At a time when sailing over the horizon in a direction men had feared to sail before was akin to firing astronauts in the direction of the moon!, Lincolnshire men were not afraid of the challenge. They stepped up to the mark to prove new confidences in navigation and science in an era when many still believed the earth to be flat and the oceans inhabitated by ship eating sea monsters. The hazards they faced were the real hazards of nature and their feats true tests of faith and endurance.
Sir Joseph Banks, recorder of Boston in 1813, is feted for sailing with Captain Cook aboard Endeavour on the first great voyage to discover Australia. The discoveries by Banks, a botanist and naturalist, led to around 80 species being named after him. It was Backs who suggested founding a convict settlement at Botany Bay and from that sprang the colonisation of Australia by Europeans. He later fostered further colonisation by free settlers.
Banks returned from his Australian adventure a famous man and, with royal patronage, was instrumental in founding Kew Gardens. He directly sponsored several famous voyages, including that of George Vancouver (from just across The Wash in King’s Lynn) to the north-eastern Pacific and William Bligh’s voyages to transplant breadfruit from the South Pacific to the Caribbean islands (the latter enterprise bringing about the Mutiny on the Bounty).
Banks’ name dots the map of the region – Australia, New Zealand and Canada – and Banks’ image also appeared on the Australian $5 dollar note. In 1986 he appeared on a postage stamp issues by Australia Post. A portrait of Banks is on display here in the Guildhall in the very room where he went about his official duties. Painted in 1814 by Thomas Phillips RA, it was commissioned by the Corporation of Boston, as a tribute to one whose “judicious and active exertions improved and enriched this borough and neighbourhood”. It cost them 100 guineas – a substantial sum in modern terms.
Matthew Flinders from nearby Donington is another who made an antipodean mark on history which maintains his achievements to this day. His paths joined with George Bass (1771 – 1803) who was born at Aswarby, near Sleaford, the son of a tenant farmer who was to die when the young George was only six. George’s mother had been born in Frampton. Shortly after his father’s death George moved with his mother to Boston, possibly to an inn in the High Street (a small commemoration stone marks the spot) and certainly close to the quays and staithes which were to influence the lad. His mother resisted his early ambition to go to sea and, after his education at Boston Grammar School under the wing of the master the Rev Obadiah Bell, he was apprenticed to Dr Patrick Francis, an alderman of Boston, to practice medicine. George was not done with the sea though. At the age of 18 he was accepted in London as a member of the Company of Surgeons, and in 1794 he joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon. Developments in navigation aids drove George on to learn all there was to know about plotting a course across the oceans.
George Bass arrived in Sydney in New South Wales on HMS Reliance on September 7, 1795, along with Matthew Flinders. On the Reliance was a tiny boat – a mere eight footer with a five foot beam named the Tom Thumb by George – in which, together with Flinders, they sailed out of Port Jackson to Botany Bay and explored the Georges River further upstream than had been done previously by colonists. Their reports on their return led to the settlement of Bankstown. In March 1796 the same party embarked on a second voyage in a similar small boat, which they also called the Tom Thumb, travelling as far down the coast as Lake Illawarra, which they called Tom Thumb Lagoon. They discover and explored Port Hacking. At one point a huge storm drove them ashore. They had heard stories that the aboriginals in the area were hostile, so they decided not to light a fire, spending a cold and miserable night. They saw some small islands, and as the sea was now calm, decided to try to reach them. However, there was no suitable place to land and they spent another uncomfortable night in the small boat.
The next morning found them in a creek, which they said was teeming with ducks and fish. However they were then joined by some aboriginals who appeared to be unfriendly. Bass and Flinders needed time to dry out their clothes and powder and so Bass kept the natives amused repairing a paddle while Flinders gave them a haircut and trimmed their beards.
In 1797 in an open whaleboat with a crew of six, Bass sailed to Cape Howe, the farthest point of South Eastern Australia. From here he went westwards along what is now the coast of the Gippsland region of Victoria, to Western Port Bay, almost as far as the site of present day Melbourne. His belief that a strait separated the mainland from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) was backed up by his astute observation of the rapid tide and the long south western swell at Wilsons Promontory. Bass discovered the Kiama area and made many notes on its botanical complexity and the amazing natural phenomenon, the Kiama Blowhole, noting the volcanic geology around the blowhole and contributed much to its understanding.
In 1798 Bass and Flinders, in the sloop Norfolk, circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land. In the course of this voyage Bass found and explored the estuary of the Derwent River, where the city of Hobart would be founded, on the strength of his report in 1803. When the two returned to Sydney, Flinders recommended to Governor John Hunter that the passage between Van Diemen’s Land and the mainland be called Bass Strait.
Flinders wrote :
“This was no more than a just tribute to my worthy friend and companion for the extreme dangers and fatigues he had undergone, in first entering it in a whaleboat, and to the correct judgement he had formed from various indications, of the existence of a wide opening between Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales”.
Bass was an enthusiastic naturalist and botanist, and he forwarded some of his botanical discoveries to Sir Joseph Banks in London. He was one of the first to describe the Australian marsupial, the wombat.
He ended his days as a trader and in January, 1803, Bass sailed south from Sydney never to return. What became of him is unknown. His plan had been to go to Tahiti and perhaps on to the Spanish colonies on the coast of Chile to buy provisions and bring them back to Sydney. As many months passed with no word of his arrival Bass was listed in January 1806 by the Admiralty as lost as sea. In 1963 Bass was honoured on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post and again in 1998 with Flinders on a coin. A re-enactment of the whaleboat voyage was conducted on the 200th anniversary of Bass’s voyage and plaque marking this was added to the Bass and Flinders memorial at Flinders.