p@rsons_world of George Bass

This webpage celebrates the life and work of George Bass, the Lincolnshire explorer.

George Bass

Born 30th January 1771 in Aswarby, Lincs. Presumed lost at sea on the ship Venus in 1803.

Notes: [October 2011] by Jill Pepper - reproduced here with her permission.

George Bass was born on 30 January 1771 at Aswarby in Lincolnshire, the only child of George Bass, a tenant farmer, and his wife Sarah. When his father died in 1777 they moved to Boston.

Apprenticed to local surgeon-apothecary Patrick Francis and at 18 he was accepted as a member of the Company of Surgeons. He joined the Navy as ships surgeon and became proficient in navigation and seamanship and fluent in Spanish.

Sailed on the "Reliance" with Matthew Flinders to New South Wales, arriving in Port Jackson on 7 September 1795.

Bass and Flinders explored part of the coast around Botany bay in a small rowing boat of about 8-foot keel called "Tom Thumb" The following year a second, slightly larger "Tom Thumb" was purchased and further explorations carried out.

Bass even attempted to cross the Blue Mountains but after fourteen days his party was driven back by thirst, hunger and fatigue.

On 3 December 1797 Bass set out to try to find a way west around what is now Victoria and Tasmania. He left Port Jackson in an open whale boat with six weeks' provisions. In the next eleven weeks, despite boisterous weather, he travelled some 1200 miles and deduced from the great swell and the direction of the tides that a strait separated the mainland from Van Diemen's Land.

Later, in the "Norfolk", he sailed with Flinders and twelve weeks provisions, under orders to pass through the strait and return by the south of Van Diemen's Land. This they did and Flinders wrote "To the strait which had been the great object of research and whose discovery was now completed Governor Hunter gave, at my recommendation, the name of BASS STRAIT."

Bass returned to England in 1800 where he met Elizabeth Waterhouse. They were married on the 8th October 1800 at St James's Church, Piccadilly. Ten weeks later they parted never to meet again.

On his return to Australia he carried out several whaling expeditions around the New Zealand coast then on 5th February 1803 he set sail toward South America on the "Venus" not to be heard of again. His fate is not known.

References: Main source was Anthony J. Brown, "Ill-Starred Captains", Stackpole books 2000 and Miriam Estensen, The Life of George Bass, Allen and Unwin, 2005.

© Jill Pepper, October 2011

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