Terre Napoleon - A history of French explorations and projects in Australia
by Ernest Scott
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse










The main object of this book is to exhibit the facts relative to the expedition despatched to Australia by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800 to 1804, and to consider certain opinions which have been for many years current regarding its purpose.

Until about five years ago the writer accepted without doubt the conclusions presented by leading authorities. One has to do that in regard to the vast mass of historical material, because, obviously, however much disposed one may be to form one's opinions on tested facts apart from the writings of historians, several lifetimes would not be sufficient for a man to inquire for himself as to the truth of a bare fraction of the conclusions with which research is concerned.

But it so happened that the writer was interested, for other reasons than those disclosed in the following pages, in ascertaining exactly what was done by the expedition commanded by Captain Nicolas Baudin on the coasts which were labelled Terre Napoleon. On scrutinising the facts somewhat narrowly, he was surprised to find that opinions accepted with unquestioning faith began to crumble away for lack of evidence to support them.

So much is stated by way of showing that the book has not been written to prove a conclusion formulated a priori, but with a sincere desire that the truth about the matter should be known. We read much in modern books devoted to the era of the Corsican about "the Napoleonic legend." There seems to be, just here, a little sporadic Napoleonic legend, to which vitality has been given from quarters whence have come some heavy blows at the larger one.

The plan adopted has been, after a preliminary sketch of the colonial situation of Great Britain and France in the period under review, to bring upon the scene—the Terre Napoleon coasts—the discovery ship Investigator, despatched by the British Government at about the same time as Napoleon's vessels were engaged upon their task, and to describe the meeting of the two captains, Flinders and Baudin, in Encounter Bay. Next, the coasts denominated Terre Napoleon are traversed, and an estimate is made of the original work done by Baudin, and of the serious omissions for which he was to blame. A second part of the subject is then entered upon. The origin of the expedition is traced, and the ships are carefully followed throughout their voyage, with a view to elicit whether there was, as alleged, a political purpose apart from the scientific work for which the enterprise was undertaken at the instance of the Institute of France.

The two main points which the book handles are: (1) whether Napoleon's object was to acquire territory in Australia and to found "a second fatherland" for the French there; and (2) whether it is true, as so often asserted, that the French plagiarised Flinders' charts for the purpose of constructing their own. On both these points conclusions are reached which are at variance with those commonly presented; but the evidence is placed before the reader with sufficient amplitude to enable him to arrive at a fair opinion on the facts, which, the author believes, are faithfully stated.

A third point of some importance, and which is believed to be quite new, relates to the representation of Port Phillip on the Terre Napoleon maps. It is a curious fact that, much as has been written on the early history of Australia, no writer, so far as the author is aware, has observed the marked conflict of evidence between Captain Baudin and his own officers as to that port having been seen by their discovery ships, and as to how the representation of it on the French maps got there. Inasmuch as Port Phillip is the most important harbour in the territory which was called Terre Napoleon, the matter is peculiarly interesting. Yet, although the author has consulted more than a score of volumes in which the expedition is mentioned, or its work dealt with at some length, not one of the writers has pointed out this sharp contradiction in testimony, still less attempted to account for it. It is to be feared that in the writing of Australian, as of much other history, there has been on the part of authors a considerable amount of "taking in each other's washing."

The table of comparative chronology is designed to enable the reader to see at a glance the dates of the occurrences described in the book, side by side with those of important events in the world at large. It is always an advantage, when studying a particular piece of history, to have in mind other happenings of real consequence pertaining to the period under review. Such a table should remind us of what Freeman spoke of as the "unity and indivisibility of history," if it does no more.



A continent with a record of unruffled peace. Causes of this variation from the usual course of history. English and French colonisation during the Napoleonic wars. The height of the Napoleonic empire and the entire loss of the French colonies. The British colonial situation during the same period. The colony at Port Jackson in 1800. Its defencelessness. The French squadron in the Indian Ocean. Rear-Admiral Linois. The audacious exploit of Commodore Dance, and Napoleon's direction to "take Port Jackson" in 1810.


The Investigator at Kangaroo Island. Thoroughness of Flinders' work. His aims and methods. His explorations; the theory of a Strait through Australia. Completion of the map of the continents. A direct succession of great navigators: Cook, Bligh, Flinders, and Franklin. What Flinders learnt in the school of Cook: comparison between the healthy condition of his crew and the scurvy-stricken company on the French vessels.


Meeting of the Investigator and Le Geographe in Encounter Bay. Flinders cautious. Interview of the two captains. Peron's evidence. The chart of Bass Strait. Second interview: Baudin inquisitive. Baudin's account of his explorations.


Conflict of evidence between Baudin, Peron, and Freycinet as to whether the French ships had sighted Port Phillip. Baudin's statement corroborated by documents. Examination of Freycinet's statement. The impossibility of doing what Peron and Freycinet asserted was done.


Imprisonment of Flinders in Mauritius. The French atlas of 1807. The French charts and the names upon them. Hurried publication. The allegation that Peron acted under pressure. Freycinet's explanations. His failure to meet the gravest charge. Extent of the actual discoveries of Baudin, and nature of the country discovered. The French names in current use on the so-called Terre Napoleon coasts. Difficulty of identifying features to which Baudin applied names. Freycinet's perplexities. The new atlas of 1817.


Assertions commonly made as to French plagiarism of Flinders' charts. Lack of evidence to support the charges. General Decaen and his career. The facts as to Flinders' charts. The sealed trunks. The third log-book and its contents; detention of it by Decaen, and the reasons for his conduct. Restoration of Flinders' papers, except the log-book and despatches. Do Freycinet's charts show evidence of the use of Flinders' material? How did the French obtain their chart of Port Phillip? Peron's report to Decaen as to British intentions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the effect on his mind. Liberation of Flinders. Capture of Mauritius by the British. English naval officers and the governor. Later career of Decaen.


Did Bonaparte desire to establish French colonial dominions in Australia? The case stated.


Baudin's one of a series of French expeditions. The building up of the map of Australia. Early map-makers. Terra Australis. Dutch navigators. Emmerie Mollineux's map. Tasman and Dampier. The Petites Lettres of Maupertuis. De Brosses and his Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes. French voyages that originated from it. Bougainville; Marion-Dufresne; La Perouse; Bruni Dentrecasteaux. Voyages subsequent to Baudin's. The object of the voyages scientific and exploratory. The Institute of France and its proposition. Received by Bonaparte with interest. Bonaparte's interest in geography and travel. His authorisation of the expedition. The Committee of the Institute and their instructions. Fitting out of the expedition. Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste. The staff. Francois Peron. Captain Nicolas Baudin.


The passports from the English Government. Sailing of the expedition. French interest in it. The case of Ah Sam. Baudin's obstinacy. Short supplies. The French ships on the Western Australian coast. The Ile Lucas and its name. Refreshment at Timor. The English frigate Virginia. Baudin sails south. Shortage of water. The French in Tasmania. Peron among the aboriginals. The savage and the boat. Among native women. A question of colour. Separation of the ships by storm. Baudin sails through Bass Strait, and meets Flinders. Scurvy. Great storms and intense suffering. Le Geographe at Port Jackson.


Le Naturaliste at Sydney. Boullanger's boat party. Curious conduct of Baudin. Le Naturaliste sails for Mauritius, but returns to Port Jackson. Re-union of Baudin's ships. Hospitality of Governor King. Peron's impressions of the British settlement. Morand, the banknote forger. Baudin shows his charts and instructions to King. Departure of the French ships. Rumours as to their objects. King's prompt action. The Cumberland sent after them. Acting Lieutenant Robbins at King Island. The flag incident. Baudin's letters to King. His protestations. Views on colonisation. Le Naturaliste sails for Europe.


Le Geographe sails for Kangaroo Island. Exploration of the two gulfs in the Casuarina by Freycinet. Baudin's erratic behaviour. Port Lincoln. Peron among the giants. A painful excursion. Second visit to Timor. Abandonment of north coast exploration. Baudin resolves to return home. Voyage to Mauritius. Death of Baudin. Treatment of him by Peron and Freycinet. Return of Le Geographe. Depression of the staff and crew.


Establishment of the First Empire. Reluctance of the French Government to publish a record of the expedition. Report of the Institute. The official history of the voyage authorised. Peron's scientific work. His discovery of Pyrosoma atlanticum. Other scientific memoirs. His views on the modification of species. Geographical results. Freycinet's charts.


Further consideration of Napoleon's purposes. What Australia owes to British sea power. Influence of the Napoleonic wars. Fresh points relative to Napoleon's designs. Absence of evidence. Consequences of suspicions of French intentions. Promotion of settlement in Tasmania. Tardy occupation of Port Phillip. The Swan River Settlement. The Westernport scheme. Lord John Russell's claim of "the Whole" of Australia for the British. The designs of Napoleon III. Australia the nursling of sea power.




LE GEOGRAPHE AND LE NATURALISTE. From the drawing in Freycinet's Atlas of 1807.

MAP OF NEW HOLLAND (AUSTRALIA). From Freycinet's Atlas of 1807.


TRACK CHART OF LE GEOGRAPHE. From Freycinet's Atlas of 1812.

MAP OF TERRE NAPOLEON. From Freycinet's Atlas of 1807.

