Flinders-Baudin chronology 4.1801-4.1802
by Meredith Geyer
April 1801, England – BANKS APPALLED
Prominent patron on the sciences, Sir Joseph Banks, has described as preposterous the suggestion that Captain Matthew Flinders should be permitted to take his wife with him on his voyage of discovery to New South Wales. Flinders, who married Ann Chappelle on April 17th, is expected to leave Spithead for New Holland within the next two months. He has been appointed Captain of HMS Investigator with a commission to chart the entire, and largely unknown, coastline of New Holland. He expects to be away from England for at least two years.
May 1801, England – FLINDERS READY TO GO
Captain Matthew Flinders, who is currently loading H.M.S. Investigator with provisions, denies that he is putting the lives of his men at risk. ‘By replacing ten of the long guns with lighter canons I will be able to carry an extra 10 tons of water which will bring the total water load to 60 tons’ he explained. ‘And I stress that my expedition is a scientific one. My cabin library will include the Encyclopaedia Britannica, presented to me by Sir Joseph Banks.’
Captain Flinders hopes to reach the continent he has named Terra Australis in time for the southern summer. ‘I am sure that the passport issued to me by the French government will protect me from hostilities while in French waters’ Flinders said.
His voyage of discovery is seen by some observers as a response to current French exploration in the South Seas. Two French ships, Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, are reported to be somewhere between Mauritius and Timor at present. Their Captains, Baudin and Hamelin, lead a scientific expedition to collect specimens and explore the unknown coastline of the great south land.
May 1801, Indian Ocean – BAUDIN IN TROUBLE
‘It was the voyage from hell’ said a sailor on board the Géographe, ‘the officers and gentlemen bitching and fighting among themselves, being stuck for weeks in the Doldrums really got them going. The last straw was that almighty storm out of the Cape that nearly sent us all to the bottom’.
The French expedition to New Holland, led by Captain Baudin, sailed from Port North-West, Isle de France (Mauritius) on April 25th. He hopes to reach the west coast of New Holland in June, although his progress has been hampered by the inability of the Naturaliste to keep pace with him. More than half of the scientists that left France with the expedition have decided to remain in the relative safety and comfort offered by the French colony.
Several ships officers have also declined to travel any further with Baudin, citing lack of confidence in his ability to lead the voyage. However, Baudin has managed, despite obstruction by local French officials, to repair his ships and provision the Géographe and Naturaliste with fresh food, crucial to his hopes for keeping his men free of scurvy during months at sea. He cannot rely upon finding suitable foods along the shores of the unknown South Land.
30th May 1801, Cape Leeuwin (New Holland) – BAUDIN ARRIVES AT NEW HOLLAND
Eight months after leaving Le Havre, France Captain Nicolas Baudin has sighted Cape Leeuwin, South West New Holland. Commenting on what has been a difficult voyage Captain Baudin said “I would not undertake such an expedition again. The scientists! Mon Dieu! They have no idea about ship discipline. The Captain’s word must be obeyed at all times.”
He described an incident when a dolphin was caught by his crew and hauled on board Le Géographe. Everyone wanted a piece of the action – the artists wanted to draw it, the surgeons wanted to dissect it, the naturalists wanted it for their own studies. Baudin was forced to intervene in the dispute. He ordered the animal slung from the mainsail until tempers had cooled. “You will all get your chance at it tomorrow” he promised. But the surgeons got to it while backs were turned and it was in pieces before anyone could stop them. To pacify the artists the Captain promised them exclusive access to the next dolphin caught.
Unfavourable winds have forced Baudin to anchor off-shore in deep water but within sight of camp fires along the wooded coastline. The scientists can hardly contain their impatience to explore the new continent.
June 1801, England – FLINDERS STILL IN TALKS
The Investigator still lies at berth, Spithead, waiting orders to sail from Portsmouth for Botany Bay. Captain Flinders reports that his crew is growing restless. The men had recently been paid and a couple of cashed-up seamen had tried to desert. Flinders had them flogged and cancelled all shore leave.
Although only 27 years old Matthew Flinders shows a good understanding of naval discipline. He has assembled the entire crew of the Investigator to witness the ‘flogging round the fleet’ of four seamen convicted by court martial of serious crimes at sea. Each sentenced man is tied upright on grating mounted in the bow of a ship’s boat. The boat is rowed alongside each ship in port and the prisoner given 12 lashes with cat-o-nine-tails by the bosun’s mate. The mates tend to compete with each other. A naval surgeon makes sure the prisoner is fit for the next round of flogging – but pity help the prisoner in busy ports such as Portsmouth. He could get more than 1000 lashes from ‘the cat’.
Captain Flinders has been called to London for more talks with the Admiralty. He has been accompanied by his wife, Anne.
July 1801 – FIRST FOOTPRINTS
The two French ships have anchored in Géographe Bay, Western Australia.
“I was concerned that a freshening northerly wind could see us wrecked on the beach off Wonnerup Inlet, but I agreed to a trip ashore.” explained Captain Baudin “after all, that’s what we’re here for!”. He and Captain Hamelin each took a ships boat with sailors and scientists to explore the coast. Before they even reached the beach they met their first Aborigine busily fishing with a spear in waist-deep water. He was not at all pleased at their interruption, and after giving them a piece of his mind he gathered up his impressive collection of spears and disappeared into the Sandhill’s. Once ashore the Frenchmen found footprints in the muddy banks of a brackish lake and a well dug just beyond it which contained clear, sweet water. Undeterred by their first encounter with the locals they hurried toward a man and woman camped on the lake’s edge. This couple were so alarmed by the appearance of the French that the man ran into the tee-tree swamp and the woman hid her face in fear, unable to move.
The explorers split into two groups. The scientists spent the day recording the abundant waterfowl in the area and marvelling at the majesty of the black swan. Captain Baudin was disappointed, however at their failure to find a large source of fresh water. “I cannot imagine there ever being a European settlement in this barren place” he said. “Without water, what can you do?”
