of his active, useful life. He would have been able to demonstrate his bona fides completely. It is a common experience that the humane feelings of men of Decaen's type are easily touched; and his conduct regarding the Napoleon-Moreau quarrel has been related above with some fulness for the purpose of showing that there was milk as well as gunpowder in his composition. But Flinders was angry; justifiably angry no doubt, but unfortunately angry nevertheless, since thereby he lost his chance.
He learnt afterwards that "some who pretended to have information from near the fountain-head hinted that, if his invitation to dinner had been accepted, a few days would have been the whole" of his detention. That seems probable. He had no better friend than Sir Joseph Banks; and he learnt to his regret that Banks "was not quite satisfied with his conduct to the Government of Mauritius, thinking he had treated them perhaps with too much haughtiness." His comment upon this was, "should the same circumstances happen to me again I fear I should follow nearly the same steps." That is the sort of thing that strong-willed men say; but a knowledge of the good sense and good feeling that were native to the character of Matthew Flinders enables one to assert with some confidence that if, after this experience, the choice had been presented to him, on the one hand of conquering his irritation and going to enjoy a pleasant dinner in interesting company with the prospect of speedy liberation; on the other of scornfully disdaining the olive branch, with the consequence of six-and-a-half years of heart-breaking captivity; he would have chosen the former alternative without much reluctance. There is a sentence in one of his own letters which indicates that wisdom counted for more than obstinacy in his temperament: "After a misfortune has happened, we all see very well the proper steps that ought to have been taken to avoid it; to be endowed with a never-failing foresight is not within the power of man."
That the view presented above is not too strong is clear from a passage in an unpublished portion of Decaen's Mémoires. He stated that after the examination of Flinders, "I sent him an invitation from my wife to come to dine with us, although he had given me cause to withhold the invitation on account of his impertinence; but from boorishness, or rather from arrogance, he refused that courteous invitation, which, if accepted, would indubitably have brought about a change favourable to his position, through the conversation which would have taken place." Here it is distinctly suggested that if the invitation had been accepted, and a pleasant discussion of the case had ensued, the detention of the Cumberland and her commander would probably not have been prolonged.
Further light is thrown on these regrettable occurrences by a manuscript history of Ile-de-France, written by St. Elme le Duc, a friend of Decaen, who possessed intimate knowledge of the General's feelings. It is therein stated that Decaen received Flinders "in uniform the head uncovered," but that "Captain Flinders presented himself with arrogance, his hat upon his head; they had to ask him to remove it." The same writer alleges that Flinders disregarded all the rules of politeness. It is fair to state these matters, since the candid student must always wish to see a case presented from several points of view. But it must be said that only an intense feeling of resentment could have unhinged the courteous disposition which was habitual with Flinders. A gentler man in his relations with all could hardly have been found. He was not more respectful to authority than he was considerate to subordinates; and throughout his career a close reading of his letters and journals, and of documents relating to him, can discover no other instance of even temporary deviation from perfect courtesy. Even in this case one can hardly say that he was to blame. There was sufficient in what occurred to make an honest man angry. But we wish to understand what occurred and why it occurred, and for that reason we cannot ignore or minimise the solitary instance wherein a natural flame of anger fired a long train of miserable consequences.
What, then, did Decaen intend to do with Flinders, at the beginning? He never intended to keep him six-and-a-half years. He simply meant to punish him for what he deemed to be rudeness; and his method of accomplishing that object was to report to Paris, and allow the case to be determined by the Government, instead of settling it himself forthwith. Here again Flinders was well informed. His journal for May 24th, 1806, contains the following entry: "It has been said that I am detained a prisoner here solely because I refused the invitation of General Decaen to dine; that to punish me he referred the judgment of my case to the French Government, knowing that I should necessarily be detained twelve months before an answer arrived." Or, as he stated the matter in his published book (II., 489): "My refusal of the intended honour until set at liberty so much exasperated the Captain-General that he determined to make me repent it."
It will be seen presently that the term of detention, originally intended to endure for about a year, was lengthened by circumstances that were beyond Decaen's control; that the punishment which sprang from the hasty ire of a peppery soldier increased, against his own will, into what appeared to all the world, and most of all to the victim, to be a piece of malevolent persecution. The ball kicked off in a fit of spleen rolled on and on beyond recovery.
