by Ida Lee
F.R.G.S and Hon. F.R.A.H.S

From the Log-Books and Journals
with maps and illustrations

First Published 1925 by
Methuen & Co Ltd
36 Essex Street WC London
Transcribed to eText by
Permission to use eText given by
Col Choat of Project Gutenburg Australia 2003
Converted to Web Enhanced eText by
J&DChallenor of The Allan Cunningham Project 2009



[p097] Even before Macquarie’s coming to Port Jackson, Sydney was looked upon as an important British outpost in the southern hemisphere. Thence while the city was still in its infancy had set out the exploring expeditions of Hunter, Shortland, Waterhouse, Bass, Flinders, Grant, Murray, Curtoys, and Symons, and later of King, often with only such equipment as the colony could provide. True successors to the English sailors of the Elizabethan age, their voyages have placed some of these seamen among Britain’s most noted discoverers. They served in the naval ships, of which it has been justly said that they helped to build up the country. Considering the amount of work done, there were not many vessels employed, and only a close study of the instructions issued to the men who held commissions in them can throw even a little light on the patience and skill with which they first explored not only New South Wales but also the adjacent seas and territories.

the most fascinating story of early Australia is to be found in their log-books and journals. In these the daily events are recorded, set down at the time they occurred in a matter-of-fact, sailor-like way–the writer possibly not realizing that he was entering information which was to complete a link in the chain of the discovery of a continent. Yet these bare facts seem to unfold a clearer message for us than anything the most ornate language could convey.

Following the “Endeavour,” which, as we have seen, discovered the east coast, and the “Sirius” and “Supply,” which convoyed the first fleet to southern waters, the ships whose names are perhaps most familiar in connexion with the early exploration and settlement of Australia are the “Reliance,” “Investigator,” “Buffalo,” “Lady Nelson,” and Mermaid.”


[p098] The “Sirius” was a frigate of about 520 tons and mounted twenty guns. Built as the “Berwick,” she was intended for the East India Company; meeting with an accident by fire she was purchased by the Admiralty and renamed. Captain Hunter was appointed to command her with the rank of post-captain, but, when the vessel was assigned to Captain Phillip for his expedition, Hunter for a time was second in command. On the colonists being landed he resumed his post as captain of the ship. Unless the story is true that Spanish ringbolts have been found embedded in the rocks at Sydney, the “Supply” and “Sirius” (with the vessels forming the fleet) were the first European ships to anchor in Port Jackson. In September, 1788, the “Sirius” was sent to the Cape of Good Hope to obtain a supply of fresh provisions for the settlement. It was a rather remarkable voyage, for on her way thither she steered a course southward of New Zealand to Cape Horn, endeavouring to keep as much as possible in a parallel between the tracks of the “Resolution” and the “Adventure,” and on November 24, 1788, before rounding the Cape, reached the high latitude Of 57°31′ S. The “Sirius” spent twenty-eight days amid the ice and passed through what Hunter describes as a lane or street of ice-islands varying in magnitude from the size of a country church to two or three miles in circumference. Many were half black, apparently with earth, to which they had adhered; others were tinged a beautiful sea green.

On January 2nd Hunter arrived at Table Bay and came back to Sydney in May, 1789. When the colonists were reduced to starvation during the famine the “Sirius” received orders to bring a supply of provisions from China and to call at Norfolk Island on her way. She left Port Jackson on March 6, 1790, and was destined never to return, for on reaching Norfolk Island on March 19th she struck a reef of coral rocks while trying to enter Sydney Bay and became a complete wreck. Over one hundred years later her anchor was recovered and is now a “Monument” in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Captain Phillip then hired a Dutch snow called the “Waaksamheyd” (“Vigilance”) to bring the officers and men home, and on his arrival in England Hunter was as usual placed on trial by court martial for the loss of his ship, but was honourably[p099] acquitted. At this time (October, 1793) we find him on board H.M.S. “Queen Charlotte” under Sir Roger Curtis at Torbay. He sailed to take up his appointment as Governor of New South Wales on February 15, 1795, in command of H.M.S. “Reliance,” Captain Henry Waterhouse, an officer who had served under Phillip, holding the rank of second captain. After calling at Teneriffe and Rio, Hunter arrived at his destination on September 5, 1795.


The “Supply” was a wonderful little ship, and it has been said that she was “ever the harbinger of glad and welcome tidings.”[*] Described as a very firm, strong little brig, she mounted eight guns and was purchased by the Admiralty to take the place of the “Grantham” when that ship was proved unseaworthy. While the complement of the “Sirius” numbered 160 men, that of the “Supply” was but fifty-five. Under Lieutenant Ball, as tender to the frigate, she helped to escort the transports and store ships to New South Wales, and seems to have been especially favoured by Captain Phillip. When eighty leagues eastward of the Cape of Good Hope, he went on board the “Supply” in order to hurry on in advance and choose a place for the reception of his fleet. To her, therefore, fell the honour of being the first ship to follow the “Endeavour” along the east coast. It has been told how she had entered the harbour of Port Jackson a day before the other vessels in 1788. While stationed there she had a very useful career and made many voyages to Norfolk Island. She sailed from Sydney with the “Sirius” in March, 1790. In the following month Captain Phillip dispatched the brig on an important mission to Batavia. A little later she too was ordered home for refitting.

[* Tench.]

The ” Supply ” returned to England by way of Cape Horn, possibly in the track which the “Sirius ” had previously taken, for on December 27, 1791, she also reached the high latitude Of 57°32′ S. On April 20, 1792, she sighted the Lizard.


Through the services of her officers and men the “Reliance” played a very distinguished part in promoting settlement and [p100] colonization. After Captain Hunter had landed at Sydney under a salute of fifteen guns from the ship on Saturday, September 12, 1795, his patent was read constituting him Governor.

Waterhouse succeeded Hunter as her captain. He was Bass’s brother-in-law and proved a very energetic officer. The colonists owe him a debt of gratitude, for in 1797, when the “Reliance” in company with another “Supply” under Captain Kent called at the Cape, Waterhouse and Kent purchased the valuable merino sheep of the late Colonel Gordon and brought them at their own expense to Sydney. Waterhouse Island in Tasmania (which possesses a good anchorage) was named by Flinders in his honour, and when homeward bound in the “Reliance” in 1800 he himself discovered, far to the southward of New Zealand, an island which he named Penantipodes Island.