July 1801 – MEN STRANDED
Captain Baudin, encouraged by the scientists to believe that they may yet find a large river that emptied into Géographe Bay, sent a long boat and two ship’s boats ashore under the command of Captain Hamelin to have another look around. During the day, while the men were busy exploring inland, freshening winds drove the longboat up onto the beach where it could not be re-floated.
Captain Hamelin spent 24 hours in one of the ship’s boats battling rough seas that broke continuously over him and his crew before eventually reaching his ship, the Naturalist. He signalled the news to Captain Baudin that the rest of the party of sailors and scientists were still on the beach. The stranded men later described how they spent several cold and miserable days and nights, with only a few ships biscuits soaked in sea water, some rice, 3 bottles of rum and 15 pints of water between them.
They struggled to keep their camp fire going, spending sleepless nights worrying about attacks from the local tribes. Foraging parties brought back a seagull and some wild celery which they boiled into a soup. “It gave most of us a terrible guts ache” one of the sailors said, “which just made us all the more miserable”. They could see no sign of the Géographe or the Naturaliste beyond the roaring surf that broke on the beach. “We wondered if we would ever see our mates again, let alone see la France.” They were eventually rescued, but it cost the life of one of the strongest and best of men. His name was Timothy Vasse.
July 1801 – FLINDERS SAILS AT LAST
Captain Flinders sailed from Spithead on July 18th 1801, 10 months after the French expedition which is currently exploring the west coast of Australia. Flinders knew before he left England that his ship, the Investigator, was in doubtful condition for such a long journey. “The dockyard officers at Sheerness told me she was not seaworthy but I could not risk complaint about it. This voyage is so important to me, I could not bear to put it at risk.” he explained.
Just how weak the ship was became apparent as they cleared the English Channel. The crew reported that as they reached the open ocean the ship began leaking at the rate of 3″ per hour. Some of the rigging beams were so rotten that they crumbled when a sailor lent upon them. Captain Flinders did the only thing he could. He anchored at Madeira for extensive repairs to his ship. While there he visited the local markets and paid dearly for fresh water, meat and wine. “At least the fruit and vegetables were cheap” he laughed, “and they are of far greater value for my men’s health”.
A couple of weeks later, off the African coast heavy swells hammered the ship and all the careful repair work was undone. The oakum that had been worked into the ships seams broke lose and once again the Investigator was taking water. Flinders rearranged the cargo, moving the spare rudder, two cannons and some stores to below decks. In this way he made the vessel less top heavy which kept it from rolling so badly and helped mitigate the leaking. Flinders was happy, after such a stressful start, to allow his crew to celebrate the crossing of the equator with plenty of rum ration and the traditional dunking in the ocean.
July 1801 – FRENCH HEAD NORTH
With winter upon him, Captain Baudin has decided to make for Timor. He will continue his exploration of the south coasts of New Holland during the summer. June storms in Géographe Bay had separated the two French ships and they both headed for Rottnest Island, the agreed first rendezvous point. Baudin found the weather there just as bad and set sail for Shark Bay, the second meeting place. He was not to know that Captain Hamelin, in the Naturaliste, waited for him at Rottnest for 10 anxious days before making for Shark Bay himself. “I could not understand why we missed the Géographe” Hamelin stated, “in the end, my officers convinced me that Captain Baudin had gone straight to Shark Bay. The wait has cost us valuable time and resources”.
Great numbers of whales escorted the Géographe into Shark Bay “So close it would have been an easy matter to shoot them” commented one of his men, “but what would be the good, they are too big to kill with gunshot”.
Captain Baudin made a short survey of the Bay, then established a camp on Bernier Island at it northern entrance. There was plenty to discover. The scientists revelled in the many magnificent shells, birds and insects. The officers hunted the beautiful banded kangaroos that lived in tunnels made through the dense shrubbery on the island. Everyone appreciated the fresh meat which tasted very much like wild rabbit.
The two captains had not seen each other for six weeks and neither knew where the other was. On 13th July 1801, just 3 days before the Naturalise would arrive, Captain Baudin sailed the Géographe out of Shark Bay and north to Timor.
July/August 1801 – SHARK BAY TO NORTH-WEST CAPE
Captain Hamelin found no evidence that the Géographe had ever been into Shark Bay. A camp was established on Péron Peninsular with fresh water supplied to its 30 men using a salt water still. The Naturaliste spent 49 days at Shark Bay, repairing equipment and surveying the coast, as they waited for Captain Baudin to turn up. It was not hard to put up with, warm dry weather made a welcome change. The French marvelled as great pods of whales leapt in synchronised pairs around the ship. They were not so keen on the hundreds of sharks that escorted their ships boat to shore. “I tell you, mon ami, we did not even think about going for a swim!” laughed one of the sailors.
Meanwhile, two thousand kilometres to the north, Captain Baudin was battling with 30 foot tides, uncharted reefs, shoals and islands off The Bonaparte Archipelago. The Géographe, with a draught of 16 feet, was unable to sail the shallow coastal shelf. “I am afraid the scientists are unhappy with me, but I cannot risk running aground” said Captain Baudin. “In any case, I would not let them go ashore. Too many times they have flouted my orders and not come back to the ship on time”. The waters provided plenty of specimens anyway. They netted giant jelly fish that weighed 50 lbs, and two new species of sea snake more than 10 ft long. Around the ship sharks, whales, and turtles were easy to observe.
After 3 weeks all this started to wear a bit thin however. Firewood and water on board was running low, and with no fresh food for over a month there were several scurvy cases. Everyone was longing for Timor and on the 19th August Captain Baudin ordered the Géographe to make for what all the men believed would be a tropical paradise.
