Matthew Flinders’ first voyage to Australia was on Reliance, which sailed for New South Wales carrying the Colony’s second Governor, John Hunter. Flinders was thinking of promotional opportunities when he asked to join the crew. The Sydney they reached on 7 September 1795 after six months at sea was a rough and isolated prison outpost with just 3200 people, two thirds of whom were convicts. The surgeon on Reliance was 24 year old George Bass, also from Lincolnshire.
Almost immediately, Bass and Flinders left on their first expedition. With Bass’ 14-year-old servant, William Martin, the two adventurers headed south to Botany Bay on 26 October 1795 — against the elements in a miniature vessel with a single mast and sail. Bass had brought this tiny boat with him on Reliance. At ‘about eight feet keel and five feet beam’ (around 2.5 metres by 1.5 metres), it was dubbed appropriately Tom Thumb. They were away nine days and traced the Georges River about 32 kilometres further inland than hitherto known.
As soon as Reliance returned from a voyage to Norfolk Island in March 1796, the two friends set out again in another Tom Thumb, one of similar size that had been built in the Colony. On 25 March, at 3 am, Flinders, Bass and Martin set out to locate a river which had been reported south of Botany Bay. A breeze blew them much further south than intended, almost as far as present-day Port Kembla. They suffered shipwreck, had a tense encounter with some Aboriginal people and came across Lake Illawarra. On their way back north they were almost wrecked by a wild southerly buster. They reached the object of their voyage, Port Hacking, on 31 March 1796.