In the year 1797 Lieutenant Shortland (who as a midshipman had served formerly under Phillip), while in pursuit of some runaways, came upon an unknown river north of Port Jackson, to which he gave the name of Hunter, and found a harbour where in the surrounding cliffs a stratum of coal was found. At this spot the settlement, afterwards known as Newcastle, was formed.

Yet among those serving in the “Reliance” at this time who worked for and guided the destinies of the new land the figures of George Bass and Matthew Flinders stand out in greatest prominence. Bass was the ship’s surgeon, with a passion for discovery; Flinders a midshipman who two years previously had completed a difficult voyage in the “Providence” under Captain Bligh, and who therefore was admirably fitted for the work of exploration. These two men, sometimes apart, sometimes in company, sailed from Port Jackson again and again to glean knowledge of the coast-lines of both Australia and Tasmania. Within a month after their arrival at Sydney they had fitted up a boat only eight feet in length, called the “Tom Thumb,” that had been brought out in the “Reliance,” in which they traced George’s River for a distance of twenty miles beyond Captain Hunter’s Government Survey. In March, 1796, they again put to sea in a Sydney-built boat (another “Tom Thumb”) and gained a minute knowledge of the coast south of Botany Bay. In returning home they entered Port Hacking, and on the outward voyage while trying to obtain water their boat was thrown ashore above Wollongong. From here, coasting Five Islands, they ran [p101] southward as far as the lagoon near Port Kembla, now called Tom Thumb’s Lagoon, where they landed and met with many adventures, falling in with natives unseen before. Their muskets being rusty and their powder wet, Flinders kept the somewhat hostile natives amused by clipping their beards while Bass dried the powder and laid in a store of water. “This part,” the former says, “was called Alowrie by the natives.” It is known to us as Illawarra.

In December, 1797, while Flinders was absent in Norfolk Island, Bass took another voyage. In a whaleboat manned with six volunteers–bluejackets from the “Reliance”–he visited Shoalhaven, Jervis Bay, and Twofold Bay, penetrating as far as 40° S. Continuing his southerly course after passing Cape Howe, he found the coast of the mainland became more and more exposed and was convinced that a strait existed between Australia and Tasmania. He touched at Wilson’s Promontory and Western Port, and in the belief that the former land had been seen by Furneaux called it Furneaux Land, though Captain Hunter afterwards changed the name to Wilson’s Promontory “in honour of Mr. Wilson of London.”

Bass’s voyage extended along 300 miles of coast, and he drew a rough outline of the land seen by him, which unfortunately has been lost. The original chart was entitled “An eye sketch in a whale-boat by Dr. Bass.” A part of this was embodied in a chart which Governor King drew to show the track of the “Harbinger” through Bass Strait. King observes that the land in Bass’s chart appears to be erroneously laid down to the extent of “twelve miles in latitude and forty miles in longitude.” He has preserved to us, nevertheless, an important relic of this intrepid seaman, and Matthew Flinders, who supplied King with details of it, has also made use of it in his atlas, slightly altering the position of the land, to reconcile it with its true situation upon the map.


To complete his explorations Bass set out with Flinders in 1798 in a small schooner of twenty-five tons called the “Norfolk.” Touching first at Twofold Bay they surveyed it and running south came to the Kent Group and Furneaux Islands, the southeasternmost of a chain of islands between Wilson’s Promontory and Tasmania, some of which Flinders had surveyed in the colonial schooner “Francis” which had been sent to the relief of the shipwrecked crew of the “Sydney Cove,” an East Indiaman lost in 1797 on her way from Bengal to Sydney. On October 19th[p102] Flinders anchored with Bass at Preservation Island, the scene of the wreck. From there they went to Cape Barren Island, where they met with many strange animals, including the wombat, brush wallaby, and the echidna.

On November 1st they anchored for a tide at the largest of the Swan Isles, two small islands which Flinders had also seen before and had so named because a European sailor had assured him that he had met with vast numbers of black swans breeding there. They could not find a single swan, but observed a sooty petrel and several wild geese. “The swans therefore really turned out to be geese. This bird was either a Brent or Barnacle Goose with a small short head, long slender neck and plumage for the most part of a dove colour with black spots. It had a deep, hoarse, clanging and though a short, yet an inflected voice. Its flesh was excellent.”[*]

[* Cereopsis Novae Hollandiae or Cape Barren Goose, which is only found in Australian waters.]

From there Bass and Flinders coasted along the northern shores of Tasmania, and on November 3rd discovered Port Dalrymple and the mouth of the Tamar. Bass had an opportunity of observing the country situated within an angle formed by two chains of mountains. They examined the river up to a point where its waters had become half salt and half fresh. The grey kangaroo abounded in the open forest and the brushes were tenanted by the smaller black wallaby. The plumage of the parrots was noticed to be more sombre than those of the mother colony and many water-birds frequented the arms and coves. Numbers of black swans were seen swimming in the river. Bass calculated that there were at one spot 300 within the space of a quarter of a mile square and he heard the dying song of some scores; that song, so celebrated by the old poets, “exactly resembled the creaking of a rusty alehouse sign on a windy day.”

Driven back by gales to the Furneaux Group on November 21st, they left again on December 3rd to continue their Tasmanian explorations, and on the 6th discovered Circular Head–the eastern point of a peninsula projecting northward from the coast. On the 9th, south of Three Hummock Island (the north-eastern island of the Hunter Group), a long swell was perceived to come from the south-west, and Flinders hailed it as “the completion of our long-wished-for discovery of a passage into the Southern Indian Ocean.”

[p103] On the day on which they saw Cape Grim (the north-west cape of Tasmania) the land was observed to be washed by ocean breakers, which proved, what had been already surmised, that a navigable channel separated Australia and Tasmania, this channel of course being Bass Strait. Following the west coast of Tasmania downwards, they passed South-West Cape and then South Cape, and turning into the opening of Storm Bay on December 14th weathered Cape Frederick Henry (of Furneaux). They examined the openings in the neighbourhood of Tasman’s Peninsula named the Isle of Caves and Norfolk Bay, and on December 21st reached the entrance of the Derwent. Taking with them Captain Hayes’s chart of the river, they explored it, and anchored in Herdsman’s Cove above the spot named Risdon by Hayes. They beat down the river on January 2nd and turning into D’Entrecasteaux Channel entered Port Pruen, where they saw signs of a ship’s visit and a tree felled near a run of water. Flinders thought that either D’Entrecasteaux or Hayes had been there, and as a matter of fact Hayes had watered his ships in this cove in May, 1793. After surveying Furneaux’s Frederick Henry Bay, Flinders and Bass on January 3, 1799, sailed out of Storm Bay, and, resuming their exploration of the east coast, completely circumnavigated Tasmania.

