There was a great deal of work to do, and no decision had been reached on whether Australia was a single island or was divided by a sea or major waterway.
David Hill provides a wonderfully entertaining account of the two men’s deeds. It is hard not to admire Flinders. ‘I have too much ambition to rest in the unnoticed middle order of mankind,’ he once wrote, and ‘since neither birth nor fortune have favoured me, my actions shall speak to the world.’
The actions were impressive. Over three years he travelled 14,000 kilometres, named a host of places, and completed many of the labours that gave the world the first tolerably accurate maps of Australia. Baudin was less efficient and perished during his voyage, but his expedition still allowed 200,000 botanical and animal specimens (many previously unknown) to be sent home.
If you are in the mood for fractious crews, the blight of scurvy, and stale ship-biscuits then this is the book for you. It will also appeal if you’d care to hear about two of the great unsung voyages of the 19th century.
THE GREAT RACE: The Race Between the English and the French to Complete the Map of Australia by David Hill, Little, Brown, £25