CHAPTER 19. THE CALAMITY OF WRECK REEF.
There was some anxious discussion between King and Flinders as to the best course to follow for the expeditious completion of the survey of the coasts of Australia. The Investigator being no longer fit for the service, consideration was given to the qualifications of the Lady Nelson, the Porpoise, the Francis, and the Buffalo, all of which were under the Governor's direction. King was most willing to give his concurrence and assistance in any plan that might be considered expedient. He confessed himself convinced of Flinders' "zealous perseverance in wishing to complete the service you have so beneficially commenced," and cheerfully placed his resources at the explorer's disposal.
Flinders went for a few days to the Hawkesbury settlement, where fresh air, a vegetable diet and medical care promoted his recovery from the ailments occasioned by prolonged ship-life in the tropics; and on his return, at the beginning of July, determined upon a course of action. The Porpoise was the best of the four vessels mentioned, but she was by no means a sound ship, and it did not seem justifiable to incur the expense of fitting her for special service only to find her incapable of finishing the task. It was determined, therefore, that she should be sent to England under Fowler's command, and that Flinders should go in her as a passenger, in order that he might lay his charts and journals before the Admiralty, and solicit the use of another vessel to continue his explorations. Brown, the botanist,* and Bauer, the botanical draftsman. desired to remain in Port Jackson to pursue their scientific work, but Westall accompanied Flinders, who with twenty-one of the remainder of the Investigator's company, embarked on the Porpoise. (* Brown, in the preface to his Prodromus (which, being intended for the elect, was written in Latin), made but one allusion to the discovery voyage whereby his botanical researches became possible. Dealing with the parts of Australia where he had collected his specimens, he spoke of the south coast, "Oram meridionalem Novae Hollandiae, a promontorio Lewin ad promontorium Wilson in Freto Bass, complectentem Lewin's Land, Nuyt's Land et littora Orientem versus, a Navarcho Flinders in expeditione cui adjunctus fui, primum explorata, et paulo post a navigantibus Gallicis visa: insulis adjacentibus inclusis.") She sailed on August 10th, in company with the East India Company's ship Bridgewater and the Cato, of London, both bound for Batavia. It was intended to go north, and through Torres Strait, in order that further observations might be made there; and Fowler was ordered to proceed "by the route Captain Flinders may indicate." Had not Flinders been so eager to take advantage of this as of every other opportunity to prosecute his researches - had he sailed by the Bass Strait and Cape of Good Hope route - the misfortunes that were soon to come upon him would have been averted. But he deliberately chose the Torres Strait course, not only because he considered that a quick passage could be made at that season of the year, but chiefly for the reason that "it will furnish me with a second opportunity of assuring myself whether that Strait can or cannot become a safe general passage for ships from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean."
He was destined to see once again the settlement at Sydney, whence had radiated the series of his valuable and unsparing researches; but on the next and final occasion he was "caught in the clutch of circumstance." His leave-taking in August, 1803, was essentially his farewell; and his general observations on the country he had served, and which does not forget the service, are, though brief, full of interest. He had seen the little town grow from a condition of dependence to one of self-reliance, few as were the years of his knowledge of it. Part of his early employment had been to bring provisions to Sydney from abroad. In 1803, he saw large herds spreading over the country. He saw forests giving way before the axe, and spreading fields of grain and fruit ripening for the harvest. The population was increasing, the morale was improving, "and that energetic spirit of enterprise which characterises Britannia's children seemed to be throwing out vigorous shoots in this new world." He perceived the obstacles to progress. The East India Company's charter, which prohibited trade between Sydney and India and the western coasts of America, was one of them. Convict labour was another deterrent. But he had vision, and found in the signs of development which he saw around him phenomena "highly interesting to the contemplator of the rise of nations."
Seven days out of Sydney, on August 17th, the Porpoise struck a reef and was wrecked.