August/September 1801 – TIMOR TREATS
The Géographe sailed into Kupang Bay, Timor on 21st August 1801. Assistant zoologist, Francois Péron was most impressed. “It is lush, beautiful, so fertile and such a contrast to the barren and dry coastline that we have seen of New Holland. Timorese and officials of the Dutch East India Company welcomed the French explorers. A procession of 100 beautifully turned out slaves escorted the French to the home of an aristocratic Timorese widow. “Mon Dieu! The food! Fruits, pastries, sweetmeats and preserves, all served on silver platters by the most beautiful young women” raved one of the Frenchmen. “Surely, heaven could not be better!”
A large house was made available to Baudin and his officers, and another for the scientific contingent. Hospital space in a local warehouse soon had scurvy cases recovering with fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. The scientists were free to wander at will. They asked a village man to fetch them some coconut milk, considering it safer than water to drink. The athletic young man quickly climbed a palm, picked four coconuts and descended the palm holding two of the coconuts in his teeth and the other two in one hand.
It only took a week for signs of trouble ahead. Two men were in hospital, one with dysentery and one with high fever. Three weeks later there were 18 men, all with dysentery, and Baudin himself caught malaria. His men feared that he would not live. Disease was not the only danger. One of the expedition artists, while chasing monkeys in the forest, was bitten on the heel by a snake. His leg became stiff and swollen and he barely made it back to the town. A dose of ammoniac brought on a severe sweating and after several days rest he fully recovered.
The fate of the Naturaliste is of constant concern to the men of the Géographe. Every day a lookout is kept for their companion ship which has not been seen since their separation at Rottness Island in June.
September 1801 – NATURALISTE REACHES TIMOR
The French vessel, Naturaliste sailed into Kupang Bay, Timor on 21st September. All on board were reported to be in good health with only two mild cases of scurvy. “I believe that the time we spent on shore during our voyage up the western coast of New Holland was the main reason for this” explained Captain Hamelin, “and I have a very capable ships surgeon”.
Captain Baudin however is still gravely ill with malaria and has asked Captain Hamelin to take command of the expedition in the event of his death.
While the Naturaliste underwent extensive refitting, her officers and scientists moved to shore based accommodation. They traded iron pots, saws and hacksaws for poultry and pigs from the Timorese people. The zoologist on the Géographe, Francois Péron, noted sadly that there were men in Timor who were happy to trade the sexual favours of their womenfolk for highly prized French knives and other ironware. “Our sailors thought they were getting the cheaper part of the bargain, but I tell you, they paid for it later – eh bien! maladie vénérienne!” he commented.
Péron, who during the voyage has been a strong critic of Captain Baudin, has been able to save the life of Baudin by sharing with him a small supply of quinine bark. Péron was not of a strong constitution but found that he was not at all affected by the diseases that had struck so many of his shipmates. On 12th October a Géographe gunner died of dysentery. Another died on the 18th, the much loved gardener, Anselm Riedlé, died next and was buried next to a gardener who had died on Bligh’s ship the Bounty 10 years before. Captain Baudin was deeply saddened at the death of Riedlé, “He was so eager to come on this voyage, he worked so hard until his illness made it impossible for him” Captain Baudin said “The last ten days of his life were extremely horrible. We must leave Timor as soon as possible before we all lose our lives here”.
October/November 1801 – FRENCH HEAD SOUTH FOR TASMANIA
English frigates sighted in the Semau Strait have interrupted Captain Baudin’s preparations for leaving Timor. The Dutch garrison in Timor was prepared to defend their French guests however Baudin sent one of his midshipmen out to show the English captain their expedition passports. The English were most concerned to hear of Captain Baudin’s recent illness and offered a case of wine to help him recover. The midshipman however felt he was not authorised to accept such a gift. “We are at war with the English, let us not forget” he explained.
The English sailed on but they unknowingly left behind another kind of gift. One of their sailors deserted his ship and swam four and a half mile to shore. He was recruited by the French expedition, now short on crew because of recent death and sickness.
On 12th November, with all the livestock and the carefully maintained plants gathered by Riedlé on board, the Géographe and Naturaliste sailed out of Kupang Bay together. Although Captain Baudin was still feverish he could not wait to leave. “We must leave this pestilential place and find the fresher and healthier air of the southern latitudes” he said. “We have left seven dead in Timor already”.
Within the next ten days at sea 12 more men died – all from dysentery. Captain Baudin conducted a sea funeral for each man that died. Their body was sewn into their hammock and they were cast into the sea. “It seems as if we have strewn the oceans with our dead” mourned Francois Péron.
The French expedition expects to reach Van Diemen’s Land by January and will take advantage of summer weather conditions to thoroughly explore that coastline.
November 1801 – FLINDERS CRUISING
Captain Flinders, using his experience of three previous voyages from Cape Town to S-W New Holland, sailed the Investigator along the 37th parallel. “This way I can avoid the roaring forties and those nasty big, long swells” he explained. “We have had favourable weather so far with only seven hours becalmed. I expect to see Cape Leeuwin early December.” The pumps have been used periodically, but the leakage reported earlier seems to have been corrected, with less than 2″ per hour taken in.
Flinders is concerned to keep his crew in as good a health as possible. During fine weather the men bring all their clothes and bedding out on deck to dry and air them and below decks is opened up to allow plenty of ventilation. “When it rains we are wet and uncomfortable, but when it is dry, well mate, there is no place I would rather be” said one of the older sailors. “and we always get our grog ration, bang on half an hour after tea, every night”.
Perhaps of equal importance was the brew that Flinders ordered for every man on board. A pint of wort was made by pouring boiling water over essence of malt, and this, with half a ships biscuit was the midday meal. Antiseptics of sour kraut and vinegar were also issued on demand. Flinders was adopting the most up to date methods known to keep scurvy at bay. This disease, a result of insufficient vitamin C, is painful and fatal if untreated.
