|Inspired by sea stories as a boy, Matthew Flinders joined the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. In 1794 he sailed to Australia on board the 'Reliance'. With George Bass, the ship's surgeon, he explored parts of the NSW south coast in two open boats (both called the 'Tom Thumb').|
Together again, this time aboard the 'Norfolk', Flinders and Bass circumnavigated Van Dieman's Land in 1798 proving it was an island (see below).
Flinders returned to England in 1801 and married Ann Chappell. After just three months of marriage, Flinders embarked on his next voyage to Australia, a journey his wife was not permitted to share.
As they waved goodbye, the couple had no idea they would not see each other again for nine years.
|Flinders made a thorough study of the coast of South Australia and Victoria in 1802. Later that year he surveyed the coast of Queensland and the Gulf of Carpentaria, continuing on to successfully circumnavigate the continent in what was barely a seaworthy vessel.|
En route to England in 1803 and despite having immunity on his passport, Flinders was imprisoned on Mauritius by the French Governor under suspicion of being a spy. He was released in 1810.
Flinders' detailed surveys of the coastline and his hydrographic researches contributed greatly to the exploratory knowledge of the country which he named 'Australia'.
The Discovery of Bass Strait
While in sight of the east coast of Australia, Captain James Cook wondered about the existence of a sea route to the north of Tasmania (Van Diemen's Land as it was then known). It would be another 28 years before Cook's suspicions were to be confirmed when George Bass and Matthew Flinders, in the sloop Norfolk, sailed through the straits in December, 1798.
Both Bass and Flinders were born in Lincolnshire, England, Bass in 1771 and Flinders in 1774. Bass was the ship's surgeon and Flinders a midshipman aboard the HMS Reliance which carried Captain John Hunter to New South Wales to take responsibility as the second Governor of the colony. Not long after arriving in Sydney, with Hunter's support, the two began to explore the coastline in small boats.
Governor Hunter, like Cook, believed that there was either a deep gulf or a strait separating Van Diemen's Land from the mainland. He arranged for George Bass to be equipped for an expedition to the area in 1797. Using an open whaleboat, rowed by six men, Bass reached Westernport, near the current site of Melbourne, before being forced to return by bad weather, adverse winds and dwindling provisions. Bass was, by this time, convinced of the existence of the strait.
On October 7, 1798, Bass, this time accompanied by Flinders, sailed from Port Jackson in the sloop Norfolk. Once again, Governor Hunter had equipped the expedition, in the hope that the strait, once discovered, would shorten the dangerous voyage from England or India and help ships bypass the extreme gales which blew almost continuously further to the south.
By December 9, 1798, Flinders was able to record:
"The land which lays immediately to the southward and about 3 miles distant from the larger of the two high, steep islands is what we now consider to be the N.W. point of Van Diemen's Land, for the direction of the coast, the set of the tides, and the great swell from the S.W., did now completely satisfy us that a wide strait did really exist between Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales."
Bass and Flinders circumnavigated the newly identified island, exploring the Tamar and Derwent river inlets which would later become the sites for new settlements. They spent Christmas in the deep, sheltered waters of the Derwent River and then sailed north up the east coast to arrive back at Port Jackson on January 12, 1799.
Flinders recommended to Hunter that the strait be named Bass "after my worthy friend and companion, as a just tribute to the extreme dangers and fatigues he had undergone in first entering it in the whaleboat".
The remarkable feats of seamanship exhibited by George Bass and Matthew Flinders made an invaluable contribution to the knowledge of Australia's coastline and provided an inspiring example of that early spirit of discovery which was to become typical of the many explorers who followed.
Certificate accompanying the 1993 Masterpieces in Silver - The Explorers - Set.
Certificate accompanying the 1998 six Coin Proof Set
Matthew Flinders is featured on the following Australian coins and banknotes:
1993 Five Dollars Coin
1998 Fifty Cents Coin (with George Bass)
1954 to 1966 Ten Shillings Note
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Last modified: 05 December, 2007