Later in the year Flinders was sent in the “Norfolk” to chart the east coast of the continent to the northward of Port Jackson, when he discovered Shoal Bay and after surveying Moreton Bay, anchored in Hervey Bay. The immediate result of his voyages was his summons to England, where he received from the Admiralty a commission to return and undertake a complete survey of the coasts of Australia. He was now promoted to the rank of commander and appointed to the sloop “Investigator” (formerly the “Xenophon”) with a complement of eighty-eight men as well as a landscape painter, a natural history painter, and a botanist, who was Robert Brown. Among the officers there were eight midshipmen, one of whom was John Franklin.[*]

[* Afterwards Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer.]


On July 18, 1801, the “Investigator” sailed from Spithead, reaching Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia, and on December 7th entering King George’s Sound, which ten years before (in 1791)[p104] Vancouver had visited and named. Here Flinders careened his ship. Leaving on January 5, 1802, he voyaged along the southern coast of the continent. From Fowler Bay he proceeded, sometimes on land and sometimes by water, exploring and naming Spencer Gulf and St. Vincent Gulf.[*] He also named Mt. Lofty and disproved the existence of the supposed strait dividing Australia from north to south. He thus annexed the whole of South Australia for his country. In Encounter Bay he met the “Géographe” under Baudin, and after bidding the Frenchman adieu turned his attention to a fine harbour near the western entrance of Bass Strait. He was unaware that Port Phillip had already been discovered by Murray in the “Lady Nelson,” and placed the name of his own ship on a pile of stones at the top of Station Peak. He reached Port Jackson on May 9th.

[“He fell in with two immense gulfs … he went as high as he could go in his ship and traced round the heads of these deep gulfs in his boats.”–King’s letter to Nepean.]

On July 22, 1802, the “Investigator” left Sydney to survey the eastern and northern coasts. In this voyage Flinders filled in many blank spaces on Cook’s chart of the east coast, and after entering Torres Strait sailed along the whole of the Gulf of Carpentaria. On an island in the gulf called Sweers Island he again left the name of his ship and the date 1803. He stopped at Cape Wessel. to effect some repairs and returned to Sydney by way of the west coast, calling at Timor and reaching Port Jackson on June 9, 1803.

Here the “Investigator’s” timbers were found to be unsound and she was condemned. As Flinders wished to finish his survey and then lay his charts before the Admiralty, he applied to Governor King for a ship to go home in, and went as a passenger in H.M.S. “Porpoise,” of which Robert Fowler, late first lieutenant of the “Investigator,” was placed in command. The “Porpoise” sailed from Port Jackson on August 10, 1803, in company with the “Cato” of London and the “Bridgewater,” a vessel belonging to the East India Company. The ships had been a week at sea when, 200 miles from the land, the “Porpoise, followed by “Cato,” struck on the Great Barrier Reef and was disabled–the “Bridgewater” just clearing the danger.

The Great Barrier Reef.–The chain of coral reefs which are known collectively as the Great Barrier Reef–the scene of many a brave seaman’s misfortune–extends for nearly one thousand miles from Swain Reef at their south-eastern extremity to [p105] Bligh’s Anchor Cay, their northernmost termination. They hedge the east coast of Australia from 22°23′ S. to as far as Cape Direction in 12°51′ S., whence they trend northwards to Anchor Cay, “forming a coralline structure unequalled in the world for their vast extent and formidable obstructions to navigation,”[*] where ship after ship has been dashed to pieces or left her timbers to whiten and rot, if not to serve as a beacon to warn the passing mariner.

[* “Admiralty Sailing Directions.”]

The reefs vary in breadth from a few hundred yards to several miles, and in distance from the shore, from twelve to seventy miles. The swell of the Pacific dashes against the outer edge of the Barrier with terrific force while the inner waters remain perfectly tranquil. Beneath them, however, lurk innumerable dangers in the shape of banks, shoals, and sunken rocks.

Although so dangerous, the reefs are surpassingly beautiful. The water is very clear. The coral, of vivid tints of green, purple, brown, and white, forms many a fairy bower beneath the waves, and takes every conceivable shape and pattern. “We had wheatsheaves, mushrooms, and staghorns,” writes Flinders, and other forms in a variety of colours, “equalling in beauty and excelling in grandeur the parterre of the curious florist.” Besides the live coral growing as it were out of solid rock, there is dead coral in masses of dull white–composing the stone of the reefs or rising above the water in the form of blackened lumps; to these last Flinders gave the name of Negroheads. In the pools within the edges of the reefs are sponges, sea eggs, and sea cucumber (trepang).

Ships making their way up the east coast to Torres Strait have the choice of two routes. One leads through Capricorn or Curtis Channel along the Australian coast and is called the Inner Route, for the ships pass within the reefs. The other route leads outside the barrier–to the eastward of the reefs–and is therefore known as the Outer Route.

Since the days of Cook the names of different ships have been bestowed upon these reefs and shoals, either because the ships discovered them or else met with mishaps there. Among those thus distinguished in very early times were the Endeavour Reef (1770), Bellona Reefs (1793), Cato Bank (1803), Frederick Reef (1812), Kangaroo Shoals (1815), Alert Reef (1817), Minerva Shoal (1818), and San Antonio Reef (1821).

