The Australian Connection
Inside Boston’s St Botolph’s church, on the north wall of its tower just a short distance from the plaque that commemorates the people from the town who helped found the United States of America, is a second plaque. This one was erected in memory of those from Boston involved in the exploration of Australasia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Six men of the names listed sailed with James Cook. Sir Joseph Banks sailed with him on his first voyage (1768-1871) in HMS Endeavour as the expedition’s lead botanist. With him went two of his servants: James Roberts (from Mareham-le-Fen) and George Briscoe (from Revesby). They helped in the collection and preservation of specimens. Cook wrote in his log: ‘The great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Botany Bay’.
Joseph Gilbert from Wrangle was master of the Resolution on Cook’s second voyage (1771-1775). Although the Stump memorial lists him as an astronomer he used his skill as a cartographer to assist Cook with his mapping. Another local man was Richard Rollett, listed as ‘Sailmaker’. He was born in King’s Lynn but had lived for many years in Boston. George Gilbert, Joseph’s son, whose name is not on the memorial, accompanied Cook on his third and final voyage (1776 –1779). He was present at Cook’s death and it was his journal, eventually published 1992, which revealed the true events leading to Cook’s death.
More voyages followed and in 1795 HMS Reliance reached the Botany Bay Convict Settlement with Midshipman Matthew Flinders and ship’s surgeon George Bass, on board. Flinders, from Donington, had gone to sea at 15 after reading the accounts of Cook’s voyages and Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Bass, although born in Aswarby, had moved with his mother to Boston following the early death of his father and he was educated at Boston Grammar School.
On arriving in Australia, they set out in an eight-foot boat called ‘Tom Thumb’, charting Botany Bay and sailing up the George River. Later they circumnavigated ‘Tasmania’ in HMS Norfolk, and explored the strait between Tasmania and the mainland, which, at Flinders’ request, was named ‘Bass Strait’.
Flinders returned to the South Seas in HMS Investigator and completed the first circumnavigation and charting of ‘Terra Australis’ in 1802. Flinders suggested the name of the new continent should be shortened to Australia, which was officially adopted in 1817. His second-in-command was Robert Merrick Fowler, from Horncastle. Flinders’ brother, 12-year-old Samuel Flinders was appointed the ship’s 2nd-lieutenant. Another of Flinders’ officers was John Franklin, from Spilsby, whose parents had been married in the Stump. He was cousin to the Flinders and later became Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) until his recall. Later, in 1848, Franklin disappeared with his ship and crew while attempting to find the North-West Passage.