Matthew Flinders.

A Voyage to Terra Australis — Volume 2 online

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the Porpoise and Cato, and the orders under which I acted in embarking in
the Cumberland, are contained in the following letter.

Sydney, New South Wales., Sept. 17, 1803.


In acknowledging the receipt of yours with its inclosure of the 9th
instant, whilst I lament the misfortune that has befallen the Porpoise
and Cato, I am thankful that no more lives have been lost than the three
you mention. I have every reason to be assured that no precaution was
omitted by lieutenant Fowler and yourself to avoid the accident, and I am
equally satisfied with your account of the exertions of the officers and
men after the loss of the ships, both for the preservation of the stores
and maintaining order in their present situation; nor can I sufficiently
commend your voluntary services and those who came with you, in
undertaking a voyage of 700 miles in an open boat, to procure relief for
our friends now on the bank; and I hope for the honour of humanity, that
if the Bridgewater be safe, the commander may be able to give some
possible reason for his not ascertaining whether any had survived the
shipwreck, as there appears too much reason to believe he has persuaded
himself all perished.

No time has been lost in prevailing upon the master of the Rolla, bound
to China, to take on board the officers and seamen now on the reef,
belonging to the Porpoise and Investigator, and carrying them to Canton
whither he is bound; on the conditions expressed in the agreement entered
into with him by me, and which you have witnessed. For that purpose I
have caused a proportion of all species of provisions to be put on board
at full allowance, for seventy men for ten weeks from the reef; I shall
also give to lieutenant Fowler the instructions for his conduct which I
have communicated to you, and direct him to consult with you on the
measures to be adopted by him for executing those instructions, as far as
situation and events may render them practicable.

And as you agree with me that the Cumberland, colonial schooner of
twenty-nine tons, built here, is capable of performing the voyage to
England by way of Torres' Strait, and it being essential to the
furthering His Majesty's service that you should reach England by the
most prompt conveyance with your charts and journals, I have directed the
commissary to make that vessel over to you, with her present furniture,
sails, etc; and to complete her from the stores of the Investigator with
such other articles as you may require, together with a proportion of
provisions for six months, for ten officers and men. And on your arrival
at Wreck Reef you will select such officers and men as you may judge
necessary, lieutenant Fowler having my orders on that head.

After having given every assistance to get the people and as many stores
as can be taken on board the Rolla, and given the commander of the
Francis schooner such orders as circumstances may require, for bringing
those who may choose to be discharged from the service and as many stores
as she can bring, you will then proceed to England by the route you may
judge most advisable and beneficial for His Majesty's service. On your
arrival in London you will deliver my letters to the Admiralty and the
principal secretary of state for the colonies.

In case any unforeseen circumstances should prevent the accomplishment of
the voyage in the Cumberland, you will take such measures as may appear
most conducive to the interest of His Majesty's service, either by
selling the vessel, or letting her for freight at the Cape or elsewhere,
if any merchants choose to send proper officers and men to conduct her
back; and in the event of your being obliged to dispose of her, you will
account with His Majesty's principal secretary of state for the colonies
for the proceeds.

I am, etc.,

(Signed) Philip Gidley King.


The small size of the Cumberland made it necessary to stop at every
convenient place on the way to England, for water and refreshment; and I
proposed Coepang Bay in Timor, Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, St.
Helena, and some one of the Western Isles; but governor King objected to
Mauritius, from not wishing to encourage any communication between the
French colonies and Port Jackson; and also because he had understood that
hurricanes often prevailed in the neighbourhood of that island, about the
time of year when I should be passing; he left this matter, however, to
be decided by necessity and my judgment, and gave me two letters for the
governor of Mauritius, to be forwarded from the Cape, or by the best
opportunity. At those places in the Indian Seas where I might stop, he
requested me to make inquires into the facility of obtaining cattle for
his colony, with the price and the traffic with which they might be best
procured; and to send this information by any ship bound to Port Jackson.


