Captain Matthew Flinders RN (16 March 1774 – 19 July 1814) was an English navigator and cartographer, who was the leader of the first circumnavigation of Australia and identified it as a continent. Flinders made three voyages to the southern ocean between 1791 and 1810. In the second voyage, George Bass and Flinders confirmed that Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) was an island. In the third voyage, Flinders circumnavigated the mainland of what was to be called Australia, accompanied by an Aboriginal man, Bungaree. (From ABEBooks description, retrieved 5/14/17, of another Flinders work.
Flinders kept this journal on Mauritius when he was imprisoned there by the French from whom he had expected safe passage after his successful survey of Australia. France and England had declared war after his safe passage was issued. The journal continues from his return to England in 1810 until shortly before his death in London in 1814. No earlier journals survive.
Flinders arrived in Mauritius unaware that Britain and France were then at war, and Captain General Dacean there considered his papers no longer valid, placing Flinders under detention and depriving him of his charts and books. The last half of December 1803 Flinders spent mainly writing letters to get those materials back so that he might continue his work even under imprisonment and isolation from all but a surgeon and interpreter. He was removed to a “garden prison” at the end of March, but still without his books (p. 29).
p. 33, a characteristic passage dated Wednesday 16 to Friday 18 May: My time is now employed as follows. Before breakfast my time is devoted to the latin language, to bring up what I formerly learned. After breakfast I am employed making out a fair copy of the Investigators log in lieu of my own which was spoiled at the shipwreck. When tired of writing, I apply to music, and when my fingers are tired with the flute, I write again until dinner. After dinner we amuse ourselves with billiards until tea, and afterwards walk in the garden till dusk. From thence to supper I make one of Playels quartettes; afterwards walk half an hour and then sleep soundly till daylight when I get up and bathe. Thus although the captain general keeps the log book I want and will not allow me my charts and papers to finish up my accounts of the Investigators voyage which of all things I am most anxious to do, yet my time does not pass wearily or uselessly run.
p. 44-45: Tuesday 11 September Not having been able to see the Town Major, I intended writing to the general today, to mention the circumstance and manner of my sword being taken; and to request that Mr Aken and me might now have the same advantage as other prisoners of war in being exchanged by the first cartel; but on further consideration I judged it better not to do it, since he might possibly say, Oh Sir, if you consider yourself to be a prisoner of war, you have no right to keep possession of your books and charts. I can place no reliance upon either the humanity or justice of the captain-general, for his violence will get the better of them all; and to lose my charts and books would be a more dreadful blow than even being made a prisoner was at first.
p. 75-78, Journal of Sunday 18 August, Maison Despaux 1805: Elder not being returned from the Bazar, read five pages in Condamines voyage down the river of Amazones from Quito to Para [Charles-Marie de La Condamine, Journal du voyage fait par order due roi, à l’equateur (Paris, 1851)]. Think Condamines calculation of the level of the river at Pauxis being only ten feet and a half higher than at Para, more than 200 leagues lower down, to be incorrect….
Find myself better this morning than usual, and less head ach. Took up my flute and played the 1st and 5th Duo of Pleyels opera 9. Note, the first commences in a grand stile, and is sweetly plaintive in some parts of it. The Andante of the 5 is marked for minuet time, whereas the time is 2/4. Must have all of Pleyels music when I return to England, that is set for the flute, and Mozarts, and Haydns, and some of Hoffmeisters and Deviennes, but the whole will be too expensive, musick is so very dear in England; and indeed so is almost everything else.