There was, it must be admitted, quite enough in the facts brought under Decaen's notice to warrant a reference to Paris, if he chose to be awkward. In the first place, Flinders was carrying on board the Cumberland a box of despatches from Governor King for the Secretary of State. As pointed out in Chapter 12, the Admiralty instructions for the Investigator voyage cautioned him "not to take letters or packets other than those such as you may receive from this office or the office of His Majesty's Secretary of State." Governor King was well aware of this injunction. Yet he entrusted to Flinders this box of despatches, containing material relative to military affairs. It is true that a state of war was not known to exist at the time when the Cumberland sailed from Port Jackson in September, 1803, although as a matter of fact it had broken out in the previous May. But it was well known that war was anticipated. It is also true that Flinders knew nothing of the contents of the despatches. But neither, as a rule, does any other despatch carrier in war time. When the Cumberland's papers were examined by Decaen's officers, and these despatches were read and translated, there was at once a prima facie ground for saying, "this officer is not engaged on purely scientific work; he is the bearer of despatches which might if delivered have an influence upon the present war." Flinders himself, writing to Banks, said: "I have learnt privately that in the despatches with which I was charged by Governor King, and which were taken from me by the French General, a demand was made for troops to be sent out to Port Jackson for the purpose of annoying Spanish America in the event of another war, and that this is considered to be a breach of my passport. 'Tis pity that Governor King should have mentioned anything that could involve me in the event of a war, either with the French at Mauritius, or the Dutch at Timor or the Cape; or that, having mentioned anything that related to war, he did not make me acquainted in a general way with the circumstances, in which case I should have thrown them overboard on learning that war was declared; but as I was situated, having little apprehension of being made a prisoner, and no idea that the despatches had any reference to war, since it was a time of peace when I left Port Jackson, I did not see the necessity of throwing them overboard at a hazard. To be the bearer of any despatches in time of peace cannot be incorrect for a ship on discovery more than for any other; but with a passport, and in time of war, it certainly is improper." With characteristic straightforwardness, Flinders did not hesitate to tell King himself that the despatches had cast suspicion on him: "I have learned privately that in your despatches to the Secretary of State there is mention of Spanish America, which rendered me being the bearer, criminal with respect to my passport. 'Tis pity I had not known anything of this, for on finding myself under the necessity of stopping at the Isle of France, and learning the declaration of war, I should have destroyed the despatches; but leaving Port Jackson in time of peace, and confiding in my passport, I did not think myself authorised to take such a step, even after I knew of the war, having no idea there was anything in the despatches that could invalidate my passport; neither, indeed, is it invalidated in justice, but it is said to be the under-plea against me."
These despatches of King are preserved among Decaen's papers, and an examination of them reveals that they did contain material of a military character. In one of them, dated August 7th, 1803, King referred to the possibility in any future war "of the Government of the Isle of France annoying this colony, as the voyage from hence may be done in less than seven weeks; and on the same idea this colony may hereafter annoy the trade of the Spanish settlements on the opposite coast. But to defend this colony against the one, and to annoy the other, it would be necessary that some regard should be had to the military and naval defences. The defences of the port may be made as strong as in any port I know of. By the return of cannon and batteries your Lordship will observe that those we have are placed in the best situation for annoying an enemy. Still, a small establishment of artillery officers and men are wanted to work those guns effectually in case of necessity." King went on to make recommendations for the increase of the military strength in men, officers, and guns. The originals of those despatches, which could furnish the French Government with valuable information concerning Port Jackson and the Flinders affair, are endorsed, "letters translated and sent to France;" and Decaen commented upon them that in his opinion the despatches alone afforded a sufficient pretext for detaining Flinders. "Ought a navigator engaged in discovery, and no longer possessing a passport for his ship, to be in time of war in command of a despatch-boat, especially when, having regard to the distance between the period of the declaration of war and his departure from Port Jackson he could have obtained there the news that war had broken out?"
In reporting to his Government Decaen related the story of the Cumberland's arrival from his point of view at considerable length. He expressed himself as satisfied that her commander really was Captain Flinders of the Investigator, to whom the French Government had issued a passport; detailed the circumstances of the examination; and complained of Flinders' "impertinence" and "arrogance." Then he proceeded to describe "several motives which have caused me to judge it to be indispensable to detain Captain Flinders."
The first motive alleged was "the conduct of the English Government in Europe, where she has violated all treaties, her behaviour before surrendering the Cape of Good Hope, and her treatment of our ships at Pondicherry." In no way could it be pretended that Flinders was connected with these events.
