Manual The life of George Bass: surgeon and sailor of the enlightenment

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He pointed out that there was little chance of success without powerful interest. Promotion was slow and favouritism was rampant. He himself had served eleven years, and had not yet attained the rank of lieutenant, nor were his hopes of rising better than slender. From the strictly professional point of view it was not unreasonable advice for the uncle to give. A student of the naval history of the period finds much to justify a discouraging attitude.

Even the dazzling career of Nelson might have been frustrated by a long protracted minority had he not had a powerful hand to help him up the lower rungs of the ladder—the "interest" of Captain Suckling, his uncle, who in became Comptroller of the Navy, "a civil position, but one that carried with it power and consequently influence. That even conduct of singular merit, performed in the crisis of action, was not sufficient to secure advancement, is illustrated by a striking fact in the life of Sir John Hindmarsh, the first Governor of South Australia At the battle of the Nile, Hindmarsh, a midshipman of fourteen, was left in charge of the Bellerophon, all the other officers being killed or wounded.

It was upon this same vessel, as we shall see later, that Flinders had a taste of sea fighting. When the French line-of-battle ship L'Orient took fire she endangered the Bellerophon. The boy, with wonderful presence of mind, called up some hands, cut the cables, and was running the ship out of danger under a sprit sail, when Captain Darby came on deck from having his wounds dressed. Nelson, hearing of the incident, thanked young Hindmarsh before the ship's company, and afterwards gave him his commission in front of all hands, relating the story to them.

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Pasley, who relates the facts in his Journal, "does not sound so well. Lord Nelson died in , and Hindmarsh is a commander still, in , not having been made one till June, There was, then, much to make John Flinders believe that influence was a surer way to advancement than assiduous application or natural capacity.

His own naval career did not turn out happily. A very few years afterwards he received his long-delayed promotion, served as lieutenant in the Cygnet, on the West Indies station, under Admiral Affleck, and died of yellow fever on board his ship in John Flinders' letter, however, concluded with a piece of practical advice, in case his nephew should be undeterred by his opinion. He recommended the study of three works as a preparation for entering the Navy: Euclid, John Robertson's Elements of Navigation first edition published in and Hamilton Moore's book on Navigation.

Matthew disregarded the warning and took the practical advice. The books were procured and the young student plunged into their problems eagerly. The year devoted to their study in that quiet little fen town made him master of rather more than the elements of a science which enabled him to become one of the foremost discoverers and cartograhers of a continent.

He probably also practised map-making with assiduity, for his charts are not only excellent as charts, but also singularly beautiful examples of scientific drawing. After a year of book-work Flinders felt capable of acquitting himself creditably at sea, if he could secure an opportunity.

THE LIFE OF GEORGE BASS - Surgeon and Sailor of the Enlightenment

In those days entrance to the Royal Navy was generally secured by the nomination of a senior officer. There was no indispensable examination; no naval college course was necessary.


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The captain of a ship could take a youth on board to oblige his relatives, "or in return for the cancelling of a tradesman's bill. It so happened that a cousin of Flinders occupied the position of governess in the family of Captain Pasley afterwards Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley who at that time commanded H. One of her pupils, Maria Pasley, developed into a young lady of decidedly vigorous character, as the following incident sufficiently shows.

While her father was commander-in-chief at Plymouth, she was one day out in the Channel, beyond the Eddystone, in the Admiral's cutter. As the country was at war, she was courting danger; and in fact, the cutter was sighted by a French cruiser, which gave chase.

But Miss Pasley declined to run away. She "popped at the Frenchman with the cutter's two brass guns. Flinders' cousin had interested herself in his studies and ambitions, and gave him some encouragement. She also spoke about him to Captain Pasley, who seems to have listened sympathetically. It interested him to hear of this boy studying navigation without a tutor up among the fens.

Young Matthew, then in his fifteenth year, was accordingly invited to visit the Pasleys. In the later part of his life he used to relate with merriment, how he went, was asked to dine, and then pressed to stay till next day under the captain's roof. He had brought no night attire with him, not having expected to sleep at the house. When he was shown into his bedroom, his needs had apparently been anticipated; for there, folded up neatly upon the pillow, was a sleeping garment ready for use.

