CHAPTER 16. FLINDERS IN PORT PHILLIP.
Flinders' actual discovery work on the south coast was completed when he met Baudin in Encounter Bay; for the whole coast line to the east had been found a short while before he appeared upon it, though he was not aware of this fact when completing his voyage. For about a hundred and fifty miles, from the mouth of the Murray eastward to Cape Banks, the credit of discovery properly belongs to Baudin, and Flinders duly marked his name upon the chart. Further eastward, from Cape Banks to the deep bend of the coast at the head of which lies Port Phillip, the discoverer was Captain Grant of the Lady Nelson. His voyage was projected under the following circumstances.
When Philip Gidley King, who in 1800 succeeded Hunter as Governor of New South Wales, was in England in 1799, he represented to the Admiralty the desirability of sending out to Australia a small, serviceable ship, capable of being used in shallow waters, so that she might explore bays and rivers. One of the Commissioners of the Transport Board, Captain John Schanck, had designed a type of vessel that was considered suitable for this purpose. She was to be fitted with a sliding keel, or centreboard, and was deemed to be a boat of staunch sea-going qualities, as well as being good for close-in coastal service. A sixty-ton brig, the Lady Nelson, was built to Schanck's plans, and was entrusted to the command of Lieutenant Grant. She was tried in the Downs in January, 1800, when Grant reported enthusiastically on her behaviour. She rode out a gale in five fathoms of water without shipping "even a sea that would come over the sole of your shoe." Running her into Ramsgate in a heavy sea, Grant wrote of her in terms that, though somewhat crabbed to a non-nautical ear, were a sailor's equivalent for fine poetry: "though it blew very strong, I found the vessel stand well up under sail, and with only one reef out of the topsails, no jib set, a lee tide going, when close hauled she brought her wake right aft and went at the rate of five knots."
Grant was ambitious to make discoveries on his own account, and did not lack zeal. He was a skilful sailor, but was lacking in the scientific accomplishment required for the service in which he aspired to shine. When at length he returned from Australia, King summed him up in a sentence: "I should have been glad if your ability as a surveyor, or being able to determine the longitude of the different places you might visit, was any ways equal to your ability as an officer and a seaman."
Grant left England early in 1800, intending to sail to Australia by the usual route, making the Cape of Good Hope, and then rounding the south of Van Diemen's Land. But news of the discovery of Bass Strait was received after the Lady Nelson had put to sea; and the Admiralty (April, 1800) sent instructions to reach him at the Cape, directing him to sail through the strait from the west. This he did. Striking the Australian coast opposite Cape Banks on December 3rd, 1800, he followed it along past Cape Otway, thence in a line across to Wilson's Promontory and, penetrating the strait, was the first navigator to work through it from the far western side. He attempted no survey, and shortness of water and provisions deterred him from even pursuing the in-and-out curves of the shore; but he marked down upon a rough eye-sketch such prominent features as Mount Gambier, Cape Northumberland, Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson, Portland Bay, Julia Percy Island, and Cape Otway. "I took the liberty of naming the different capes, bays, etc., for the sake of distinction," he reported to the Governor on his arrival at Sydney on December 16th.
It was in this way that both Baudin and Flinders were anticipated in the discovery of the western half of the coast of Victoria. The Investigator voyage had not been planned when the Lady Nelson sailed; and when Flinders was commissioned the Admiralty directed that Grant should be placed under his orders, the brig being used as a tender.
The baffling winds that had delayed Flinders' departure from Kangaroo Island on April 8th, 1802, continued after he sailed from Encounter Bay, so that he did not pass the fifty leagues or so first traversed by Le Geographe for eight tedious days. On April 17th he reached Grant's Cape Banks; on April 18th passed Cape Northumberland; and on the 19th Capes Bridgewater, Nelson and Grant. But the south-west gale blew so hard during this part of the voyage that, the coast trending south-easterly, it was difficult to keep the ship on a safe course; and Flinders confessed that he was "glad to miss a small part of the coast." Thick squally weather prevented the survey being made with safety; and, indeed, it was rarely that the configuration of the land could be distinguished at a greater distance than two miles. On the 21st Flinders noticed a subsidence of the sea, which made him conclude that he was to the windward of the large island concerning which he had questioned Baudin. He resolved to take advantage of a period when the close examination of the mainland had become dangerous to determine the exact position of this island, of whose whereabouts he had heard from sealers in 1799.
The south part of King Island had been found by the skipper of a sealing brig, named Reid, in 1799, but the name it bears was given to it by John Black, commander of the brig Harbinger, who discovered the northern part in January, 1801. Flinders was occupied for three days at King Island. On the 24th, the wind having moderated, he made for Cape Otway. But it was still considered imprudent to follow the shore too closely against a south-east wind; and on the 26th the ship ran across the water to Grant's Cape Schanck.