CHAPTER 6. THE RELIANCE AND THE TOM THUMB.
The Reliance, meeting with very bad weather, made a very slow passage. Captain Waterhouse mentioned that one fierce gale was "the most terrible I ever saw or heard of," so that he "expected to go to the bottom every moment." He wondered how they escaped destruction, but rounded off his description with a seaman's joke: "possibly I may be intended to be hung in room of being drowned." The ship was very leaky all the way, and Hunter reported that she returned to port with her pumps going. She reached Sydney on June 26th.
The unseaworthy condition of the Reliance had an important bearing on the share Flinders took in Australian discovery, for it was unquestionably in consequence of his being engaged upon her repair that he was prevented from accompanying his friend Bass on the expedition which led to the discovery of Bass Strait. This statement is proved not only by the testimony of Flinders himself, but by concurrent facts. Waterhouse wrote on the return of the ship to Port Jackson, "we have taken everything out of her in hopes of repairing her." This was in the latter part of 1797. A despatch from Hunter to the British Government in January, 1798, shows that at that time she was still being patched up. Flinders recorded that "the great repairs required by the Reliance would not allow of my absence," but that "my friend Mr. Bass, less confined by his duty, made several excursions." Finally, it was on December 3rd, 1797, while the refitting was in progress, that Bass started out on the adventurous voyage which led to the discovery of the stretch of water separating Tasmania from the mainland of Australia. But for the work on the Reliance, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt that Flinders would have been with him. Duty had to be done, however; the "ugly commanded work," in which, as the sage reminds us, genius has to do its part in common with more ordinary mortals, made demands that must take precedence of adventurous cruising along unknown coasts. So it was that the cobbling of a debilitated tub separated on an historic occasion two brave and loyal friends whose names will be thought of together as long as British people treasure the memory of their choice and daring spirits.