Ten o’clock. Sat down to my writing. Transcribed four pages of the chapter in my log book upon the state of the barometer upon the different coasts of Australia, into a letter to Sir Joseph Banks for the Royal Society. Found a giddiness and an aching in my head: left off writing, and walked backwards and forwards in my room. Think I have advanced rather too much of my own opinions in this letter, and wish I had confined myself more closely to the facts; but think Sir Joseph will strike out what he thinks is incorrect. Hope he will be alive and well when I return, but he is now advancing in years.
p. 95, at Plaines Wilhems 1805: Wednesday 2 October…—My time at present is partly employed in reading French books (La Fontaine and Voltaire) and in writing the second volume of my log book for the admiralty.
p. 95-96, Friday 4 October: I cannot say that, at present, I am very unhappy. Time has soffened my disappointments. I have my books, am making acquisitions in knowledge, enjoy good health, and innocent amusements for which I have still a relish…and to this I add, with heart-felt pleasure, that the consciousness of being perfectly innocent of anything, that ought to have caused the suspicions that have been or are entertained against me. I fear no discovery, on the thorough examination of my papers or myself. I have nothing to hide.
p. 144, at Plaines Wilhelms 1806: Monday 17 November These few days I have occupied myself with reading Forsters voyage to the north, and with making a sketch of my limits; a copy from a chart of the island, which however is very imperfect. [The John Reinhold Forster volume was History of the Voyages and Discoveries Made in the North (London, 1786).]
p. 155, at Plaines Wilhems Sunday 22 February 1807: Employed writing up the 7th chapter of my journal; and otherwise in teaching the first principles of navigation to my two young friends, giving lessons in English to two of our young ladies, and in French to my servant; besides I am making a little, but very little progress in French, by reading a new history of Russia under the correction of the two young ladies, and by myself La Harpes voyages [L’abrégé de l’histoire générale des voyages… (Paris 1780-1801)], and the Emile of Rousseau, and occasionally in translating into French the History of my cat, Trim. These varied amusements keep my mind in action, and preserve it in peace.
Wednesday 25 February At daylight the wind was at S.W. but not so strong as before. I found my books and papers which had been placed in what I thought a secure place, more or less wet.
p. 178, at Plaines Wilhelms 1807, Monday 24 August: In the afternoon went to Mr Monistrol, who had gone out; but he soon after sent for me and I received the trunk containing my books and papers, which I had carried immediately to my lodgings. The third volume of my log book was retained in order to have some abstracts made from it, after which it was to be given to me. The two boxes containing the despatches of governor King and colonel Paterson, were altogether refused me, but Mr Monistrol promised to give me a certificate of refusal….
Tuesday 25 August Opened my trunk of books, in which I found the rats had made great havoc, particularly amongst the letters.
p. 180, at Plaines Wilhelms 1807, Friday 4 September… Walked to the Baye du Tamarin with Mr C. Deb. Where we read a part of St. Pierre’s Etudes de la Nature, the most superficial work that I have ever read; more false systems supported by disguised facts were perhaps never before hazarded in public: his style is said to be very attractive and to have seduced many to the adoption of his opinions.
p. 192, at Plaines Wilhelms 1807: Wednesday 18 November set off with the intention of passing two days with Mr Froberville at Mocha. Made the long tour, passing near the Reduit and the lower part of Moka. Arrived at noon. During the two days I passed there, read the first volume of the Tableau de Paris of M. [Louis] le Mercier, and a part of the history of Ratsimalao chief of the north-eastern part of Madagascar He put into my hands three quires of that history, four quires containing three voyages of M. Mayeur in the north, the south, and the interior of Madagascar, and three quires of Researches into the history &c of Madagascar, with full authority to do with them as I thought good, either by taking them to France to his brother in case of my being sent there, making a translation of the whole, or of the history only, and publishing it in England, or returning it to him if I did not chuse to engage in the work…. Having thrown it totally aside, he immediately complied with my proposition of making a translation and publishing it should it appear to me sufficiently interesting.
p. 203, at Plaines Wilhelms 1808: Friday 19 February:… In my reading having finished 5 volumes of Le Vaillant’s travels in the southern part of Africa, began Le Traité élémentaire de Phisique by M. [René Just] Haűy. [(Paris, 1803).]
p. 205: Saturday 5 March My light reading consists of the adventures of Gil Blas and [Histoire de] Gusman l’Alfarache in French.
