May 14

Who charted the coastline?

The Australian National Maritime Museum is showing off its new acquisition for the first time: a rare first-edition account, in five volumes, of Nicolas Baudin's ''forgotten'' exploration of the Australian coastline, 1801-04, reported Steve Meacham in The Sydney Morming Herald (18/4).

He adds that the significance of the atlas is that it was published two years before Matthew Flinders (who was charting Australia at the same time as Baudin) was able to publish his much more famous charts, partly because the French imprisoned him on Mauritius.

But Josephine Bastian of Glebe  NSW says this is incorrect. (“Navigating truth” letters, SMH 21/4)

(Continued below)

It is incorrect to state that the 1812 French atlas of Australia ''was the first time the entire continent of Australia had been charted accurately'' (''French view of 'Napoleon's Land' goes on show after 200 years'', April 20).

It was the first published atlas – but the crucial charting specified in Steve Meacham's article had been done not by the French but by Matthew Flinders.

It was Flinders's detailed exploration of the furthest reaches of Spencer Gulf and the Gulf of Carpentaria that disproved the theory of a central strait, just as it was his and Bass's circumnavigation of Tasmania that proved it was an island.

In 1804 Flinders, imprisoned by the French on Mauritius, had smuggled out to the British admiralty his ''General chart of Terra Australis or Australia''.

It showed the entire coastline, including the crucial discoveries noted above, but the admiralty failed to publish it. Flinders's bitterness when the French map was published in 1812 was increased when he learnt that all his discoveries on the south coast had been appropriated as ''Terre Napoleon'' and given French names.

A campaign has been launched to bring home to Australia the 1804 Flinders map. It is a founding document of our European settler history.


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