The second motive was "the seizing of Le Naturaliste, as announced by the newspapers." Decaen was here referring to the fact that, when Le Naturaliste was on her homeward voyage from Port Jackson, conveying the natural history collections, she was stopped by the British frigate Minerva and taken into Portsmouth. But no harm was done to her. She was merely detained from May 27th, 1803, till June 6th, when she was released by order of the Admiralty. In any case Flinders had nothing to do with that.
The third motive was that Captain Flinders' logbook showed an intention to make an examination of Ile-de-France and Madagascar, from which Decaen drew the inference that, if the English Government received no check, they would extend their power, and would seize the French colony. Herein the General did a serious injustice to Flinders. His log-book did indeed indicate that he desired "to acquire a knowledge of the winds and weather periodically encountered at Ile-de-France, of the actual state of the French colony, and of what utility it and its dependencies in Madagascar might be to Port Jackson, and whether that island could afford resources to myself in my future voyages." But information of this description was such as lay within the proper province of an explorer; and the log-book contained no hint, nor was there a remote intention, of acquiring information which, however used, could be inimical to the security of the French colony.
Decaen's mind had been influenced by reading Francois Péron's report to him concerning the expansive designs of the British in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. "There is no doubt," he informed his Government, "that the English Government have the intention to seize the whole trade of the Indian Ocean, the China Seas and the Pacific, and that they especially covet what remains of the Dutch possessions in these waters." He derived that extravagant idea from Péron's inflammatory communication, as will be seen from a perusal of that interesting document.
By these strained means, then, did Decaen give a semblance of public policy to his decision to detain Flinders. It would have been puerile to attempt to justify his action to his superiors on the personal ground that the English captain had vexed him; so he hooked in these various pretexts, though ingenuously acknowledging that they would have counted for nothing if Flinders had dined with him and talked the matter over conversationally!
On the day following the examination and the refusal of the invitation, Flinders was again conducted on board the Cumberland by Colonel Monistrol and the official interpreter, who "acted throughout with much politeness, apologising for what they were obliged by their orders to execute." On this occasion all remaining books and papers, including personal letters, were collected, locked up in a second trunk, and sealed. The document noting their deposition and sealing was signed by Flinders, who was ordered to be detained in the inn under guard. It was, Decaen reported, the best inn in the island, and orders were given to furnish the prisoner with all that he could want; but Flinders described it as an exceedingly dirty place.
On his return to the inn from the ship Flinders wrote a letter to the Governor, recounting the history of his explorations, and making two requests: that he might have his printed books ashore, and that his servant, John Elder, might be permitted to attend him. On the following day Elder was sent to him. On the 22nd he wrote again, soliciting "that I may be able to sail as soon as possible after you shall be pleased to liberate me from my present state of purgatory. On Christmas Day he sent a letter suffused with indignant remonstrance, wherein he alleged that "it appears that your Excellency had formed a determination to stop the Cumberland previously even to seeing me, if a specious pretext were wanting for it," and reminded Decaen that "on the first evening of my arrival … you told me impetuously that I was imposing on you." He continued, in a strain that was bold and not conciliatory: "I cannot think that an officer of your rank and judgment to act either so ungentlemanlike or so unguardedly as to make such a declaration without proof; unless his reason had been blinded by passion, or a previous determination that it should be so, nolens volens. In your orders of the 21st last it is indeed said that the Captain-General has acquired the conviction that I am the person I pretend to be, and the same for whom a passport was obtained by the English Government from the First Consul. It follows then, as I am willing to explain it, that I am not and was not an imposter. This plea was given up when a more plausible one was thought to be found; but I cannot compliment your Excellency upon this alteration in your position, for the first, although false, is the more tenable post of the two."
Decaen's reply was stiff and stern. He attributed "the unreserved tone" of Flinders to "the ill humour produced by your present situation," and concluded: "This letter, overstepping all the bounds of civility, obliges me to tell you, until the general opinion judges of your faults or of mine, to cease all correspondence tending to demonstrate the justice of your cause, since you know so little how to preserve the rules of decorum."
Flinders in consequence of this snub forebore to make further appeals for consideration; but three days later he preferred a series of requests, one of which related to the treatment of his crew:
"To his Excellency Captain-General Decaen,
"Governor in Chief, etc., etc., etc., Isle of France.
"From my confinement, December 28th, 1803.
