CHAPTER 12. THE INVESTIGATOR.
Thus imperial policy, trade interests and scientific ardour combined to procure the equipment of a new research expedition. In view of the fact that the Admiralty became officially aware in June of the intentions of the French, it cannot be said that they were precipitate in making their own plans; for it was not until December 12 that they issued their orders.
The vessel allotted for the employment was a 334-ton sloop, built in the north of England for the merchant service. She had been purchased by the Government for naval work, and, under the name of the Xenophon, had been employed in convoying merchant vessels in the Channel. Her name was changed to the Investigator, her bottom was re-coppered, the plating being put on "two streaks higher than before," and she was equipped for a three years' voyage. Flinders took command of her at Sheerness on January 25th, 1801. He was promoted to the rank of commander on the 16th of the following month.
The renovated ship was good enough to look at, and she commended herself to Flinders' eye as being the sort of vessel best fitted for the work in contemplation. In form she "nearly resembled the description of vessel recommended by Captain Cook as best calculated for voyages of discovery." But, though comfortable, she was old and unsound. Patching and caulking merely plugged up defects which the buffetings of rough seas soon revealed. But she was the best ship the Admiralty was able to spare at the time. Long before she had completed her outward voyage, however, the senility of the Investigator had made itself uncomfortably evident. Writing of the leaks experienced on the run down to the Cape, Flinders said: -
"The leakiness of the ship increased with the continuance of the southwest winds, and at the end of a week amounted to five inches of water an hour. It seemed, however, that the leaks were above the water's edge, for on tacking to the westward they were diminished to two inches. This working of the oakum out of the seams indicated a degree of weakness which, in a ship destined to encounter every hazard, could not be contemplated without uneasiness. The very large ports, formerly cut in the sides to receive thirty-two pound carronades, joined to what I have been able to collect from the dockyard officers, had given me an unfavourable opinion of her strength; and this was now but too much confirmed. Should it be asked why representations were not made and a stronger vessel procured, I answer that the exigencies of the navy were such at that time, that I was given to understand no better ship could be spared from the service; and my anxiety to complete the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis did not admit of refusing the one offered."
The history of maritime discovery is strewn with rotten ships. Certainly if the great navigators, before venturing to face the unknown, had waited to be provided with vessels fit to make long voyages, the progress of research would have been much slower than was the case. It sounds like hyperbole to say that, when pitch and planks failed, these gallant seamen stopped their leaks with hope and ardour; but really, something like that is pretty near the truth.
The fitting out of the Investigator proceeded busily during January and February, 1801. The Admiralty was liberal in its allowances. Indeed, the equipment was left almost entirely to Banks and Flinders. The commander "obtained permission to fit her out as I should judge necessary, without reference to the supplies usually allotted to vessels of the same class." The extent to which the Admiralty was guided by Banks is indicated in a memorandum by the Secretary, Evan Nepean, penned in April. Banks wrote "Is my proposal for an alteration in the undertaking in the Investigator approved?" Nepean replied "Any proposal you may make will be approved; the whole is left entirely to your decision."
In addition to plentiful supplies and special provision for a large store of water, the Investigator carried an interesting assortment of "gauds, nick-nacks, trifles," to serve as presents to native peoples with whom it was desired to cultivate friendly relations. The list included useful articles as well as glittering toys, and is a curious document as illustrating a means by which civilisation sought to tickle the barbarian into complaisance. Flinders carried for this purpose 500 pocket-knives, 500 looking-glasses, 100 combs, 200 strings of blue, red, white and yellow beads, 100 pairs of ear-rings, 200 finger rings, 1000 yards of blue and red gartering, 100 red caps, 100 small blankets, 100 yards of thin red baize, 100 yards of coloured linen, 1000 needles, five pounds of red thread, 200 files, 100 shoemakers' knives, 300 pairs of scissors, 100 hammers, 50 axes, 300 hatchets, a quantity of other samples of ironmongery, a number of medals with King George's head imprinted upon them, and some new copper coins.
It is a curious assortment, but it may be observed that the materials, as well as the method of ingratiation, were very much the same with the earlier as with the later navigators. An early instance occurs in Rene Laudonniere's account of his relations with the natives of Florida in 1565:* (* Hakluyt's Voyages edition of 1904 Volume 9 pages 31 and 49.) "I gave them certaine small trifles, which were little knives or tablets of glasse, wherein the image of King Charles the Ninth was drawen very lively...I recompensed them with certaine hatchets, knives, beades of glasse, combes and looking-glasses."
The crew of the Investigator was selected with particular care. Flinders desired to carry none but young sailors of good character. He was given permission to take men from the Zealand, and he explained to those who volunteered the nature of the service, and its probably severe and protracted character. The readiness with which men came forward gave him much pleasure.