The journey of Tom Thumb II - Book cover

Paperback. 35 pages packed with full-page colour images and sketches, interwoven with the story and excerpts from Matthew Flinders’ journal.

ISBN 9780994470515

Price $21 per book including $3 postage in Australia.

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A summary of the story

In one short week exploring the coast south of Botany Bay, Matthew Flinders, George Bass and their servant-boy William Martin had a series of adventures. They set out to locate a river Henry Hacking had described, but on the way:

  • they sailed too fast and too far south
  • their boat was dumped by the surf on the beach at Towradgi
  • at Lake Illawarra’s entrance they cut hair and trimmed the beards of the friendly Aboriginal people, but ended up fleeing in fear of their lives when a group of men jumped into the boat
  • a summer storm nearly wrecked their tiny vessel beneath the cliffs of the Royal National Park before they found shelter at Wattamolla …
  • and when they finally ‘discovered’ the Hacking River they were surrounded by sharks!

Tom Thumb II sketch

Map of the journey

Tom Thumb II journey - map

How the book came into being

It all started with one painting…

Tom Thumb diagram side viewMy interest in the story of Bass and Flinders’ journey along the coastline south of Sydney Harbour was whetted a few years ago when I visited an exhibition at the Mitchell Library in Sydney and learned the story of events long ago in 1796, in an area I know well. I later visited Wharf Seven beside the Australian National Maritime Museum, where the Sydney Heritage Fleet displayed a magnificent replica of Tom Thumb II, amongst other historic vessels. I spent some time studying her with my sketchbook and camera, thinking of making a painting to describe part of the story. Over time, one painting became a series but the idea of turning the paintings and the story into a book came much later.

The courageous journey of Bass and Flinders in the tiny Tom Thumb II is dear to the hearts of people living on the stretch of coastline that includes the beaches and cliffs around Wollongong and Lake Illawarra, where most of the action took place. Generations of primary school children have learned the story, but I discovered there were almost no pictures to illustrate it … Well, I was inspired!

(Except from the Introduction)

The artist as detective
Bellambi Beach then and now

Bellambi Beach – now and in 1796 (artist’s impression)

To  recreate historic scenes that represent events faithfully takes a lot of detective work and often sheer doggedness to track down source material! I spent many hours visiting locations, making sketches and taking photos, talking to experts and considering Flinders’ journal and other descriptions of the terrain, to establish the lie of the land and the scene as accurately as I could. For example, the dunes are long gone at Bellambi beach and a great concrete fishing jetty and car park now fill the scene. I had to imagine how the sand hills must have looked two hundred years ago.

Back in the studio I pored for many more hours over:

• the original text of Flinders’ journal online at the Greenwich Maritime Museum, and other works

• black and white photos of a hundred years ago (before the development of the area), old coastal maps and ‘eyeline sketches’ by early mariners,
in the regional and state libraries

• other published reference books covering the same period of maritime history, especially W.G. McDonald’s work on the exact track of
Tom Thumb II during the journey

• 18th century engravings, to establish the clothes worn by the explorers and the style of the Aboriginal people, as recorded by European observers of the time

• handwriting examples in diaries and ships’ logs of the time, to create a realistic map of the journey

• and crucially: the exact position and phase of the moon

(Except from The artist as detective)