He appreciated the consideration; but having attired himself for bed, he found himself enveloped in a frothy abundance of frills and fal-lals, lace at the wrists, lace round the neck, with flutters of ribbon here and there. When, at the breakfast table in the morning, he related how he had been rigged, there was a shriek of laughter from the young ladies; the simple explanation being that one of them had vacated her room to accommodate the visitor, and had forgotten to remove her nightdress.

The visit had more important consequences.

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Captain Pasley very soon saw that he had an exceptional lad before him, and at once put him on the Alert. He was entered as "lieutenant's servant" on October 23rd, He remained there for rather more than seven months, learning the practical part of a sailor's business. On May 17th, , he was able to present himself to Captain Pasley on the Scipio at Chatham, as an aspirant of more than ordinary efficiency; and remained under his command until the next year, following him as a midshipman when he left the Scipio for the Bellerophon in July, This famous ship, which carried 74 guns, and was launched in , is chiefly known to history as the vessel upon which Napoleon surrendered to Captain Maitland on July 15th, , after the Waterloo debacle.

She took a prominent part in Nelson's great battles at the Nile and Trafalgar. But her end was pitifully ignoble.

After a glorious and proud career, she was converted into a convict hulk and re-named the Captivity. A great prose master has reminded us, in words that glow upon his impassioned page, of the slight thought given by the practical English to the fate of another line-of-battle ship that had flown their colours in the stress of war.

Nay, not so, we have stern keepers to trust her glory to, the fire and the worm. Never more shall sunset lay golden robe on her, nor starlight tremble on the waves that part at her gliding. Perhaps, where the gate opens to some cottage garden, the tired traveller may ask, idly, why the moss grows so green on its rugged wood; and even the sailor's child may not answer nor know, that the night-dew lies deep in the war-rents of the wood of the old Temeraire. But even the decline of might and dignity into decrepitude and oblivion described in that luminous passage is less pathetic than the conversion of the glorious Bellerophon, with her untarnished traditions of historic victories, into a hulk for the punishment of rascals, and the changing of her unsullied name to an alias significant only of shame.

During this preliminary period Flinders learnt the way about a ship and acquired instruction in the mechanism of seamanship, but there was as yet no opportunity to obtain deep-water experience. He was transferred to the Dictator for a brief period, but as he neither mentions the captain nor alludes to any other circumstance connected therewith, it was probably a mere temporary turnover or guardship rating not to lose any time of service. His first chance of learning something about the width of the world and the wonder of its remote places came in , when he went to sea under the command of a very remarkable man.

William Bligh had sailed with James Cook on his third and fatal voyage of discovery, to He was twenty-three years of age when he was selected by that sagacious leader as one of those young officers who "under my direction could be usefully employed in constructing charts, in taking views of the coasts and headlands near which we should pass, and in drawing plans of the bays and harbours in which we should anchor;" for Cook recognised that constant attention to these duties was "wholly requisite if he would render our discoveries profitable to future navigators.

Bligh's name appears frequently in Cook's Journal, and is also mentioned in King's excellent narrative of the conclusion of the voyage after Cook's murder. He was master of the Resolution, and was on several occasions entrusted with tasks of some consequence: as for instance on first reaching Hawaii, when Cook sent him ashore to look for fresh water, and again at Kealakeakura Bay January 16, when he reported that he had found good anchorage and fresh water "in a situation admirable to come at.

On each of Cook's voyages a call had been made at Tahiti in the Society group. Bligh no doubt heard much about the charms of the place before he first saw it himself. He was destined to have his own name associated with it in a highly romantic and adventurous manner.

The idyllic beauty of the life of the Tahitians, their amiable and seductive characteristics, the warm suavity of the climate, the profusion of food and drink to be enjoyed on the island with the smallest conceivable amount of exertion, made the place stand out in all the narratives of Cook's expeditions like a green-and-golden gem set in a turquoise sea, a lotos-land "in which it seemed always afternoon," a paradise where love and plenty reigned and care and toil were not.

George Forster, the German naturalist who accompanied Cook on his second voyage, wrote of the men as "models of masculine beauty," whose perfect proportions would have satisfied the eye of Phidias or Praxiteles; of the women as beings whose "unaffected smiles and a wish to please ensure them mutual esteem and love;" and of the life they led as being diversified between bathing in cool streams, reposing under tufted trees, feeding on luscious fruits, telling tales, and playing the flute.

