THE FIRST EUROPEANS
The very first Europeans to sail the waters of the northern Spencer Gulf were Matthew Flinders and his crew aboard HMS Investigator. The English, Scottish and Austrian nationalities were represented. In an order issued by the Commissioner for executing the office of Lord High Admiral, Flinders received, among others, one specific task:”…you are to make the best of your way to the coast of New Holland, running down the said coast from 130 degrees of east longitude to Bass’s Strait; …and on your arrival on the coast, use your best endeavors to discover such harbours as may be in those parts, and in case you should discover any creek or opening likely to lead to an inland sea or strait, you are at liberty either to examine it, or not, as you shall judge it most expedient, until a more favourable opportunity shall enable you so to do.”
At that time, it was still considered a possibility that the Australian continent may be divided by an inland sea. Therefore, Matthew Flinders’ hopes were probably high when he entered what is now Spencer Gulf and continued sailing north. After leaving Sir Joseph Banks Group of Islands north of Port Lincoln, they entered the northern section of the gulf on Monday, March 8, 1802. Flinders first noted the remarkable landmarks of Middleback Ranges and Mount Young. Shortly after noon, however, the chance of a continuation of the gulf into some open water was quickly terminated by a discovery of Point Lowly.
Matthew Flinders wrote: “Our prospect of a channel or strait, cutting off some considerable portion of Terra Australis, was lost, for it now appeared that the ship was entered into a gulph; but the width of the opening round Point Lowly left us a consolatory hope that it would terminate in river of some importance.”
As it happened this would not eventuate at all. Flinders anchored his ship close to the head of the gulf and while sending a survey party with botanist Brown to the highest peak of the rugged ranges on the east end, he continued on a boat beyond today’s Port Augusta only finding a gulf ending in the desert. This led to his quick survey of the eastern shore of the gulf and leaving the northern part of the gulf.
Flinders’ vessel HMS Investigator has the reputation of being the first ship to sail the area, and possibly the first vessel of any kind to be there at all. Built in 1795 as a collier Xenophon, the ship was later purchased by Royal Navy and renamed Investigator in 1801. After completing Flinders’ Australian voyages, the Investigator was moored at Port Jackson as a store ship. After repairs and some colonial service, HMS Investigator was sailed back to England. Five years later, she was sold to private contract, returned to merchant service in 1813 and renamed Xenophon again. After an incredible seventy seven (77) years of service, the ship was finally broken up in 1872.
Ten months later, on Thursday, January 21, 1803, the French navigator Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet on board the schooner Casuarina entered the northern Spencer Gulf. Acting on the orders of Nicolas Baudin, he sailed along the eastern shore of the gulf to complete the navigation of the gulf of which Baudin himself was