Extracts from the Diary of Matthew Flinders

At ten o'clock we were close under the land; and finding the water tolerably smooth, had shortened sail with the intention of anchoring near a small, sandy beach; but the situation proving to be too much exposed, we steered eastward along the shore under two close-reefed topsails and fore-sail, the wind blowing strong in squalls from the south-west. The furthest land seen ahead at noon was a projecting point, lower than the other cliffs; it bore E. 7° S., four leagues, and and lies in 35° 33' south and 137° 41' east. It was named Point Marsden, in compliment to the second secretary of the Admiralty; and beyond it the coast was found to trend southward into a large bay containing three coves, any one of which promised good shelter from the gale. This was called NEPEAN BAY. in compliment to the first secretary (now Sir Evan Nepean, Bart.), and we hauled up for it; but the strength of the wind was such that a headland forming the east side of the bay was fetched with difficulty. At six in the evening we came to anchor in 9 fathoms, sandy bottom, within a mile of the shore; the east extreme bearing S. 76° E., and the land near Point Marsden, on the west side of Nepean Bay, N. 61° W., six leagues. A piece of high land, seemingly unconnected, bore from N. 45° to 78° E.; but no land could be distinguished to the northward.Neither smokes nor other marks of inhabitants had as yet been perceived upon the southern land, although we had passed along seventy miles of its coast. It was too late to go on shore this evening; but every glass in the ship was pointed there, to see what could be discovered. Several black lumps, like rocks, were pretended to have been seen in motion by some of the young gentlemen, which caused the force of their imaginations to be much admired; next morning [MONDAY 22 MARCH 1802], however, on going toward the shore, a number of dark-brown kangaroos were seen feeding upon a grass-plat by the side of the wood and our landing gave them no disturbance. I had with me a double-barrelled gun, fitted with a bayonet, and the gentlemen my companions had muskets. It would be difficult to guess how many kangaroos were seen; but I killed ten, and the rest of the party made up the number to thirty-one, taken on board in the course of the day; the least of them weighing sixty-nine, and the largest one hundred and twenty-five pounds. These kangaroos had much resemblance to the large species found in the forest lands of New South Wales, except that their colour was darker, and they were not wholly destitute of fat.

After this butchery, for the poor animals suffered themselves to be shot in the eyes with small shot, and in some cases to be knocked on the head with sticks, I scrambled with difficulty through the brushwood, and over fallen trees, to reach the higher land with the surveying instruments; but the thickness and height of the wood prevented anything else from being distinguished. There was little doubt, however, that this extensive piece of land was separated from the continent; for the extraordinary tameness of the kangaroos and the presence of seals upon the shore concurred with the absence of all traces of men to show that it was not inhabited.


The whole ship's company was employed this afternoon in skinning and cleaning the kangaroos; and a delightful regale they afforded, after four months' privation from almost any fresh provisions. Half a hundred weight of heads, forequarters and tails were stewed down into soup for dinner on this and the succeeding days; and as much steaks given, moreover, to both officers and men as they could consume by day and by night. In gratitude for so seasonable a supply I named this southern land KANGAROO ISLAND.


Next day was employed in shifting the topmasts on account of some rents found in the heels. The scientific gentlemen landed again to examine the natural productions of the island, and in the evening eleven more kangaroos were brought on board; but most of these were smaller, and seemed to be of a different species to those of the preceding day. Some of the party saw several large running birds; which, according to their description, seemed to have been the emu or cassowary.

Not being able to obtain a distinct view from any elevated situation, I took a set of angles from a small projection near the ship, named Kangaroo Head; but nothing could be seen to the north, and the sole bearing of importance, more than had been taken on board, was that of a high hill at the extremity of the apparently unconnected land to the eastward: it bore N. 39° 10' E., and was named Mount Lofty. The nearest part of that land was a low point bearing N. 60° E. nine or ten miles; but the land immediately at the back was high, and its northern and southern extremes were cliffy. I named it CAPE JERVIS, and it was afterwards sketched by Mr. Westall. (Atlas Plate XVII. View 12.)

