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reach the Gulf of Carpentaria before the northwesterly monsoon set in, Captain Flinders deferred to a more suitable season the farther examination of the easterly coast, and eagerly set about seeking a passage through the Great Barrier Reef, in order to take the outer route to Torres Straits, and ensure, as he thought, a safe and speedy voyage. After leaving Sandy Spit, this Barrier presented an uninterrupted wall exceeding 100 miles in length. Abreast, however, of Cape Cleveland, it was broken by a narrow channel, of which advantage was taken ; the expedition passed through, cleared Torres Straits the close of October, and began, with the 1st of November, the survey of the east side of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The shallowness of the water made it impracticable to keep close to the shore, and allowed only occasionally an approach to or landing upon it. The examination, therefore, of such features of the coast as are recorded in the course of the voyage, was mostly made at three or four miles distance. To the objects, however, of a survey, this was unimportant, as the 450 miles of coast were so low that the highest elevation, which was observed at Sweer Island, did not much exceed that of the ship's mast-head.
About this locality, the progress of the expedition was interrupted by damages discovered in the ship, and which proved to be of a nature calculated to deject and discourage the spirit of the most undaunted voyagers. Her timbers had become so rotten that she could not bear heaving down, and it was found that laying her on shore for the purpose of repair would only endanger her farther. This unfortunate situation, so entirely beyond the reach of remedy, was rendered worse by the presence of a monsoon unfavourable for a return to Port Jackson viâ Torres Straits; and considering that the expedition was at that time at the height of its labours and its expectations, and had arrived at them through many toils, dangers, and anxieties, one cannot wonder, that when it was reported that the “ Investigator " was “incapable of encountering bad weather, and, even if constant fine weather could be secured, and all accidents avoided, was incapable of running more than six months," Captain Flinders should feel his surprise and sorrow beyond the “ power of expression.”
The westerly route, being the only one left for her return, was, with all the chances of a boisterous sea off the western and southern coast, instantly decided on; and the more readily, as this course offered a prospect of completing at least the examination of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Hitherto, Captain Flinders, animated by a strong desire to unite to a determining of the general outline or exterior form of Terra Australis, all those interesting and valuable details regarding its coast, which might lead to the discovery of some interior inland communications, fearlessly approached the shores and explored bays and rivers, whenever the soundings or wind allowed. During the remainder of the expedition, however, the idea that the “ Investigator," "getting on shore under any unfavourable circumstances, would go to pieces,” predominated, and the object of the survey became secondary to the safety of the ship's company.
The natives too, who until now had not molested the expedition, began to offer opposition whenever landings were made for effecting astronomical observations, or conducting researches connected with natural history and botany. Indeed their character, as compared with that of the natives of the south coast, or even with that of those of Torres Straits, who were seen to approach the vessel freely for the sake of barter, exhibited very unfavourable traits;
SURVEYS. their conduct being marked by distrust, hostility, and not a small share of that cunning which inspires confidence and profits by credulity. Along the whole length of the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and on the islands which lay here and there opposite the mainland, the expedition had, when wooding and watering, to be constantly on their guard against attacks and ambushes, especially at Wellesley's Islands, Sir Edward Pellew's, Gray's, and Grote Island, and at Blue Mud Bay, where they had to deplore the loss of two men.
The coast also, of which the fore-ground consisted of mud flats or mangrove trees, and the back-ground of equally low land, presented a tedious and monotonous uniformity of aspect that was far from diverting the anxieties or cheering the drooping spirits which the state of the ship and the inhospitality of the inhabitants had not failed to produce.
With Arnhem Cape, where Captain Flinders terminates the examination of the Gulf of Carpentaria, an examination which, exclusive of the numerous islands and openings, embraced a tract of little less than 400 leagues in length, — with that cape may be said to conclude the record of all his labours and surveys in Terra Australis, and to begin that which relates only to his disappointments and misfortunes.
Indeed his return to Sydney, amid dangers and difficulties arising from the state of the ship, and the sickliness of the crew; his departure in the “ Porpoise;" his wreck on Cato's Bank; his being driven in the “ Cumberland” by distress to the Mauritius; and his unwarrantable detention during eight years, in spite of passports and remonstrances, by General de Caen, include a history of moral and bodily sufferings, which nothing but an energetic character and a not less vigorous constitution could have sustained. His work, with an atlas, published soon after his return to England, while bearing evidence of both these qualities, which so eminently distinguished Captain Flinders, displays also uncommon ability and talent for observation; and for the minuteness of details and the mass of valuable information it conveys, may be ranked amongst the most important contributions ever made to general knowledge, and towards promoting the interests of colonisation.
Contemporaneously with the expedition of Captain Flinders (1801), that of the French under Captain Baudin appeared on the south-east coast of Van Diemen's Land. Their discoveries on the southern coast of New Holland are included between 37° 36' and 35° 40' of south latitude, and 140° 10' and 138° 58' longitude east of Greenwich, - a coast-line of about 50 leagues in length, devoid of rivers, inlets, or place of shelter.
In its further progress to the N. W., the line of coast from Cape Leeuwin to Rottnest Island, and including Swan River, was examined by the expedition, and correctly laid down on the chart. The survey S. W. of Cape Londonderry came next; but, with the exception of Cassini Island, it does not possess the merit of the preceding survey, as the coast was passed at too great a distance to allow of correctly laying down the numerous islands which front it, and the details in the configuration of the mainland. To the southward of Melville Island, many points of the coast and of the islands fringing it were discovered, and their position accurately ascertained.
After the terminations of Flinders's and Baudin's expeditions, an interval of twelve years succeeded, during which neither the English nor the French were in a position to divert their attention from the field of war to that of geographical discovery. The peace, however, of 1815, which was productive of so many political and social advantages, gave a fresh stimulus to the suppressed and confined energies of England. Amongst her naval officers particularly, the recollection of former glory, earned in the field of discovery, acted as an incitement to new attempts and adventures. With some, indeed, the military spirit seemed entirely subordinate to the attractions of scientific enterprise ; and it was then that the English government, fully impressed with all the advantages likely to accrue, promoted those expeditions of Ross, Parry, Franklin, Owen, and King, which in point of extent, importance, difficulty, danger, variety, and the skill with which they were conducted, stand unparalleled in the history of voyages.
On the last of the above-named officers devolved the important task of completing the Australian survey, which, as stated before, was interrupted by the unfortunate circumstance of Captain Flinders' detention.
The instructions given to Captain P. P. King directed the examination of the eastern coast, from the Tropic to Cape York; the survey of the hitherto unexplored shores from Arnhem Bay, near the western entrance of the Gulf of Carpentaria, westward and southward as far as North West Cape, including the Gulf of Van Diemen's Land and the cluster of islands called Rosemary Islands, together with the inlets behind them; and also the examination of the western coast between North West Cape and Cape Leeuwin; forming, in all, a line of coast amounting to 4000 miles.
The importance which the English government attached to this mission caused Captain King to lose no time in proceeding to the scene of his labours. He was appointed in February, 1817, and in the following September he arrived at Sydney ; purchased and completed the outfit of a colonial vessel, the “ Mer. maid," eighty-four tons; and reached North West ('ape on the 1st of January, 1818.