FRENCHMAN'S ROCK, KANGAROO ISLAND. From a photograph by Mr. Alfred Searcy, Harbourmaster, South Australia.

GENERAL CHARLES DECAEN. After the portrait in the Library at Caen.

CAPTAIN NICOLAS BAUDIN. From an engraving.

FRANCOIS PERON. From the drawing by Lesueur.



1602. Abel Tasman born.

1603. Death of Queen Elizabeth.

1606. Voyage of Quiros; finding and naming of Austrialia del Espiritu Santo.

1606. First charter to the Virginia Company.

1620. Pilgrim Fathers found colony of New Plymouth.

1642. Tasman's first voyage; discovery of Tasmania.

1643. Death of Louis XIII.

1644. Tasman's second voyage; exploration of northern Australia.

1649. Execution of Charles I.

1652. Birth of William Dampier.

1655. English conquest of Jamaica.

1658. Death of Oliver Cromwell.

1659. Death of Tasman.

1682. Penn founds Pennsylvania.

1683. The French found Louisiana.

1686 to 1688. Dampier's voyage in the Cygnet; anchorage in Cygnet Bay, Western Australia.

1688. Fall of the Stuart dynasty; accession of William of Orange.

1699. Dampier's voyage in the Roebuck; anchorage in Sharks Bay.

1714. Death of Queen Anne.

1728. Birth of James Cook.

1756. Birth of Nicolas Baudin. De Brosses publishes his Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes.

1759. Wolfe captures Quebec.

1765. Watt's invention of the steam-engine.

1766. Bougainville's voyage to the South Seas.

1768 to 1770. Cook's voyage in the Endeavour; discovery of Botany Bay, Port Jackson, and eastern Australia.

1769. Charles Decaen born.

1769. Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte.

1771. Marion-Dufresne's voyage to Tasmania and New Zealand.

1773. Boston tea riots.

1774. Matthew Flinders born.

1774. Meeting of first American Congress.

1775. Francois Peron born.

1776. Declaration of Independence.

1778 to 1779. Cook's third voyage and death.

1778. Death of Chatham.

1785 to 1788. Voyage of La Perouse; call at Port Jackson.

1788. Founding of New South Wales.

1789. Mutiny of the Bounty.

1789. Washington elected first President of United States. Fall of the Bastille.

1790. Flinders joins the Navy.

1790. Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution.

1791. Vancouver on the western Australian coast. Dentrecasteaux's voyage to Australia. Flinders sails with Bligh's second bread-fruit expedition.

1791. Passing of the Canada Act.

1795. Flinders' first voyage to Australia in the Reliance.

1795. Ceylon surrendered to the British by the Dutch. Establishment of the Institute of France.

1797. Battle of Cape St. Vincent. Battle of Camperdown.

1798. Discovery of Bass Strait and of Westernport by George Bass. Flinders and Bass circumnavigate Tasmania in the Norfolk.

1798. Battle of the Nile. Irish Rebellion.

1799. Bonaparte becomes First Consul of the French Republic.

1800. (May) Bonaparte authorises the despatch of Baudin's expedition. (October) The expedition sails. (December) Grant reaches Port Jackson in the Lady Nelson.

1800. Battle of Marengo.

1801. (May) Baudin's ships reach Australia. (July) Flinders sails from England in the Investigator. (August) Le Geographe reaches Timor. (November) Baudin's ships sail from Timor to Tasmania. (December) The Investigator reaches Australia.

1801. Battle of Copenhagen.

1802. (January) Murray discovers Port Phillip. (February) Flinders discovers Spencer's Gulf; Murray enters Port Phillip. (March) French ships separated by storm. (April) Meeting of Flinders and Baudin in Encounter Bay; Flinders enters Port Phillip. (May) Investigator reaches Port Jackson. (June) Baudin reaches Port Jackson. (July) Flinders sails for Gulf of Carpentaria. (November) French ships leave Sydney. (December) Le Naturaliste sails for Europe; the Cumberland at King Island; Robbins erects the British flag; Le Geographe and Casuarina sail for Kangaroo Island.

1802. Peace of Amiens.

1803. (January) Freycinet in Spencer's and St. Vincent's Gulfs. (June) Le Geographe again at Timor; Le Naturaliste enters Havre; Investigator returns to Port Jackson. (July) Baudin abandons exploration and sails for Mauritius. (August) Flinders wrecked in the Porpoise. Derwent River Settlement formed. (September) Death of Baudin. (December) Flinders calls at Mauritius in the Cumberland; is imprisoned.

1803. Sale of Louisiana by France to United States. Renewal of the great war.

1804. Le Geographe arrives at Lorient. Hobart Settlement formed.

1804. Napoleon becomes Emperor.

1805. Battle of Trafalgar.

1806. Napoleon signs order for release of Flinders.

1806. Death of William Pitt.

1807. Publication of first volume of Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes, with first atlas.

1810. (July) Liberation of Flinders. (October) Mauritius blockaded by the British. (December) Capitulation of Mauritius; death of Peron.

1810. Napoleon marries Marie Louise.

1811. Second part of French atlas published.

1812. Publication of Freycinet atlas of charts.

1812. The retreat from Moscow. British Naval War with U.S.A.

1814. Publication of Flinders' Voyage to Terra Australis; death of Flinders (July).

1814. Abdication of Napoleon.

1815. Publication of volume 3 of Voyage de Decouvertes.

1815. Battle of Waterloo.

1816. Publication of volume 2 of Voyage de Decouvertes, with revised map of Australia.

1821. Death of Napoleon.

1826. Westernport Settlement projected and abandoned.

1829. Foundation of Western Australia.

1832. Death of Decaen.

1832. English Reform Bill.

1835. Batman finds site of Melbourne.

1836. Foundation of South Australia.

1837. City of Melbourne founded.

1837. Accession of Queen Victoria.

1851. Colony of Victoria established.

1851. Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat.

1853. French annexation of New Caledonia.

1854. Crimean War.

1859. Colony of Queensland established.

1860. Lincoln, President of the United States.




A continent with a record of unruffled peace. Causes of this variation from the usual course of history. English and French colonisation during the Napoleonic wars. The height of the Napoleonic empire and the entire loss of the French colonies. The British colonial situation during the same period. The colony at Port Jackson in 1800. Its defencelessness. The French squadron in the Indian Ocean. Rear-Admiral Linois. The audacious exploit of Commodore Dance, and Napoleon's direction to "take Port Jackson" in 1810.

Australia is the only considerable portion of the world which has enjoyed the blessed record of unruffled peace. On every other continent, in nearly every other island large in area, "war's red ruin writ in flame" has wrought its havoc, leaving evidences in many a twinging cicatrice. Invasion, rebellion, and civil war constitute enormous elements in the chronicles of nations; and Shelley wrote that the study of history, though too important to be neglected, was "hateful and disgusting to my very soul," because he found in it little more than a "record of crimes and miseries." A map of the globe, coloured crimson as to those countries where blood has flowed in armed conflicts between men, would present a circling splash of red; but the vast island which is balanced on the Tropic of Capricorn, and spreads her bulk from the tenth parallel of south latitude to "the roaring forties," would show up white in the spacious diagram of carnage. No foreign foe has menaced her thrifty progress since the British planted themselves at Port Jackson in 1788; nor have any internal broils of serious importance interrupted her prosperous career.

This striking variation from the common fate of peoples is attributable to three causes. First, the development of a British civilisation in Australia has synchronised with the attainment and unimpaired maintenance of dominant sea-power by the parent nation. The supremacy of Great Britain upon the blue water enabled her colonies to grow to strength and wealth under the protection of a mighty arm. Secondly, during the same period a great change in British colonial policy was inaugurated. Statesmen were slow to learn the lessons taught in so trenchant a fashion by the revolt of the American colonies; but more liberal views gradually ripened, and Lord Durham's Report on the State of Canada, issued in 1839, occasioned a beneficent new era of self-government. The states of Australia were soon left with no grievance which it was not within their own power to remedy if they chose, and virtually as they chose. Thirdly, these very powers of self-government developed in the people a signal capacity for governing and being governed. The constitutional machinery submitted the Executive to popular control, and made it quickly sensitive to the public will. Authority and subjects were in sympathy, because the subjects created the authority. Further, there was no warlike native race in Australia, as there was in New Zealand and in South Africa, to necessitate armed conflict. Thus security from attack, chartered autonomy, and governing capacity, with the absence of organised pugnacious tribes, have combined to achieve the unique result of a continent preserved from aggression, disruption, or bloody strife for over one hundred and twenty years.

There was a brief period, as will presently be related, when this happy state of things was in some danger of being disturbed. It certainly would have been impossible had not Great Britain emerged victorious from her protracted struggle, first against revolutionary France, and later against Napoleon, in the latter years of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.

In those wars colonial possessions "became pawns in the game."* (* The phrase is Professor Egerton's, Cambridge Modern History 9 735.) There was no Imperialism then, with its strident note, its ebullient fervour and flag waving. There was no national sense of pride in colonial Empire, or general appreciation of the great potentialities of oversea possessions. "The final outcome of the great war was the colonial ascendancy of Great Britain, but such was not the conscious aim of those who carried through the struggle."* (* Ibid page 736.) Diplomacy signed away with a dash of the quill possessions which British arms had won after tough fights, anxious blockades, and long cruises full of tension and peril. Even when the end of the war saw the great Conqueror conquered and consigned to his foam-fenced prison in the South Atlantic, Great Britain gave back many of the fruits which it had cost her much, in the lives of her brave and the sufferings of her poor, to win; and Castlereagh defended this policy in the House of Commons on the curious ground that it was expedient "freely to open to France the means of peaceful occupation, and that it was not the interest of this country to make her a military and conquering, instead of a commercial and pacific nation."* (* Parliamentary Debates 28 462.)