"Since you forbid me to write to you upon the subject of my detainer I shall not rouse the anger or contempt with which you have been pleased to treat me by disobeying your order. The purpose for which I now write is to express a few humble requests, and most sincerely do I wish that they may be the last I shall have occasion to trouble your Excellency with.
"First. I repeat my request of the 23rd to have my printed books on shore from the schooner.
"Second. I request to have my private letters and papers out of the two trunks lodged in your secretariat, they having no connection with my Government or the voyage of discovery.
"Third. I beg to have two or three charts and three or four manuscript books out of the said trunks, which are necessary to finishing the chart of the Gulf of Carpentaria and some parts adjacent. It may be proper to observe as an explanation of this last request that the parts wanting were mostly lost in the shipwreck, and I wish to replace them from my memory and remaining materials before it is too late. Of these a memorandum can be taken, or I will give a receipt for them, and if it is judged necessary to exact it I will give my word that nothing in the books shall be erased or destroyed, but I could wish to make additions to one or two of the books as well as to the charts, after which I shall be ready to give up the whole.
"Fourth. My seamen complain of being shut up at night in a place where not a breath of air can come to them, which in a climate like this must be not only uncomfortable in the last degree, but also very destructive to European constitutions; they say, further, that the people with whom they are placed are much affected with that disagreeable and contagious disorder the itch; and that the provisions with which they are fed are too scanty, except in the article of meat, the proportion of which is large but of bad quality. Your Excellency will no doubt make such an amendment in their condition as circumstances will permit.
"A compliance with the above requests will not only furnish me with a better amusement in this solitude than writing letters to your Excellency, but will be attended with advantages in which the French nation may some time share. This application respecting the charts is not altogether made upon a firm persuasion that you will return everything to me, for if I could believe that they were never to be given to me or my Government I should make the same request.
On the day when the letter was despatched, Colonel Monistrol called, and promised that the books and papers requested should be supplied; and, in fact, the trunk containing them was without delay brought to the inn. The Colonel courteously expressed his regret that Flinders had adopted such a tone in his letters to the General, thinking "that they might tend to protract rather than terminate" his confinement. The complaint respecting the seamen was attended to forthwith, and they were treated exactly on the same footing as were French sailors on service.
The first thing Flinders did, when he received the trunk, was to take out his naval signal-book and tear it to pieces. Next day he was conducted to Government House, and was allowed to take from the second trunk all his private letters and papers, his journals of bearings and observations, two log-books, and such charts as were necessary to complete his drawings of the Gulf of Carpentaria. All the other books and papers "were locked up in the trunk and sealed as before."Until the end of March, 1804, Flinders was kept at the inn, with a sentry constantly on guard over the rooms. St. Elme le Duc, in the manuscript history already cited, declares that "Captain Flinders was never put in prison," and that his custom of addressing letters "from my prison" was an "affectation." But a couple of inn rooms wherein a person is kept against his will, under the strict surveillance of a military custodian, certainly constitute a prison. It is true that the Governor allotted 450 francs per month for his maintenance, sent a surgeon to attend to him when scorbutic sores broke out upon his body, and gave him access to the papers and books he required in order that he might occupy his time and divert his mind with the work he loved. But it is surely quibbling to pretend that even under these conditions he was not a prisoner. Even the surgeon and the interpreter were not admitted without a written order; and when the interpreter, Bonnefoy, took from Flinders a bill, which he undertook to negotiate, the sentry reported that a paper had passed between the two, and Bonnefoy was arrested, nor was he liberated until it was ascertained that the bill was the only paper he had received. The bill was the subject of an act of kindness from the Danish consul, who negotiated it at face value at a time when bills upon England could only be cashed in Port Louis at a discount of 30 per cent. This liberal gentleman sent the message that he would have proffered his assistance earlier but for the fear of incurring the Governor's displeasure.
An attempt was made in February to induce Decaen to send his prisoner to France for trial. It was submitted in the following terms:
"Having waited six weeks with much anxiety for your Excellency's decision concerning me, I made application for the honour of an audience, but received no answer; a second application obtained a refusal. It was not my intention to trouble the Captain-General by recounting my grievances, but to offer certain proposals to his consideration; and in now doing this by letter it is my earnest wish to avoid everything that can in the most distant manner give offence; should I fail, my ignorance and not intention must be blamed.
