Ill-starred Captains Flinders and Baudin|
Ill-Starred Captains describes the French and British voyages of discovery
to Australia between 1801 and 1803, led by Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders. The voyages
took place amid the global war between France and Britain, which lasted (with two short
breaks) from 1792 to 1815. The narrative derives in large part from contemporary sources
- the journals, reports, letters and books of participants, including the two captains, their
officers and scientific staff. It interweaves the stories of the expeditions as they explore
and survey the Australian coast.
The expeditions met twice - at Encounter Bay, near Adelaide, in April 1802, and again at Port
Jackson later the same year. (The first of these meetings will be commemorated nationally as
Encounter 2002.) The book discloses fresh information about relations between French and
British in the colony during Baudinís five-month stay.
Flinders and Baudin, between them, filled in most of the gaps remaining on the map of New
Holland - especially the unknown south coast stretching from the Great Australian Bight to the
present South Australia-Victoria border. Baudin surveyed many of the little-known areas of the west
coast, and also charted the south-east of Van Diemenís Land. Here his scientists made invaluable
observations of the life and customs of the Tasmanian Aborigines. Flinders, for his part, followed
Cookís path up the east coast, then charted Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria, before
returning to Sydney and completing the first circumnavigation of the continent.
Caught up in an increasingly bitter war, the French and British governments gave little
recognition to the geographic and scientific achievements of the expeditions. Both voyages
ended in personal disaster for their commanders. Detested by most of his staff, and terminally
ill with TB, Baudin died in disgrace on Mauritius (then a French colony) in September
1803. The history of his voyage was written by his enemies on board, who portrayed him
as malicious and incompetent.
Flinders too met his nemesis in Mauritius. After a shipwreck in the Coral Sea, he sailed for
England in a small schooner, but was forced to call into the French colony for repairs. Detained at
first as a spy, he antagonised the governor, General Decaen, and was held on the island for six years.
He returned home in poor health in 1810, and worked on his charts and the history of his Voyage to
Terra Australis. It was published on the day before his death, in July 1814.
Through their words, the author gives the present-day reader some understanding of what life
was like for the men of Flinders and Baudin, crammed together in their leaking, overcrowded
ships, and reveals the relationships and tensions on board, the individual hopes and fears,
and the rivalries between the expeditions. He seeks to remain impartial and leave readers
space to draw their own conclusions.
Ill-Starred Captains is published in association with the Royal Geographical Society of
Anthony J. Brown
34 colour and 24 black-andwhiteillustrations; 13 charts
Portrait; hardcover; xx + 512 pages
234 x 153 mm