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Series 65: Correspondence, being mainly letters received by Banks from Matthew Flinders, 1800-1807, 1811

Number of documents

44

Provenance note

Document 1 in this series was previously located at ML A83. It is part of an accession of Banks papers purchased for the Mitchell Library from Sotheby's, London, in May 1929.

Document 42 was previously located at ML MSS 743/2. It was acquired for the Mitchell Library from the London bookseller Francis Edwards on 18 July 1938.

The remaining documents in this series were previously located at ML A79-4. These papers, purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales, were transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910. They were part of the accession which became known as the Brabourne collection.

Some of these letters were used in Historical records of New South Wales, vol. 5 (1897), and include notes and annotations made by the compilers.

It is now not possible to reconstruct Banks' original arrangement, the series has therefore been arranged chronologically.

Background note

Matthew Flinders returned to England from New South Wales, on board the Reliance, in August 1800. He had arrived in the colony in September 1795 and undertaken coastal exploration, including the 12 week circumnavigation of Tasmania, in company with the surgeon George Bass.

Flinders was to have circumnavigated Australia in command of the Lady Nelson but had already departed from Port Jackson, on his return to England, before the arrival of the Lady Nelson in the colony.

Believing the Lady Nelson to be inadequate for the proposed circumnavigation, Flinders recommended to Banks that two vessels be employed for the task. Accordingly the Xenophon, renamed HMS Investigator, was selected to sail with the Lady Nelson, with Flinders in command. His orders were to explore the Australian coastline in detail, in particular the southern coast of which little was known. His investigations included establishing, as was believed at the time, whether a strait divided Australia from north to south, separating New South Wales from the rest of the continent.

Banks, intimately involved in the preparations for the voyage, successfully sought 1,200 pounds in mess money from the Honourable East India Company which expected to derive commercial benefit from the results of the voyage.

In April 1801, in the midst of preparing for the voyage, Flinders married Anne Chappell. A short time later he was ordered by Banks to remove his wife from on board the Investigator or lose command of the expedition. It had been Flinders' intention to take Anne with him on the voyage and leave her in Sydney while he completed the circumnavigation. Anne Flinders left the ship at Spithead. She did not live with her husband again for another nine years.

Before sailing Flinders also faced reprimands from Banks over the desertion of members of the crew, the escape of a prisoner from the ship, and the grounding of the ship at Hythe Bay.

Flinders received his sailing orders and passport at Spithead on 17 July 1801. The Investigator set sail the next day.

Flinders commenced his survey of the Australian coastline in December 1801, at Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, travelling westward. He entered and named Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent, and encountered the French ships Geographe and Naturaliste, under the command of Nicholas Baudin, at a point he named Encounter Bay. He continued his survey on to Sydney.

After overhauling the ship, the Investigator set out on the second leg of the circumnavigation travelling north, in company with the Lady Nelson. Off the Queensland coast the Lady Nelson sustained keel damage and suffered the loss of several anchors. Flinders ordered the ship to return to Sydney and the Investigator continued the survey alone. After passing through Torres Strait, the ship, leaking badly, proved too crank to continue the survey. Abandoning the survey work, Flinders chose to complete the circumnavigation returning to Sydney via the west and south coasts. He arrived in Sydney again in June 1803.

In August Flinders sailed from Sydney a passenger on board HMS Porpoise, under the command of the Investigator's Lieutenant Robert Fowler, destined to be wrecked on a reef off the Queensland coast. Flinders returned to Sydney in the ship's cutter where he arranged for the rescue of his shipmates. He then departed for England, on board the Cumberland, sailing via Torres Strait.

The Cumberland also proved defective and Flinders was forced to anchor at the French controlled island of Mauritius in December 1803 where he was immediately placed under arrest by General De Caen. The reasons for his arrest are unclear although there were several contributing factors. Unknown to Flinders, war had broken out between Britain and France and De Caen saw Flinders as a British spy. Flinders was carrying a passport which was valid for the Investigator and not for the Cumberland in which he was sailing. In addition, he was carrying dispatches from Governor King in New South Wales suggesting troops be sent to Sydney in the event of conflict with South America.

In May 1805 John Aken, Master of the Investigator, was released from Mauritius owing to his ill health. He returned to England taking with him some of Flinders' papers and charts. Flinders' imprisonment continued. In July all prisoners of war were allowed to leave Mauritius in exchange for French prisoners, Flinders alone being detained. De Caen did relax the terms of Flinders' confinement, however, by allowing him to leave his place of detention and reside in the country with friends.

Many intercessions were made on Flinders' behalf to the French government, the National Institute of France and other bodies. Sir Joseph Banks repeatedly petitioned the National Institute for the release of Flinders.

After six and a half years of confinement on Mauritius, Flinders was free to return to England. He sailed in June 1810 arriving in England in December where he was informed of his long awaited promotion to post captain.

The remaining four years of his life were dedicated largely to publishing his important account of his voyages of HM Ships Investigator, Porpoise and Cumberland, work begun and assiduously carried out during the years of his imprisonment. A Voyage to Terra Australis; undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803 in His Majesty's Ship Investigator, and subsequently in the Armed Vessel Porpoise and Cumberland Schooner... was published by G. and W. Nicol in 1814.