In August 1800, George Bass returned to England after five years in the
British colony of New South Wales. Gifted, ambitious and impatient with the
limitations of a naval career, he took leave from the navy to purchase a ship of
his own and organise a commercial venture to Sydney. He also met Elizabeth
Waterhouse, and fell very much in love, and they married on 8 October 1800. On 9
January 1801 George Bass sailed for Australia.
For the next two years, and across two oceans, letters were the only link
between George and Elizabeth Bass. His were brief, dashed across the page with
an impatient hand, embedded with tantalising references to his life at sea or
the colony of New South Wales and filled with love for his wife. Hers were many
pages of small, neat script with news of her friends and family, her own
thoughts and pursuits, and her yearning for a husband who would never return.
The separate worlds in which George and Elizabeth lived also come to life in
their letters: an Elizabeth of domestic chatter and streets filled with soldiers
awaiting a Napoleonic invasion; the hot, humid coastal towns of Brazil where
Bass sought to sell his merchandise and took on board firewood, fresh water and
tobacco; Sydney society and the disappointment of the ladies that Elizabeth did
not come with her husband and join their small social circle; the exotic and
languid Pacific islands where trade was difficult and ship labour hard.
On 5 February 1802 the 142-ton brig 'Venus' cleared Sydney heads to begin a
trading voyage through the islands of the Pacific. However neither Bass nor the
'Venus" completed the voyage, they simply vanished into the Pacific.
Rich in detail and deeply personal, 'The Letters of George and Elizabeth
Bass' provides a uniquely vivid and intimate portrait of the lives of these two
young people and the era in which they lived.
Preface and Acknowledgements
The Lives of George and Elizabeth Bass