Nevertheless there were many naval men who thought the venture dangerous in the extreme, and sought to dissuade Flinders from undertaking it. But his was no timorous nature—“a small craft, ’tis true,” he said laughingly, “but mine own.”
With all papers necessary to prove his identity and his dearly-loved journals and charts on board, Flinders bade farewell to his trusty friend King, and on September 21st, 1803, the three vessels, the lumbering Rolla and the two midgets of schooners, put to sea. Before midnight, just after leaving Port Jackson, the three ships were flying before a south-easterly gale, and the Cumberland was reduced to a close-reefed mainsail and jib, and she was so exceedingly crank that Flinders considered it was not safe to run her even in a double-reefed topsail breeze. Then, in spite of her recent repairs, she leaked like a basket, and after an hour and a half’s cessation from pumping the water was awash on the cabin floor. But nevertheless she was more weatherly than either the Rolla or Francis, for in working to windward at night-time Flinders would have to run down four miles or so in the morning to join them, although they carried all the sail they possibly could.
A fortnight later they arrived at Wreck Reef, and when Flinders sent King an account of the trip down, he gave the Governor some idea of the discomforts experienced. He wrote in a humorous vein:—
“Of all the filthy little things I ever saw, this schooner, for bugs, lice, fleas, weevils, mosquitos, cockroaches, large and small, and mice, rises superior to them all.... I have never stripped myself before the last two nights, but usually slept upon the lee locker with my clothes on.... I believe that I, as well as my clothes, must undergo a good boiling in the large kettle.”
In the evening of the 7th October the three vessels anchored under the lee of Wreck Island, to the great joy of its tenants, and as soon as Flinders landed on the bank they gave him three cheers and fired a salute from the carronades saved from the wreck. The Porpoise still held together, and the castaways had, during Flinders’ absence, built a boat of 20 tons, which they had rigged as a schooner and named the Resource, and on that very day some of them were out sailing her on her trial trip. This little vessel Flinders sent to King as some compensation for the Cumberland.
As soon as possible the shipwrecked men embarked, some on the Rolla for China, the rest on the Francis and Resource for Sydney; then Flinders said good-bye and sailed northward for Timor, where he arrived thirty days later. Here he wrote again to King; then came another letter dated from the Mauritius, August 8th, 1804:—
“Thus far, my dear sir,
I had written to you from Coupang, in case
of meeting a ship by which it might have been sent, little
expecting that I should have finished it here, and in a prison.