p. 214, at Plaines Wilhems 1808: Saturday 14 May … Still employed with the magnetism of the earth: my reading, Barrow’s travels at and account of the Cape of Good Hope, [in the] French translation of Grandpré. [Flinders finished the Barrow on 17 May.]
p. 248, at Plaines Wilhems 1809, Friday 24 March: A new Atlas of charts historic and geographic has been published in France by Le Sage, in which the parts of the south coast of Australia lately made known, are entitled Discoveries of M.M. Flinders and Baudin. This is all I am able to learn from my correspondent. [Alain René Le Sage. Atlas historique, généalogique, chronologique et géographique (Paris, 1802 etc)
p. 253, at Plaines Wilhems 1809: Monday 24 April: Passed the whole of the day at home: Reading Sonninis voyage(Egypt) English translation [Charles Sonnini. Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt. 3 vols. (London, 1799)], and Philador on the game of chess [François Philador. Analyse du jeu des échecs (1749, 2nd edn., 1777).
p. 254, at Plaines Wilhems 1809: Sunday 30 April: … Finished an history of China and of L. Macartney’s embassy in English [see footnote 230]; and began Le Sages adventures of don Cherabin de la Ronda, batchelor of Salamanca in French [Alain-René Le Sage, Le Bachelier de Salamanca (Paris, 1808)].
p. 256, at Plaines Wilhems 1809: Wednesday 10 May … Reading the secret history of the court and Cabinet of St. Cloud [footnote 232: by Stewarton, Gentleman at Paris, to a Nobleman in London (London, 1806).] Recd 5 numbers of the Monthly Repertory up to October 1808, which I judge my friend Pitot has received by the Gazelle.
p. 290, at Plaines Wilhems 1809: Monday 25 December… Employed as usual in spheric trigonometry with my young ladies and in reading Calcutta gazettes.
Saturday 30 December… My own employments since the arrival of La Henriette cartel has mostly been to read newspapers sent to me by Mr Pitot, a volume of the Edinburg review for 1808, and Voltaire’s Siécle de Louis XIV, followed by that of his successor.
[During early 1810 his reading seems mostly devoted to English journals and newspapers.]
p. 296-97, at Plaines Wilhems 1810: Thursday 15 February… Recd 6 months (the first of 189) European magazines left me by captain Lynne. My friend Pitot, who hoped to have the voyage of Baudin amongst other books on board La Fantone at Bourbon, says, that his correspondent writes, that only one volume of it had been published: this was in Septr last. Nothing is yet known of the purpose for which La Mouche No. 27 was sent here in such haste from France: The gazette announces Peace between France and Austria.
p. 313, at Port Napoléon 1810: Monday 11 June Calm with warm weather. Reading Mr [William] Marsden’s history of Sumatra [London, 1784] and studying the Malay language.
p. 319, at Cape of Good Hope 1810: Wednesday 25 July …Dined with Mr and Mrs Pringle; then read the African researches till bed time….Thursday 26 July …Reading the African researches till 4….
p. 320: Sunday 29 July Rainy during the night and this morning. Reading the Memoires of La Bourdonnais.
Monday 30 July Reading he little novel of Alfred, which I came across this evening [Albrecht von Haller… published in French as Alfred, roi des Anglo-Saxons (Lausanne, 1775).]
p. 321: Saturday 4 August… Reading Pratts’ Gleanings. [Unidentified—several editions.] Monday 6 August… Called upon Mr Hill, commissary general, and on Mr Pringle, from whom I got three numbers of late Edinburg Reviews.
Flinders Private Journal from Cape Town ends on Wednesday 22 August 1810 as he is about to sail for England. It continues in England from October 1810 until his death in 1814. There are no entries for his sea passage of Sept./Oct. 1810, and his reading in England from October 1810 until July 1814 does not concern us here.
