• Travel, Science & Natural Hist auction at Christies

    Sale 5809

    Travel, Science & Natural History

    15 October 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 23

    George BASS (1771-c.1803)

    Price Realised  


    George BASS (1771-c.1803)

    Six autograph letters signed ('Geo. Bass', one lacking signature) to James Innes, London (3) and Venus at 'St Salvador, Coast of Brasil', Simon's Bay [Cape of Good Hope], and 'off Woahoo, Sandwich Islands' [Oahu, Hawaii], 15 August 1800 - 23 May 1802, together 16½ pages, 4to, on bifolia, integral address leaves (severe old damp damage substantially affecting three letters).

    'BOXING ABOUT IN A BIT OF A BRIG'. Three letters from London concerns Bass's preparations for a trading voyage to Australia and the Pacific, asking Innes at first to assess the qualities of a brig at Gosport, 'I should wish to know whether her counter is high or low, whether she is deep waisted like our men of war brigs', in October reporting his activities in preparing 'dame Venus' for the voyage and announcing his marriage on the 7th to [Elizabeth] Waterhouse. By March 1801, Bass has reached Brasil after a difficult passage, where they have found 'few refreshments now during Lent time, but since we only want their doubloons their victuals may go to the devil'; from Simon's Bay he expresses delight with Venus who 'turns out to be an admirable little vessel, strong almost beyond comparison ... All I want now is my [wif]e with me, and next [voy]age I must ce[r]tainly take her'. In the last letter, Bass refers to an apparently lost letter sent from Port Jackson, where he had signed a contract to supply pork to the New South Wales government; he notes their subsequent points of call in New Zealand, Tahiti and thereafter 'darting about from island to island' buying pork and salt; the voyage will be profitable, and he hopes for another similar contract to follow it. The letter ends, contentedly, 'Tell Bennett I still prefer boxing about in a bit of a brig and no master to control me, to being surgeon of a 3 decker with all its dignities and honours'.

    Having arrived in New South Wales as surgeon on HMS Reliance, whose captain was his future brother-in-law Henry Waterhouse, George Bass made some of the primary explorations of the Australian coastline in the following three years, most famously demonstrating that Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania] was an island. After the voyage described in the present series of letters, he returned to Sydney with his cargo of salt pork by November 1802; he re-embarked on 5 February 1803, but was never heard of again. (6)

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