At Flinders sailed toward southern Australia, with orders to chart its coastline, Captains Baudin and Hamelin were sailing south, a lot further off western Australia, making a beeline for Van Diemen’s Land, with their own orders for charting and making scientific observations.
December 1801 – FLINDERS REACHES AUSTRALIA
On December 8th 1801 Matthew Flinders anchored the Investigator in King George’s Sound, sandy bottom of 8 fathoms.
“My first priority is the complete refurbishment of the ship” he said, “and then the true purpose of my expedition can begin”. Captain Flinders explained that although he had orders to begin his survey at 130 longitude, just about at the head of The Great Australian Bight, he thought it worthwhile to go over coast previously chartered by Vancouver and la Pérouse. “Just to verify their readings, you know. Our instruments can be subject to error”.
The crew of the Investigator worked on stripping the masts and repairing sails and rigging at safe anchorage in Princess Royal Harbour. Captain Flinders and his ship’s Master, Mr Thistle established a shore camp with easy communication to the ship. A marine guard was set and observatory established. At this stage there had been no sighting of aboriginal people.
“There has been someone here though, we found trees that have been cut with an axe” said Mr Thistle “and the Captain came across an old vegie garden”. The men also found a copper plaque engraved ‘ August 27 1800, Chr. Dixon, ship Elligood’.
The English made the most of their first landfall in Australia. The crew were allowed ashore on Sundays. “Bit of larking about, it is good for them” laughed Mr Thistle. During a long trek along the coast Mr Brown, the botanist and Mr Westall, the artist noticed smoke at a distance. They walked along the beach some way and met with an aboriginal man who was hostile toward them. He fired the bush behind him to prevent their following him while women and children were seen running inland. The following day a delegation of tall, slender aboriginal men, dressed in kangaroo cloaks and armed with spears met the English at their shore camp. Mr Purdie, the surgeon approached them unarmed and by sign language was able to win their trust. They exchanged gifts of red nightcaps and other personal belongings for spears and stone hatchets.
Captain Flinders was pleased that their first contact with the native people of Australia had gone so well. “We met with the men every day, there was always something of mutual interest for us all” he said, “but at no time were we allowed to see their wives and children. This is understandable I suppose, after all, we must have seemed most strange to these people, I doubt they have ever seen a man with white skin”.
December 1801 – FOCUS ON FLINDERS
Captain Flinders plans to spend a month at King George’s Sound putting his ship in order for the coming months of exploration. “All I need is for my wife Anne to be with me and I would be the happiest of men” he said. “Ever since I read Robinson Crusoe as a boy I have wanted to explore unknown coastlines. My father was not at all keen on my going to sea but I would not be deterred at any price.”
Matthew Flinders joined the navy at 15, and at 17 sailed with Captain Bligh on one of his post-Bounty voyages. He found Captain Bligh to be a bad-tempered man, not particularly popular with the ship’s officers but a skilled navigator. During this time Flinders gained valuable experience using the new nautical timepieces so essential for accurate navigation. His father hoped that Matthew would publish a journal of this voyage and make some money with its sale, “I was not ready for a literary career though,” explained Flinders, “my next trip was to the new colony of NSW, that was in 1794. I was 20 years old by then, and I took my young brother Samuel with me – he was only 12, and classed as a volunteer.” This voyage took Governor Hunter as replacement for Governor Phillip and it established Flinders reputation as a navigator of distinction.
It was also where Flinders met George Bass, travelling as the ship’s surgeon. Both young men were from Lincolnshire and both loved discovery.
For the next three years Flinders was engaged in running supplies to Norfolk Island and made a trip to Cape Town to bring back desperately needed livestock. One hundred and nine head of cattle and more than 100 sheep made the return trip a very difficult one.
In between their official duties Bass and Flinders found time to do some exploring. “We fitted an 8 ft dinghy with mast and sail, called it the Tom Thumb!” laughed Flinders, “and took it out the Heads and down to Botany Bay, sailed up the George’s River 20 miles past the previous survey. Gov. Hunter set up a depot there on our recommendation. He called it Bankstown.” A slightly bigger boat, Tom Thumb II, took them adventuring south of Botany Bay. “We ran into some huge surf on this trip. Bass held onto the sail, I was on the tiller and young William was baling for his life. We only survived because we found a sheltered cove. Providence Cove, we named it.”
George Bass established almost beyond doubt the existence of a strait between Van Diemen’s Land and the continent of Australia. When he and Flinders sailed through it and back to Sydney via the southern tip of the island it was named, on Flinders recommendation, Bass Strait. “Recalling those exciting times gives me great satisfaction” said Flinders, “and the prospect of the unknown coast ahead of me now is more thrilling than I can say.”
December 1801 – FLINDERS STILL AT KING GEORGE SOUND
After 5 months at sea Flinders and his men have enjoyed the chance to explore on land. With 13 other men, including naturalists, their servants and sailors, Flinders set out, fully armed and provisioned for an excursion to the west of Princess Royal Harbour. “I believe there a some lagoons in the area, and with a bit of luck they will hold fresh water” he said.
Soon after starting out the party was met by an old aboriginal man they had come to know at their tent site on the beach. He was most insistent that they did not enter a wooded area ahead and Flinders obliged him by taking a detour around it. Shortly after they had reason to be grateful to the old man. One of the sailors had picked up a snake by the tail, “The old fella knocked it out of my hand, quick as a flash! Turns out it was deadly poisonous!” the sailor explained. Flinders and his men spent the day wading through swamps and struggling to push through thick brush scrub. By evening they had reached some higher ground with fresh water and camped the night.
The following morning they turned back “I could see no purpose in pushing on, that swamp seemed to be taking us nowhere” said Flinders, “mind you the return journey was no better, in a different sort of way. We followed a sandy ridge and it was stinking hot with no water at all”. By sunset on the second day they were still several miles from their beach camp. Mr Bauer, a wildlife artist, collapsed from exhaustion, heat and thirst. He was cared for by Mr Brown and a sailor who followed behind the main party, finally reaching the beach at midnight.
