The SANDS OF TIME Collection – 25. The Investigator

25. The Investigator
George Bass & Mathew Flinders — 875 x 695 mm
© Robert Morgan

GEORGE BASS (1771-1803)
Surgeon and Explorer

Born in Aswarby, Lincolnshire, England on 30 January 1771, George was educated at the local grammar school and apprenticed to a local surgeon.  When he was eighteen, he joined the British Navy as a surgeon’s mate and by 1794 he had risen to the rank of naval surgeon.  It was in his capacity as surgeon that he sailed to New South Wales on the frigate Reliance in 1795.  On board he met and befriended Matthew Flinders.

Within weeks of their arrival in Sydney, Bass and Flinders began exploring the New South Wales’ south coast.  Their first voyage in Tom Thumb lasted nine days and explored Botany Bay and Georges River.  The following year (March 1796) they once again took the Tom Thumb south and discovered Port Hacking and Lake Illawarra.  In June that year Bass led an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Blue Mountains.

In 1797, Bass sailed to the south coast and confirmed the presence of a substantial coal seam at the modern-day site of Coalcliff.  Later that year, accompanied by six naval oarsmen, Bass explored the coast of south-east Australia down to present-day Westernport.  He became convinced that Van Diemen’s Land was an island and in 1798 he confirmed this theory by circumnavigating it.  He returned to England in 1799, married, and once again sailed to Australia.  Between 1799 and 1802 he worked as a trader in the South Pacific then, in 1803, on a voyage to South America, he disappeared without a trace.

Explorer and Scientist

Born in Donington, Lincolnshire, England, on 16 March 1774, Matthew Flinders as a young child was fascinated with the sea.  Thus, when he finished his education at Horbling Grammar School at the age of fifteen, he joined the British Navy.  He travelled to Tahiti with Captain Bligh in 1791 and in 1795 sailed to Australia on the same ship as George Bass.  Within weeks of their arrival Bass and Flinders began exploring the coast south of Sydney and in 1798-99 they circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land.

In 1800 Flinders returned to England.  In 1801 he married and published his account of his early explorations – Observations on the Coasts of New South Wales.  That same year he was given command of the HMS Investigator and asked to explore the coast between Van Diemen’s Land and Western Australia.

Flinders had three months with his wife then left her not to return for another nine years.  He arrived on the Western Australian coast in January 1802 and began to systematically chart the Great Australian Bight arriving at Gulf St Vincent in early April.  He then sailed Sydney and, after his ship had been overhauled, sailed north to survey the coast of Queensland.  Although his ship was hardly seaworthy, Flinders successfully circumnavigated the continent.

After a series of mishaps Flinders sailed to Mauritius but when he arrived there on 17 December 1803 he was arrested (France and Britain were at war at the time) and held in custody until 14 June 1810.  He arrived in England on 23 October but died less than four years later on 19 July 1814.

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