Difficulties and disasters

Collection Items | Images | Internet Sites | Further Sources

Difficulties experienced on the long voyage to unknown waters included hazards such as gales, storms and dangers in unexplored seas. On 21 February 1802, Flinders' expedition suffered a loss of crew in South Australian waters when ship master John Thistle, midshipman William Taylor and six seamen were drowned when their cutter capsized while searching for fresh water. The seamen were J. Little, George Lewis, John Hopkins, William Smith, Thomas Grindall and Robert Williams. Flinders was deeply affected by this disaster and recorded place names including Thorny Passage, Memory Cove, Cape Catastrophe, and Thistle Island to commemorate the lives lost. In comparison to Baudin, Flinders selected his own officers, and seems to have enjoyed the respect of most of his crew.

The coastal survey of the mainland was abandoned at Wessel Islands off Arnhem Land, when the leaking, rotting Investigator was inspected and condemned as unseaworthy. The English expedition called in to Timor for ship repairs and supplies, but many suffered from dysentery and fevers after this visit. Five men died before reaching Port Jackson, and another four died after their arrival in the colony - a stark contrast to the health of the crew when they reached Port Jackson after charting the unknown southern coast.

Sailing to England to find a replacement ship for the Investigator so that he could complete his survey, Flinders was shipwrecked in the Porpoise at Wreck Reef, off the coast of Queensland. In another attempt to return to England, he set out in the Cumberland, despite reservations about her size and condition. The Cumberland leaked so badly, Flinders was forced to call in to Mauritius in the hope of finding another ship. France and England had resumed war, and Flinders was held in detention on the island for 6½ years. By the time he returned home in 1810, the Napoleonic Wars preoccupied the public, and Flinders received little immediate recognition for his voyage of discovery.

Collection Items




Flinders, Matthew. A voyage to Terra Australis. [vol. 1] - pages 134-139 : 21-24 February 1802, '[South coast. Cape Catastrophe]'.

Extract from Flinders' journal A voyage to Terra Australis: the drowning of Mr. Thistle, Mr. Taylor and crew members when the Investigator's cutter capsizes in Thorny Passage; the naming of Memory Cove to commemorate the loss of the 2 officers and 6 crew members.


Images from the State Library catalogue

Tablet, Memory Cove [Memorial tablet erected by Matthew Flinders at Memory Cove, 1802] ca.1934

Memory Cove plaque with inscription, ca.1930

Flinders' Memorial, Memory Cove, ca. 1934

Memory Cove, ca. 1934

Internet sites


Postcards: National Maritime Museum
[Museum at Port Adelaide holds an anchor from the Investigator, and part of plaque left at Memory Cove by Flinders]

South Australian Maritime Museum

Further sources

Brown, Anthony J. Ill-starred captains: Flinders and Baudin. Hindmarsh, S. Aust.: Crawford House Publishing, 2000.

Good, Peter. The journal of Peter Good: gardener on Matthew Flinders voyage to Terra Australis 1801-03. Edited with an introduction by Phyllis I. Edwards. Australian ed. [North Sydney]: [Library of Australian History], 1981 [lists names of crew lost at Memory Cove]

Ingleton, Geoffrey C. Matthew Flinders, navigator and chartmaker. Guildford, Surrey: Genesis Publications in association with Hedley Australia, 1986.

Scott, Ernest. The life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1914.

Sunday Mail. 21 May 1978, p. 127. Palmer, E.W. 'Thistle Island catastrophe - was it a shark attack?'

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