What a story is that of Bass and Flinders!
Such noble, disinterested
courage! Such splendid service to English colonisation, and such a sad
ending to it all.
Bass and Flinders, in their tiny open boat,
the Tom Thumb, and
sloop Norfolk, dotting the blank map of Australia with the
their discoveries—it is not necessary surely to remind the reader
that Bass began, and together the two men completed, the discovery and
passage of the straits between Van Dieman's Land and the main
Bass surveyed something like six hundred miles of the Australian coast
in a whaleboat with a crew of six men! And one cannot summarise
Flinders' work in the Norfolk and in the Investigator
before the old
ship was condemned and converted into a hulk to rot in Sydney Harbour.
How were these men rewarded for their
services, and what has posterity
done to keep their names in remembrance? In 1803 Flinders started for
England, was wrecked, and making his way to the Mauritius was there,
to the everlasting disgrace of Napoleon's Island governor, detained
a prisoner for more than six years. Of course the English Government
ultimately procured his release, but it took them all that time to do
it; and when he did get back they promoted his juniors over his head.
When he died in 1814, a broken heart was as much as anything else the
cause of his death.
Bass, after leaving Australia, went to
England and sailed in an armed
merchantman bound to South America. At Valparaiso the Governor of the
town refused to allow the vessel to trade. Bass, who was then in
command of the ship, threatened to bombard the town, and the refusal
withdrawn; but, watching their opportunity the authorities seized
him when he was off his guard, and it was supposed he was sent to the
interior. As the years passed by there were one or two reports that
he was seen working in the mines, but it seems to have been no one's
business to inquire into his fate. It is more than probable that the
brave Bass died a slave.
But the whalers, "South Seamen" and East
Indiamen, did no less good
service than the King's ships in the early days, and yet even the old
books do them but scant justice. For the first fifty years of
colonisation the merchantmen charted reefs, discovered harbours, and
just those things for the desert waters of the Australasian Pacific as
were afterwards done by land explorers, in their camel and pack-horse
journey-ings into the waterless interior of the continent And the
stories that could be told! The whalers and sealers who were cast away
on desert islands, and lived Robinson Crusoe lives for years! The open
boat voyages. The massacres by blacks. The cuttings-off by the savage
islanders of the South Pacific. The mutinies and sea fights!
Hobart in Tasmania, Twofold Bay in New South
Wales, and many New
Zealand ports were the great whaling stations, and Sydney the
headquarters. Fifty years ago there were something like twenty whalers
in the Hobart Fleet alone; now, one or two hulks lying in Whaler's
"Rotten Row" is practically all that survives of the trade.
The Americans took a leading part in the
industry, and ships with New
Bedford or Nantucket under their sterns traversed the
one end to the other. Australian whaling was begun (Dampier reported
whales as early as 1699) in Governor Phillip's time, by some of the
convict transports coming out with whaling equipment in their holds,
after disembarking their human freight, departing for the "Fisheries."
Some of these ships often remained in the
Pacific for years, making
cruises of twelve or eighteen months' duration, returning to Sydney
full ships to discharge and refresh, their cargoes being sent to
in some returning "favourite fast clipper," while the whalers went back
to their greasy and dangerous vocation, until they were lost, or cut
by the savages, or worn out and converted into hulks.
What numbers of them were lost! and
what wonderful and
experiences their crews underwent when they were castaways, or
or were marooned on "the islands"! Here is a story of a vessel lost in
Torres Straits in 1836—not a whaler, but an East Indiaman. Some of her
crew and passengers managed to land on the mainland of North Australia
and were there captured by blacks. Six months later a few survivors
rescued and landed in Sydney; and this is what had happened to the only
woman of the party, Mrs. Fraser, wife of the captain: She had seen her
child die, her husband speared to death before her face, the chief mate
roasted alive, the second mate burned over a slow fire until he was too
crippled to walk, and otherwise horribly and indescribably tortured,
she herself was made to climb trees for honey for her captors by having
lighted gum branches applied to her body.
In another instance a vessel was wrecked on
the North Australian coast
in 1846, and nearly twenty years later the sole survivor turned up at a
cattle station near Port Denison, in North Queensland. He had been all
this time living among the blacks, unable to escape, and civilisation
had found its way, in the years that had elapsed, far enough into the
back country to reach him. The stockman who first saw the man took him
for a black and levelled his rifle at him, when he was stopped from
shooting the poor fellow by the words, "Don't fire, I am an
Here, told in a few words, is the story of
the first landing in
Victoria, and the first discovery of coal in New South Wales: On the
of Tasmania, in the north-east corner, is marked the Furneaux Group of
islands in Bass's Straits. Dotted about the cluster are such names as
Preservation Island, Clarke Island, and Armstrong Channel. These names
all commemorate the wreck of the Sydney Cove, Captain Hamilton,
from Calcutta to Sydney, and lost in February, 1797. She sprang a leak
on the 13th of December, 1796, and her crew, chiefly Lascars, managed
keep her afloat till the 9th of the following February, when the
made Preservation Island, and there beached her. All the people landed
safely, and got what stores they could ashore. Then it was decided to
despatch the long boat to Port Jackson for help.