Every thing being prepared for our departure, I sailed out of the harbour
in the Cumberland on the 21st at daylight, with the Rolla and Francis in
company. Mr. Inman, the astronomer, had taken a passage in the Rolla with
his instruments; and of the thirteen persons who came with me in the
boat, captain Park and his second mate were on board that ship, and the
boatswain of the Investigator with the ten seamen composed my crew in the
schooner. We had a fresh breeze at south-east, and the Cumberland
appeared to sail as well as could be expected; but the wind becoming
stronger towards night, she lay over so much upon the broad side that
little sail could be carried; and instead of being tight, as had been
represented, her upper works then admitted a great deal of water. Next
morning [THURSDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 1803], the wind having rather increased
than diminished, I found we should soon be obliged to lie to altogether,
and that if we passed Port Stephens there was no place of shelter for a
long distance where the schooner could be saved from drifting on shore;
the signal was therefore made to tack, and at dusk the Rolla and Francis
ran into Port Stephens. Not being able to reach so far, I anchored in a
small bight under Point Stephens, in very bad plight; the pumps proving
to be so nearly useless, that we could not prevent the water from half
filling the hold; and two hours longer would have reduced us to baling
with buckets, and perhaps have been fatal. This essay did not lead me to
think favourably of the vessel, in which I had undertaken a voyage half
round the globe.


Next morning I joined the Rolla and Francis; and it being then calm, we
did not quit Port Stephens until the afternoon. At night the wind again
blew strong from the south-east; but the desire to arrive at Wreck Reef
overcoming my apprehensions, the schooner was made snug and we
persevered. Our inability to carry sail was so much the more provoking,
that this wind was as fair as could be wished; but whilst the Cumberland
could scarcely bear a close-reefed main sail and jib without danger of
oversetting, the Rolla went along under double-reefed top sails in great
tranquillity; and to avoid parting company was obliged to keep her
courses up, and to back a top sail from time to time.


(Atlas, Plate X.)

The wind moderated next day, and allowed us to make better progress. It
afterwards veered round to the north-east, and prevented us from fetching
more than ten miles to the east of the reef by Mr. Inman's time keeper,
when we came into the proper latitude. We bore away for it, however, on
Oct. 1 [SATURDAY 1 OCTOBER 1803], and ran more than a degree to the west;
when finding no reef or bank, it appeared that we must have been
something to the west of Wreck Reef when the time keeper showed ten miles
to the eastward. This obliged us to work back again, and it was not till
the 7th [FRIDAY 7 OCTOBER 1803] that we got sight of the ensign upon the
top of the bank.*

[* The want of my journal has prevented me from stating any particulars
of this passage very correctly; but I have lately obtained a sight of Mr.
Inman's observations, and it appears from them that his time keeper
(Kendal's No. 45) erred 31' to the east on Oct. 1, and that on the 2nd
a.m. our corrected longitude was 153° 52'. We ran westward till that
evening, and must therefore have gone to about 153° 25', or 1° 54' west
of Wreck-Reef Bank; and as no dangers were seen, this shows how
completely the Reef is separated from the great Barrier of the coast; a
point which it is of some importance to have ascertained.]


It was six weeks on this day that I had quitted the reef in the boat, for
the purpose of seeking the means to relieve my officers and people. The
bank was first seen from the Rolla's mast head, and soon afterward two
boats were perceived under sail; and advancing nearer, we saw one boat
make for the Rolla and the other returning to the bank. The Porpoise had
not yet gone to pieces; but was still lying on her beam ends, high up on
the reef, a frail, but impressive monument of our misfortune.

In the afternoon I anchored under the lee of the bank, in 18 fathoms
coral sand, and a salute of eleven guns from it was immediately fired,
the carronades of the Porpoise having been transported from the wreck. On
landing, I was greeted with three hearty cheers, and the utmost joy by my
officers and people; and the pleasure of rejoining my companions so amply
provided with the means of relieving their distress, made this one of the
happiest moments of my life.

