George Bass

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George Bass

Engraving of Bass from The Naval Pioneers of Australia by Louis Becke and Walter Jeffery, 1899
Born 30 January 1771(1771-01-30)
Aswarby, Lincolnshire
Disappeared 5 February 1803 (aged 32)
Last seen before leaving Port Jackson, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality British
Education Boston Grammar School
Occupation Surgeon
Years active 1794-1803
Home town Boston
Parents George Bass; Sarah Newman

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".

In 1797, without Flinders, in an open whaleboat with a crew of six, Bass sailed to Cape Howe, the farthest point of south-eastern Australia. From here he went westwards along what is now the coast of the Gippsland region of Victoria, to Western Port, almost as far as the entrance to Port Phillip, on the north shore of which is the site of present-day Melbourne. His belief that a strait separated the mainland from Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) was backed up by his astute observation of the rapid tide and the long south-western swell at Wilson's Promontory. This channel became known as the Bass Strait, and his name is also commemorated by Mount Bass, the Bass River, and Bass Town.

Bass visited the Kiama area and made many notes on its botanical complexity and the amazing natural phenomenon, the [[Wikipedia:Kiama Blowhole|], noting the volcanic geology around the Blowhole and contributed much to its understanding.

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.

Final voyage

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

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