There are deep openings through the barrier by which ships [p106] can either pass out to the Pacific or from the sea to the coast. Cook discovered the first passage, while others have been found in comparatively recent times, as, for example, the Flora Pass, reported by the schooner “Flora” as lately as 1883. These passages, like the reefs, often take the names of the ships or the men who threaded them; thus the earliest discovered were Cook’s Passage (1770), Bligh Boat Entrance (1789), Flinders’ Passage (1802), Hibernia Entrance (1814), Indefatigable Entrance (1815), Nimrod Entrance (1822), and many others. In 1798 Captain Swain in the ship “Eliza” discovered the southernmost reef[*] in 22°23′ S. 152°37′ E., although the brig “Deptford,” Captain Campbell, in the previous year had met with coral reefs–within the barrier–farther northward, in latitude 21½° S. The “Eliza” ran for twenty leagues among the reefs before she cleared them and had soundings from ten to sixty fathoms. Swain at last found a passage out of them “in 22° S. by a long and tortuous channel.” The reef now bears his name; the pass has none (possibly because it was no pass but a series of openings which were too sinuous to be considered safe), but he appears to have been one of the first to navigate a ship through the reefs off the Australian coast after Cook and Bligh had threaded their way through Cook’s Passage, Providential Channel, and Bligh Boat Entrance.

[* Lady Elliot Islet is the most southern coral islet.]

During the “Investigator’s” voyage Flinders gained his first knowledge of the extent and dangers of the Barrier Reef. In company with the “Lady Nelson” he had steered up the east coast in Cook’s track, marking its features and picking his way through the shoals that line the shore. To the north-north-west of Breaksea Spit he found a vast mass of reefs twenty leagues from the coast. When the ships reached Watering or Middle Island (one of the Percy Group) on October 6th another long range of reefs were seen which Flinders says were not the identical reefs seen by Campbell in the “Deptford” although they formed part of the same barrier. He discovered too that these reefs instead of being two degrees from the nearest island as laid down by Campbell were only twenty miles from it. Continuing their voyage to the Cumberland Isles the ships throughout had broken water and reefs on both sides of them. On October 18th the “Lady Nelson,” which had lost her main keel and damaged her trunk, was sent back to Sydney, and Flinders proceeded on his voyage alone.

[p107] Immediately after he parted from the “Lady Nelson” he again became entangled in reefs extending from east to north-north-west. He bore along “their inner side,” tracing the edge of the reefs until on October 21st he found a passage out to sea. This is situated forty miles from Cape Upstart, in 18°45′ S. 148°10′ E., E., and since has borne the name of Flinders’ Passage. Its inner or southern entrance, through which he passed, was seven and a half miles broad; the passage ran nearly north and south and was twenty-one miles long. He then continued his course to Torres Strait, discovering the reefs known as Eastern Fields, and, turning again towards the Main Barrier, entered Torres Strait by Pandora’s Entrance which had been discovered by Captain Edwards in 1791. Flinders says that from the time he entered the reefs, he had to steer 500 miles before lie found a way out; and in giving directions to seamen who might follow his track through the opening, he writes: “The commander who proposes to make this experiment must not be one who throws his ship’s head round in a hurry”; and again he says: “If he does not feel his nerves strong enough to thread the needle (as it is called) among the reefs while he directs the steerage from the masthead I would strongly recommend him not to approach this part of New South Wales” (as the coast was then called).

In 1803 when Flinders left Port Jackson for the last time in H.M.S. “Porpoise” in company with the “Cato” and “Bridgewater” he sailed by the Outer Route to Torres Strait. Wreck Reef, or rather the chain of reefs, on which the “Porpoise” and the “Cato” were wrecked on the morning of August 17th (when the “Bridgewater” left them to their fate), being on the eastern side of the barrier and about eighteen and a half miles in length and from a quarter to a mile and a half in breadth. It consists of patches of coral reef separated by navigable channels and is the home of seabirds and turtle. The eastern end of it, named, Flinders says, “not improperly,” Bird Islet, in 22°10′ S., 155°28′ E. was found to be covered with coarse grass and shrubs. After striking, the “Porpoise took a fearful heel over on her larboard beam ends,” fortunately falling towards the reef so that her people were saved. The “Cato,” under Captain Park, struck about two cables length away and “fell on her broadside,” when her masts instantly disappeared. Several of the seamen were bruised against the coral rocks and three young lads were drowned. One of the poor boys who had been shipwrecked no [p108] less than three or four times before–in every voyage that he had made–clung to a spar beside his captain and through the night bewailed that he “was the persecuted Jonas who carried misfortune wherever he went.” He lost his hold among the breakers, was swept away and seen no more.[*]

[* Flinders, “Terra Australis.”]

The shipwrecked men gained the dry sand in the centre of the reef and prepared their encampment. While searching for firewood that night they discovered a ship’s spar and a piece of timber, rotten and worm-eaten, which, in the opinion of the master of the “Porpoise,” was part of the sternpost of a ship of about 400 tons. Flinders imagined (as all sailors were then wont to do when seeing wreckage) that it had belonged to one of La Pe~rouse’s ships, but in more recent years timber as well as coins and other relics from a Spanish galleon have been recovered within the reefs, where they had been sheltered and preserved, perhaps embedded in some sandy shallow, so that it is not improbable that both sternpost and spar came from a long-lost Spanish vessel.

Flinders immediately set to work to build a cutter out of the timbers of the “Porpoise.” This, when finished, he named the “Hope,” and embarking in her with Captain Park and twelve others he sailed on August 26th to Port Jackson. For the relief of the shipwrecked crews Governor King dispatched the ship “Rolla” and two schooners, the “Cumberland” and the “Francis.” Leaving Port Jackson at daylight on September 21st Flinders reached Wreck Reef eight days later, when the crews were taken on board.

During his absence some of his old officers of the ” Investigator–among whom, besides Robert Fowler, were Samuel Flinders and John Franklin–superintended the building of a small decked ship, which was named the “Resource.” On being manned she was placed in charge of Denis Lacy, formerly master’s mate of the “Investigator.”

The officers and men of the “Porpoise” and “Cato” were distributed among the four ships. Those who preferred to return to Port Jackson went back there in the “Francis” and the “Resource”;[*] others, including Lieutenants Fowler and Samuel[p109] Flinders and John Franklin, sailed in the ” Rolla” to China, where they obtained passages to Europe. Matthew Flinders, with ten officers and seamen, embarked in the “Cumberland” (the little schooner of twenty-nine tons lent by Governor King), intending to proceed to England, but on his homeward voyage he was forced to call at Mauritius. There he was detained by the French and kept a prisoner for seven years.

[* As the “Resource” sailed to Sydney George Curtoys, commander of the “LadyNelson” spoke her off Broken Bay and records this fact in his log. In 1804, with the “Lady Nelson” and the colonial sloop “James,” she conveyed settlers from Sydney to Newcastle when Governor King raised that place to the dignity of a settlement. While voyaging home the “James” was wrecked and went to pieces off Broken Bay. Her crew was picked up and conveyed to Fort Jackson by the “Resource.”]