All the cliffs of Kangaroo Island seen to the west of the anchorage had the appearance of being calcareous, and the loose stones scattered over the surface of Kangaroo Head and the vicinity were of that substance; but the basis in this part seemed to be a brown slate, lying in strata nearly horizontal, and laminae of quartz were sometimes seen in the interstices. In some places the slate was split into pieces of a foot long, or more, like iron bars, and had a shining, ore-like appearance; and the strata were then further from the horizontal line than I observed them to be elsewhere.

A thick wood covered almost all that part of the island visible from the ship; but the trees in a vegetating state were not equal in size to the generality of those lying on the ground, nor to the dead trees standing upright. Those on the ground were so abundant that in ascending the higher land a considerable part of the walk was made upon them. They lay in all directions, and were nearly of the same size and in the same progress towards decay; from whence it would seem that they had not fallen from age, nor yet been thrown down in a gale of wind. Some general conflagration, and there were marks apparently of fire on many of them, is perhaps the sole cause which can be reasonably assigned; but whence came the woods on fire? That there were no inhabitants upon the island, and that the natives of the continent did not visit it, was demonstrated, if not by the want of all signs of such visit, yet by the tameness of the kangaroo, an animal which, on the continent, resembles the wild deer in timidity. Perhaps lightning might have been the cause, or possibly the friction of two dead trees in a strong wind; but it would be somewhat extraordinary that the same thing should have happened at Thistle's Island, Boston Island and at this place, and apparently about the same time. Can this part of Terra Australis have been visited before, unknown to the world? The French navigator, La Pérouse, was ordered to explore it, but there seems little probability that he ever passed Torres' Strait.

Some judgment may be formed of the epoch when these conflagrations happened from the magnitude of the growing trees; for they must have sprung up since that period. They were a species of eucalyptus, and being less than the fallen trees, had most probably not arrived at maturity; but the wood is hard and solid, and it may thence be supposed to grow slowly. With these considerations I should be inclined to fix the period at not less than ten, nor more than twenty years before our arrival. This brings us back to La Pérouse. He was in Botany Bay in the beginning of 1788; and if he did pass through Torres' Strait, and come round to this coast, as was his intention, it would probably be about the middle or latter end of that year, or between thirteen and fourteen years before the Investigator. My opinion is not favourable to this conjecture; but I have furnished all the data to enable the reader to form his own judgment upon the cause which might have prostrated the woods of these islands.

The soil of that part of Kangaroo Island examined by us was judged to be much superior to any before seen, either upon the south coast of the continent or upon the islands near it, with the exception of some portions behind the harbours of King George's Sound. The depth of the soil was not particularly ascertained; but from the thickness of the wood it cannot be very shallow. Some sand is mixed with the vegetable earth, but not in any great proportion; and I thought the soil superior to some of the land cultivated at Port Jackson, and to much of that in our stony counties in England.

Never perhaps had the dominion possessed here by the kangaroo been invaded before this time. The seal shared with it upon the shores, but they seemed to dwell amicably together. It not unfrequently happened that the report of a gun fired at a kangaroo near the beach brought out two or three bellowing seals from under bushes considerably further from the water-side. The seal, indeed, seemed to be much the most discerning animal of the two; for its actions bespoke a knowledge of our not being kangaroos, whereas the kangaroo not unfrequently appeared to consider us to be seals.

The latitude of the landing place near Kangaroo Head from an observation in the artificial horizon, was 35° 43' 0" south; and the longitude of our anchorage by timekeepers, 137° 58' 31" east. This last, being deduced from observations only four days after the proof had of the time keepers having gone correctly since leaving Port Lincoln, should be as accurate, or very nearly so, as the longitude of that port.

The variation observed from two compasses on board, with the head south-westward, was 6° 31' east; but when the ship swung to a tide coming from east-north-east, the change in the bearings of different objects showed the variation to be about 4° less. The true variation I deduce to be 4° 13' east; which is an increase upon what was observed on the west side of Cape Spencer, of 2°; although the distance be no more than twenty-four leagues, and the previous increase from Cape Catastrophe had been almost nothing. It seems probable that the existence of magnetic bodies in the land to the north-westward, and perhaps also in Kangaroo Island and Cape Jervis, was the cause of this change in the direction of the needle.