The events with which this book is mainly concerned occurred within the four years 1800 to 1804, during which Europe saw Bonaparte leap from the position of First Consul of the French Republic to the Imperial throne. After great French victories at Marengo, Hochstadt, and Hohenlinden (1800), and a brilliant naval triumph for the British at Copenhagen (1801), came the fragile Peace of Amiens (1802)—an "experimental peace," as Cornwallis neatly described it. Fourteen months later (May 1803) war broke out again; and this time there was almost incessant fighting on a titanic scale, by land and sea, until the great Corsican was humbled and broken at Waterloo.

The reader will be aided in forming an opinion upon the events discussed hereafter, by a glance at the colonial situation during the period in question. The extent of the dependencies of France and England in 1800 and the later years will be gathered from the following summary.

In America France regained Louisiana, covering the mouth of the Mississippi. It had been in Spanish hands since 1763; but Talleyrand, Bonaparte's foreign minister, put pressure upon Spain, and Louisiana became French once more under the secret treaty of San Ildefonso (October 1800). The news of the retrocession, however, aroused intense feeling in the United States, inasmuch as the establishment of a strong foreign power at the mouth of the principal water-way in the country jeopardised the whole trade of the Mississippi valley. President Jefferson, recognising that the perpetuation of the new situation "would have put us at war with France immediately," sent James Monroe to Paris to negotiate. As Bonaparte plainly saw at the beginning of 1803 that another war with Great Britain was inevitable, he did not wish to embroil himself with the Americans also, and agreed to sell the possession to the Republic for eighty million francs. Indeed, he completed arrangements for the sale even before Monroe arrived.

Some efforts had also been made, at Bonaparte's instance, to induce Spain to give up the Floridas, East and West, but European complications prevented the exertion of pressure in this direction; and the whole of Florida became part of the United States by treaty signed in 1819. The sale of Louisiana lowered the French flag on the only remaining portion of American territory that acknowledged the tricolour, except the pestilential fragment of French Guiana, on the north-east of South America, where France has had a footing since the beginning of the seventeenth century, save for a short interval (1809 to 1815) when it was taken by the British and Portuguese. But the possession has never been a profitable one, and a contemporary writer, quoting an official publication, describes it as enjoying "neither agriculture, commerce, nor industry."* (* Fallot, L'Avenir Colonial de la France (1903) page 237.)

In the West Indies, France had lost Martinique and Guadeloupe during the naval wars prior to Bonaparte's ascension to supreme authority. These islands were restored to her under the Treaty of Amiens; were once more captured by the British in 1809 to 1810; and were finally handed back to France under the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Tobago and St. Lucia, taken from France in 1803, were not restored.

The large island of San Domingo (the present republic of Haiti, the Espanola of Columbus, and the first seat of European colonisation in the west) had been occupied by French, Spanish, and British planters prior to 1796. The French had been there officially since Richelieu recognised and protected the settlements made by filibusters early in the seventeenth century. The decree of the revolutionary Assembly freeing the slaves in all French possessions led to widespread insurrections. There were scenes of frightful outrage; and above the storm of blood and horror rose to fame the huge figure of the black hero, Toussaint L'Ouverture. At the head of a negro army he at first assisted the French to overturn Spanish rule; but having attained great personal power, and being a man of astonishing capacity for controlling the people of his own race, and for mastering military and governmental problems, he determined to use the opportunity to found an autonomous state under the suzerainty of France. By January 1801 Toussaint L'Ouverture was in possession of the capital. But Bonaparte would not tolerate the domination of the black conqueror, and despatched an expedition to San Domingo to overthrow his government and establish French paramountcy. The result was disastrous. It is true that Toussaint was captured and exiled to France, where he died miserably in prison at Besancon in 1803; but the white troops under General Leclerc perished of yellow fever in hundreds; the blacks retired to the mountains and harassed the suffering French; whilst the vigilance of British frigates, and the requirements of European policy, obviated all possibility of effective reinforcements being sent. Gallic authority in San Domingo ended ingloriously, for the negroes in 1803 drove the debilitated chivalry of France in defeat and disaster to the sea, and chose to be their ruler one who, like themselves, had commenced life as a slave. Napoleon said at St. Helena that his attempt to subjugate San Domingo was the greatest folly of his life.

In the Indian Ocean the French possessed the Isle of France (now, as a British colony, called Mauritius) and Reunion. They had not yet established themselves in Madagascar, though there was some trade between the Mascareignes and the colonists of the Isle of France. Bonaparte during the Consulate contemplated making definite attempts to colonise Madagascar, and, early in 1801, called for a report from his first colonial minister, Forfait. When he obtained the document, he sent it back asking for more details, an indication that his interest in the subject was more than one of transient curiosity. Forfait suggested the project of establishing at Madagascar a penal colony such as the British had at Port Jackson;* (* Prentout, L'Ile de France sous Decaen, 302.) but subsequent events did not favour French colonial expansion, and nothing was done.

The British captured Pondicherry and the other French settlements in India in 1793, but agreed to restore them under the Treaty of Amiens. For reasons which will be indicated later, however, the territories were not evacuated by British troops, who continued to hold them till the post-bellum readjustment of 1815 was negotiated.

A similar record applies to Senegal, in West Africa. It had been French since the era of Richelieu, with intervals of capture, restoration, and recapture. The British ousted their rivals once more in 1804, and gave back the conquest in 1815.

A careful examination of these details reveals a remarkable fact. Although the year 1810 saw the Napoleonic empire at the crest of its greatness in Europe; although by that time the Emperor was the mightiest personal factor in world politics; although in that year he married a daughter of the Caesars, and thought he had laid plans for the foundation of a dynasty that should perpetuate the Napoleonic name in association with Napoleonic power—yet, in that very year, France had been stripped of the last inch of her colonial possessions. The nation in whose glorious Pantheon were emblazoned the great names of Montcalm and Dupleix, of Jacques Cartier and La Salle, of Champlain and La Bourdonnais, and whose inveterate capacity for colonisation of even the most difficult kind can never be doubted by any candid student of her achievements in this field, both before and since the disastrous Napoleonic age, was now naked of even so much as a barren rock in a distant sea upon which to plant her flag.

Such is the picture of the French colonial system as it presents itself during the period within which occurred the events described in this book. These facts give poignancy to the reflection of the distinguished philosophical historian who has written of his country: "A melancholy consequence of her policy of interference in neighbouring states, and of occupying herself with continental conquests, has always been the loss of her naval power and of her colonies. She could only establish oversea possessions on a durable foundation on the condition of renouncing the policy of invasion that she practised in Europe during the centuries. Every continental victory was balanced by the ruin of our naval power and of our distant possessions, that is to say, the decrease of our real influence in the world."* (* Leroy-Beaulieu, Colonisation chez les Peuples Modernes, 1902 edition, 1 220.)


It would be simple to sum up the colonial situation of Great Britain in the period under review, by saying that she gained just in the measure that France lost. But such a crude formula would not convey a sufficient sense of her actual achievements. The end of the great war left her with a wider dominion than that with which she was endowed when she plunged into the struggle; but it left her also with augmented power and prestige, a settled sense of security, and a steeled spirit of resolution—elements not measurable on the scale of the map, but counting as immense factors in the government and development of oversea possessions.

The details of the British colonial empire during the storm epoch, are as follow:—

In Canada she governed a belt of country stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, divided for administrative purposes into two areas, one of which, Lower Canada—embracing the cities of Quebec and Montreal, and including the basin of the St. Lawrence—was populated principally by people of French origin. It would be too much to suppose that these colonists, who jealously preserved the French language and the French tradition, were indifferent to the doings of their kin across the water; and there were, indeed, many who cherished the hope that events would so shape themselves as to restore the authority of France in this part of the New World. But the habitant was Roman Catholic as well as French, and the hierarchy was profoundly distrustful of the regime which it regarded as the heritage of the hateful ideas of 1789. We may speculate as to what would have happened if Napoleon had set himself to woo the affections of the French Canadians. But throughout the great wars Canada remained loyal to the British connection, despite internal difficulties and discontents.

Great Britain also held Newfoundland, as well as those maritime provinces which have since become federated as part of the Dominion.

In South America she possessed British Guiana, and for a period, as related above, French Guiana also.

In the West Indies, in 1800, her flag flew over the entire crescent of the Windward and Leeward groups from Granada to the Virgins; she was mistress of Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, the "still vexd" Bermudas and the whole bunch of the Bahamas; and she had interests in San Domingo. At the Peace of Amiens she retained only Trinidad of the islands captured during the war; and she presented no very stubborn resistance to the negro revolt that lost her any further control over the largest of the sugar islands.