Flinders has left a clear account of his explorations in his work “Terra Australis,” and his surveys were so accurate that his maps form the basis of all modern Australian charts. In later days it is interesting to look upon the first bare outline of New Holland in one of his journals, from which the northern coasts are missing (it being simply a rough draft made when he was a midshipman, in 1792, with Captain Bligh in H.M.S. “Providence,” before he had seen the southern continent), and then to turn to the charts accompanying “Terra Australis,” in which every part of it appears delineated with so much care, skill, and detail that each map is a revelation in draftsmanship. One cannot help wondering whether Flinders when he drew that first roughly formed picture of the country was even then attracted to it and had resolved to fill in its outline; but, be this so or not, his name and the discovery of its coasts are inseparably connected.[*]

[* He died in London in 1814, and was buried in the churchyard of St. James’s, Hampstead Road.]


The “Buffalo” is well known on account of her many pioneering voyages; and writers of the early history of the colonies seem to regard her with a feeling akin to affection. Her figurehead was the effigy of a kangaroo, which may have endeared her to the white people as it did long ago to the black natives, of whom it is said that they were never tired of gazing at her as she lay at anchor in Sydney Harbour.

Turning over the pages of one of her log-books[*] we find her first in her own country at her moorings at Deptford (alongside the “Discovery”), under the command of Captain Ravenn,[**] and one of the earliest entries runs: “On Saturday, December 17, [p110] 1797, received on board fifty-one cauldrons of coal for the use of the colony of New South Wales”–an order evidently given before the discovery of coal in Australia had become known in England. It was a debt that was afterwards to be liberally repaid, for by Governor Hunter’s orders a few years later coal was carried from Newcastle to Table Bay for the use of British ships calling at the Cape. The log-book continues: “On March 3rd the ‘Buffalo’ made sail to Long Reach,” where, on March 24th, “the settlers to be rated as supernumeraries for victuals” came on board. On May 1st at 7 a.m. two boats were sent to Tilbury Fort for gunpowder for the ship’s store, and by the 10th the ship had again weighed anchor and dropped down to the Nore towards H.M.S. “Zealand,” the flagship of Admiral Lutwidge. On the 12th she received fifteen men from this ship to make up her complement. From the Nore the “Buffalo” sailed to the Downs, and on June 8th came to in St. Helen’s Roads, where Captain Raven went on board H.M.S. “Arethusa” and received his final instructions before sailing. On June 9, 1798, in company of eight sail bound for India, the “Buffalo” stood out to sea.

[* Captain’s Log, 1797.]

[** William Raven, formerly of the “Britannia.”]

On her outward voyage she called at Rio de Janeiro and again at Table Bay, losing before she reached the former port one of the ship’s company, for another entry states on Friday, August 3rd: “Missed Edward Parkinson, boy, who could not be found and imagined was washed out of the head and drowned as nobody could give an account of him since six o’clock.” Boys were shipped to sea at an early age in those days and sometimes were unfitted for the hazardous life. The age of poor Edward Parkinson is not recorded, but Peter Lainz, the little cabin boy from St. Malo who sailed with Bougainville, was only twelve years old. He also disappeared one evening after the ship had passed Cape Verde in the same mysterious manner and was never heard of again.

At Table Bay the “Buffalo” took on board (not inappropriately) a number of South African cattle for the colony. On January 4, 1799, she again made sail with the fleet for India, but parted from it at daylight on the following morning and continued her voyage alone. Many of the cattle died before she reached Sydney on May 3rd, although Captain Raven put into Adventure Bay and Jervis Bay to obtain a supply of fresh grass and water for them. At both places Tasmanian and Jervis Bay natives were seen and were “very friendly,” coming down to[p111] the beach “among the people,” so that in these harbours, as well as at Sydney, the ship’s figure-head may have made a good impression.

From this time onward the “Buffalo” was always busy. She played the part of flagship or transport, discovery or store ship with equal success. In 1800 Governor Hunter came back to England in her. On once more returning to the southern station she carried out important explorations, and in 1803 made surveys in New Caledonia. Captain Kent then visited the country, and on this voyage Port St. Vincent was named in honour of Admiral Sir John Jervis.[*] Among the ship’s most notable missions under Captain Kent was that of the founding of Launceston, Tasmania, in 1804. (Hobart had been established already.) In accordance with his instructions the LieutenantGovernor, Colonel William Paterson, sailed from Sydney on Sunday, October 14th, embarking in the ” Buffalo ” under a salute of eleven guns from the fort. Forty-six officers and men of the New South Wales Corps accompanied the Governor, while the ” Lady Nelson ” also carried troops and settlers to the proposed settlement. Two smaller vessels, the ” Francis ” and the `Integrity,” at the same time received orders to sail with Captain Kent to Port Dalrymple.

[* Kent named three islands inside the coral reef at Port St. Vincent, King, Paterson, and Robbins Islands–after the Governor of New South Wales, Colonel Paterson, and Mr. Robbins respectively–and the little island where the “Buffalo” anchored on her arrival was called Skull Island.]

fter leaving the harbour the ships, sailing southwards, met with a heavy gale, “which almost blew them back to Port Jackson.” A few hours before the gale began the “Francis” had parted company with the “Buffalo,” but the “Lady Nelson” and the “Integrity” remained with the flagship until the end of the storm, when the latter lost sight of both vessels. Owing to the tempestuous weather, out of the four ships which had left Sydney the “Buffalo” alone reached Port Dalrymple and moored on November 3rd four miles within the port. Next day she dragged her anchors, and touched, in spite of every exertion, but fortunately on a flat rock. By a spirited effort on the part of the crew she was floated undamaged, her anchor was slipped, and she was taken three miles higher up the harbour, where during the day the “Integrity” joined her.

