At the beginning of the year 1800, Matthew Flinders was thinking of his future. Money was on his mind. George Bass had left the Colony in May 1799 to pursue a career as a merchant. Perhaps Flinders should follow his friend’s example?
The six-month voyage back to England gave Flinders time to think and when he arrived at Portsmouth, in early September 1800, all ideas of a mercantile career had vanished. He had determined that his mission would be to complete the European discovery of Australia and perhaps in the process elevate his name alongside that of the great James Cook.
He immediately wrote an audacious letter asking to be given such a task. He sent the letter not to the Admiralty but, shrewdly, to Sir Joseph Banks telling Banks that he would undertake such surveys ‘with that zeal which I hope has hitherto characterized my services’.
Banks, 57 years old, President of the Royal Society, and a man of independent means, used his wealth and influence to support scientific investigation. He was passionately interested in New South Wales ever since he had sailed along the east coast with Cook in 1770. Holding no official position, he wielded power through the use of influence.
Banks used his influence with Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty and a friend and neighbour, to have the voyage approved with Flinders in command.