A very sound night’s sleep restored the weary men and they all returned to the ship. It was only a Friday, but it was Christmas day. After the crew had mustered on deck, Flinders gave them all shore leave to enjoy the day. “We have spent Christmas in some queer places,” said one of the older sailors, “but this place would have to be the furtherest away from anywhere that I have ever been. Most of me mates put the day in fairly quiet, but a couple of them really got stuck into the grog”. Captain Flinders hosted a Christmas dinner in his cabin for the officers and scientists.
The next day was business as usual, with repairs to the ship well underway. Captain Flinders expects to leave the Sound by the new year.
December 1801 – FLINDERS PUTS ON A SHOW
After a month of work the Investigator was in good shape for the trip east. Firewood and water was stowed on board, the ropes and blocks refitted and sails repaired and shaped. Flinders gave orders for the marines to assemble on shore in full dress uniform and prepare for parade. “During our stay here, we have made friends of the local tribe, I had the feeling that a bit of ceremony might be something they would enjoy” he explained.
The marines were indeed an impressive sight with red coats, white chest sashes and flashing muskets. Their aboriginal audience shouted with delight. ” I believe they liked the marine uniform so much because it quite resembles the way they themselves decorate their bodies with ochre” said Flinders, “but what really amazed them was the fife and drums, I did not know how I was going to get a bit of order so that the drill could begin, but once the men presented arms and began formation manoeuvers the aborigines fell silent and watched most earnestly. The best part was when our friendly old man of deadly snake fame took up a staff and matched to perfection the movements of my men”. It was customary for drill to end with a volley from the muskets. Flinders took the precaution of warning the aborigines beforehand so that they would not be alarmed at the sudden burst of gunfire.
After the parade the ships surgeon, Mr Bell, with the co-operation of the aborigines, took their body measurements. They happily gave him the name, in their own language, of various body parts, and Mr Bell had them recorded. For example the name for head was caat, the mouth was taa, the thigh was davaal.
Flinders had every reason to be happy with his first camp on the unknown coast.
On board ship however there was a discipline matter to attend to. A seaman was brought before the captain on charges of repeated drunkenness and fighting for which he was given 36 lashes.
Later that day the shore camp was dismantled, the observatory closed and the tents and instruments taken to the ship. On New Years Day the Investigator weighed anchor but unfavourable winds prevented leaving King George’s Sound for a few days more. On the 4th of January 1802 Captain Flinders, with first lieutenant Fowler and Mr Brown the botanist went ashore for the last time, leaving a bottle on top of Seal Island. It contained a parchment with the dates of their stay at the Sound. They were not to know that at that moment Captain Baudin was sailing 200 miles due south on his way to Van Diemen’s Land.
January 1802 – BAUDIN IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND
Captain Baudin first saw the south west coast of Van Diemen’s Land through driving rain and low clouds on 13th January 1802. His crew shivered as hail beat down on them and frost hardened on the deck. Great flocks of boobies, gulls and swallows followed the ship as it bellied and rolled in rough seas, while dolphins and whales served as escorts. “Nature seemed to mark our arrival as auspicious” remarked Captain Baudin, “and indeed is was. I hoped to build on the success of my trip to the West Indies, when I astonished all of France with the specimens I brought back safely”. Baudin, who was the fifth child of a merchant family had suffered prejudice during his seafaring career because he was not of noble birth. Now 46 years old he had spent his life on merchant vessels, taking every opportunity for private trading to boost his earnings as a merchant ship captain.
The Géographe and Naturaliste found safe anchor in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and several boats were launched for the shore. Baudin instructed Lieutenant Freycinet to take the longboat up the Huon River, while he and Captain Hamlin took dinghies to Partridge Island. Although the rain had stopped, strong winds and currents pushed against the rowers so that it took and hour and a half to make the 3 kilometres to shore. The French were greeted by a group of aboriginal men who were unarmed, and apart from one of the men who wore an animal skin across his back, quite naked. Baudin noted their physical characteristics. “They were more pale skinned than the African slaves I had transported and although well proportioned had rather thin legs. I was most taken with the heavy tattoos across their chest. All the men seemed genuinely friendly and their wide smiles displayed beautiful white teeth”. Baudin had given strict instructions that the local tribesmen were not to be harmed in any way. “Our officers gave them greeting in the French way”, explained a sailor, “vous savez, hugs and kisses on both cheeks, alors les sauvges, they made a great speech which, of course, we could not understand”.
Baudin’s men offered to share their lunch of bread and biscuit but the aborigines showed no interest. They found the French uniform much more attractive and were pleased to accept gifts of clothing and implements. With such a friendly start to relations with the local inhabitants, Captain Baudin was optimistic that much new knowledge would be gained by his scientists. He ordered the men back to the ship for the evening meal and wondered how Freycinet was spending the night, away in the darkness of the dense, dark rainforest.
January 1802 – FLINDERS MAKES PROGRESS EASTWARDS
Matthew Flinders had yet to begin charting completely unknown coastline as he sailed east from King George Sound. “We know that about three other expeditions have seen the Archipelago of the Recherche” he said, “the French were the last here in 1792. They were looking for Captain la Pérouse who had sailed these parts. They never found out what happened to him. The Archipelago and Espérance Bay were named after the French ships of the search party.”
