Toward the latter end of the month, Mr. Bass, the surgeon of the Reliance, returned from an excursion in an open boat to the southward, after an absence of twelve weeks. This gentleman, who had little to occupy him while his ship was refitting, disliking an idle life, possessing with a good constitution a mind and body strong and vigorous, and being endowed with great good sense, ingenuity, and observation, requested the governor to allow him a boat, and permit him to man her with volunteers from the King’s ships; proposing to go along the coast, and make such observations as might be in his power. The governor readily consenting, he set out, as well provided as the size of his boat would allow; and in her, against much adverse wind and bad weather, he persevered, as far to the southward as the latitude 40 degrees 00 minutes, visiting every opening in the coast; but only in one place, to the southward and westward of Point Hicks, finding a harbour capable of admitting ships. There was every appearance of an extensive strait, or rather an open sea, between the latitudes of 39 degrees and 40 degrees south, and that Van Diemen’s land consisted (as had been conjectured) of a group of islands lying off the southern coast of the country.
It appeared from Mr. Bass’s account, that there was but very little good ground to the southward. His occasional excursions into the interior, situated as he found himself with an open boat, in which he could carry but a small stock of provisions, could not be very extensive; he, however, went far enough to discover that there was but little good land near the sea; but, had it even been superior to those parts which were known, the want of harbours, even for small vessels, would lessen its value much. He regretted that he had not been possessed of a better vessel, which would have enabled him to circumnavigate Van Diemen’s land.
In the Francis, which was at this time on her passage to the island where the Sydney Cove was wrecked, the governor had sent Lieutenant Flinders of the Reliance, a young gentleman well qualified for the purpose, who was instructed to make what observations he was able relative to the anchorage and situation of those islands.
Mr. Bass, on his return, picked up, on an island near the coast, the seven men who, it may be remembered, were a part of those who ran off with a settler’s boat, and had been left in this place by their companions. Being utterly incapable of taking them into his boat, he put them upon the main land, furnished them with a part of his provisions for their support, and a gun with some ammunition for their protection. Two who were ill he took into his boat, and left the other five to begin their march to the northward, at the distance of upwards of 400 miles from Port Jackson. They were nearly naked, almost starved, and must inevitably have perished on the island, had not Mr. Bass discovered a smoke that they had made to attract his attention; which he, being at no great distance, took for a smoke made by some natives, and went near to converse with them.