From appearances on the shore, I judged the rise of tide to be about six feet. The flood came from the east-north-east, twice in the day, and by the swinging of the ship, ceased at two hours and a half after the moon's passage; but the time of high water was afterwards found to be later by one hour and a half.



March 24 in the morning, we got under way from Kangaroo Island in order to take up the examination of the main coast at Cape Spencer, where it had been quitted in the evening of the 20th, when the late gale commenced. The wind had continued to blow fresh from the southward, but had now moderated, and was at south-west. We steered north-westward from ten o'clock till six in the evening, and then had sight of land extending from N. 62° W. to a low part terminating at N. 17° E. distant three leagues. A hummock upon this low part was named Troubridge Hill, and at first it makes like an island. Nothing was visible to the eastward of the low land; whence I judged there to be another inlet or a strait between it and Cape Jervis. Soon after dusk the wind veered to south-by-east, on which we steered south-westward, and continued the same course until four in the morning...



Having now made myself acquainted with the shores of the continent up to Cape Jervis, it remained to pursue the discovery further eastward; but I wished to ascertain previously whether any error had crept into the time-keepers' rates since leaving Kangaroo Island, and also to procure there a few more fresh meals for my ship's company. Our course was in consequence directed for the island, which was visible from aloft; but the winds being very feeble, we did not pass Kangaroo Head until eleven at night. I purposed to have run up into the eastern cove of Nepean Bay, but finding the water to shoal from 12 to 7 fathoms, did not think it safe to go further in the dark, and therefore dropped the anchor about three-quarters of a mile from the shore, and two miles to the south-west-by-west of our former anchorage.


Early on the following morning a party was sent to shoot kangaroos, another to cut wood, and the naturalists went to pursue their researches. The observations taken by lieutenant Flinders, compared with those of March 24th, showed the timekeepers to have erred 2' 10" of longitude to the west in the nine days we had been absent; and they had not, consequently, lost quite so much upon a medium as the Port Lincoln rates supposed. This small error, which principally affected the Gulph of St. Vincent, has been corrected in the longitudes there specified and in the chart by an equal proportion.

The kangaroos were found to be less numerous than at the first anchoring place, and they had become shy, so that very few were killed. Those few being brought off, with a boat load of wood, we got under way at daylight next morning to prosecute the examination of the coast beyond Cape Jervis; but the timekeepers had stopped, from having been neglected to be wound up on the preceding day. We therefore came to an anchor again; and as some time would be required to fix new rates, the ship was moored so soon as the flood tide made. I landed immediately, to commence the necessary observations, and a party was established on shore, abreast of the ship, to cut more wood for the holds. Lieutenant Fowler was sent in the launch to the eastward, with a shooting party and such of the scientific gentlemen as chose to accompany him; and there being skins wanted for the service of the rigging, he was directed to kill some seals.


On the 4th I was accompanied by the naturalist in a boat expedition to the head of the large eastern cove of Nepean Bay; intending if possible to ascend a sandy eminence behind it, from which alone there was any hope of obtaining a view into the interior of the island, all the other hills being thickly covered with wood. On approaching the south-west corner of the cove, a small opening was found leading into a considerable piece of water; and by one of its branches we reached within little more than a mile of the desired sandy eminence. After I had observed the latitude 35° 50' 2" from an artificial horizon, we got through the wood without much difficulty, and at one o'clock reached the top of the eminence, to which was given the name of Prospect Hill. Instead of a view into the interior of the island, I was surprised to find the sea at not more than one and half or two miles to the southward. Two points of the coast towards the east end of the island bore S. 77° E., and the furthest part on the other side, a low point with breakers round it, bore S. 33° W., at the supposed distance of four or five leagues. Between these extremes a large bight in the south coast was formed; but it is entirely exposed to southern winds, and the shores are mostly cliffy. Mount Lofty, on the east side of the Gulph of St. Vincent, was visible from Prospect Hill at the distance of sixty-nine miles, and bore N. 40° 40' E.

