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The Lost Explorer: George Bass 1803

Updated on March 13, 2020
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I may never travel the world but with books, research and now the internet I can travel anywhere learning about history.

Map of Travels of George Bass

George Bass and His Travels
George Bass and His Travels

Ship to New South Wales

Ship to New South Wales
Ship to New South Wales
Replica of The Tom Thumb
Replica of The Tom Thumb

Explorer George Bass and His Explorations

Explorer George Bass disappeared in 1803 along with his ship, Venus and all his crew. His last voyage left Sydney, Australia heading for Vhilem South America in 1801. Yet it would take until January 1806 before he was officially listed as lost at sea. That same year, his widow, Elizabeth would be granted an annuity from the widow's fund.

George and Elizabeth had no children as he had left for Australia shortly after their marriage in 1800. George was born to a tenant farmer George Bass and wife Sarah. His father died when he was only six years old yet he managed to finish school and train at a hospital in Lincolnshire. At the age of eighteen, he was accepted as a member of the Company of Surgeons and immediately joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon.

Bass sails on the HMS Reliance on September 7, 1795. Aboard the ship were Matthew Flinders, John Hunter, and his surgeon assistant, Thomas Martin.

George and Flinders bonded together sharing their thirst for exploration. Bass had insisted on bringing two small wooden boats, one being only eight feet by five feet and another about the same size. He named these two boats Tom Thumb I and Tom Thumb II. After landing at Ft. Jackson and settling in, they took the Tom Thumb out in October 1795 to explore the Georges River. Later, in March 1796, they made a second voyage on Tom Thumb II.

This time they went as far as Lake Illawarra, found a small cove and named it Tom Thumb Cove. Along the way, they discovered land near Prospect Hill. They returned to Ft. Jackson and on the next outing, Bass and a crew of six left without Flinders. They sailed to Cape Howe and made it about to Ft. Phillip. Today, Ft. Phillip is known as Melbourne.

Bass believed there was a strait separating Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania) and Australia. Together, Bass and Flinders, they sailed the Norfolk completely around Van Dieman's Land, proving it to be an island.

After returning to port, Flinders suggested to the governor that the strait should be named Bass Strait. The governor agreed and today Bass Strait is on the maps.

Bass wasn't just an explorer. He was also a naturalist and a botanist. In all his explorations, he collected and recorded what he found in detail. Carefully preserving his plants he sent them to Sir John Banks in London.

Sir John Banks (1743-1820) was an English botanist and patron of natural sciences. He was president of the Royal Society for 41 years. He had even been on a voyage with Captain Cook to Hawaii.

Bass had married Elizabeth Waterhouse in 1800 in London. It wasn't long before he left for Ft. Jackson for further exploration. Unfortunately, they would never see each other again.

Matthew Flinders, Explorer

Matthew Flinders, Explorer
Matthew Flinders, Explorer

Sir John Banks

Sir John Banks
Sir John Banks

Last Voyage of George Bass

Bass and a group of his business friends had amassed a cargo to sell in Ft. Jackson, but upon arriving, the governor did not require any more supplies. Bass even offered a 50% discount, but the governor declined. He then made an offer to Bass that he could get a cargo of salt pork, return and sell it. It could be profitable for Bass, and on February 5, 1803, he and his crew left port and headed to Chile, South America. It was the last time he was ever seen.

Rumors circulated about what might have happened to Bass and his crew. They might have been captured by the Spanish and sent to the silver mines. Others thought he might have been doing some illegal trading with the Chinese.

There are many places named after Bass, including Bass Hill, Bass Point, Bass Strait, and Bass, Victoria.

Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) He is buried at James in London. Both explorers were the first to describe Australia as a continent.

There is a book, The Journey of Tom Thumb by Christine Hill, with illustrations and a history of their journies.

Postage stamps have honored both explorers, first in 1963 and again in 1998. A lot is owed to these explorers for their contributions to the discovery and the bonus of natural sciences.


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    • powers41 profile imageAUTHOR

      fran rooks 

      2 weeks ago from Toledo, Ohio

      Thanks for your comments. I truly appreciate them.

    • surovi99 profile image

      Rosina S Khan 

      2 weeks ago

      Another great explorer, George Bass who got lost during his ventures. He didn't even have the fate to raise a family. A sad but well-crafted article full of interesting images.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 weeks ago from UK

      It is a sobering thought to realise how many explorers died. This is a great biographical account.


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