The two boats we had seen, were the Porpoise's remaining cutter and a new
boat constructed during my absence; it was just completed, and lieutenant
Fowler had this morning gone out to try its sailing against the cutter.
My safe arrival at Port Jackson became a subject of much doubt after the
first month; and they had begun to reconcile their minds to making the
best use of the means they possessed to reach some frequented port. The
Rolla's top-gallant sail was first seen in the horizon by a man in the
new boat, and was taken for a bird; but regarding it more steadfastly, he
started up and exclaimed, d - n my bl - d what's that! It was soon
recognised to be a sail, and caused a general acclamation of joy, for
they doubted not it was a ship coming to their succour. Lieutenant
Flinders, then commanding officer on the bank, was in his tent
calculating some lunar distances, when one of the young gentlemen ran to
him, calling, "Sir, Sir! A ship and two schooners in sight!" After a
little consideration, Mr. Flinders said he supposed it was his brother
come back, and asked if the vessels were near? He was answered, not yet;
upon which he desired to be informed when they should reach the
anchorage, and very calmly resumed his calculations: such are the varied
effects produced by the same circumstance upon different minds. When the
desired report was made, he ordered the salute to be fired, and took part
in the general satisfaction.

My plan of proceeding at the reef having been arranged on the passage, I
immediately began to put it in execution. The people were assembled on
the bank, and informed that such as chose to be discharged from the
service might return to Port Jackson in the Francis schooner; and that
the rest would be taken on board the Rolla and carried to China, with the
exception of ten officers and men whom I named, to go to England with me
in the Cumberland, if they would risk themselves in so small a vessel;
for notwithstanding what had been discovered of the bad qualities of the
schooner, I determined to proceed, at least so far as to reach some port
where a passage might be procured in a better vessel without losing time.
The determinations of all were required to be given on the following day;
and in the mean time we began to take on board the few stores necessary
to complete the Cumberland for our voyage, and especially to fill the
holds with water, of which there was yet a good quantity remaining on the


On the 10th, three days after our arrival, the Rolla had received the
people destined for her, with part of the provisions and stores; and the
Cumberland was ready to sail. All those whom I had named, with the
exception of my clerk, volunteered to go in the schooner; viz., Mr. John
Aken, master, and Mr. Edward Charrington, boatswain of the Investigator,
my servant, and seven chosen seamen. A cask containing what had been
saved of my specimens of mineralogy and conchology was taken on board, as
also the charts, books, and papers of every kind, with the instruments
received from the Navy Board and the sole time keeper which had not

Mr. Denis Lacy, master's mate of the Investigator, desiring to return to
Port Jackson, he was charged with my letter to His Excellency governor
King; and I gave him an order to command the new boat. It was about the
size of the Cumberland, had a deck, and was called the _Resource_; and we
manned her with a part of those people whose choice led them back to Port
Jackson. I ordered Mr. James Aikin, commander of the Francis, and Mr.
Lacy, to take on board for the colony as much of the stores as they
should be able; and on their arrival, to make a statement to the governor
of the condition in which they might leave the Porpoise, and what
remained on the bank.

The officers journals, which were to be sent to the Admiralty at the
conclusion of the voyage, had not been demanded at the time of our
shipwreck; lieutenant Fowler was therefore directed to take all that were
saved belonging to the officers embarked with him in the Rolla; and lest
any accident should happen to the Cumberland, I committed to his charge a
copy of four charts, being all of the East and North Coasts which there
had been time to get ready; with these he took a short letter to the
secretary of the Admiralty, and one to the Victualling Board inclosing
such vouchers as had been saved from the wreck. To Mr. Inman I gave the
remaining instruments belonging to the Board of Longitude, reserving only
a time keeper and a telescope; the large and most valuable instruments
had very fortunately been delivered to him before we had sailed from Port
Jackson in the Porpoise.

These matters being arranged, I pressed captain Cumming to depart,
fearing that a change of wind might expose the Rolla to danger; but
finding him desirous to take off more provisions and stores, I made sail
for a bank or rather islet seven miles distant at the eastern extremity
of Wreck Reef, for the purpose of collecting seabirds eggs, and if
possible taking a turtle. The Rolla joined on the following day [TUESDAY
11 OCTOBER 1803], and I went on board to take leave of Messrs. Fowler and
Flinders and the other officers and gentlemen; at noon we parted company
with three cheers, the Rolla steering north-eastward for China, whilst my
course was directed for Torres' Strait.

With the time keeper, Earnshaw's No. 520, I had received from lieutenant
Flinders an account of its error from mean Greenwich time at noon there
Oct. 6, and its rate of going during the fourteen preceding days, which
were as under.

No. 520, slow 0h 9' 49.35" and losing 34.13" per day.