The entrance of the piece of water at the head of Nepean Bay is less than half a mile in width, and mostly shallow; but there is a channel sufficiently deep for all boats near the western shore. After turning two low islets near the east point the water opens out, becomes deeper, and divides into two branches, each of two or three miles long. Boats can go to the head of the southern branch only at high water; the east branch appeared to be accessible at all times, but as a lead and line were neglected to be put into the boat, I had no opportunity of sounding. There are four small islands in the eastern branch; one of them is moderately high and woody, the others are grassy and lower; and upon two of these we found many young pelicans, unable to fly. Flocks of the old birds were sitting upon the beaches of the lagoon, and it appeared that the islands were their breeding-places; not only so, but from the number of skeletons and bones there scattered, it should seem that they had for ages been selected for the closing scene of their existence. Certainly none more likely to be free from disturbance of every kind could have been chosen than these islets in a hidden lagoon of an uninhabited island, situate upon an unknown coast near the antipodes of Europe; nor can anything be more consonant to the feelings, if pelicans have any, than quietly to resign their breath whilst surrounded by their progeny, and in the same spot where they first drew it. Alas for the pelicans! Their golden age is past; but it has much exceeded in duration that of man.

I named this piece of water Pelican Lagoon. It is also frequented by flocks of the pied shag, and by some ducks and gulls; and the shoals supplied us with a few oysters. The surrounding country is almost everywhere thickly covered with brushwood; and the soil appeared to be generally of a good quality, though not deep. Prospect Hill and the parts around it are more sandy; and there seemed to be swamps at the head of both branches of the lagoon. The isthmus which separates the southern branch from the sea is low, but rises gradually up the cliffs of the coast.

Not being able to return on board the same night, we slept near the entrance of the lagoon. It was high water by the shore, on the morning of the 5th [MONDAY 5 APRIL 1802], at six o'clock; but on comparing this with the swinging of the ship, it appeared that the tide had then been running more than an hour from the westward. The rise in the lagoon seemed to be from four to eight feet.

A few kangaroos had been obtained during my absence, as also some seal skins; but one of the sailors having attacked a large seal incautiously, received a very severe bite in the leg and was laid up. After all the researches now made in the island, it appeared that the kangaroos were much more numerous at our first landing-place, near Kangaroo Head, than elsewhere in the neighbourhood. That part of the island was clearer of wood than most others; and there were some small grass plats which seemed to be particularly attractive and were kept very bare. Not less than thirty emus or cassowaries were seen at different times; but it so happened that they were fired at only once, and that ineffectually. They were most commonly found near the longest of the small beaches to the eastward of Kangaroo Head, where some little drainings of water oozed from the rocks. It is possible that with much time and labour employed in digging, water might be procured there to supply a ship; and I am sorry to say that it was the sole place found by us where the hope of procuring fresh water could be entertained.

Having received on board a good stock of wood, the launch was hoisted in and every thing prepared for going to sea. Next morning [TUESDAY 6 APRIL 1802], so soon as the sun was sufficiently elevated to be observed in the artificial horizon, I landed to take the last set of observations for the time-keepers; after which the anchor was weighed, and we steered out of Nepean Bay with a light breeze from the south-west. Towards noon it fell calm, and finding by the land that the ship was set westward, an anchor was dropped nearly in our first place off Kangaroo Head; and Mr. Westall took the sketch given in the Atlas. (Atlas Plate XVII. View 11.)

... [discussion about the accuracy of the navigation measurements].

For this difference between the instruments, I find it difficult to account satisfactorily; but it is the same way, and nearly similar in quantity to what was observed in Lucky Bay. The true variation on board the ship, deduced from azimuths taken at anchor two miles to the north-east, and using the compasses No. 1 and 2, was as before mentioned, 4° 13', nearly the mean of the above; but the bearings taken with the theodolite at Kangaroo Head and Prospect Hill showed only 2½° east, as compared with the bearings on board the ship. There can be little doubt of the existence of magnetic substances in the lands about here, more particularly, as I think, in Yorke's Peninsula; and there will presently be occasion to notice more instances of their effect.

