From the cover: On the afternoon of
8 April 1802, in the remote southern ocean, two explorers had a remarkable chance encounter. Englishman Matthew Flinders and Frenchman Nicolas Baudin had been sent by their governments on the same quest: to explore the uncharted coast of the great south land and find out whether the west and east coasts, four thousand kilometres apart, were part of the same island. And so began the three-year race to compile the definitive map of Australia. Written from diaries and other first-hand accounts, this is the thrilling story of men whose skill and determination enabled Terra Australis Incognita to become Australia.
I admit it, I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Matthew Flinders. Two reasons: as an ex-Mornington resident, I often spent time either in Mornington Park or Schnapper Point where there are many references relevant to Matthew Flinders' explorations.
“Matthew Flinders entered the heads of Port Phillip Bay on the 26th April 1802 and landed near Mornington on the 28th April. On Schnapper Point above the Mornington pier is a memorial to Matthew Flinders engraved on a granite obelisk which rises thirty feet in the shape of a giant fin, to a man of destiny, “the most generous, most learned and most modest of all the Australian explorers.” The settlement at Schnapper Point developed into the township of Mornington.” from http://morningtonchamber.com.au/our-history/
And the other reason? I really enjoyed Bryce Courtenay’s Matthew Flinders’ Cat!
I think the title of this book, however, is a bit misleading. The ‘race’ seems to be about who published what first, not necessarily about who discovered what first. Both protagonists were unaware the other was on the way to the same place; both languished thither and yon for quite some time not ‘making haste’, and bumped into each other from time to time with no great alacrity to resume the high seas. No matter, the book itself is absorbing. Initially there’s a fair bit about ‘who did what’ before Flinders and Baudin – even back to the 1600s with Dutch explorers like Dampier, Abel Tasman, the revolting saga of the Batavia, the Portuguese Torres, French D’Entrecasteau et al, but stick with it, we’re soon off with the protagonists, plus Flinders’ cat Trim, who cracks a minor mention. It’s a hair raising ride indeed due to wars, the ever-present scurvy and later, dysentery, storms and wrecks, burials at sea, the first settlements, Flinders’ outrageous imprisonment on the Mauritius for 6 ½ years, and the trials and tribulations of exploring, surveying and mapping in the 1800s. Today’s well-known names crop up – the French cartographer Freycinet – gorgeous place in Tassie; Bass Strait after George Bass who eventually goes missing at sea; Botany Bay, Port Jackson/Sydney, Benelong, King Island, Flinders Island, Kangaroo Island, Rottnest, the Great Barrier Reef and much more. A fascinating book and well recommended.