Weaving his way amongst the 200 islands, rocks and shoals that made up the Archipelago, Flinders was concerned to find that he had left it rather late in the day to find safe anchorage for the night. Rather then head out to sea, he trusted his instincts and sailed directly toward the mainland. The gamble paid off when a wide sandy bay of 7 fathoms was found. The Investigator anchored there for the next 5 days and Flinders named the place Lucky Bay. While Mr Brown the botanist went ashore to collect plants the ships crew set fishing lines. “We were doing alright too, but then three huge sharks came by and scared all the fish away,” explained one of the sailors. “We harpooned one of them and hauled it on board, no easy job, I can tell you, bit like bringing up the longboat.” The shark was 12 feet long and more than 8 feet in girth. A smelly specimen to have on deck, especially when its stomach was opened up. Amongst the contents the men found two halves of a seal which still had an aboriginal spear through it.
Mr Brown was delighted with the abundance of beautiful plants and flowers found in the Lucky Bay area but could not report any sign of pasture grass or arable land. On the 14th January the Investigator left Lucky Bay but spent several more days amongst the islands. Mr Thistle, the ships Master explored possible eastward passages while more plant specimens were taken from the islands. Several dozen geese where shot and found to be good eating and some seal hunting also gave fresh meat.
Although Flinders gave every consideration to the scientists on board, he devoted most of his energy to his charts. “I sailed the Investigator close enough to the shore to be able to see waves breaking and took down all readings as they were made,” he earnestly explained. “Of course we anchored out at sea for the night, but I took care that we resumed the following day at the exact spot where we had previously left off. I had the men take lead soundings of the bottom every half hour and the thermometer and barometer were read 3 times daily. The winding of the two timepieces I entrusted to my brother Samuel and midshipman John Franklin.” Flinders kept these arrangements strictly adhered to and a routine was well established by the time he reached the completely unknown coastline along that part of the continent he named The Great Australian Bight.
January 1802 – SIZZLING SUMMER FOR INVESTIGATOR
Flinders sailed the Investigator for more than 800 kilometres along the coast of the Great Australian Bight, never more than 8 kilometres from the shore and saw nothing but towering cliffs. He sent sailors to the top of the ship’s mast which was 30 metres high but even this did not give a better view of the interior. “It was like sailing around massive castle walls” said the sailors, “the Captain found it very frustrating. Landing a boat would have been very dodgy, the seas were treacherous and even our best men would have trouble getting up those massive cliffs. So what lay beyond them was a mystery”.
Fowlers Bay, named after the first lieutenant, was wide and sheltered and came as a relief, but no fresh water or suitable fire wood was found there. The ship sailed on with Flinders naming landmarks along the way after his officers and scientists. For 10 days they explored the islands of the Nuyts Archipelago, fishing and shooting seals and birds for fresh meat. Denial Bay, so named partly for its association with St Peter’s island, disappointed Flinders expectations of a chance to sail inland and launch a land expedition. “Our entry was denied, so to speak” he explained. Shade temperatures on the islands reached 100 degrees, more than 130 degrees in the sun. Such conditions dried out the Investigator’s planking and Flinders once again re-arranged 4 tons of iron ballast to keep the leaky seams above the water line.
While Flinders was sweltering in southern Australia the French ships were enjoying the mild conditions of Van Diemen’s Land. Captain Baudin anchored the Géographe and Naturaliste at the mouth of the Derwent River and established a hospital tent and observatory on shore. While his crew prepared to take fresh water and fire wood on board, Baudin discussed with Captain Hamelin plans to send out two boating parties the following day. One to explore the upper reaches of the Derwent, the other to survey Frederick Henry Bay. Péron, who was to go with Freycinet up the Derwent River was once again struck with the grandeur of the mountains, “but most remarkable of all were the many fires we saw burning across the mountains, great columns of smoke rose on all sides.” Péron said, “we did not understand why the native people wanted to burn their forest. Peut-être it was a warning to us”.
February 1802 – TRAGEDY FOR INVESTIGATOR
Midshipman Taylor spoke for all on board the Investigator when he said “We began to think this whole trip was waste of time, nothing but empty, dry coastline, but then our helmsman reported a tide running from the north east. First time since we sailed past Cape Leuwin way back in December”. The ship’s company wondered what lay ahead – was there a great river, or a deep inlet, or even a passage through to the Gulf of Carpentaria?
Flinders wanted no mistaking of their bearings at this important point. He anchored the ship in a narrow passage between the mainland and a large island. He and Master Thistle landed on the island to take readings. While there they saw the usual abundant wildlife, including an unusual spotted snake. “I held its head down with the butt of my musket” explained Flinders “while Mr Thistle stitched up its mouth with sail needle and twine – always goes prepared, does Thistle” Flinders laughed. “We took the snake quite safely back to our zoologist” The two men also saw a pair of sea eagles take a grazing kangaroo.
Back on board the Investigator Flinders found that he and his brother Samuel differed on the longitude of the island. Dusk was falling and a safe anchorage was essential. The captain sent Mr Thistle with Midshipman Taylor and six sailors in the red cutter to look for a place to spend the night that would also give them much needed fresh water. None of the men were ever seen again.
Peter Good, the gardener reported that while taking a walk around the decks he watched as the red cutter left the mainland. He noticed that they were making heavy going against wind and tide and when next he looked he could see no sign of them. Flinders ordered the blue cutter launched at once. Lieutenant Fowler spent two hours searching the dark waters for his comrades. “The noise of the breaking waves made it impossible for us to hear cries for help. The tide was running out to sea, they must have been swept clean away” he said. Captain Flinders fired the canon to recall the search party to the ship.
The following day they found the red cutter, floating upside down, its hull smashed by rock or reef. The only trace of its crew were their footprints on the sandy beach, left there during their search for water. Flinders named the place Memory Cove and erected a copper plaque in memory of the men who had died. He named the island where they had caught the snake Thistle Island and smaller islands after the other seven men. In paying tribute to those lost, Flinders spoke of his friend of 8 years, “Mr Thistle was the best ship’s master ever born, and a fine man, as they were all, fine men”.
On February 26th 1802 Flinders anchored the Investigator in a great natural harbour that he named Port Lincoln, after his home county of Lincolnshire.