The approach of the winter season, and an apprehension that the discovery of the remaining unknown part of the South Coast might not be completed before a want of provisions would make it necessary to run for Port Jackson, prevented me from stopping a day longer at Kangaroo Island than was necessary to obtaining rates for the time-keepers, and consequently from examining the south and west parts of that island. The direction of the main coast and the inlets it might form were the most important points to be now ascertained; and the details of particular parts, which it would interfere too much with those objects to examine, were best referred to the second visit, directed by my instructions to be made to this coast. When, therefore, the rising of a breeze made it advisable to get under way from Kangaroo Head, which was not until two in the afternoon, we proceeded for the eastern outlet of the Investigator's Strait, in order to prosecute the discovery beyond Cape Jervis.

The wind was at south-east; and the tide being against us, but little progress was made until the evening, when it became favourable. Our soundings were irregular, and some rocky islets being seen without side of the opening, I stood in at nine o'clock, to look for anchorage at the east end of Kangaroo Island; and finding no shelter there, we ran a little to leeward into a small bay which I had observed before dark, and anchored at half past ten, in 4½ fathoms, on a bottom of hard sand. At daylight [WEDNESDAY 7 APRIL 1802], the following bearings were taken ....

The bay is perfectly sheltered from all southern winds; and as there were several spots clear of wood near the beach, it is probable that the kangaroos, and perhaps cassowaries, might be numerous. We did not stop to land, but got under way so soon as the bearings were taken, to beat out of the strait against the south-east wind; so little was gained, however, after working all the day, that at eight in the evening the ship was still off the east end of Kangaroo Island.

This part of the Investigator's Strait is not more, in the narrowest part, than seven miles across. It forms a private entrance, as it were, to the two gulphs; and I named it Back-stairs Passage. The small bay where we had anchored is called the Ante-chamber; and the cape which forms the eastern head of the bay and of Kangaroo Island, and lies in 35° 48' south and 138° 13' east, received the appellation of Cape Willoughby. Without side of the passage, and almost equidistant from both shores, there are three small, rocky islets near together, called the Pages, whose situation is in latitude 35° 46½' and longitude 138° 21' east; these are the sole dangers in Back-stairs Passage, and two of them are conspicuous. Our soundings in beating through were from 8 to 23 fathoms; and in a strong rippling of tide like breakers there was from 10 to 12, upon a bottom of stones and shells.

At eight in the evening we tacked from Cape Willoughby; and having passed to windward of the Pages, stretched on east and north-eastward until four in the morning [THURSDAY 8 APRIL 1802]. Land was then seen under the lee, and a tack made off shore till daylight, when we stood in with the wind at east-south-east. At nine the land was distant five miles, and of a very different aspect to that of Cape Jervis. As far as six leagues from the cliffy southern extremity of the Cape the land is high, rocky and much cut by gullies or ravines; a short, scrubby brush-wood covers the seaward side, and the stone appeared to be slaty, like the opposite cliffs of Kangaroo Island. But here the hills fall back from the sea, and the shore becomes very low with some hummocks of sand upon it; and the same description of coast prevailed as far as could be seen to the eastward.

Our situation at nine o'clock, when we tacked to the south, was as follows ...

Before two in the afternoon we stretched eastward again, and at four a white rock was reported from aloft to be seen ahead. On approaching nearer it proved to be a ship standing towards us, and we cleared for action, in case of being attacked. The stranger was a heavy-looking ship, without any top-gallant masts up; and our colours being hoisted, she showed a French ensign, and afterwards an English jack forward, as we did a white flag. At half-past five, the land being then five miles distant to the north-eastward, I hove to, and learned, as the stranger passed to leeward with a free wind, that it was the French national ship Le Géographe, under the command of captain NICOLAS BAUDIN. We veered round as Le Géographe was passing, so as to keep our broadside to her, lest the flag of truce should be a deception; and having come to the wind on the other tack, a boat was hoisted out, and I went on board the French ship, which had also hove to.