There are several more references to books read during his imprisonment and beyond. What is striking is the speed with which French books were available in the remote outpost of Mauritius.
p. 25 etc.: Steel’s Original and Correct List of the Royal Navy… (published monthly). See Index for other uses.
p. 198: Louis Sébastian Mercier. Tableau de Paris; Dieudonné Thiébault. Mes souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour à Berlin (Paris, 1804); François Vaillant. Voyage de Monsieur Le Vaillant dans l’intérieur de Afrique… (Paris, 1790).
p. 208: Vivan Denon. Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte pendant les campagnes du générale Bonaparte (Paris, 1802); Jean-Baptiste-Barthelemy de Lesseps. Journal historique du voage M. de Lesseps, consul de France, employé dans l’expédition de M. le comte de la Pérouse… (Paris, 1790) [Lesseps is remembered for delivering Pérouse’s logbook through Russia to Paris in 1788].
p. 215: William Coxe. Account of the Russian Discoveries between Asia and America. (London, 1780).
p. 230: Frederick von Matthison. Letters Written from Various Parts of the Continent, between the years 1785-1799. Paris, 1799).
p. 241: Journal de L’Empire (1807); Jean-Pierre Ramel. Journal de l’Adjutant-général Ramel… (London, 1799).
p. 242: Mercures de France 1807.
p. 250: Madame de Staël. Emile. (A new novel, 1809).
p. 258: Conrad Malte-Brune. Annales des voyages… (Paris, 1807-14).
p. 266, 267, 275: Jean Charles D. de Lacretelle. Précis historique de la Révolution française: Directoire sciéntif (Paris, 1806); Jean Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne. Précis historique de la Révolution française (Paris, 1792-1806) (continued by Lacretelle).
p. 269: James Burney. A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (London, 1803- ).
p. 296: Naval Chronicle. See index for further entries.
p. 296, 97: Victorine de Chasteney. Du Génie des peuples anciens… (Paris, 1808).
p. 310. John Robison. Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. (London, 1797).
p. 347: Nathan Pinckney. Travels through the South of France (London, 1809).
p. 352: John Hunter. An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island… (London, 1804); William Robert Broughton. A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean (London, 1804); Charles François Tombe. Voyage aus Indes Orientales, pendant les années 1802…. (Paris, 1811). Flinders borrowed these three volumes from Sir Joseph Banks.
p. 358: Alexander Dalrymple. A Collection of Plans of Ports in the East Indies (London, 1786-7); David Collins. An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798); D. Mann. The Present Picture of New South Wales (London, 1811). Borrowed from Banks.
p. 361: Charles de Brosses. Terra Australis Cognita (Edinburgh, 1766-8); Joseph Harris A Treatise of Navigation (London, 1730). Borrowed from Banks.
p. 362: William Bampton. Copy of his journal survey of Torres Strait in 1793; Jean de Thévenot. Map of Australia. Borrowed from Banks.
p. 363: Abel Tasman. The Voyage of Abel Tasman for the Discovery of Southern Countries (London, 1808- ). Borrowed from Banks.
p. 366: Gerard Van Keulen, translation of part of his book of charts, found at Banks library; James Burney. A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean. Vol. 1 (London, 1803); John Rotz. The Maps and Text of the Boke of Idrography Presented by Jean Rotz to Henry VIII (1542), in the British Museum.
p. 367: François Valentijn. Verhandeling der zee-horenkens en zee-gewassen in en omtrent Amboina de naby gelegene eylanden…. (Dordrecht, 1726).
p. 369: George Mortimer. Observations and Remaks Made During a Voyage to the Islands of Teneriffe…in the Brig Mercury Commanded by John Henry Cox (London, 1791). Borrowed from Banks.
p. 383: George Hamilton. A Voyage round the World in His Majesty’s Frigate Pandora… (Berwick, 1793). Borrowed from Banks.
p. 396: James Grant. The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery…to New South Wales (London, 1803).
p. 470: Philosophical Transactions.