The _latitude_ of Wreck-Reef Bank was ascertained from eight meridian
observations from the sea, and four from an artificial horizon: the mean
of the latter, which are considered the best, is 22° 11' 23" S.

_Longitude_ from sixty sets of lunar distances, of which the individual
results are given in Table VIII. of the Appendix No. I. to this volume,
155° 18' 50.5" E.

The longitude of the bank, as given by Earnshaw's No. 520 on Aug. 28,
eleven days after the shipwreck, was 155° 4' 14.6" with the Port Jackson
rate, or 14' 35.9" less than the lunar observations. In laying down the
Porpoise's track on the chart, this error has been corrected by an equal
proportion, according to the time of each observation for the longitude.

Mr. Flinders deduced the _variation_ of the compass from observing the
sun's magnetic azimuth a. m. and p. m., when equal altitudes were taken,
and comparing the mean azimuth at corresponding altitudes with the true
meridian; this method is probably not the best, and the results from two
compasses differed considerably; Walker's compass, marked No. 1, giving
9° 17' east from ten observations, and that marked No. 2, 13° 54' from
five observations. The first is undoubtedly the best, though possibly not
very correct.

There are here two regular _tides_ daily, and it was high water on the
day of full moon at 8h 50' in the morning; the rise was six feet two
inches, but the night tide will probably reach to eight, or perhaps nine
feet at the height of the springs.

Some account was given of Wreck-Reef Bank before quitting it in the boat,
but I had not then acquired a knowledge of the whole extent of the reef.
It is about twenty miles long, and from a quarter, to one mile and a half
in breadth; and consists of many distinct patches of different
magnitudes, the six principal of which are from four to eight or ten
miles in circuit. They are separated by channels of one mile to near a
league in width; and in the two easternmost I found from 8 to 10 fathoms,
and nothing to prevent a ship passing through in a case of necessity.
Four of the six larger patches have each a sand bank near the middle,
which do not appear to have been lately covered by the tide; and they are
now more or less frequented by sea birds, such as noddies, boobies,
tropic, and man-of-war birds, gannets, and perhaps some others. Of these
four banks, two lie to the west and one to the east of that near which
our ships struck; but the eastern bank is the most considerable, and most
frequented by birds; turtle also land there occasionally, and this bank
was not improperly called _Bird Islet_, being now covered with coarse
grass, some shrubs, and a soil to which the birds are every day making an

Bird Islet being to windward of, and only seven miles distant from our
bank, it was frequently visited by the gentlemen during my absence.
Besides sea birds of the species already mentioned, they procured many
thousand eggs; and also four turtle, of which one weighed 459 pounds, and
contained so many eggs, that lieutenant Fowler's journal says no less
than 1940, large and small, were counted. These supplies, with shell fish
gathered from the reef, and fish, were a great resource, and admitted of
a saving in the salt provisions; as the occasional rains, from which
several casks were filled, did of their fresh water. The _trepang_ was
found on Wreck Reef, and soup was attempted to be made of it; but whether
our cooks had not the method of stewing it down, or that the trepang is
suited only to the vitiated taste of the Chinese, nothing good was

Oats, maize, and pumpkin seeds were planted upon Wreck-Reef Bank, as also
upon Bird Islet; and the young plants had come up, and were in a
tolerably flourishing state; some of these may possibly succeed upon the
islet, but upon the bank it is scarcely to be hoped. The cocoa nut is
capable of resisting the light sprays of the sea which frequently pass
over these banks, and it is to be regretted that we had none to plant
upon them. A cluster of these majestic and useful palms would have been
an excellent beacon to warn mariners of their danger; and in the case
where darkness might render them unavailing in this respect, their fruit
would at least afford some salutary nourishment to the shipwrecked
seamen. The navigator who should distribute ten thousand cocoa nuts
amongst the numerous sand banks of the Great Ocean and Indian Sea, would
be entitled to the gratitude of all maritime nations, and of every friend
to humanity. I may be thought to attribute too much importance to this
object in saying, that such a distribution ought to be a leading article
in the instructions for any succeeding voyage of discovery or
investigation to these parts; but it is from having suffered ourselves
that we learn to appreciate the misfortunes and wants of others. and
become doubly interested in preventing or relieving them. "The human
heart," as an elegant author observes, "resembles certain medicinal
trees. which yield not their healing balm until they have themselves been

[* Le coeur est comme ces sortes d'arbres, qui ne donnent leur baume pour
les blessures des hommes que lorsque le fer les a blessés eux-mêmes.
Chateaubriant's _Génie de Christianisme, Episode d' Attala_.]