As I did not understand French, Mr. Brown, the naturalist, went with me in the boat. We were received by an officer who pointed out the commander, and by him were conducted into the cabin. I requested captain Baudin to show me his passport from the Admiralty; and when it was found and I had perused it, offered mine from the French marine minister, but he put it back without inspection. He then informed me that he had spent some time in examining the south and east parts of Van Diemen's Land, where his geographical engineer, with the largest boat and a boat's crew, had been left, and probably lost. In Bass Strait captain Baudin had encountered a heavy gale, the same we had experienced in a less degree on March 21 in the Investigator's Strait. He was then separated from his consort, Le Naturaliste; but having since had fair winds and fine weather, he had explored the South Coast from Western Port to the place of our meeting without finding any river, inlet or other shelter which afforded anchorage. I inquired concerning a large island said to lie in the western entrance of Bass Strait; but he had not seen it, and seemed to doubt much of its existence.

Captain Baudin was communicative of his discoveries about Van Diemen's land; as also of his criticisms upon an English chart of Bass Strait published in 1800. He found great fault with the north side of the strait, but commended the form given to the south side and to the islands near it. On my pointing out a note upon the chart, explaining that the north side of the strait was seen only in an open boat by Mr. Bass, who had no good means of fixing either latitude or longitude, he appeared surprised, not having before paid attention to it. I told him that some other and more particular charts of the Strait and its neighbourhood had been since published; and that if he would keep company until next morning, I would bring him a copy, with a small memoir belonging to them. This was agreed to, and I returned with Mr. Brown to the Investigator.

It somewhat surprised me that captain Baudin made no enquiries concerning my business upon this unknown coast, but as he seemed more desirous of communicating information, I was happy to receive it; next morning [FRIDAY 9 APRIL 1802], however, he had become inquisitive, some of his officers having learned from my boat's crew that our object was also discovery. I then told him, generally, what our operations had been, particularly in the two gulphs, and the latitude to which I had ascended in the largest; explained the situation of Port Lincoln, where fresh water might be procured; showed him Cape Jervis, which was still in sight; and as a proof of the refreshments to be obtained at the large island opposite to it, pointed out the kangaroo-skin caps worn by my boat's crew, and told him the name I had affixed to the island in consequence. At parting the captain requested me to take care of his boat and people in case of meeting with them; and to say to Le Naturaliste that he should go to Port Jackson so soon as the bad weather set in. On my asking the name of the captain of Le Naturaliste, he bethought himself to ask mine; and finding it to be the same as the author of the chart which he had been criticising, expressed not a little surprise, but had the politeness to congratulate himself on meeting me.

The situation of the Investigator, when I hove to for the purpose of speaking captain Baudin, was 35° 40' south and 138° 58' east. No person was present at our conversations except Mr Brown; and they were mostly carried on in English, which the captain spoke so as to be understood. He gave me, besides what is related above, some information of his losses in men, separations from his consort, and of the improper season at which he was directed to explore this coast; as also a memorandum of some rocks he had met with, lying two leagues from the shore, in latitude 37° 1', and he spoke of them as being very dangerous.

I have been the more particular in detailing all that passed at this interview from a circumstance which it seems proper to explain and discuss in this place.

At the above situation of 35° 40' south and 138° 58' east, the discoveries made by captain Baudin upon the South Coast have their termination to the west; as mine in the Investigator have to the eastward. Yet Mons. Peron, naturalist in the French expedition, has laid a claim for his nation to the discovery of all the parts between Western Port in Bass Strait, and Nuyts' Archipelago; and this part of New South Wales is called Terre Napoléon. My Kangaroo Island, a name which they openly adopted in the expedition, has been converted at Paris into L'Isle Decrés; Spencer's Gulph is named Golfe Bonaparte; the Gulph of St. Vincent, Golfe Josephine; and so on along the whole coast to Cape Nuyts, not even the smallest island being left without some similar stamp of French discovery.