Early life and family
George Bass (30 January 1771 – after 5 February 1803) was baptised in the church at Aswarby, five miles south of Sleaford, in February 1771.
His mother Sarah (née Newman) was born at Frampton, and when his father – a tenant farmer – died when George was six, they moved to Boston. His uncle, a warden at St Botolph's, knew Joseph Banks of Revesby, the naturalist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour.
Although his mother wanted him to become a doctor, and he was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to Dr Patrick Francis, surgeon and apothecary of Strait Bargate, George always longed to go to sea. While a pupil at Boston Grammar School he had read Captain Cook's Voyage round the World and other seafaring books, and his uncle's connection with Joseph Banks influenced him.
At the age of 18, he was accepted in London as a member of the Company of Surgeons, and in 1794 he joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon. In 1794, at the age of twenty-three, he was made surgeon aboard HMS Reliance. Also on the voyage were Matthew Flinders from Donington served as master's mate, John Hunter, Bennelong, and his surgeon's assistant William Martin.
He arrived in Port Jackson, a colony at Sydney Cove where 3,000 convicts lived in dreadful conditions, on HMS Reliance on 7 September 1795. Bass had brought with him on the Reliance a small boat with an 8-foot (2.4 m) keel and 5-foot (1.5 m) beam, which he called the Tom Thumb on account of its size. In October 1795 Bass and Flinders, accompanied by William Martin sailed the Tom Thumb out of Port Jackson to Botany Bay and explored the Georges River further upstream than had been done previously by the colonists. Their reports on their return led to the settlement of Banks' Town.
In March 1796 the same party embarked on a second voyage in a larger small boat, which they called the Tom Thumb II. During this trip they travelled as far down the coast as Lake Illawarra, which they called Tom Thumb Lagoon. They explored Port Hacking.
Later that year Bass discovered good land near Prospect Hill, found lost cattle brought out with the First Fleet. He attempted to cross the Blue Mountains as though he was about to scale Everest even though their nature is quite different, taking with him hooks and ropes and scaling irons. He too soon gave up, erecting a pile of rocks to mark the furthest point of his expedition and declaring "the impossibility of going beyond those extraordinary ramparts".
On the 3rd December 1797 he set sail in a twenty-eight-foot whaleboat, and by sailing round Wilson's Point, the southernmost extremity of Australia, he eventually proved that there was indeed a channel between Australia and Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania. This channel became known as the Bass Strait, and his name is also commemorated by Mount Bass, the Bass River, and Bass Town.
Bass was given sick leave and returned to his mother who was then living in Lincoln. Soon, however, he formed a trading company to export goods to New South Wales, and registered the Venus with Lloyds of London in 1800.
On arrival in Port Jackson he found that the market was glutted, and there were no buyers for his goods. He agreed to sail to South America for salted beef and cattle, and left Port Jackson in February 1803, but was never seen again. No trace of his ship was ever found.
- (1802) David Collins - "An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 2" - Published by T Cadell Jun and W Davies - ISBN 9781406827286 - Project Gutenberg EBook
- (1952) Keith Macrae Bowden - "George Bass, 1771-1803: His discoveries, romantic life and tragic disappearance" - Published by Oxford University Press - ASIN B0000CIHJ1