February 1802 – BAUDIN IN OYSTER BAY
A week of hot, humid weather delayed Captain Baudin from leaving North-West Bay for more than a week. The oppressive heat was particularly hard on René Maugé, a zoologist on the expedition who had been ill since leaving Timor. At last on 17th February 1802,the French ships were able to sail under light easterly winds up the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land. They rounded Capes Raoul and Pillar and anchored in Oyster Bay on the west coast of Maria Island.
Two boats with the Freycinet brothers were sent to survey the mainland, while two other boats would explore Maria and Schouten’s Islands. Monsieur Péron, always eager to make new discoveries, went with the group to Maria Island. Péron’s boat sailed past towering granite cliffs until able to land in Riedlé Bay on the island’s east coast. While the rest of the crew got on with routine survey tasks Péron set off for the interior. He followed a well worn path through dense scrub until he came to a grassy clearing, shaded by Casuarina trees. Within the clearing were domed huts made of poles and bark. Inside the huts were wooden hoops held in place with slabs of granite. Under the hoops were mounds of fine grass. “Of course, I was most curious about the purpose of such construction” Péron explained. “I went inside the hut and found ashes and human bones. It was plain that the island people had cremated their dead. As we had seen, fire was most important to them, so it is logical, n’est-ce pas?”
While Péron was making his discoveries, the ships doctor reported to Captain Baudin that René Maugé had died. Maugé, who was highly regarded by Baudin for his meticulous scientific work, had joined the French expedition against the advice of his Paris friends. He was buried between two gum trees on the southern point of Oyster Bay.
While mourning the loss of yet another of his men, Baudin was cheered at Péron’s discoveries. “The tombs were the most skilfully and carefully-made things that we have seen, infinitely superior to anything else we know of belonging to the natives”.
Ships artist Nicolas Petit was sent with Péron and crew to sketch the burial huts. They were accompanied by a large group of young aboriginal men who greeted them on the beach. While Petit sat down to draw, Péron used the time to learn some more of the native language. He found that the men had no words for kissing or caressing. “The concept was quite foreign to them, what delights they are missing!” Péron chuckled. As the day wore on the French began to feel less welcome. When the aboriginal men picked up their spears Péron and Petit decided it would be a good time to leave. With only a faulty musket to defend themselves they backed away from the aborigines who were growing distinctly unfriendly. “We were most relieved to get back to our boat, even then they followed us along the shore” explained Petit. The hostile islanders disappeared into the forest when Péron and his companions joined the other French boats dragging for oysters in the bay.
February 1802 – FLINDERS EXPLORES PORT LINCOLN
Although Flinders was grieving for the eight men drowned near Thistle Island, he was mindful of the urgent need to find fresh water. His men dug a pit on the shores of Port Lincoln harbour but it filled with salty, undrinkable water. The presence of many aboriginal huts encouraged Flinders to direct a search at Proper Bay. This second attempt yielded water that was clouded with clay but sweet tasting. Over the next six days the ships water reserves of 60 tons were fully stocked.
While brother Samuel took daily observations at the shore camp Flinders explored the surrounding country. He climbed 500 foot Stamford Hill, “What a magnificent harbour lay before me,” he said, “enough to safely hold a whole fleet of ships. It is the finest since King George Sound”. The scientists were not so impressed with the area. They found very few new plants and neither saw nor heard from the owners of the huts. Mr Brown ventured to the distant ocean shore that they had so recently sailed past. He described it as “large, open and exposed with a dreadful surf all round”. He found the mainsail of the red cutter washed up on this wild coast.
Samuel Flinders always seemed to be stuck with the tedious business of winding the clocks and recording the movement of the sun. But on March 4th he was given a real treat. “It was an almost total eclipse of the sun!” he enthused, “only the very rim escaped obliteration by the moon. Of course, Matthew had his 200 power telescope, but even by the naked eye it was impressive.”
After spending nine days in the harbour, Flinders and his men packed up the tents and prepared to sail. “If we had stayed another day I think we could have met with the local people” Flinders explained, “they called out to one of my boat crew just as we were leaving. I would have liked to know how they felt about the solar eclipse.”
Many features in this area were named by Flinders, who never named a single place after himself. Boston Island was named in honour of the birthplace of his friend George Bass and the Joseph Banks Group of islands for his patron. On the 5th March 1802 the Investigator proceeded north into unknown waters. At the same time Captain Baudin sailed from Maria Island toward Bass Strait. He believed he was to be the first European to chart the southern coast of New Holland and had no idea that Flinders was already there.
March 1802 – A DEAD END FOR FLINDERS
When Matthew Flinders sailed north of Port Lincoln he had hoped for a passage to the Gulf of Carpentaria but mud flats and shoals made it obvious that the water way was headed nowhere, “no sign that we were in the mouth of a big river either,” said Flinders gloomily, “but a large mountain range to our east looked promising”. He anchored his ship in 5 fathoms after almost running aground ahead of a strong gale blowing up from the south. The port and starboard shores were no more than 4 miles apart.
At dawn on 10th March Robert Brown, botanist, Bauer & Westall, artists, Peter Good, gardener, John Allen, miner and 2 servants set off to climb the highest peak that could be seen in the ranges. “We thought it looked about 5 miles away, just a bit of a stroll,” explained Mr Brown, “all we had to do was get through half a mile of mud and mangroves first!”.
The men followed creek beds and tramped across grassy plains to the base of the mountain. They had walked 15 miles, still had to climb the peak and it was 2pm. Their two servants, loaded down with baggage, were too exhausted to go on and set up camp to wait for the scientists. “That mountain was very deceptive,” Mr Brown said “thought we would never get there, it was sunset before we reached the top. We had to camp on the summit for the night. Not a nice experience. No water at all, too dark to find fire wood and the servants had our swags down at the bottom.” At first light they made their way down the slopes, “But blow me down,” laughed Peter Good, “Will Westall made us wait while he sketched the scenery, and us perishing for a drink of water!”