She had the Cape of Good Hope in her custody in 1800, but weakly allowed it to be bartered away by diplomacy at Amiens; only, however, to reassert her power there six years later, when it became at length apparent to British statesmen—as it surely should have been obvious to them throughout—that Australia and India could not be secure while the chief southern harbour of Africa was in foreign possession.

Ceylon was retained as a sparkling jewel for the British crown when so much that had been won in fair fight was allowed to slip away. The capture of Java (1811) and its restoration to the Dutch belong to a later period; whilst the growth of British power in India scarcely falls within the scope of a brief review of the colonial situation, though of great importance in its effects.

Malta, which has usually been classed as a colony, though its principal value is rather strategic than colonial, was occupied by the British in September 1800, and the cat-footed efforts of Napoleonic diplomacy to get her out of the island made it a storm centre in European politics in these fiery years. Out she would not come, and did not. Neither Tzar nor Emperor could get her out, by plot or by arms; and there she still remains.


The position of the British in the South Seas demands special consideration, as being immediately related to our subject. In 1800 the only part of Australasia occupied by white people was Norfolk Island and the small area at Port Jackson shut in between the sea and a precipitous range of mountains that for thirteen years to come presented an unconquerable barrier to inland exploration, despite repeated endeavours to find a way across them. The settlement had spread only a few miles beyond the spot where Governor Arthur Phillip had resolved to locate his First Fleet company twelve years before. As yet no attempt had been made to occupy Tasmania, which had been determined to be an island only two years previously. New Zealand also was virgin ground for the European colonist. The Maori had it all to himself.

The means of defending the little colony, in the event of an attack during the war which raged from five years after its foundation till 1802, and again from 1803 for twelve years more, were insignificant. The population in 1800 numbered rather more than five thousand, only about one-half of whom were soldiers, officials, and free people.* (* The total population of Sydney, Parramatta, and Norfolk Island on January 1, 1801, was declared to be 5100, of whom 2492 were convicts—1431 men, 500 women, and 561 children. Of the remainder, 1887 were "free people," being neither on the civil nor the military establishment.) The remainder were convicts, some of them being Irishmen transported for participation in the rebellion of 1798, including not a few men of education. These men were naturally writhing under a burning sense of defeat and oppression, and were still rebels at heart. They were incarcerated with a miscellaneous horde of criminals made desperate and resentful by harsh treatment. It is scarcely doubtful that if a French naval squadron had descended on the coast, the authorities would have had to face, not only an enemy's guns in Port Jackson, but an insurrection amongst the unhappy people whom the colony had been primarily founded to chastise. The immigration of a farming and artisan class was discouraged; and it is scarcely conceivable that, apart from the officials, the gaolers, and the military, who would have done their duty resolutely, there were any in the colony who, for affection, would have lifted a hand to defend the land in which they lived, and the regime which they hated.

There was at the Governor's command a small military force, barely sufficient to maintain discipline in a community in which there were necessarily dangerously turbulent elements;* (* In a report to Governor King, April 1805, Brevet-Major Johnson pointed out that the military were barely sufficient for mounting guard, and urged "the great want of an augmentation to the military forces of this colony" (Historical Records of New South Wales 6 183). Colonel Paterson, in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, 1804, remarked that "it will certainly appear evident that our military force at present is very inadequate" (Ibid 5 454). John Blaxland, in a letter to Lord Liverpool, 1809, wrote that "it is to be feared that if two frigates were to appear, the settlement is not capable of opposing any resistance" (Ibid 7 231). An unsigned memorandum in the Record Office, "bearing internal evidence of having been written by an officer who was in the colony during the Governorship of Hunter," pointed out that "a naval force is absolutely necessary on the coast of New South protect the colony from an attack by the French from the Mauritius, which would have taken place long ago if the enemy had possessed a naval force equal to the enterprise" (Ibid 7 248 to 250).) but he was destitute of effective vessels for service afloat. When the navigator Flinders was wrecked in the Porpoise in August 1803—his own exploring ship, the Investigator, being by this time unseaworthy—Governor King had no other craft to give him for his return voyage than the decrepit Cumberland, a mere leaky little barge hardly fit for better uses than ferrying a placid lake. The colony was, in short, simply a kraal for yarding British undesirables and housing their keepers; its remoteness was an advantage for the purpose in view; and it never seemed to strike the officials in England who superintended its affairs, that the adequate defence of a gaol against foreign aggression was an undertaking that called for exertion or forethought. The unreluctant retrocession of the Cape to the Dutch in 1800 indicates that the interest of defending Australia was lost sight of in the midst of what appeared to be more pressing considerations.

It has been remarked above that there was a period when the peace of Australia was imperilled. The danger was obviated, certainly not because of the efficiency of the defence, but rather through lack of enterprise on the part of the Admiral in command of the French squadron in the Indian Ocean. It will be well to narrate the circumstances, together with an incident which illustrates in an amusing manner the kind of man this officer was.

After the signing of the Treaty of Amiens, Bonaparte sent out a squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Linois, conveying General Charles Decaen, who was commissioned to administer the former French possessions in India, which, under the terms of the treaty, were to be surrendered to France. But when the expedition arrived at Pondicherry, the Governor-General of India, Lord Wellesley, gave orders to his subordinates that no concessions were to be made to the French without his express authority; and as he stubbornly refused to give his warrant for surrendering an inch of territory, there was nothing for General Decaen to do but sail away to Mauritius, then, as already remarked, a French colony. Lord Wellesley acted under secret orders from the Secretary of State, Lord Hobart, dated October 17, 1802, only seven months after the treaty was signed, for the British Government did not believe in the permanency of the peace and did not desire the French to re-assert a footing in India, where their presence, in the event of a renewal of hostilities, would be dangerous.

When the war was renewed, Linois, with his squadron, was still in the Indian Ocean. The Isle of France was not a self-supporting colony, but had to depend on money and supplies obtained either from Europe or from the vessels of the East India Company, which, from time to time, were captured by French privateers and men-of-war. When Nelson shattered the naval power of France at Trafalgar in 1805, and vigilant British frigates patrolled the whole highway of commerce from Europe to the Cape of Good Hope, Decaen's position became precarious. The supplies sent out to him were frequently captured by the enemy; and had it not been that Port Louis became a regular nest of adventurous French privateers—"pirates," the British called them—who frequently found a rich prey in the shape of heavily laden India merchantmen, his garrison must soon have been starved out.

The incident to which reference has been made occurred in 1804, and is probably without a parallel in naval history as an example of the effect of audacity acting on timidity. It was known that a convoy of ships belonging to the East India Company was to leave Canton early in the year. Linois, with five vessels, including his flagship, the Marengo, 74 guns, sailed for the Straits of Malacca to intercept them. On February 14, near Polo Aor, to the north-east of Singapore, the French sighted the convoy, sixteen Company ships, fourteen merchantmen and a brig, all laden with tea, silks, and other rich merchandise.

The East India Company's vessels carried guns, but they were not equipped for facing heavily armed men-of-war. Their crews were not trained fighting men; they were deeply laden, and their decks were heavily cumbered. Moreover, they were not protected by a naval squadron; and had Rear-Admiral Linois been a commander of daring, initiative, and resource, the greater part, or the whole, of this enormous mass of floating treasure might have fallen like a ripe peach into his hands.

But he had to contend with an English sailor of astounding and quite picturesque assurance in Nathaniel Dance, the commodore of the fleet. Dance fully expected, when he left Canton, that he would meet French raiders, though he was astonished when he saw five sail under the tricolour bearing up towards him. But he had thought out what he intended to do if attacked; and, partly by courage, partly by a superb piece of "bluff," he succeeded completely.

Before sailing, the Company ships had been freshly painted. Their gun embrasures showed up more fearsome to the eye of imagination than they were in reality. Dance also carried blue ensigns, which were hoisted on four of his craft when the French made their appearance. He resorted to this device with the deliberate purpose of making the strongest vessels of his convoy look like British men-of-war. In fact, he commanded a fleet of opulent merchantmen, the best of which, by the mere use of brushes and pots of paint, and by the hoisting of a few yards of official bunting, were made to resemble fighting ships. But, wonder of wonders! this scarecrow strategy struck terror into the heart of a real Rear-Admiral, and, as a French historian somewhat lugubriously, but quite candidly, acknowledges: "Les ruses de Dance reussirent; les flammes bleues, les canons de bois, les batteries peintes, produisirent leur effet."

