George Bass (image on the left) and Matthew Flinders were the last of the great maritime explorers of the Australian coastline. In a number of voyages, they helped to map out the shape of the Australian continent and the island of Tasmania. Bass (1771 - 1803) was born in England and became an apprentice surgeon while he was a teenager. At 18 he joined the British Royal Navy and in 1795 he sailed to New South Wales as the ship''s doctor on board HMS Reliance where he first met Matthew Flinders. Flinders (1774 – 1814) was born in England and joined the British Royal Navy when he was 15. At the age of 20 he boarded HMS Reliance as the Midshipman, or the master''s mate. The two young men both shared a great interest in navigation and maritime exploration.
The Reliance arrived in Sydney in September 1795 and Bass and Flinders immediately made preparations to explore. Bass had brought with him from England a rowing boat less than three metres long. He named in Tom Thumb after the tiny fairytale character. After just a few weeks of preparation, they sailed south to Botany Bay and explored the Georges River. They returned nine days later and reported to Governor Hunter which led to the establishment of a settlement on the Georges River, which was named Bankstown.
In their second journey they sailed again, in a small boat supplied by the governor. They survived rough waves to continue south to Shellharbour and on returning they discovered and named Port Hacking.
In the next year they sailed to Cape Town to pick up supplies and later Bass sailed with six sailors southward to Western Port in Victoria. They actually went around the south-eastern tip of the continent and almost sailed through the strait now known as Bass Strait, but returned as their supplies were running out. Bass was certain that Van Diemans’ Land, as Tasmania was known then, was separated from the mainland which he concluded by the tides he encountered, but he had not yet proved it.
In 1799 the Norfolk sailed out of Port Jackson with Flinders in command and Bass next in authority. During their expedition they sailed along the northern coast of Van Diemens'' land, southwards along its west coast, then north again up the east coast before returning to Sydney. On the north coast of the island Bass and Flinders rowed up the Tamar River almost to where Launceston now stands and on Christmas Day they climbed to the top of t Mount Wellington which now overlooks Hobart, Tasmania’s capital. Bass was also a keen naturalist and made detailed studies of birds and other native animals he encountered. The strait of water that separated the mainland with Tasmania was named Bass Strait by Governor Hunter.
Bass then resigned from the Royal Navy to start sailing trading vessels. In February 1803 he left Sydney on a voyage to Chile in South America but after his ship the Venus, sailed out of Sydney Harbour neither it, its crew nor its captain was ever seen or heard from again. George Bass’ disappearance remains a mystery today.