Colonial Exploration: 1796 - George Bass

1796 - Assault on the Blue Mountains

George Bass was the explorer and navigator after whom Bass Strait was named. He left Wales in 1795 as a surgeon on the ship Reliance that carried his friend Matthew Flinders out to Australia. Discovery of fine country to the south-west of the colony in 1795 had delayed further attempts to push west across the Blue Mountains. George Bass set out in June 1796 with two others. They took with them scaling irons and ropes to cope with the precipitous cliffs. They travelled on a southerly route into the lower Burragorang Valley and pushed west to a point just east of Kanangra Plateau but after 15 days during which they 'escaladed horrible perpendicular mountains' their provisions ran out and they were forced to return.

1796-97 Tom Thumb

Soon after their arrival in New South Wales, Bass and Flinders made their first journey to Botany Bay and the Georges River in the Tom Thumb. They sailed up the river as far as modern day Bankstown before returning to Sydney.

In March 1796, Bass, Flinders and a boy named Martin set out in the new Tom Thumb. Built at port Jackson it was newer than the original but not any larger. The objective of their search was a large river, which both the natives spoke of south of Botany Bay and which Henry Hacking, quartermaster of HMS Sirius, has come across its upper reaches in the vicinity of Gymea Bay during a kangaroo hunting trip in the first year of the colony of NSW. Equipment for this expedition included ten days of supplies, two muskets plus ammunition. Fierce winds and strong currents carried them further south than they indended to go. After being swamped in attempting a landing in heavy surf, the party put into Tom Thumb Lagoon (now filled in to reclaim land for the Port Kembla Steelworks). Bass amused the natives by trimming their beards while the gunpowder dried.

On the return journey they were caught in a fierce storm. When hope of survival began to disappear, they were saved by entering a sheltered cove which they named Providential Cove at Wattamolla (right). Following the coast home, the next day they found not a big river but a large estuary of a small river, which they named Port Hacking after Henry Hacking.

1797 - Western Port and Bass Strait

Having completed two successful voyages with Matthew Flinders, Bass was given command of an open whaleboat awith a crew of 6 sailors and 6 weeks' supply of food to explore the coast of New South Wales south of Sydney. He left Port Jackson in December, 1797, and followed the coast southwards, naming Shoalhaver River, Two Fold Bay and Furneaux Land (now Wilson's Promontory). He completed the detail omitted from Cook's chart and charted about 500 km of new coastline. Before reaching Western Port, he came across a party of 7 escaped convicts and promised to rescue them on his return. Rounding the south-east corner of the continent, he sailed into Western Port. His study of the currents, winds, and tides in this new area prompted him to suggest that Van Diemen's Land, as Tasmania was then known, was separated from the mainland by the strait which now bears his name. Strong winds forced him to stay here for nearly 2 weeks. He rescued the convicts on his way back and sailed back to Port Jackson.

1798 - circumnavigation of Tasmania and exploration of Bass Strait

Bass' last exploratory voyage, once again in company with Flinders, was to chart the coastline of Van Diemen's Land. Bass and Flinders convinced Governor Hunter that another expedition should be set up with a bigger boat and more men. In 1798, Bass and Flinders sailed the Norfolk through Bass Strait and round Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), proving that it was an island. In 1799, Bass sailed with a trader, Charles Bishop, to England, naming and charting Bass Islands on the way. this was to be his last exploratory voyage.


George Bass (1771 - 1803)
Born: 30 January 1771 Aswarby, Lincolnshire, England. Died: 1803.
Bass explored the coast of New South Wales from Botany Bay to Illawarra and to Wilson's Promontory 1797-98. In 1798-99 he circumnavigated Tasmania with Matthew Flinders. Born Aswarby, Lincolnshire, England, 30 January 1771. Possibly died at sea 1803. Apprenticed to a local surgeon-apothecary, and by 1789 was a "surgeon second-rate". Postings in several ships; arrived in Port Jackson on the "Reliance" 1795; explored the George's River with Matthew Flinders (q.v.) 1795 (this led to the establishment of a settlement at Banks Town); explored south of Botany Bay in "Tom Thumb" 1796; attempted unsuccessfully to cross the Blue Mountains 1796; found coal around Coalcliff 1797; explored a probable strait (later named Bass Strait) between New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land 1797-98; sailed through Bass Strait and circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land 1798-99; sailed with a trader, Charles Bishop, to England 1799-1800, naming and charting Bass Islands on the way; sailed with Bishop on the "Venus" to Port Jackson 1801; sailed to the south sea islands to buy pork for the government 1801 (some was sold to Baudin, (q.v.) for his French expedition); In 1803,he disappeared after he sailed into Pacific Ocean on the vessel Venus with a cargo that he wanted to sell in south America. A few people believe that he was captured by the Spanish and forced to work in mines in Peru.