Thompson the mate, Clarke the supercargo,
three European seamen, and
a dozen Lascars manned the boat and left the island on the 29th of
February. On the 1st of March the boat was driven ashore and battered
to pieces close to Cape Howe (near the present boundary line of
and New South Wales) three hundred miles from Sydney, in a country
before trodden by the feet of white men. All hands were saved, and
a fortnight's rest, feeding on such shellfish as they could obtain, the
party set out to walk to Sydney.
Clarke kept a rough diary of this journey,
telling of encounters with
blacks, of death and madness by starvation and other privations; of how
they crossed wide and shark-infested rivers by building rafts of tree
branches cut down and fashioned with jack knives; of how the lives of
men were purchased from the blacks by strips of clothing; and of how
they counted the buttons on their ragged garments, and thus reckoned
many lives could be bought from the savages with what remained.
The terrible march lasted until the 15th of
May; then three exhausted
men, horrible to look upon, and the only survivors of seventeen who
sixty days before, begun the journey, were picked up a few miles to the
south of Sydney by a fishing boat.
The spot where they were seen walking along
the beach was close to Port
Hacking, and Clarke, three days before his rescue, had lit a fire and
cooked some fish with coal he picked up. This was the first discovery
the great southern coal-fields of New South Wales.
There are other less gruesome stories than
these; for example that of
the Sydney whaler Policy, which, sailing under a Letter of
for the Moluccas, was set upon by a Dutch private ship of war—the Swift—at
one time a formidable and
successful French privateer.
Captain Foster of the Policy, though his armament was very
and many of his crew were prostrated with fever, engaged the Dutchman,
fought him for some hours, and brought his ship a prize into Sydney
Harbour. Two Spanish vessels were captured in the same way by armed
Sydney whalers; so that Australian waters have seen a little fighting.
On board the convict ships of those early
days there were often
mutinies, desperate and sometimes bloody, and some of these led
to remarkable results. In one instance the soldiers—not the
prisoners—rose upon the crew and the ship's officers, turned them
adrift in an open boat, and carried off the ship. They were recaptured
afterwards by a man-of-war in the Indian Ocean and brought to justice.
Convict mutinies often were only suppressed after desperate
fighting; then a day or two later the ringleaders would be hanged from
the yardarm, and a dozen or more convicts flogged at the gratings. And
these things, be it remembered, were going on only an old man's
New Zealand is fertile in adventure stories,
and the well-known Boyd
massacre is paralleled by two or three other tragedies equally as
dreadful, if less often told. The whaling history of that colony would
make a book—not of the kind suitable for young ladies seminaries, 'tis
true, but mighty strong in human interest, and presenting the race as
well as the sex problem for the study of the reader.
Statistics are terribly dry reading, but by
way of contrasting the
condition of Australian shipping then and now, it is worth while
a few figures.
In 1835, the heyday of the colonial whaling
trade, when the smoky glare
of the whaleships' try-works lit up the darkness of the Pacific ocean
night, there were forty-one vessels, of a total tonnage of 9,257 tons,
registered in New South Wales, employed in the fishery. In the same
twenty-two vessels arrived in Sydney from the various grounds, their
cargoes of whalebone, sealskins, and sperm and black oil valuing
altogether about £150,000. Now the whaling trade in Southern Seas
represented by two or three small and poorly equipped ships from
though the whales—sperm, right, and humpback—are again as plentiful as
they were in the first years of the fishery. One of the present
less than four years ago, counted over three hundred humpbacks passing
to the northward in two days on the coast of New South Wales, while
there were ten times that number of the swift and dangerous "fin-back"
whales travelling with them.
But, though the whale fishery is extinct,
there is something to be
It has been said that twenty-two whalers
entered Sydney in 1835, which
means that during that year not twice that number of vessels of all
descriptions entered the port—for the whaling was then the
But the steamer was beginning to count, and the beginning of the Sydney
steam trade is not without a peculiar interest—for Londoners at any
The Sophia Jane was the first
steamer in Australasian waters.
arrived in Sydney from London, via the Cape of Good Hope, with
and passengers, on the 14th of May. This vessel was built on the Thames
by a well-known shipbuilder of the time, William Evans, who was the
builder of many other notable early steamers. She was running for a
summer or two as a passenger steamer between Gravesend and London;
then between different ports in the south of England; and then, under
a Lieutenant Biddulph, of the Royal Navy, she was sent to Sydney. The
little vessel was 126 feet long by 20 feet beam, drew 6 feet of water,
was of 256 tons burden, and had accommodation for fifty-four
her engines were of 50 horse-power, and her speed eight knots an hour.
This was the first steamer in the Southern Seas—the forerunner of a
fleet of mighty leviathans.