In fact, Forster declared, they "resembled the happy, indolent people whom Ulysses found in Phaeacia, and could apply the poet's lines to themselves with peculiar propriety:. In Tahiti grew an abundance of breadfruit. It was in connection with this nutritious food, one of nature's richest gifts to the Pacific, that Bligh undertook a mission which involved him in a mutiny, launched him upon one of the most dangerous and difficult voyages in the annals of British seamanship, and provided a theme for a long poem by one of the greatest of English authors.

Byron it was who, writing as though the trees sprouted quartern loaves ready baked, said of it The Island 2 11 :. Breadfruit had been tasted and described by Dampier in the seventeenth century. It hath a spreading head full of branches and dark leaves. The fruit grows on the boughs like apples; it is as big as a penny loaf when wheat is at five shillings the bushel. The natives of this island Suam use it for bread. They gather it when full-grown; then they bake it in an oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black; but they scrape off the outside black crust and there remains a tender thin crust and the inside is soft, tender and white, like the crumb of a penny loaf.

There is neither seed nor stone in the inside, but all is of a pure substance like bread; it must be eaten new, for if it is kept above twenty-four hours it becomes dry and eats harsh and chokey; but 'tis very pleasant before it is too stale. By Dampier, who in the course of his astonishing career had consumed many strange things—who found shark's flesh "good entertainment," and roast opossum "sweet wholesome meat"—toleration in the matter of things edible was carried to the point of latitudinarianism.

We never find Dampier squeamish about anything which anybody else could eat with relish. To him, naturally, the first taste of breadfruit was pleasing.

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But Cook was more critical. But new sensations in the matter of food are not always to be depended on. Sir Joseph Banks disliked bananas when he first tasted them. The immense popularity of Cook's voyages spread afar the fame of breadfruit as an article of food. Certain West Indian planters were of opinion that it would be advantageous to establish the trees on their islands and to encourage the consumption of the fruit by their slaves. Not only was it considered that the use of breadfruit would cheapen the cost of the slaves' living, but—a consideration that weighed both with the planters and the British Government in view of existing relations with the United States—it was also believed that it would "lessen the dependence of the sugar islands on North America for food and necessaries.

The planters petitioned the Government to fit out an expedition to transplant trees from the Pacific to the Atlantic. In August, , Lieutenant Bligh was appointed to the command of the Bounty, was directed to sail to the Society Islands, to take on board "as many trees and plants as may be thought necessary," and to transplant them to British possessions in the West Indies. The vessel sailed, with two skilled gardeners on board to superintend the selection and treatment of the plants. Tahiti was duly reached, and the business of the expedition was taken in hand. One thousand and fifteen fine trees were chosen and carefully stowed.

But the comfortable indolence, the luxuriant abundance, the genial climate, the happy hospitality of the handsome islanders, and their easy freedom from compunction in reference to restraints imposed by law and custom in Europe, had a demoralising effect upon the crew of the Bounty. A stay of twenty-three weeks at the island sufficed to subvert discipline and to persuade some of Bligh's sailors that life in Tahiti was far preferable to service in the King's Navy under the rule of a severe and exacting commander. When the Bounty left Tahiti on April 14, , reluctance plucked at the heart of many of the crew.

The morning light lay tenderly upon the plumes of the palms, and a light wind filled the sails of the ship as she glided out of harbour. As the lazy lapping wash of the waters against the low outer fringe of coral was lost to the ear, the Bounty breasted the deep ocean; and as the distinguishable features of green tree, white sand, brown earth, and grey rock faded out of vision, wrapped in a haze of blue, till at last the only pronounced characteristic of the island standing up against the sky and sea was the cap of Point Venus at the northern extremity—the departure must have seemed to some like that of Tannhauser from the enchanted mountain, except that the legendary hero was glad to make his return to the normal world, whereas all of Bligh's company were not.

For them, westward, whither they were bound,. The discipline of ship's life, and the stormings and objurgations of the commanding officer, chafed like an iron collar. At length a storm burst. Just before sunrise on the following morning Bligh was aroused from sleep, seized and bound in his cabin by a band of mutineers, led out by the master's mate, Fletcher Christian, and, with eighteen companions, dropped into a launch and bidden to depart. The followers of Christian were three midshipmen and twenty-five petty officers and sailors.