No sooner did the French squadron appear, than Dance drew up his convoy in two lines, with the fifteen smaller vessels under the lee of the sixteen larger ones, which presented their painted broadsides to the foe. It was a manoeuvre which threatened a determination to fight, and Linois was disposed to be cautious. He was puzzled by the number of ships, having been informed by an American captain at Batavia that only seventeen were to leave Canton. The larger fleet, and the blue ensigns fluttering from four masts, imbued him with a spirit of reluctance which he dignified with the name of prudence. As a naval historian puts it, "The warlike appearance of the sixteen ships, the regularity of their manoeuvres, and the boldness of their advance, led the French Admiral to deliberate whether a part of them were not cruisers."* (* James, Naval History 3 247. There is a contemporary account of the incident in the Gentleman's Magazine (1804) volume 74 pages 963 and 967.) Linois did not like to attack, as darkness was approaching, but argued that if the bold face put upon the matter by the British were merely a stratagem, they would attempt to fly in the night; in which case he would not hesitate to chase them. But Dance did nothing of the kind. He had taken his enemy's measure; or, to quote the French historian again, "il comprit l'etat moral de son adversaire." He maintained his formation during the night, keeping blue lights burning on the four ships which sported the blue ensign, to enforce the illusion that they were the naval escort of the convoy, and were eager for battle. In the morning Linois was quite satisfied that he really had to contend with a fleet pugnaciously inclined, which, if he tried to hurt them, would probably hurt him more. Cheers broke from the British decks as the Marengo bore up. Dance then manoeuvred as if his intention were to shut in the French squadron between two lines, and rake them on both flanks. This clever movement so scared the Rear-Admiral that he determined to run. A shot was fired from his flagship, which killed one man and wounded another on the Royal George; whereupon the British sailors fired their guns in return, and kept up a furious, but quite harmless, cannonade for forty minutes. Not a single French ship was hit; but under cover of the thick smoke which "the engagement" occasioned, Linois and his squadron sailed away, and left the cheering Britons in the peace which they so certainly required, but had so audaciously pretended that they did not in the least degree desire.

Dance became temporarily a national hero. The Englishman enjoys a joke, and at a period of extreme tension the impudent exploit of the commodore provoked a roar of delighted and derisive laughter throughout the British Isles. He was feted by the City of London, knighted by King George, presented with a sword of honour, and endowed by the Company with a handsome fortune.

On the other hand, Napoleon was furious. Linois "has made the French flag the laughing stock of the universe," he wrote to his Minister of Marine, Decres.* (* Correspondance de Napoleon I (1858 to 1870) volume 9 document 8024.) Again he said, "The conduct of Linois is miserable"; and in a third letter, summing up in a crisp sentence the cause of so many French failures on the blue water, he said: "All the maritime expeditions that have been despatched since I have been at the head of the Government have failed because our admirals see double, and have found, I do not know where, that one can make war without running any risks;" "it is honour that I wish them to conserve, rather than a few wooden vessels and some men." It was while still smarting under this same indignity, and urging his Minister to hurry the sending of ships with supplies for the support of the Isle of France, that Napoleon made one of his most famous retorts. Decres, with the obsequiousness of a courtier, had written that if the Emperor insisted on ordering certain ships to be despatched, "I should recognise the will of God, and should send them." "I will excuse you from comparing me to God," wrote Napoleon; and, prodding the dilatory Minister again to make haste, he wrote, "You can surely, to meet the needs of our colonies, send from several ports vessels laden with flour. There is no need to be God for that!"* (* Correspondance, volume 17 document 13,960.)

Now, if instead of the timid Linois, the French squadron in the Indian Ocean had been commanded by an Admiral endowed with the qualities of dash, daring, and enterprise, the consequences to the weak little British settlement at Sydney would have been disastrous. After Trafalgar, British interests in the South and the East were more amply safeguarded. But before that great event, Linois had magnificent opportunities for doing mischief. Port Jackson would have been a rich prize. Stores, which the Isle of France badly needed, could have been obtained there plentifully. Ships from China frequently made it a port of call, preferring to take the route through the recently discovered Bass Straits than to run the hazard of capture by crossing the Indian Ocean. It was just a lucky accident that the enemy's admiral was a nervous gentleman who was afraid to take risks. General Decaen, a fine soldier, openly cursed his nautical colleague; but nothing could strike a spirit of vigorous initiative into the breast of Linois. He was always afraid that if he struck he would be struck at—in which view he was undoubtedly right.

Did Napoleon himself realise that there was so rich a prize in Port Jackson? Not until it was too late. In 1810, when he was fitting out another expedition for aggressive service in the Indian Ocean, he probably remembered what he had read in Peron's account of the Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes about the British colony there, and directed that the new squadron should "take the English colony of Port Jackson, which is to the south of the Isle of France, and where considerable resources will be found" ("faire prendre la colonie anglaise de Jackson"—sic),* (* Correspondance, volume 20 document 16,544.) But the task was well-nigh hopeless then, and the squadron never sailed. Probably it would not have reached the Indian Ocean if it had left Europe, for the Cape, which was in Dutch hands when Linois had his great chance, was recaptured by the British in January 1806. In 1810 Admirals Pellew and Bertie were in command of strong British forces, and Lord Minto, the Governor-General of India, was determined to root the French out of the Isle of France, and clear India of danger from that source. They succeeded, and Mauritius has been British ever since.

We must now leave the sphere of conflict in which the destinies of the world were being shaped, and enter upon another phase of this history. The reader will:

"slip across the summer of the world, Then, after a long tumble about the Cape And frequent interchange of foul and fair,"

—will accompany for a while an illustrious British explorer in his task of filling up the map of the globe.


The Investigator at Kangaroo Island. Thoroughness of Flinders' work. His aims and methods. His explorations; the theory of a Strait through Australia. Completion of the map of the continents. A direct succession of great navigators: Cook, Bligh, Flinders, and Franklin. What Flinders learnt in the school of Cook: comparison between the healthy condition of his crew and the scurvy-stricken company on the French vessels.

On April 7, 1802, His Majesty's ship Investigator, 334 tons, Commander Matthew Flinders, was beating off the eastern extremity of Kangaroo Island, endeavouring to make the mainland of Terra Australis, to follow the course of discovery and survey for which she had been commissioned. The winds were very baffling for pursuing his task according to the carefully scientific method which Flinders had prescribed for himself. He had declared to Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, before he left England, that he would endeavour so to explore the then unknown coasts of the vast island for which he himself afterwards suggested the name Australia, "that no person shall have occasion to come after me to make further discoveries."* (* Flinders to Banks, April 29, 1801, Historical Records of New South Wales 4 351.) This principle of thoroughness distinguished his work throughout the voyage. Writing thirteen years later, after the long agony of his imprisonment in Mauritius, he said that his "leading object had been to make so accurate an investigation of the shores of Terra Australis, that no future voyage to the country should be necessary" for the purpose; and that had not circumstances been too strong for him, "nothing of importance should have been left for future discoverers upon any part of these extensive coasts."* (* Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis 2 143.) Nobody can study Flinders' beautiful charts without recognising them as the work of a master of his craft; and so well did he fulfil his promise, until the debility of his ship and a chain of misfortunes interposed to prevent him, that the Admiralty charts in current use are substantially those which Flinders made over a hundred years ago.* (* Sir J.K. Laughton in Dictionary of National Biography 19 328.)

His method, though easy enough to pursue in a modern steamer, comparatively indifferent to winds and currents, was one demanding from a sailing ship hard, persistent, straining work, with unflagging vigilance and great powers of endurance. It was this. The Investigator was kept all day so close along shore that the breaking water was visible from the deck, and no river mouth or inlet could escape notice. When the weather was too rough to enable this to be done with safety, Flinders stationed himself at the masthead, scanning every reach of the shore-line. "Before retiring to rest," he wrote, "I made it a practice to finish the rough chart for the day, as also my astronomical observations and bearings." When darkness fell, the ship hauled off from the coast, and every morning, as soon after daylight as possible, she was brought in-shore again, great care being taken to resume the work at precisely the point where it was suspended the night before. "This plan," he wrote, "to see and lay down everything myself, required constant attention and much labour, but was absolutely necessary to obtaining that accuracy of which I was desirous."

Before Flinders reached Kangaroo Island, he had, in this painstaking manner, discovered and mapped the stretch of coast westward from the head of the Great Australian Bight, charted all the islands, and, by following the two large gulfs, Spencer's and St. Vincent's, to their extremities, had shattered the theory commonly favoured by geographers before his time, that a passage would be found cleaving the continent from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Strait which George Bass had discovered in 1798.* (* Pinkerton, in his Modern Geography (1807) volume 2 588, published after Flinders had made his principal discoveries, but before the results were known, reflected the general opinion in the passage: "Some suppose that this extensive region, when more thoroughly investigated, will be found to consist of two or three vast islands, intersected by narrow seas." The Committee of the Institute of France, which drew up the instructions for the expedition commanded by Baudin, directed him to search for a supposed strait dividing Australia longitudinally into "two great and nearly equal islands" (Peron, Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes 1 5). With these passages may be compared the following from Kerr's General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, published in 1824, ten years after the appearance of Flinders' book: "There are few voyages from which more important accessions to geographical knowledge have been derived than from this voyage of Captain Flinders, especially when we reflect on the great probability that New Holland...[observe that Kerr had not adopted the name Australia, which Flinders suggested only in a footnote] will soon rank high in population and wealth. Before his voyage it was doubtful whether New Holland was not divided into two great islands, by a strait passing between Bass Straits and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Captain Flinders has put an end to all doubts on this point. He examined the coast in the closest and most accurate manner; he found, indeed, two great openings; these he sailed up to their termination; and consequently, as there were no other openings, and these were mere inlets, New Holland can no longer be supposed to be divided into two great islands. It must be regarded as forming one very large one; or rather, from its immense size, a species of continent" (Kerr 18 462).)

