Amid the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), France and Britain dispatched rival voyages of discovery to complete the mapping of Australia and 'advance the limits of science'. Led by naval captains Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, both expeditions carried safe conducts protecting them from seizure by ships of the opposing navies. 'Ill-Starred Captains' is the first book to explore the two voyages together in detail.
The expeditions met twice: at Encounter Bay, near Adelaide, in April 1802, and at Port Jackson later the same year. The book gives fresh information about relations between French and British in the colony during Baudin's five-month stay.
Between 1801 and 1803, led by Nicolas Baudin and Flinders filled in most of the gaps on the map of what was then New Holland. The voyages were also very important scientifically. Both carried significant collections of flora and fauna home to Europe. The French scientists made invaluable observations on the life and customs of Tasmanian Aborigines, while the naturalist Robert Brown in 'Investigator' laid the foundations of Australian botany. Caught up on an increasingly bitter war, the French and British governments gave little recognition to these scientific achievements.
The explorers also left a visual legacy. The paintings and sketches of Westall and Bauer on the British expedition, and Lesueur and Petit on the French, provided an important and enduring record of Australia at that time.
Both voyages ended in personal disaster for their commanders. Alienated from his staff, and terminally ill with tuberculosis, Baudin died in disgrace on Mauritius (then the French colony of Isle de France). The history of his voyage was written by his enemies on board, who portrayed his as malicious, venal, and incompetent. Later French writers considered him a courageous navigator, badly supported by his staff.
Flinders too met his nemesis on Mauritius. After being shipwrecked in the Coral Sea, he sailed for England in a small schooner, but was forced to call at the island for repairs. Detained at first as a spy, and later as a hostage, he was held by the French governor for six and a half years. He returned to England in poor health in 1810, and worked on his charts and 'Voyage to Terra Australis'. They were published on the day before his death in July 1814.
The narrative is drawn in large part from contemporary sources - the journals, reports, letters and books of the participants, including the two captains, and their officers, crew members and scientific staff.
'Ill-Starred Captains' is a major addition to the records of Australia, British and French history. As Tim Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum says in his Foreword to the book, Anthony Brown's 'ingenious interweaving of the tales of these two very different expeditions brings the story of Australia's expedition to life in a riveting and insightful new narrative'.
1. Introduction: Finding Australia
2. The Captains
3. The Voyage Out
4. New Holland and Timor, April to November 1801
5. Flinders and the Unknown Coast, December 1801 to May 1802
6. Baudin in Tasmanian Waters, 1802
7. Port Jackson, April to November 1802
8. Flinders--Triumph and Tragedy, July 1802 to December 1803
9. The Shadow of a Captain on Ghost Ship, December 1802 to August 1803
10. Nemesis--Isle de France: Death, Detention, Deliverance, 1803 to 1810
12. Epilogue: Baudin and Flinders--Reputations
Appendix A: Passports
Appendix B: Shipwreck--Samuel Smith's Account of the Disaster at Wreck Reef
Appendix C: A Day in the Life of Matthew Flinders, Prisoner
Appendix D: Roll Call
Weights, Measure and Currencies
A Note on Sources