9 Children’s Books About Bass & Flinders

Most Australian children know the names of George Bass and Matthew Flinders, great explorers and navigators of the coastline of early Australia. My interest in Bass and Flinders’ explorations has been renewed as I’ve search for children’s historical fiction books about them, what courage and tenacity they had! This book search has been part of my ongoing project of organising Australian history fiction for children into chronological order, a collation of both in print and out of print living books. I have been working my booklist within the framework of the time periods organised in Our Sunburnt Country, a favourite core Australian history books.  I have gathered both picture and chapter books for each chapter, mainly sharing in print or recently in print books, though I can’t resist occasionally sharing some quality out of print (OOP) books.Thus far I have recommended supporting books for the chapters; Land of the Dreamtime, European Discovery of Australia, Early Australia: Arrival and Settlement, and Rum and Rebellion.*ETA: Adding another titleBass and Flinders undertook three voyages together and later Flinders completed the circumnavigation of Australia. I have collated a brief timeline of relevant voyages and movement to assist you in following the events.

1795 February: Reliance and Supply left England for Australia with Captain Hunter the colony’s new Governor. Junior lieutenant Matthew Flinders and surgeon Dr George Bass shared a small cabin and became friends.

1795 mid October: Bass, Flinders and lad Billy Martin are sent on a survey from Port Jackson to Botany Bay, the trip takes nine days in the Tom Thumb.

1796 March: Governor Hunter sends Bass, Flinders & Martin to survey the southerly coast looking for a river a hundred miles to the south. Mr Hacking, harbour pilot had heard of it from Aboriginals. They sailed in the Tom Thumb ll.

1797 December: Bass surveyed further south, he discovered Shoalhaven the River Mr Hacking had heard of. South of Cape Howe he turned west and rounded Wilson’s Promontory and sailed as far as Western Port.

1798 October: Governor Hunter sent Bass & Flinders to find proof of a strait between Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales, which they did in the Norfolk. They also surveyed and charted all the coasts of Van Diemen’s Land. This was the two friends last voyage together, Bass’ time with the Navy expired and he was lost at sea in 1803 during a voyage to South America.

1800: Flinders returned to England and met Sir Joseph Banks, they discussed the possibility of New Holland and New South Wales being separate lands. Sir Joseph Banks used his influence for a ship to be allotted to make a complete survey of the coasts of both. Flinders was appointed Lieutenant & Commander of the Investigator. He married whilst home in England. Flinders set sail for Australia in July 1801.

1801 November: The Investigator left Cape Town, South Africa, rode the Roaring Forties across to King George’s Sound and began exploring the coast of Western Autralia.

1802 February: Flinders discovered Port Lincoln, and continued to explore the coast of South Australia, sailed through the Straits and explored the coast of Victoria.

1802 May: Arrived in Sydney Town. In nine months Matthew has sailed from England and surveyed 3700 km of unknown coast. New Holland and New South Wales were now known to be one land mass.

1802 July: Investigator and the Lady Nelson set out to survey the north and west coasts of Terra Australis. In the far North he ran for Koepang in Dutch Timor for ship repairs and supplies in May 1803. Sailing by the way of the West Coast he returned to Sydney by June.

1803 September: Flinders set sail for England, he put into Mauritius for ship repairs on December 1803, where he was to be detained by the French for six and a half years!

Picture Books

Bass and Flinders – Cathy Dodson & Roland Harvey

In 1795 there were still unsolved mysteries about the land known as Australia. Because the coastline had not been fully explored, there was uncertainty about Australia’s exact geography. It was up to a couple of young adventurers, George Bass and Matthew Flinders, to solve these puzzles.


A Cat Called Trim – Corinne Fenton

This is the true story of a courageous, mischievous and fearless cat called Trim, who sailed with Matthew Flinders on his voyages to map the coastline of Australia and beyond.


The Journey of Tom Thumb ll – Christine Hill

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 … 35 pages packed with full-page colour images and sketches, interwoven with the story and excerpts from Matthew Flinders’ journal. Be sure to read about Christine Hill’s backstory of making and illustrating the book, fascinating.


Chapter Books

The Voyages of Matthew Flinders – Max Colwell

The story of the voyages of one of Australia’s most famous and most able explorers, Matthew Flinders. 64 pages of colonial maritime history for children with colour illustrations covering this extraordinary man’s life with special focus on his heroic journey in a small boat, the Tom Thumb to circumnavigate the island continent of New Holland, and his imprisonment by the French on Mauritius. Out of Print.


Matthew Flinders – George Finkel

Matthew Flinders was only 14 when James Cook first landed in Botany Bay. Yet before he was 25 Matthew had charted the unknown east coast of Australia from Sydney to Tasmania and proved the existence of the Bass Strait. Before he was 30 he had sailed right round the Great Southern Continent. All Flinders’ accomplishments are here and his captivity in Mauritius for six years.

One of the excellent Australians In History Series,  highly recommend though sadly out of print.


Trim: the Story of A Brave Seafaring Cat – Matthew Flinders

The story of a brave seafaring cat who circumnavigated the globe in the years 1799-1804 with Matthew Flinders. “He was the the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures. He made a tour of the Globe, and a voyage to Australia, which he circumnavigated, returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked in the Great Equinoxial Ocean; this danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance at the Isle of France, where he was made prisoner, contrary to the laws of Justice, of Humanity, and of French National Faith; and where, alas! He terminated his useful career; by an untimely death, being devoured by the Catophago of that island.”

Terra Australis – Matthew Flinders

In this edited selection of his journals, Matthew Flinders, Australia’s greatest navigator and the man who named our island continent, describes in captivating detail his epic mission to map our shores between 1796 and 1803. Matthew Flinders was born in England in 1774. In 1789, defying his father’s wishes that he enter the field of medicine, Flinders volunteered his services to the British Navy. He became the greatest early navigator of Australia, and explored the Australian coastline with George Bass in his eight-foot long vessel Tom Thumb and later Tom Thumb II. His account of his journeys, A Voyage to Terra Australis, is one of the great achievements of our literature. Not written for children but may be suitable for older teens, can’t personally vouch.

The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim – Cassandra Golds

Matthew Flinders and his beloved cat, Trim, circumnavigate and map Australia, travel the oceans, end up shipwrecked, are saved, then captured and imprisoned on the Ile de France where Trim is separated from his beloved master. Will they ever meet again? A graphic novel of adventure and intrigue aimed at the over 8s.


… the story of Matthew Flinders navigator, explorer and lover.
When Matthew Flinders, the first man to chart and circumnavigate Australia, set sail from England in July 1801, he left behind his young bride of only a few weeks, Ann Chappell. He didn’t see her again for more than nine years. During that time he carried out incredible feats of seamanship and navigation, made the first charts of much of the coastline of Australia, and was shipwrecked and later held prisoner by the French on Mauritius. Meticulously researched and written with great insight and sensitivity, My Love Must Wait is a tender portrayal of faithful devotion, and a stirring re-creation of the courage and endurance of one of history’s greatest seamen.
I haven’t yet had a chance to read but Carol from Journey and Destination writes a terrific review recommending the book for the over 14s.

Bass & Billy Martin – Joan Phipson

The story of Billy Martin, personal servant to George Bass, and his travels with Bass and Matthew Flinders on their voyage of discovery when they found the strait between New Holland and Van Dieman’s Land now known as Bass Strait.

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