Passage in the Cumberland to Torres' Strait.
Eastern Fields and Pandora's Entrance.
New channels amongst the reefs.
Anchorage at Half-way Island, and under the York Isles.
Prince of Wales's Islands further examined.
Booby Isle.
Passage across the Gulph of Carpentaria.
Anchorage at Wessel's Islands.
Passage to Coepang Bay, in Timor; and to Mauritius,
where the leakiness of the Cumberland makes it necessary to stop.
Anchorage at the Baye du Cap, and departure for Port Louis.



(Atlas, Plate I.)

On parting from the Rolla, at noon Oct. 11, off Bird Islet, our course
was steered N. N. W. by compass for Torres' Strait. At eight in the
evening we had run thirteen leagues from Wreck Reef, without seeing any
danger; but I thought it advisable to lie to in the night, until the
distance was further increased. We made sail again at five in the morning
[WEDNESDAY 12 OCTOBER 1803], and at noon were in 20° 46' south and 155°
2' east. During the two following days and nights, our course by compass
was N. W. by N., and afterwards N. W.; and on the 15th [SATURDAY 15
OCTOBER 1803] at noon we had reached the latitude 15° 29' and longitude
151° 24', the current having set, upon the average of four days, ¾ of a
mile an hour to the W. N. W. This situation was a little to the north,
and about one degree to the east of Bougainville's Bank of Diana, and the
tropic birds, petrels, and boobies seen every day were this evening more
numerous, especially the boobies; they most probably belonged to Diana's
Bank, but lest some other might lie in our way, we hauled to the wind at
eight o'clock. The little Cumberland was still very leaky at such times
as the wind came more on the side and caused her to lie over; and the
pumps were so bad that a fourth part of the day was frequently required
at them to keep her free, and they were becoming worse from such constant


Our north-west course was resumed at five in the morning, and continued
without interruption, or sight of any danger, to the 19th [WEDNESDAY 19
OCTOBER 1803] at noon, when the latitude was 10° 53' south, and longitude
by time keeper 147° 6' east; the current had set above ¾ of a mile an
hour to the N. 60° W., and we had every day seen boobies, noddies, tropic
birds, and some gulls. At four in the afternoon the course was altered
one point more west, in order to make the Eastern Fields (Atlas, Plate
XIII), whose extent to the southward, not having been seen in the
Investigator, I wished now to ascertain. The breakers came in sight at
eight next morning [THURSDAY 20 OCTOBER 1803], and we hauled up to pass
round their south end; but the wind being scant for going to windward of
all, and the small gap before seen in the middle appearing to be passable
for the Cumberland, we bore up for it. The depth at less than a quarter
of a mile off was 40 fathoms, then 6, 7, 4 in the centre of the opening,
8, and no ground with the hand line; this front reef seeming to be a mere
ledge of coral, which extended N. N. E. and S. S. W.; and that part of
the opening in it where the sea did not break, is about one mile wide.
Immediately on getting through, altitudes were taken for the time keeper;
and the longitude, reduced to the north-east extremity of the Eastern
Fields, was 145° 44½' east, or about 1' less than what had been found in
the Investigator from Broad Sound. In steering W. N. W., two small
patches of reef were left to the south and one to the north, about five
miles from the opening; other reefs then came in sight ahead and on each
bow; and after sounding in 34 fathoms coral sand, and observing the
latitude 10° 2 1/3', we passed through a narrow channel between them,
having no ground at 7 fathoms. At one o'clock, the western extremity of
these reefs bore S. 16° E. two miles, and others were seen in the horizon
extending from N. W. to W. S. W.; we passed close round the north end of
these; but the single breaker laid down the year before, and which should
lie about five miles to the N. N. E., was not perceived. At three

Online LibraryMatthew FlindersA Voyage to Terra Australis — Volume 2 → online text (page 29 of 43)