On November 11th possession was taken of the northern shores of Tasmania on behalf of Great Britain with the usual[p112] formalities. The Lieutenant-Governor was saluted with eleven guns by the “Buffalo” on landing, and a royal salute was fired when the Union Jack was hoisted. On the 13th the general disembarkation took place at Outer Cove, where the Lieutenant-Governor had fixed his camp amid surroundings that seemed to all delightful, the waters of the harbour extending inland for many miles without interruption.

party of Tasmanian natives (now an extinct race) were encountered next day by some of the new colonists. At the sight of the white men they gave a furious shout and followed the British back to their camp. Here overtures were made by Colonel Paterson and they grew more conciliatory. Now and then, however, an indignant clamour, beginning with a single individual, ran rapidly through their lines, accompanied by excited gesticulations, the natives “biting their arms as a token of vengeance.” In the end the blacks, we are told, “withdrew peaceably but were positive in forbidding us to follow them.”

On November 21st two small ships–the “Lady Nelson” and the “Francis”–with torn sails and splintered masts, having sought refuge first at Twofold Bay and afterwards among the Furneaux Group, joined the “Buffalo” and “Integrity” at Port Dalrymple. On their coming into the port those on board saw with satisfaction the British colours flying on shore, and on the 23rd the bricks which had been sent from Sydney in the “Lady Nelson” to build houses for the settlers were safely landed. The “Buffalo” took her departure on November 29th, but before she left her crew erected two beacons to facilitate the safe entry of ships into port.

One of the last voyages of the “Buffalo” was made in 1807, when she sailed for England after her long stay in the colony. Among her passengers on this voyage were Mr. Marsden, senior chaplain, and his wife, and Mrs. King, wife of Governor King. After leaving Sydney a heavy gale threatened and it was proposed that the passengers should quit the “Buffalo,” since she was an old ship and thought unseaworthy, and go on board a stauncher vessel which bore her company. The Governor’s wife, however, was an invalid and could not be moved, and Mrs. Marsden would not leave her, so that the chaplain refused the offer and remained behind. Throughout the night the gale blew strongly, and the creaking timbers of the “Buffalo” groaned beneath the violent storm in a manner which gave those on board much concern. When morning dawned all eyes sought for their companion ship. [p113] But in vain. She was nowhere to be seen, nor was she ever heard of again.


In entering upon her eventful colonial career the “Lady Nelson” did that which alone ought to immortalize her–she was the first ship that ever sailed parallel to the entire southern coast-line of Australia.[*] A brig of sixty tons, she was built at Deptford in 1799, and differed from other exploring vessels in having a centre-board keel. She was chosen for exploration because her three sliding centre-boards enabled her draught to be lessened in shallow waters, for when these were up she drew no more than six feet.

[* “Early History of Victoria.”–F. P. Labillière.]

In 1799, when the news reached London that the French were fitting out an expedition to survey unknown portions of Australia, the authorities were quickly stirred to renewed activity and decided to send the “Lady Nelson” to Sydney. She was hauled from Deadman’s Dock into the river on January 13, 1800, with her full complement of men and stores on board, having been placed under the command of Lieutenant James Grant, and stocked with provisions for fifteen men for a period of nine months and enough water for three months. Before sailing her armament was increased to six carriage guns.

In January 16th she sailed to Gravesend. So small did she look when she left the Thames that the sailors in the ships in the river ridiculed her appearance and ironically christened her “His Majesty’s Tinderbox.” Grant called at Portsmouth, where he had orders to leave port with H.M.S. “Anson,” Captain Durham, who (the Powers being at war) was to convoy a fleet of East Indiamen then on the point of sailing; and with them was H.M.S. “Porpoise,” bound for New South Wales. This ship was formerly the “Infanta Amelia,” prize to the “Argo,” and was lying at Portsmouth when H.M.S. “Porpoise,” after twelve months delay, was proved unsound. The Admiralty purchased the Spanish vessel, rechristened her the “Porpoise,” and she sailed in company with the convoy on March 18, 1800. In New South Wales she proved an extremely useful ship, and with the “Buffalo” carried out the orders of Governor King, having been placed under his authority. She met her end, as has been told, on Wreck Reef.

[p114] After leaving Portsmouth the “Lady Nelson” did not long remain with the convoy. From the first she was scarcely able to keep pace with the big ships which bore her company, and when the commodore gave orders for her to be taken in tow by the “Brunswick” those on board had an unpleasant experience. On March 23rd Grant therefore determined to let go the hawser and to proceed on his voyage to Sydney alone. The brig eventually reached her destination in spite of all predictions to the contrary, and early on December 16th sighted the flagstaff at Port Jackson, which port she entered at six in the evening. Grant’s coming gave much satisfaction to the colony, and when Governor King heard the description of his passage through Bass Strait, and of how the “Lady Nelson” had passed deep indentations on the north side of it and had seen beautifully wooded shores and rocky islands lying off them, he was greatly pleased. He did not, however, conceal his disappointment that Grant had been unable to penetrate a deep bay called by him Governor King’s Bay (a name which afterwards was changed to Port Phillip).


Governor King had been instructed to have the whole of the south coast properly charted, and he determined to send Grant back again in the “Lady Nelson” to survey it. Grant on returning to Port Phillip for the second time failed to explore the bay; and John Murray, formerly master’s mate in the “Porpoise,” was appointed to succeed him as commander of the “Lady Nelson,” after he had voluntarily sent in his resignation. Murray’s appointment is dated September 3, 1801, and in January, 1802, he entered Port Phillip. He saw it first on January 5th, but, a high sea preventing him, he could not then effect an entrance and steered away to King Island, the eastern shores of which he surveyed, returning on January 30th to the south coast. He then sent Mr. Bowen and five men in the “Lady Nelson’s” launch to examine Port Phillip. A “most noble sheet of water” was found. On the return of the launch Murray himself sailed into this newly discovered port in the “Lady Nelson,” and after surveying and charting it for the Governor’s satisfaction he hoisted the Union Jack. The chart of Port Phillip then drawn by Murray may be termed the most important he ever made, and it was one of those sent home to the Admiralty by Governor King. It shows the track of the “Lady Nelson’s” boat when the brig entered Port Phillip for the first time in 1802. As the chart Grant had made of its outer [p115] shores was very imperfect, the Governor himself drew an eye-sketch of Grant’s explorations, which was sent home also.

Governor King made other drawings of Bass Strait. We have 111 already referred to the one which combines Bass’s eye-sketch with the “Harbinger’s” track through the Strait. The “Harbinger,” under Captain Black, came from the Cape and arrived at Sydney on January 11, 1801. She had closely followed in Grant’s track and was therefore the second ship to sail through Bass Strait. On his way Black met with an island which he named King Island in honour of the Governor.[*] Another eye-sketch drawn by King shows the track of the ship “Margaret” from England commanded by Captain Buyers, this being the third ship to sail through Bass Strait. She came to an anchorage in Port Jackson on February 7, 1801.

