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Ernest Scott

Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen was born at Caen, the ancient and picturesque capital of Normandy, on April 13th, 1769. Left an orphan at the age of twelve, his education was superintended by a friend of his father, who had been a public official. At the end of his schooldays he studied law under an advocate of local celebrity, M. Lasseret.

Apart from Admiral Pasley, two officers who participated in Lord Howe's victory on "the glorious First of June," had an important influence upon the later career of Flinders. The first of these, Captain John Hunter, had served on the flagship Queen Charlotte. The second, Henry Waterhouse, had been fifth lieutenant on the Bellerophon. Flinders was under the orders of both of them on his next voyage.

At four o'clock in the afternoon of December 17th the Cumberland entered Port Louis, where Flinders learnt that Le Geographe had sailed for France on the previous day. As soon as he could land he went ashore to present himself to the Governor, whom he found to be at dinner.

The patching up of the Reliance not being surgeon's work, Bass, throbbing with energy, looked about him for some useful employment. The whole of the New South Wales settlement at this time consisted of an oblong - the town of Sydney itself - on the south side of Port Jackson, a few sprawling paddocks on either side of the fang-like limbs of the harbour, some small pieces of cultivated land further west, at and beyond Parramatta, and a cultivable area to the north-west on the banks of the Hawkesbury River.

We shall now see how a detention which had been designed as a sharp punishment of an officer who had not comported himself with perfect respect, and which Decaen never intended to be prolonged beyond about twelve months, dragged itself into years, and came to bear an aspect of obstinate malignity.

During the absence of Bass in the whaleboat, the repairing of the Reliance was finished, and in February, 1798, Flinders was able to carry out a bit of exploration on his own account. The making of charts was employment for which he had equipped himself by study and practice, and he was glad to secure an opportunity of applying his abilities in a field where there was original work to do.

Flinders continued to reside at the Garden prison till August, 1805. In that month he was informed that the Governor was disposed to permit him to live in the interior of the island, if he so desired. This change would give him a large measure of personal freedom, he would no longer be under close surveillance, and he would be able to enjoy social life. He had formed a friendship with an urbane and cultivated French gentleman, Thomas Pitot, whom he consulted, and who found for him a residence in the house of Madame D'Arifat at Wilhelm's Plains.

Flinders arrived in Sydney in the Francis about a fortnight after Bass returned in the whaleboat. It was, we may be certain, with delight that he heard from the lips of his friend the story of his adventurous voyage. The eye-sketch of the coastline traversed by Bass was, by the Governor's direction, used by him for the preparation of a chart to be sent to England.

The several representations concerning the case of Flinders that were made in France, the attention drawn to it in English newspapers, and the lively interest of learned men of both nations, produced a moving effect upon Napoleon's Government. Distinguished Frenchmen did not hesitate to speak plainly. Fleurieu, whose voice was attentively heard on all matters touching geography and discovery, declared publicly that "the indignities imposed upon Captain Flinders were without example in the nautical history of civilised nations.

It has been already mentioned that Bass Strait was named by Governor Hunter on the recommendation of Flinders. There is no reason to suppose that George Bass himself made any claim that his name should be applied to his discovery. One derives the impression, from a study of his character as revealed in his words and acts, that he would have been perfectly content had some other name been chosen. He was one of those rare men who find their principal joy in the free exercise of an intrepid and masculine energy, especially in directions affording a stimulus to intellectual curiosity.

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