George Bass

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George Bass (1771-1802), English naval surgeon, naturalist and explorer, arrived in the newly established colony of Port Jackson (Sydney) in 1795. In the next three years he, with or without his friend Matthew Flinders whom he had met on the voyage out, were to explore and chart the N.S.W. coastline south of Sydney, (starting with the eight feet long “Tom Thumb” with Bass’s servant boy as crew – a real “Boys’ Own” adventure). In 1797 he commanded a whaleboat (6 oars), exploring down as far as Western Port near Melbourne. Eight months later, with Flinders commanding the sloop “Norfolk”’ he circumnavigated Tasmania, confirming his belief since the voyage of the whaleboat that it was an island. The two waterways that were to nurture the two colonies on the island were discovered, and on Christmas Day 1798, Bass climbed Mt. Wellington that now glowers over the city of Hobart. Between these adventures he clambered around the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, looking for a way through; and used his anatomical knowledge on the native fauna. He is also recorded as having discovered useable coal.

I’ll-health forced his return to England the next year, sailing privately, and profitably, and even managing some exploration and charting on the way, which he published in London. In 1800 he farewelled his new wife and arrived back in Port Jackson. He disappeared somewhere in the Pacific (possibly Peru) in 1802-3, whilst trying to make the fortune that would return him to his wife.

He is remembered in the name of the strait between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Part of his legacy is the attention to detail he passed on to his friend, Flinders; (and it may be of interest that he was the first to publish a paper on the anatomy of the wombat).

Reference: “Australian Dictionary of Biography” – Melbourne University Press.

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