[* Mr. Reid of the “Martha,” however, had first seen it in 1799, and had informed Governor Hunter of his discovery.]

There is yet another very early MS. chart of Bass Strait in existence and one which is historic. It is described as “A chart of Bass’s Straits generally laid down from one published by Alexander Dalrymple, Esq., with additions made during the ‘Arniston’s’ passage through them in 1804.” Louis de Freycinet acknowledged that the drawing of Port Phillip in his chart of “Terre Napoleon” was taken from it. Originally copied from one of Dalrymple’s charts during the “Arniston’s” voyage, it was found among the papers of the “Fame” when that vessel was captured by the French ship “Piemontoise” in 1806. The “Arniston” was one of a fleet of ships that left England in 1804 under convoy of H.M.S. “Athenien,” whose commander had received orders from the Admiralty “to proceed with the East India ships under his convoy through Bass Strait to China passing east of New Holland and Port Phillip.”[*] Interesting as it is (the original being still preserved in the dossier of Baudin’s journal in Paris), the chart has no geographical importance, for the shores which profess to be those of Port Phillip bear no resemblance to the outlines of that harbour.

We now return to the story of the “Lady Nelson,” a vessel which occupies a niche in the history of Victoria somewhat similar to that filled by the “Endeavour” in the annals of New South Wales; but whereas Cook’s ship discovered the east coast and then left it, the “Lady Nelson,” after charting the bare coast-line of Victoria, returned again and again to explore its [p116] inlets and to examine its shores. Indeed, while she was stationed at Sydney there was scarcely a dependency of the mother colony that was not more or less indebted to her whether for proclaiming it a British possession, or for bringing it settlers and food, or for providing it with a means of defence against the natives.

[* Sailing orders, Dalrymple to Marsden; May 25, 1804.]

The “Lady Nelson” went northward as well as southward, and in company with the “Investigator,” in 1802, examined the Queensland shore as far as the Cumberland Islands. In making her way up the coast, unfortunately, she sustained damage which rendered her unfit for service. At the time the ships were within the Great Barrier Reef; and Flinders states that he kept the brig with him until a passage clear of reefs could be found to enable her to get out to sea. Flinders bade Murray farewell among the Cumberland Islands when Flinders wrote: “The zeal he had shown . . . increased my regret at parting from our little consort.”

After separating from the “Investigator,” Murray, in order to spare the “Lady Nelson’s” sole remaining anchor, gave orders for two swivel guns crossed to be lashed together, and, when winds were light and waters smooth, he anchored with the swivels until the carpenter was able to make an iron-bark anchor to take their place. He made his way carefully down the coast and reached Sydney Cove on November 22nd.

In 1803 Lieutenant George Curtoys succeeded Murray in command of the “Lady Nelson.” He had been master’s mate of the “Glatton,” and before coming to Australia had spent a long term of confinement in a French prison during the war with that country; his health, therefore, was in a rather delicate state when he took charge of the vessel. He was highly recommended to Governor King by Captain James Colnett. On June 10, 1803, in company with the “Albion,” whaler, Captain Bunker, the “Lady Nelson” sailed from Sydney with the first British colonists under Lieutenant Bowen for Risdon Cove, on the Derwent River, and then was laid the foundation of the present city of Hobart. This was the first attempt made by the British to colonize Tasmania, Risdon being chosen as the site by Bowen because there the best stream of water ran into the cove and also because there were extensive valleys behind it.

When the colonists had disembarked at Risdon Cove and building operations had been started, at which time we are told that the “Lady Nelson” “lent the colony a bell and half a barrel of gunpowder,” the brig returned to Port Jackson. Here[p117] Lieutenant Curtoys was again taken ill and was removed to the naval hospital. As his health did not improve, he shortly afterwards resigned his command and retired from the Royal Navy.[*]

[* Later we find him in charge of a brig which traded between Java and Timor, and his death was reported at Timor in 1813.]

The “Lady Nelson’s” new commander was James Symons, who also had served as midshipman in the “Glatton” under Captain Colnett and afterwards on board the “Buffalo.” Symons was ordered by Governor King to proceed to Port Phillip to assist in moving the settlement (which had been formed at that place in 1803 under Colonel Collins) to Tasmania. The “Lady Nelson” left Sydney on November 28, 1803; but, being delayed by bad weather first at the Kent Group and again at Port Dalrymple, she did not reach her destination until January 21, 1804. On the 25th, having received the Port Phillip settlers on board, in company with the “Ocean” she made sail out of Port Phillip Bay. After a passage of ten days she reached Risdon. Colonel Collins thought this site ineligible and gave orders for the Risdon settlement to be moved to Sullivan’s Cove, where he had encamped, the name Hobart, which had been given by Lieutenant Bowen to Risdon, being retained for the new site. Later in the year 1804 the “Lady Nelson” under Symons visited New Zealand and Norfolk Island, and helped to remove white settlers to Launceston when the Norfolk Island settlement was broken up.

In 1806 Symons received instructions from the Governor of New South Wales to convey a New Zealand chief named Tippahee or Tepahi, and his sons from Sydney back to his own dominions. Tippahee’s residence was at the Bay of Islands, and there he was safely landed. Before lie entered the harbour Mr. Symons carried out a little expedition of exploration and examined a deep bay in his boat, ascending a river which he seems to have surveyed. Among the many valuable charts made by the commanders of the “Lady Nelson,” however, there are not any of New Zealand, and possibly Symons did not actually chart the places which he has described.

From this time. forward occasional voyages were made by the “Lady Nelson,” and we read of the different governors and officials taking excursions in her to the various settlements. No detailed record of these exists, so it is not always easy to trace the doings of the ship. For some years she lay dismantled [p118] in Sydney Harbour, and during that period is described as “nothing more nor less than a coal hulk.” Before this she had been handed over by the Admiralty to the colonial authorities.

In 1819, by an order of Governor Macquarie, she was thoroughly overhauled and accompanied the “Mermaid” as far as Port Macquarie; later, in 1824, when in charge of Captain Johns, she was chosen to convey settlers to Melville Island, where the British Government had determined to form a settlement. With H.M.S. “Tamar” (Captain James Gordon Bremer) and the “Countess of Harcourt,” a ship chartered to assist him, the “Lady Nelson,” heavily laden with passengers, soldiers, and stores sailed on August 24, 1824.

She then left Port Jackson for the last time. On September 20th the vessels reached Port Essington, and an entry in Captain Bremer’s log states that on that day possession was taken of the north coast of New Holland on behalf of the British Government. On November 10th Captain Bremer took leave of the settlement and handed it over into the charge of Captain Maurice Barlow, who had been appointed commandant. The “Lady Nelson” remained behind to act as guard-ship, and she was also required to bring needed stores and supplies from the islands to the northward for the use of the settlers.

resh provisions being scarce, in February, 1823, Captain Barlow dispatched her to the islands for a cargo of buffaloes. When she left Port Cockburn her commander was warned to avoid an island called Baba, which was infested with pirates who bore the reputation of being very daring and very cruel. It is supposed that the warning was unheeded. for there the little vessel met her end. When Lieutenant Kolff, of the Dutch Navy, visited Baba in July, 1825, the inhabitants were shy and deserted the village called Tepa on his landing. He was convinced that a crime had been committed, and learned that some months previously “an English brig manned by about a dozen Europeans had anchored off Aluta on the S.E. coast and had engaged in barter with natives, who were on board in great numbers and who, taking the opportunity of five men being on shore . . . attacked and killed the people in the brig as well as those in the boat when they returned.” The last news of the “Lady Nelson” was brought to Sydney some time afterwards by a ship called the “Faith,” whose captain reported that her hull with her name painted on the stern was still to be seen at Baba Island.

[p119] Besides the ships whose work has been described above, there passed in and out of Sydney Heads small colonial vessels including the “Norfolk,” “Francis,” “Cumberland,” “Edwin,” “Integrity,” and “Resource,” whose histories are interwoven not only with that of Port Jackson but with those of Tasmania and New Zealand as well. There were also the East India Company ships bringing more prisoners to the colony. And these too played their part in discovery. On their way across the Pacific their commanders frequently took unknown routes and drew many a useful chart of islands and channels seen, which Dalrymple afterwards published. The charts show the tracks of their ships, and the accounts of their voyages may be read in the first Sydney newspapers where many a thrilling tale of adventure is narrated, rivalling those old stories of the Spanish main recorded in the more ancient chronicles of the sea.

All these voyages created keen interest at Sydney, especially when on the arrival of the ships their commanders brought the news of the finding of a new harbour, coast, or river, with information that the land was fertile and its waters a good sealing ground. An impetus was given to shipping and colonization and fresh ventures were quickly planned, men sometimes setting out of the port in the frailest craft with the poorest equipment, to investigate the desirable regions. These ventures “helped largely to develop the spirit of daring, the strong love of liberty which pushed forward the rough aggressive pioneer work and cleared the way for British dominion in neighbouring lands.”[*]

[* Old Sydney Traders by Maorilander.]

To Port Jackson, too, there came traders from all countries, including the weather-beaten South Sea whalers laden with furs from the sealing grounds on the New Zealand coasts. Sealers also came from the islands in Bass Strait, where, save when an occasional King’s ship put in an appearance, they were monarchs of both sea and land. Others there were from islands farther to the northward the stories of whose voyages are memorable not only as tales of adventure but for the gorgeous setting in which the scenes were laid amid islands, atolls, and coral reefs.

What a history of their first coming those old skippers might have written! The majority were venturesome, hard-grained British seamen (with an occasional American), who ably assisted the naval officers who traversed long ranges of sea-line, for we find the old maps marked with their tracks and the names of[p120] the ships[*] in which they sailed from Sydney to Tahiti or Fiji, where they occasionally sought a cargo of sandal-wood. From Port Jackson some sailed southward to Hobart, and from Hobart they penetrated farther southward to Macquarie Island,[*] dispersing when whales and seals in Australian waters became scarce, to come together again in later years at New South Shetland.

[* Such names as the “Britannia,” “Nautilus,” “Eliza,” “Hibernia,” “Favourite,” and “Active.”]

[** Among these the “Emerald,” “Perseverance,” “Lynx,” “King George,” and “Betsy.”]

Some of the names of the captains of these ships will live in the history of exploration, as, for example, Matthew Weatherhead, whose story has been told; Raven of the “Britannia” and Bampton of the “Endeavour,” both pioneers of Dusky Bay; Ebor Bunker, who, in the “Albion,” carried some of the first British settlers to Tasmania; Alexander Rhodes of the “Alexander,” beloved of the Maoris; Frederick Hasselburg of the “Perseverance,” who discovered Macquarie and Campbell Islands and later lost his life by drowning among those islands; George Powell of the “Dove,”[*] whose chart will ever be remembered in the history of the Antarctic; and Richard Siddons of the “Lynx,” perhaps the greatest traveller of them all, who gave so much information concerning early Fiji, and delighted to hold mission services on board his ship in Sydney Harbour, and whom we find later in company with William Smith and Robert Fildes in Blythe Bay, New South Shetland.

[* Formerly of the “Queen Charlotte,” and afterwards of the “Rambler,” who was killed by natives of Vavu.]

There were also those foreign discovery ships whose commanders followed La Pe~rouse into southern waters and entered Port Jackson to seek refuge for their weather-beaten vessels and to gain knowledge of the southern continent, of which they have given us accounts in their journals. They saw Sydney while the town was in its infancy, when canoes of the blacks floated on the waters of the harbour, and trees and foliage still covered the surrounding points and indentations, so that their writings are valuable records. The most notable expeditions being those of Alexandro Malaspina, who brought the Spanish ships “Descubierta” and “Atrevida,” in 1793; of Baudin, commander of the French ships the “Géographe” and the “Naturaliste,” in 1802; also of De Freycinet, who came in the “Uranie ” in 1819; Commodore Bellingshausen a year later with the Russian [p121] ships “Vostok” and “Mirni,” a navigator celebrated for his long voyages in the Antarctic; Duperrey in the “Coquille” in 1821; Bougainville the younger with the ships “Thetis” and “Esperance” in the same year; and Durnont d’Urville in the “Astrolabe,” who came in search of La Pe~rouse’s expedition (1826-28) and at last found the island where the ships were lost.