That part of the southern coast of Australia lying between Cape Leeuwin and Fowler Bay, in the Bight, had been explored prior to Flinders' time, partly by Captain George Vancouver, one of Cook's men, in 1791, and partly in 1792 by the French commander, Bruni Dentrecasteaux, who was despatched in search of the gallant La Perouse—"vanished trackless into blue immensity."* (* Carlyle, French Revolution book 2 cap 5.) Flinders carefully revised what they had done, commencing his elaborate, independent survey immediately after the Investigator made the Leeuwin, on December 6, 1801. He had therefore been just four months in this region, when he left his anchorage at Kangaroo Island—four months of incessant daily and nightly labour diligently directed to the task in hand. Always generous in his praise of good work, he paid a warm tribute to the quality of the charts prepared by Beautemps Beaupre, "geographical engineer" of La Recherche, Dentrecasteaux's corvette. "Perhaps no chart of a coast so little known as this is, will bear a comparison with its original better than this of M. Beaupre," he said; and though he put forward his own as being fuller in detail and more accurate, he was careful to point out that he made no claim for superior workmanship, and that, indeed, he would have been open to reproach if, after having followed the coast with Beaupre's chart in hand, he had not effected improvements where circumstances did not permit his predecessor to make so close an examination. It is an attractive characteristic of Flinders, that he never missed an opportunity of appreciating valuable service in other navigators.

But from the time when the Investigator passed the head of the Bight, the whole of the coast-line traversed was virginal to geographical science. With a clean sheet of paper, Flinders began to chart a new stretch of the earth's outline, and to link up the undiscovered with the known portions of the great southern continent. Our interest in his work is intensified by the reflection that of all the coasts of the habitable earth, this was the last important portion still to be discovered. True it is that research in the arctic and antarctic circles remained to be pursued, and still remains. Man will not cease his efforts till he knows his planet in its entirety, though the price of the knowledge may be high. But when he has compassed the extreme ends of the globe, he will not have found a rood of ground upon which any one will ever wish to live. The earth lust of the nations is not provoked by thoughts of the two poles. Ruling out the frozen regions, therefore, as places where discovery is pursued without thought of future habitation, it is a striking fact that this voyage of Flinders opened up the ultimate belt of the earth's contour hitherto unknown. The continents were finally unveiled when he concluded his labours. Europe, the centre of direction, had comprehended the form of Asia, had encircled Africa, had brought America within ken and control. It had gradually pieced together a knowledge of Australia, all but the extensive area the greater part of which it was left for Flinders to reveal. The era of important modern coastal discovery within habitable regions, which commenced with the researches directed by Prince Henry the Navigator from 1426 to 1460, and attained to brilliancy with Columbus in 1492 and Vasco da Gama in 1497, ended with Flinders in 1802 and 1803. He ranges worthily with that illustrious company of "men full of activity, stirrers abroad, and searchers of the remote parts of the world," of whom Richard Hakluyt speaks, and is outshone by none of them in the faithfulness with which his work was done, and in all the qualities that make up the man of high capacity and character entrusted with a great enterprise.

When Flinders was appointed to the command of the Investigator, he was only twenty-seven years of age. But he had already won distinction by his demonstration that Bass Strait was a strait, and not a gulf, a fact not proved by George Bass's famous voyage from Sydney to Westernport in a whale-boat. His circumnavigation of Tasmania—then called Van Diemen's Land—in the Norfolk; the discovery of the Tamar estuary and Port Dalrymple; some excellent nautical surveying among the islands to the north-west of Tasmania; and an expedition along the Queensland coast, had also earned for him the confidence of his official superiors. His ardour for discovery, and the exact, scientific character of his charts and observations, won him a powerful and steadfast friend in Sir Joseph Banks, who had been with Cook in the Endeavour in 1768 to 1771, and never lost his interest in Australian exploration. At the beginning of his naval career Flinders had tasted the "delights of battle." As a midshipman on the Bellerophon (Captain Pasley), he played his small part on the "glorious first of June" (1794), when "Black Dick," Lord Howe, won his greatly vaunted victory over the French off Brest.

But before this event his tastes and aspirations had set in the direction of another branch of the naval service. A voyage to the South Seas and the West Indies under Bligh, in the Providence, in 1791, had revealed to his imagination the glory of discovery and the vastness and beauty of the world beyond European horizons. The fame and achievements of Cook were still fresh and wonderful in the mouths of all who followed the sea. Bligh, a superb sailor—not even the enemies whom he made by his rough tongue and brusque manner denied that—taught him to be a scientific navigator; and when he threaded the narrow, coral-walled waters of Torres Strait, he knew that to the southward were coasts as yet unmarked on any chart, seas as yet unploughed by any keel. For this work of exploration Flinders nourished a passion as intense as that which inferior natures have had for love, avarice, or honours. It absorbed all his life and thought; and opportunity, becoming in his case the handmaid of capacity, was abundantly justified by accomplishment.

There is one striking fact which serves to "place" Flinders among navigators. As has just been observed, he learnt his practical navigation under Bligh, on that historically unfortunate captain's second bread-fruit expedition, when he was entrusted with the care of the scientific instruments. Now, Bligh had perfected his navigation under Cook, on the Resolution, and actually chose the landing-place in Kealakeakua Bay, where the greatest English seaman who ever lived was slain. Here is a school of great sailors: Cook the master of Bligh, Bligh the master of Flinders; and Flinders in turn had on board the Investigator as a midshipman, his cousin, John Franklin, to whom he taught navigation, and who acquired from him that "ardent love of geographical research" which brought him immortal fame, and a grave amongst the ice-packs and the snows of the North-West Passage.* (* See Markham, Life of Sir John Franklin page 43 and Traill, Life of Franklin page 16. Traill's graceful sentences are worth transcribing: "The example of the fine seaman and enthusiastic explorer under whom he served must indeed, for a lad of Franklin's ardent temperament, have been an education in itself. Throughout his whole life he cherished the warmest admiration for the character of Matthew Flinders, and in later years he welcomed the opportunity of paying an enduring tribute to his old commander's memory in the very region of the world which his discoveries had done so much to gain for civilisation." It is pleasant to find Flinders speaking cordially of his young pupil in a letter written during the voyage. "He is a very fine youth, and there is every probability of his doing credit to the Investigator and himself.") There is nothing comparable with this direct succession of illustrious masters and pupils in the history of navigation. The names of all four are indelibly written on the map of the world. Three of them—Cook, Flinders, and Franklin—are among our very foremost navigators and discoverers, men whom a race proud of the heritage of the sea will for ever hold in honour and affection; whilst the fourth, Bligh, though his reputation is wounded by association with two mutinies, was in truth a daring and a brilliant seaman, and a brave man in a fight. Nelson especially thanked him for noble service at Copenhagen, and his achievement in working a small, open boat from the mid-Pacific, where the mutinous crew of the Bounty dropped him, through Torres Strait to Timor, a distance of 3620 miles, stands memorably on the credit side of his account.

See what it meant to have been trained in a school that observed the rules and respected the traditions of James Cook. When at the end of his long voyage of nine months and nine days, Flinders took the Investigator through Port Jackson heads into harbour (Sunday, May 9, 1802), he had not a sick man on board.* (* Voyage 1 226.) His crew finished hearty, browned, and vigorous. He was able to write from the Cape of Good Hope that "officers and crew were, generally speaking, in better health than on the day we sailed from Spithead, and not in less good spirits." Scrupulous attention to cleanliness and hygiene produced this result in an age when scurvy was more to be feared than shipwreck. On every fine day the decks below and the cockpit were washed, dried with stoves, and sprinkled with vinegar. Care was taken to prevent the crew from sleeping in wet clothes. At frequent intervals beds, chests, and bags were opened out and exposed to the sweetening influences of fresh air and sunshine. Personal cleanliness was enforced. Lime-juice and other anti-scorbutics were frequently served out: a precautionary measure which originated in Cook's day, and which down to our own times has caused all British sailors to be popularly known as "lime-juicers" in the American Navy. The dietary scale and the cooking were subjects of careful thought. This keen young officer of twenty-seven looked after his company of eighty-seven people with as grave and kindly a concern as if he were a grey-bearded father to them all; and was liberally rewarded by their affection. During his imprisonment in Mauritius, one of his men stayed with him voluntarily for several years, enduring the unpleasantness of life in confinement far away from home, out of sheer devotion to his commander; and did not leave until Flinders, becoming hopeless of liberation, insisted on his taking advantage of an opportunity of going to England.

There is a touching proof of Flinders' tender regard for his men in the naming of a small group of islands to the west of the bell-mouth of Spencer's Gulf. A boat's crew commanded by the mate, John Thistle, was drowned there, through the boat capsizing. Thistle was an excellent seaman, who had been one of Bass's whale-boat crew in 1798, and had volunteered for service with the Investigator. Not only did Flinders name an island after him, and another after a midshipman, Taylor, who perished on the same occasion, but he gave to each of the islands near Cape Catastrophe the name of one of the seamen who lost their lives in the accident. In a country where men are valued for their native worth rather than on account of rank or wealth, such as is happily the case to a very large degree in Australia—and this is a far finer thing than mere political democracy—perhaps nothing in the career of Flinders is more likely to ensure respect for his memory, apart from the value of his achievements, than this perpetuation of the names of the sailors who died in the service.