"First. If your Excellency will permit me to depart with my vessel, papers, etc., I will pledge my honour not to give any information concerning the Isle of France, or anything belonging to it, for a limited time, if it is thought that I can have gained any information; or if it is judged necessary, any other restrictions can be laid upon me. If this will not be complied with I request—
"Second, to be sent to France.
"Third. But if it is necessary to detain me here, I request that my officer and my people may be permitted to depart in the schooner. I am desirous of this as well for the purpose of informing the British Admiralty where I am, as to relieve our families and friends from the report that will be spread of the total loss of the two ships with all on board. My officer can be laid under what restrictions may be thought necessary, and my honour shall be a security that nothing shall be transmitted by me but what passes under the inspection of the officer who might be appointed for that purpose."If your Excellency does not think proper to adopt any of these modes, by which, with submission, I conceive my voyage of discovery might be permitted to proceed without any possible injury to the Isle of France or its dependencies, I then think it necessary to remind the Captain-General that since the shipwreck of the Porpoise, which happened now six months back, my officers and people as well as myself have been mostly confined either on a very small sandbank in the open sea, or in a boat, or otherwise on board the small schooner Cumberland, where there is no room to walk, or been kept prisoners as at present; and also, that previous to this time I had not recovered from a scorbutic and very debilitated state arising from having been eleven months exposed to great fatigue, bad climates and salt provisions. From the scorbutic sores which have again troubled me since my arrival in this port the surgeon who dressed them saw that a vegetable diet and exercise were necessary to correct the diseased state of the blood and to restore my health; but his application through your Excellency's aide-de-camp for me to walk out, unfortunately for my health and peace of mind, received a negative. The Captain-General best knows whether my conduct has deserved, or the exigencies of his Government require, that I should continue to remain closely confined in this sickly town and cut off from all society.
"With all due consideration, I am,
"Your Excellency's prisoner,
To this petition Decaen returned no reply. Feeling therefore that his detention was likely to be prolonged, Flinders, weary of confinement, and longing for human fellowship, applied to be removed to the place where British officers, prisoners of war, were kept. It was a large house with spacious rooms standing in a couple of acres of ground, about a mile from the tavern, and was variously called the Maison Despeaux, or the Garden Prison. Here at all events fresh air could be enjoyed. The application was acceded to immediately, and Colonel Monistrol himself came, with the courtesy that he never lost an opportunity of manifesting, to conduct Flinders and Aken and to assist them to choose rooms. "This little walk of a mile," Flinders recorded, "showed how debilitating is the want of exercise and fresh air, for it was not without the assistance of Colonel Monistrol's arm that I was able to get through it. Conveyances were sent in the evening for our trunks, and we took possession of our new prison with a considerable degree of pleasure, this change of situation and surrounding objects producing an exhilaration of spirits to which we had long been strangers."
- He did not wish to call at the Cape, because if he got clear of the French fryingpan he did not waht to jump into the Dutch fire.
- "Pour s'embarquer sur le vaisseau que le Cap. Flinders a espoir d'obtenir en Angleterre," in the French. That is to say, Brown and Bauer remained behind till Flinders came out again with another ship.
- It is singular that Flinders did not take exception to this word "chased" in the translation when he signed it. The French version of his statement is correct: "il forca de voile, non pour luy appuyer chasse mais pour luy demander un pilote." The German translator boggled between the French and the English.
- "La verité de son expose," i.e., the truth of his statement.
- In the Cambridge Modern History, for instance (ix., 739): "The French authorities at Mauritius having captured and imprisoned the explorer Flinders on his passage to England, attempted by the use of his papers to appropriate for their ships the credit of his discoveries along the south coast of Australia."
- Flinders Voyage II., 398.
- Flinders' Papers.
- Flinders does not state that the invitation came from Madame Decaen. He may not have understood. But the refusal of it would on that account have been likely to make the General all the more angry.
- Decaen Papers Vol. 10. Decaen said in his despatch to the Minister: "Captain Flinders imagined that he would obtain his release by arguing, by arrogance, and especially by impertinence; my silence with regard to his first letter led him to repeat the offence."
- Bibliothéque Nationale, nouveaux acquisitions, France No. 1, 775.
- Historical Records VI., 49.
- Historical Records VI., 105.
- Decaen Papers Vols. 84 and 105.
- "Devait-il en temps de guerre conduire un paquebot?"
- Decaen Papers.
- St. Eleme le Duc's MS. History.