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The Investigator in Port Phillip - Matthew Flinders, John Currey Having read Ernestine Hill's [b:My Love Must Wait|992503|My Love Must Wait|Ernestine Hill|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1285284714s/992503.jpg|977998], I wanted to read some actual Flinders. His masterpiece, A Voyage to Terra Australis, can be got for free via Project Gutenberg, but unless you have six or seven grand to spare there isn't a good print version available. This volume consists of the entries detailing his exploration of Port Phillip, on the coast of what's now Victoria, in April and May 1802. It's a really beautiful edition that comes with fold-out charts, copies of sketches from the ship's official artist, longitude tables, and detailed diagrams of HM Sloop the Investigator.

Flinders fretted about his prose, considering himself a seaman and not a writer, and working and reworking his text to try and make it appeal to the general public. Something of his character comes across in how he writes: he's precise, technically brilliant, but also a little stiff and nervous. Confident giving details of soundings and bearings, less so when recounting friendly but dramatic meetings with the local ‘Indians’ (whom we now know to have been Bunurong Aborigines). He also takes an interest in the wildlife, noting the presence of oysters washed up on shore, as well as emu, cassowary and ‘kanguroo’ in the woods.

I am sort of in awe at what explorers like Flinders accomplished, even if most of their sponsors and supporters were at least as concerned with empire-building as with geographical or scientific advances. If you have no particular interest in this sort of thing, I couldn't pretend that this has much in the way of riveting incident for the general reader. However it's short and focused and gives an excellent flavour of the time and the prevailing mood of excitement about this new-found land in the south.

Flinders's report on the suitability of Port Phillip for a new British settlement was taken seriously by the governor of New South Wales, who sent a team out to found a new convict settlement there the following year. The result is the city we now know as Melbourne.

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