Throughout the voyage he promoted amusements among his people; "and when the evenings were fine the drum and fife announced the forecastle to be the scene of dancing; nor did I discourage other playful amusements which might occasionally be more to the taste of the sailors, and were not unseasonable."* (* Voyage 1 36.) The work may have been strenuous, and the commander was unsparing of his own energies; but the life was happy, and above all it was healthy. The pride which Flinders had in the result was modestly expressed: "I had the satisfaction to see my people orderly and full of zeal for the service in which we were engaged." Really, it was a splendid achievement in itself, and it showed that, if the hardship of life in a small ship, on a long voyage, could not be abolished, at least horror could be banished from it.

Compare this genial record with that of the French exploring ships Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste, which were quite as well equipped for a long voyage. They had, it is true, been longer at sea, but they had an advantage not open to Flinders in being able to refit at Mauritius, had rested again for some weeks at Timor, and had spent a considerable time in the salubrious climate of southern Tasmania, where there was an abundance of fresh food and water. When, on June 23, 1802, Le Geographe appeared off Port Jackson, to solicit help from Governor King, it was indeed "a ghastly crew" that she had on board. Her officers and crew were rotten with scurvy. Scarcely one of them was fit to haul a rope or go aloft. Out of one hundred and seventy men, only twelve were capable of any kind of duty, and only two helmsmen could take their turn at the wheel. Not a soul aboard, of any rank, was free from the disease.* (* Peron, Voyage de Decouvertes 1 331 to 340; Flinders, Voyage 1 230.) Of twenty-three scientific men and artists who sailed from Havre, in 1800, only three returned to France with the expedition, and before its work was over the Commander, Baudin, and several of the staff were dead. The chief naturalist, Francois Peron, and one of the surgeons, Taillefer, have left terrible accounts of the sufferings endured. Putrid water, biscuits reduced almost to dust by weevils, and salt meat so absolutely offensive to sight and smell that "the most famished of the crew frequently preferred to suffer the agonies of hunger" rather than eat it—these conditions, together with neglect of routine sanitary precautions, produced a pitiable state of debility and pain, that made the ship like an ancient city afflicted with plague. Indeed, the vivid narratives of Thucydides and Boccaccio, when they counted:

"the sad degrees Upon the plague's dim dial, caught the tone Of a great death that lay upon the land,"

are not more haggard in their naturalism than is Taillefer's picture of the sufferings of the sailors to whom he ministered. Their skin became covered with tumours, which left ugly black patches; where hair grew appeared sores "the colour of wine lees"; their lips shrivelled, revealing gums mortified and ulcerated. They exhaled a breath so fetid in odour that Taillefer loathed having to administer to them such remedies as he had to give; and at one part of the voyage even his stock of drugs was depleted, so great was the demand upon his resources. Their joints became stiff, their muscles flaccid and contracted, and the utter prostration to which they were reduced made him regret that they retained so much of their intellectual faculties as to make them feel keenly the weight of despair.* (* Voyage de Decouvertes 1 340.)

When Le Geographe stood outside Sydney Harbour, a boat's crew of Flinders' bluejackets from the Investigator, themselves fresh from their own long voyage, had to be sent out to work her into port. So enfeebled were the French sailors that they could not even muster sufficient energy to bring their vessel to the place where succour awaited them. While we deplore this tale of distress, we can but mark the striking contrast with the English vessel and her jolly crew. Truly, it meant something for a commander to have learnt to manage a ship in a school nourished on the example of Cook, whose title to fame might rest on his work as a practical reformer of life at sea, even if his achievements as a discoverer were not so incomparably brilliant.

We must now return to the Investigator, which, at the commencement of the chapter, we left fighting with a contrary wind east of Kangaroo Island. Although the sloop quitted her anchorage early on the morning of April 7, at eight o'clock in the evening she had made very little headway across Backstairs Passage. On the 8th, she was near enough to the mainland for Flinders to resume his charting, and late in the afternoon of that day occurred an incident to which the next chapter will be devoted. Meanwhile, it is important to observe that had the wind blown from the west or south-west, instead of from the east or south-east, Flinders would have accomplished the survey of the coast between Cape Jervis, at the entrance of St. Vincent's Gulf, and Cape Banks, before the French discovery ship, Le Geographe, emerged from Bass Strait on her voyage westward. The wind that filled Captain Baudin's sails, and drove his ship forward towards the seas in which the Investigator was making important discoveries, was the wind that delayed Flinders at Kangaroo Island. Had the weather been more accommodating to the English captain and less to the French, there cannot be the slightest doubt that even the fifty leagues of coast, or thereabouts, which are all that can be claimed to have been discovered by Baudin, would have been first charted by Flinders. But the French expedition was so unfortunate, both as to results and reputation—so undeservedly unfortunate, in some respects, as will be shown in later chapters—that this small measure of success may be conceded ungrudgingly. It is, indeed, somewhat to be regretted that the small part of the Australian coast which was genuinely their own discovery, should not have been in a more interesting region than was actually the case; for the true "Terre Napoleon" is no better for the most part than a sterile waste, with a back country of sand, swamp, and mallee scrub, populated principally by rabbits, dingoes, and bandicoots.


Meeting of the Investigator and Le Geographe in Encounter Bay. Flinders cautious. Interview of the two captains. Peron's evidence. The chart of Bass Strait. Second interview: Baudin inquisitive. Baudin's account of his explorations.

On the afternoon of April 8,* (* In his manuscript journal, which was used by the Quarterly reviewer of the first volume of the Voyage de Decouvertes, in August 1810, Flinders gave the date on which he met Le Geographe as April 9th (Quarterly Review volume 4 52). But there is no contradiction. In his journal Flinders gave the date of the nautical day, which commenced at noon. As he met Baudin's corvette in the late afternoon, it was, by nautical reckoning, April 9th. But by the calendar, the civil day commencing at midnight, the date was April 8th, as stated by Flinders in his published volumes, by both Peron and Louis de Freycinet, and in the log of Le Geographe. A similar difference of dates, which puzzled Labilliere in writing his Early History of Victoria 1 108, occurs as to the first sighting of Port Phillip by Flinders. It is explained in exactly the same way.) the man at the masthead of the Investigator reported a white rock ahead. He was mistaken. Glasses were turned towards it, and as the distance lessened it became apparent that the white object was a sail. The sloop was at this time in latitude 35 degrees 40 minutes south, longitude 138 degrees 58 minutes east. To meet another vessel in this region, many leagues from regular trading routes, in a part of the world hitherto undiscovered, was surprising. The Investigator stood on her course, and as the strange ship became more clearly defined it was evident that she was making towards the British sloop. Flinders therefore "cleared for action in case of being attacked."

He knew that the French Government had sent out ships having like objects with his own; he knew that some influential persons in England, especially the Court of Directors of the East India Company, were uneasy and suspicious about French designs; and he had been fully instructed by the Admiralty as to the demeanour he should maintain if he met vessels flying a hostile flag. But though his duty prescribed that he must not offer any provocation, he could not forget that when he left Europe Great Britain and France were still at war, and preparation for extremities was a measure of mere prudence.

The stranger proved to be "a heavy-looking ship without any top-gallant masts up." On the Investigator hoisting her colours, Le Geographe "showed a French ensign, and afterwards an English jack forward, as we did a white flag." Flinders manoeuvred so as to keep his broadside to the stranger, "lest the flag of truce should be a deception." But the demeanour of the French being purely pacific, he had a boat hoisted out and went on board, Le Geographe having also hove to.

On the French vessel, meanwhile, similar curiosity had been provoked as to the identity of the ship sailing east. Captain Baudin's men had been engaged during the morning in harpooning dolphins, which they desired for the sake of the flesh. Peron, in his narrative, waxes almost hysterically joyous about the good fortune that brought along a school of these fish just as the ship's company were almost perishing for want of fresh food. They appeared, he says, like a gift from Heaven.* (* "Cette peche heureuse nous parut comme un bienfait du ciel. Alors, en effet, le terrible scorbut avoit commence ses ravages, et les salaisons pourries et rongees de vers auxquelles nous etions reduits depuis plusieurs mois precipitoient chaque jour l'affreux developpement de ce fleau." Voyage de Decouvertes 1 323.) Unlike the bronzed and healthy crew of the Investigator, the company on Le Geographe were suffering severely from scurvy. The virulence of the disease increased daily. They were rejoicing at the capture of nine large dolphins, which would supply them with a feast of fresh meat, when the look-out man signalled that a sail was in sight.* (* Mr. T. Ward, in his Rambles of an Australian Naturalist (1907) page 153, relates that in 1889 he harpooned a large dolphin, Grampus gris, in King George's Sound, and that whalers told him that dolphins were at one time common in the Bight, in schools of two and three hundred. As to dolphin flesh as food, the reader may like to be reminded that Hawkins's men, in 1565, found dolphins "of very good colour and proportion to behold, and no less delicate in taste" (Hakluyt's Voyages edition of 1904 10 61). So also in 1705 a voyager to Maryland related the capture of dolphins, "a beautiful fish to is also a good fish to eat." "Narrative of a Voyage to Maryland," printed from manuscript in American Historical Review 12 328.)

At first it was considered that the ship was Le Naturaliste, the consort of Le Geographe, the two vessels having become separated in a storm off the Tasmanian coast. But as the Investigator steered towards the French and hoisted her flag, the mistake was corrected.