While Mr Brown and his party were away Flinders, with Surgeon Bell and crew rowed the red cutter up the gulf, climbed a bluff on the western shore, took bearings and spent the night in the cutter amongst the mangroves. Next morning they tried to bag a few black swans for fresh meat, “We found out that these birds were very good at dodging musket balls, spent all day chasing them and lost our way in the salt creeks” recalled Flinders “it was after 10pm before we got back to ship and heard all about Mr Brown’s chilly night on the mountain.”
Investigator sailed south, keeping well away from the shallow eastern side of the gulf. On 19th March the coast trended sharply to the west. Flinders dropped anchor at Corny Point, well sheltered from the southerly winds. Bearings on the islands to the west confirmed that Flinders had completed the survey of the gulf, which he called Spencer, after an earl at the Admiralty. He named the 3,000 ft mountain Mount Brown, much to the delight of the botanist.
March 21st – FLINDERS SHELTERS AT KANGAROO ISLAND
Investigator battled against a fierce south west gale to reach calm waters in the lee of a high heavily wooded coastline to the south of Corny Point. The following morning Flinders sailed east for 70 miles, “I wanted to know if we were looking at the mainland” he explained, “but we saw no sign of camp fires or people.” Strong winds drove Investigator past a wide sheltered bay toward its eastern headland where Flinders anchored for the night, half a mile off a small sandy beach.
All on board were eager to explore once again. “Some of the young gentlemen tried to tell us they could see moving rocks on the beach!” laughed a sailor, “very vivid imaginations, these young fellas!” Once on shore the rocks turned out to be large dark brown kangaroos who had no fear of men. Flinders shot ten with his double barrel shotgun, altogether 29 kangaroos were killed. They ranged in weight from 69 to 125 pounds. “And what a feast did we have, heads and forequarters for soup and enough steak for even us ordinary seamen to get a share,” a sailor commented. Flinders named this southern land Kangaroo Island [in fact: Kanguroo Island], all aboard agreed it was most appropriate.
While repairs to the rigging were in progress Flinders attempted to reach high ground to see the lay of the land but dense undergrowth and tall trees prevented him from seeing much. “I noted many fallen and rotten trees, seems as if there had been a great fire through the forest some time ago – lightening perhaps was the cause” he reported later. Peter Good and Robert Brown walked east and were pleased to find some new plants, and a spring of water amongst shoreline rocks.
Fire wood for the ships oven, and fresh water was loaded. The now shy kangaroos were less easy to shoot but some were taken for more fresh meat. “I have noted,” said Flinders “that from our first arrival the seals who live under bushes quite some way from the shore have been quite sure that we are not kanguroos but I think the kanguroos thought at first that we were seals!”
Flinders spent 3 days sounding the strait between Kangaroo Island and the mainland. He found it to be deepest nearer the island but safe for ships generally and named it Investigator Strait. On March 27th his ship sailed up a large inlet on the mainland taking soundings until midnight. The following morning Investigator was becalmed within sight of a fine mountain range rising above the coastal plain. The country was well timbered and fertile. Numerous camp fires sent smoke into the morning air. It was Sunday so Flinders ordered the ships company to scrub the ship, wash themselves and prepare for inspection.
April 1802 – FLINDERS RETURNS TO KANGAROO ISLAND
Matthew Flinders spent the last 5 days of March mapping the Gulf he named St Vincent. Shallow mudflats that teemed with rays prevented further progress north. He and Robert Brown aborted an attempt to reach hummock hills 8 miles inland at the head of the gulf. “With winter on the way I couldn’t risk a rough trip to Sydney,” explained Flinders, “besides, I needed to return to Kanguroo Island for more fresh meat”.
Investigator ran before a light breeze and anchored 2 miles west of their former anchorage at 11 pm 1st April. Shore parties the following day gathered more fire wood and shot a few kangaroos while the naturalists explored the beach. Departure was delayed when it came to the captain’s notice that the clocks had been allowed to run down, either by his brother Samuel or Mr John Franklin, senior midshipman. “It meant we had to establish ourselves on the beach and make our observations all over again so that we could reset the clocks. Correct time was essential to accurate readings of our position,” Flinders explained, clearly annoyed at the delay.
Leaving Samuel busy making amends with the instruments, Flinders and Brown took the cutter through a narrow opening that revealed a large lagoon in the southwest corner of Nepean Bay. The men climbed a high Sandhill that gave them views in all directions. They were able to see the low rugged cliffs of the south coast and Flinders spied distant Mt Lofty with his telescope. He named the Sandhill Prospect Hill for the vistas that rewarded their climb.
They explored the eastern branch of the lagoon which was dotted with four islands, one high and wooded, the others grassy and low. “There were great numbers of pelicans in the lagoon” said Robert Brown, “we saw their nestlings on the islands and immense flocks sitting on the shores.” The explorers also noted a quantity of pelican skeletons. They camped for the night at the entrance to Pelican Lagoon, eating oysters around their campfire. Flinders could not forget the sights they had seen that day. “Those birds had chosen a hidden lagoon on an uninhabited island, off the unknown coast of a continent on the far side of the globe,” he mused “It seemed to me to be pelican paradise. Those majestic birds could hatch, live and die amongst their own kin, who could ask for more? Alas, for the pelicans! Their golden age is past (…)”.
On board the Investigator surgeon Bell had to deal with seaman Richard Daley who had been badly bitten by a seal he had been taunting with a stick. “The man will be crippled for life, a severe wound” Bell reported later to Captain Flinders.
On 6th April Flinders set the Investigator on a course east of Cape Jervis, confident that the timekeepers had not lost accuracy.
Text © by:
Mrs Meredith Geyer