CHAPTER 18. AUSTRALIA CIRCUMNAVIGATED.
Preparations for the continuance of researches in the Investigator proceeded speedily during June and July, 1802. Friendly relations were maintained with the staff of the French ships, who on one occasion dined on board with Flinders, and were received with a salute of eleven guns. A new chart of the south coast was then shown to Baudin, with the part which he had discovered marked with his name. He made no objection to the justice of the limits indicated, though he expressed himself surprised that they were so small; for up to this time he was not aware of the discovery by Grant of the coast eastward from Cape Banks. "Ah, Captain," said Freycinet, when he recognised the missed opportunities, "if we had not been kept so long picking up shells and catching butterflies at Van Diemen's Land, you would not have discovered the south coast before us."
A glimpse of the social life of the settlement is afforded in a letter to Mrs. Flinders, concerning the King's birthday celebrations.* (* Flinders' Papers.) Very little is known about the amusements and festivities of Sydney in those early days, but that gaiety and ceremony were not absent from the convict colony is apparent from this epistle, which was dated June 4th, 1802: "This is a great day in all distant British settlements, and we are preparing to celebrate it with due magnificence. The ship is covered with colours, and every man is about to put on his best apparel and to make himself merry. We go through the form of waiting on His Excellency the Governor at his levee, to pay our compliments to him as the representative of majesty; after which, a dinner and ball are given to the colony, at which not less than 52 gentlemen and ladies will be present. Amidst all this, how much preferable is such a 'right hand and left' as that we have had at Spilsby with those we love, to that which we shall go through this evening."
A few alterations were made in the ship, which was re-rigged and overhauled; and a new eight-oar boat was built to replace the one lost in Spencer's Gulf. She cost 30 pounds, and was constructed after the model of the boat in which Bass had made his famous expedition to Westernport. She proved, "like her prototype, to be excellent in a sea, as well as for rowing and sailing in smooth water."
Fourteen men were required to make up the ship's complement. A new master was found in John Aken of the Hercules, a convict transport, and five seamen were engaged; but it was impossible to secure the services of nine others from amongst the free people. Flinders thereupon proposed to the Governor that he should ship nine convicts who could bring "respectable recommendations." King concurred, and the number required were permitted to join the Investigator, with the promise that they should receive conditional or absolute pardons on their return, "according to Captain Flinders' recommendation of them." Several of them were experienced seamen, and proved a great acquisition to the strength of the ship. Flinders also took with him his old friend Bongaree, "the worthy and brave fellow" who had accompanied him on the Norfolk voyage in 1799, and a native lad named Nambaree.
It was determined, after consultation with King, to sail to the north of Australia and explore Torres Strait and the east side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, as well as to examine the north-east coast with more care than Cook had been able to give to it. The Lady Nelson, under Murray's direction, was to accompany the Investigator; if rivers were found, it was hoped that she would be able to penetrate the country by means of them.
On the 21st July the provisioning of the ship was completed, the new boat was hoisted into her place, and the Investigator dropped down the harbour to make her course northward.
The Lady Nelson proved more of a hindrance than a help to the work of exploration. She was painfully slow, and, to make matters worse, Murray, "not being much accustomed to make free with the land," hugged the coast, and kept the Investigator waiting for him at every appointed rendezvous. In August she bumped on a reef in Port Curtis and lost her sliding keel; in September she ran aground in Broad Sound and injured her main keel. Her capacity for beating to windward was never great, and after she had been repaired her tardiness became irritating. Murray had also lost one anchor and broken another. His ship sailed so ill, in fact, and required so much attention, that she dragged on Flinders' vessel; and Murray had given many proofs that he "was not much acquainted with the kind of service" in which they were engaged. On October 18th, therefore, Flinders sent her back to Sydney, with an expression of regret at depriving Murray, who had shown zeal to make himself useful, of the advantage of continuing the voyage.
On August 7th Port Curtis was discovered, and was named after Sir Roger Curtis, the admiral at the Cape who had been so attentive to the requirements of the Investigator on her voyage out from England. In Keppel Bay (discovered by Cook in 1770) the master's mate and a seaman became bogged in a mangrove swamp, and had to pass the night persecuted by clouds of mosquitoes. In the morning their plight was relieved by a party of aboriginals, who took them to a fire whereat they dried themselves, and fed them on broiled wild duck. Natives were encountered at every landing-place, and were invariably friendly.
Another important discovery was made on August 21st, when Port Bowen was entered. It had not only escaped Cook's notice, but, owing to a change of wind, was nearly missed by Flinders also. He named it after Captain James Bowen of the Royal Navy.