Flinders took Brown, the naturalist, with him on board, because he was a good French scholar; but Captain Baudin spoke English "so as to be understood," and the conversation was therefore conducted for the most part in that language. Brown was the only person present at the first interview on the 8th, and at the second on the following morning;* (* "No person was present at our conversations except Mr. Brown" (Flinders, Voyage 1 190). Robert Brown was a very celebrated botanist. Humboldt styled him "botanicorum facile princeps." His Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae is a classic of price.) both taking place in the French captain's cabin. Peron, in the first volume of the Voyage de Decouvertes, wrote as though he were present and heard what occurred between the two commanders. "En nous fournissant tous ces details M. Flinders se montre d'une grande reserve sur ses operations particulieres," he wrote; and again: "apres avoir converse plus d'une heure avec nous." But his testimony in this, as in several other respects, is not reliable. Baudin wrote no detailed account of the conversations, nor did Brown; but Flinders related what occurred with the minute care that was habitual with him. Peron's evidence is at best second-hand, and he supplemented it with such information as could be elicited by "pumping" the sailors in Flinders' boat.* (* "Nous apprimes toutefois par quelques-uns de ses matelots qu'il avoit eu beaucoup a souffrir de ces memes vents de la partie du Sud qui nous avoient ete si favorables." The boatmen were not questioned by Peron himself, who at this time could not speak English (Freycinet, Voyage de Decouvertes 2 Preface page 17). Freycinet admits that Peron was not present at the interviews, but says that Baudin related what took place with "more or less exactitude." But as Freycinet was not present himself either at the interviews or on the ship when Baudin related what occurred, how could he know that the version of the commander—at whom, after Baudin's death, he never missed an opportunity of sneering—was merely "more or less" exact?) Even then he blundered, for some of the things stated by him were not only contrary to fact, but could not have been ascertained from Baudin, from Flinders, or from the sailors.

Peron stated, for example, that Flinders said that he had been accompanied from England by a second vessel, which had become separated from him by a violent tempest. There had been no second vessel, and Flinders could have made no such assertion. Again, Peron wrote that Flinders said that, hindered by contrary winds, he had not been able to penetrate behind the islands of St. Peter and St. Francis, in Nuyts Archipelago. Flinders made no such absurd statement. He had followed the coast behind those islands with the utmost particularity. His track, with soundings, is shown on his large chart of the section.* (* On this statement the Quarterly reviewer of 1810 bluntly wrote: "Now, we will venture not only to assert that all this is a direct falsehood (for we have seen both the journal and charts of Captain Flinders, which are fortunately arrived safe in this country), but also to pledge ourselves that no such observations are to be found either in Captain Baudin's journal or in the logbook of the Geographe." Quarterly Review 4 52. It was a good guess. No such observation is contained in the printed log of Le Geographe.) Once more, Peron stated that Flinders said that he had lost a boat and eight men in the same gale as had endangered the French ships in Bass Strait. Flinders had lost John Thistle, an officer to whom he was deeply attached, and a crew of eight men off Cape Catastrophe, but the incident occurred during a sudden squall. Moreover, Thistle and his companions were drowned on February 21, whilst the storm in the Strait—as Baudin told Flinders—occurred exactly a month later.

When Flinders got on board Le Geographe, he was received by an officer, of whom he inquired for the commander. Baudin was pointed out to him, and conducted him and Brown into the captain's cabin. Flinders then "requested Baudin to show me his passport from the Admiralty, and when it was found, and I had perused it, I offered him mine from the French marine minister, but he put it back without inspection." The incident serves to remind us that both commanders believed their nations to be at war at this time. As a matter of fact, just a fortnight before the meeting in Encounter Bay, diplomacy had patched up the brittle truce ironically known as the Peace of Amiens (March 25). But neither Flinders nor Baudin could have known that there was even a prospect of the cessation of hostilities. Europe, when they last had touch of its affairs, was still clanging with battle and warlike preparations, and the red star of the Corsican had not yet reached its zenith. Baudin's readiness to produce his own passport when "requested"—in a style prompt if not peremptory, it would seem—and his indifference about that of the English commander, should be noted as the first of a series of facts which establish the purely peaceful character of the French expedition.

Baudin talked freely about the work upon which he had been engaged in Tasmanian waters. Flinders inquired concerning a large island said to lie in the western entrance of Bass Strait—that is, King Island—but Baudin "had not seen it and seemed to doubt much of its existence." As a matter of fact, Le Geographe had sailed quite close to the island, as indicated on the track-chart showing her course, and that it should have been missed indicated that the look-out was not very vigilant. Curiously enough, too, Baudin marked down on his chart, presumably as the result of this inquiry of Flinders, an island "believed to exist," but he put it in the wrong place.

An incident that appealed to Flinders' dry sense of humour occurred in reference to a chart of Bass Strait which Baudin had with him. This chart was one which had been drawn from George Bass's sketch by Flinders himself, and incorporated with his own more scientific chart of the north coast of Tasmania and the adjacent islands. Bass had traversed, in his whale-boat, the southern coast of Victoria as far as Westernport, but not being a surveyor he had furnished only a rough outline of the lay of the shore. Up to this time Baudin had not inquired the name of the commander of the Investigator, and it was from not knowing to whom he was talking that he fell into a blunder which the politeness, native to a French gentleman, would certainly have made him wish to avoid. He began to criticise the chart, finding great fault with the north side, but commending the drawing of the south—that is, of northern Tasmania and the islands near it. "On my pointing out a note upon the chart explaining that the north side of the Strait was seen only in an open boat by Mr. Bass, who had no good means of fixing either latitude or longitude, he appeared surprised, not having before paid attention to it. I told him that some other and more particular charts of the Strait and its neighbourhood had since been published, and that if he would keep company until next morning I would bring him a copy, with a small memoir belonging to them. This was agreed to, and I returned with Mr. Brown to the Investigator."

On the following morning Flinders and Brown again visited Le Geographe with the promised chart. At the conclusion of this second interview, Baudin requested that, should the Investigator fall in with Le Naturaliste, Flinders would inform her captain that it was his intention to sail round to Port Jackson as soon as the bad weather set in. "On my asking the name of the captain of Le Naturaliste, he bethought himself to ask mine, and finding it to be the same as the author of the chart which he had been criticising, expressed not a little surprise, but had the politeness to congratulate himself on seeing me." In a letter to Banks, Flinders said that Baudin "expressed some surprise at meeting me, whom he knew by name."* (* Historical Records of New South Wales 4 755.) He had the name, of course, upon Flinders' chart of 1799.* (* The new chart which Flinders gave to Baudin was published after Le Geographe left Havre. The chart which he had in his possession was the one advertised in the Moniteur on 8th Vendemiaire, Revolutionary Year 10. (September 30, 1800): "Nouvelle carte du detroit de Basse, situe entre la Nouvelle Galles Meridionale, a la Nouvelle Hollande, lequel separe ces deux parties; avec la route du vaisseau qui l'a parcouru et partie de la cote a l'est de la Nouvelle Hollande, levee par Flinders. Prix deux francs." This chart had been reproduced by the French Department of Marine from the one published by Flinders in England in 1799, and several copies of it had been supplied to Baudin and his officers for the use of the expedition, though it was also offered for sale. See the Moniteur, 27 Thermidor, Revolutionary Year 11 (August 15, 1803), as to the engraving of the chart at the French depot for the use of the expedition.)

At the second interview Baudin was more inquisitive than he had been on the previous day. He had then been more disposed to talk about his own discoveries in southern Tasmania than to ask questions about the Investigator's work. "It somewhat surprised me," said Flinders, "that Captain Baudin made no inquiries concerning my business upon this unknown coast, but as he seemed more desirous of communicating information I was happy to receive it." Another of the inaccuracies of Peron is that "M. Flinders showed a great reserve concerning his particular operations." There was no need of reserve, and none was shown. But "tact teaches when to be silent," as Disraeli's Mr. Wilton observed; and an occasion for the exercise of this virtue is presented when information likely to be valuable is being given. Reflection, and what his officers had been able to learn from Flinders' boat crew, however, had stimulated Baudin's curiosity. On the 9th, therefore, he asked questions. Flinders, so far from maintaining reserve, readily explained the discoveries he had made, and furnished Baudin with some useful information for his own voyage. He described how he had explored the whole of the south coast as far as the place of meeting;* (* Manuscript Journal.) related how he had obtained water at Port Lincoln by digging in the clay; pointed out Kangaroo Island across the water, where an abundance of fresh meat might be procured; "told him the name I had affixed to the island," in consequence of the marsupials shot there; and "as proof of the refreshment to be obtained at the island, pointed to the kangaroo skin caps worn by my boat's crew." The return made for this courtesy was that upon the Terre Napoleon maps the name Flinders gave was ignored, and "L'Ile Decres" was scored upon it, this being done while the true discoverer was pent up in French custody in an island of the Indian Ocean.

The most interesting statement made by Baudin will be dealt with in the next chapter. The two commanders conversed on the 8th for about half an hour, and on the second occasion, when Flinders presented the new chart of Bass Strait, for a shorter period. Early on the morning of the 9th they bade each other adieu. Flinders returned to the Investigator, and the two ships sailed away—the French to retrace the coast already followed by Flinders, but to find nothing that was new, because he had left so little to be found; the English to proceed, first to King Island and Port Phillip, and then through Bass Strait to Port Jackson, where the two commanders met again.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse