CHAPTER 12. THE INVESTIGATOR.
Another matter with which Flinders was occupied during his stay in England was the preparation of a small publication dealing with his recent researches. It was entitled "Observations on the coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait and its Islands, and on parts of the coasts of New South Wales, intended to accompany the charts of the late discoveries in those countries, by Matthew Flinders, second lieutenant of His Majesty's ship Reliance." It consisted of thirty-five quarto pages, issued without a wrapper, and stitched like a large pamphlet. John Nichols, of Soho, was the publisher, but some copies were issued with the imprint of Arrowsmith, the publisher of charts. Very few copies now remain, and the little book, which is one of the rare things of bibliography, is not to be found even in many important libraries.
Flinders dedicated the issue to Sir Joseph Banks. "Your zealous exertions to promote geographical and nautical knowledge, your encouragement of men employed in the cultivation of the sciences that tend to this improvement, and the countenance you have been pleased to show me in particular, embolden me to lay the following observations before you." Generally speaking, the Observations contain matter that was afterwards embodied in the larger Voyage to Terra Australis, and taken from reports that have been used in the preceding pages. The special purpose of the book was to be of use to navigators who might sail in Australian waters, and it is therefore full of particulars likely to guide them. He pointed out that there might be some errors in the longitude records of the Norfolk voyage because "no time-keepers could be procured for this expedition," but he pointed out that the survey was made with great care. "The sloop was kept close to the shore, and brought back every morning within sight of the same point it had been hauled off during the preceding evening, by which means the chain of angles was never broken." This was, as will be seen later, the method employed on the more important voyage about to be undertaken.
The task that mainly occupied his attention during these few months in England, was the making of preparations for a voyage of discovery intended to complete the exploration of the coasts of Australia. It has already been remarked that the initiative in regard to the Francis and Norfolk explorations sprang from Flinders' own eager desire, and not from the governing authorities. Precisely the same occurred in the case of the far more important Investigator voyage. He did not wait for something to turn up. Immediately after his arrival in England, he formulated a plan, pointed out the sphere of investigation to which attention ought to be directed, and approached the proper authorities. He wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, "offering my services to explore minutely the whole of the coasts, as well those which were imperfectly known as those entirely unknown, provided the Government would provide me with a proper ship for the purpose. I did not address myself in vain to this zealous promoter of science; and Earl Spencer, then First Lord of the Admiralty, entering warmly into the views of his friend, obtained the approbation of his Majesty, and immediately set out a ship that could be spared from the present demands of war, which Great Britain then waged with most of the Powers of Europe."* (* Flinders' Papers.)
Lord Spencer's prompt and warm acquiescence in the proposition is not less to be noted than the friendly interest of Banks. His administration of the Admiralty in Pitt's Government was distinguished by his selection of Nelson as the admiral to frustrate the schemes of the French in sea warfare; and it stands as an additional tribute to his sagacity that he at once recognised Flinders to be the right man to maintain the prowess of British seamanship in discovery.
Three reasons made the Government the more disposed to equip an expedition for the purpose. The first was that in June, 1800, L.G. Otto, the representative of the French Republic in London, applied for a passport for two discovery ships which were being despatched to the south seas. French men of science had for many years interested themselves in the investigation of these unknown portions of the globe. The expeditions of Laperouse (1785 to 1788) and of Dentrecasteaux (1791 to 1796) were evidence of their concern with the problems awaiting elucidation. The professors of the Museum in Paris were eager that collections of minerals and plants should be made in the southern hemisphere. The Institute of France was led by keen men of science, one of whom, the Comte de Fleurieu, had prepared the instructions for the two previous voyages. They had found a warm friend to research in Louis XVI, and the fall of the monarchy did not diminish their anxiety that France should win honour from pursuing the enquiry. They represented to Napoleon, then First Consul, the utility of undertaking another voyage, and his authorisation was secured in May. A passport was granted by Earl Spencer when Otto made the application, but there was a suspicion that the French Government was influenced by motives of policy lying deeper than the ostensible desire to promote discovery.
Secondly, the East India Company was concerned lest the French should establish themselves somewhere on the coast of Australia, and, with a base of operations there, menace the Company's trade.
Thirdly, Sir Joseph Banks, after conversations with Flinders and an examination of his charts, saw the importance of the work remaining to be done, and used his influence with the Admiralty to authorise a ship to be detailed for the purpose.