This edition of A Voyage to Terra Australis contains all of the original illustrations and charts, which are vital for understanding the details of Matthew Flinders circumnavigation of Australia.
The book covers a period of thirteen years (1801-1814); the initial three years comprise the journey of Flinders' ship the HMS Investigator as it sailed the coastlines of what was then known as Terra Australis. The second volume details the conclusions of these voyages, and Captain Flinders capture at the hands of the French. At war with England, and unconvinced Flinders' mission was purely scientific, the French governor Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen imprisoned him for a total of six years; a Royal Navy blockade forced the author's parole.
The scientific importance of mapping the entirety of Australia - upon which the British had established colonies - was undoubted: much of Australia, particularly the northern and western coasts, were hitherto poorly understood by mariners. The job was difficult: throughout, Flinders' ship would sustain wear and damage, impairing its ability to avoid calamities such as a collision with land or destruction in a storm.
A Voyage to Terra Australis primarily concerns the various episodes that the HMS Investigator and its crew encountered in its voyage. The first volume however commences by summarizing what was already known thanks to the previous explorations of Australia by various ships; the early Dutch mercantile ventures to the outer portions of the continent, and the famous voyage of James Cook, are recounted.
After these summaries are completed, Matthew Flinders commences to detail his own expedition. The painstaking process of mapping the coastlines between and around portions already discovered is described with measurements and charts. The obstacles of weather, and the sheer distance of the traversal, were surmounted by the persistence of Flinders and his fellow cartographers.
Although this book is chiefly concerned with the mapping of the vast unknown lands, Flinders also includes several interesting events. An island with a healthy population of kangaroos - a creature unique to the Australian continent - is detailed with an accompanying drawing. Chance meetings with other vessels are mentioned, as are the various purchases of vital supplies to continue the long mission.
Initially, Flinders was asked to simply keep records of his journey and observations. However his incarceration gave him ample time to draft this longer, more literary account of his travels. Unexpected results include his observation of the dodge tides of South Australia; although not a physicist, Flinders correctly speculated their cause.
One of the most successful navigators of his time, the author demonstrated an early aptitude for seamanship. It was noted by his superiors that he possessed gifts both for command and the drawing of maps; after he had sufficiently rose through the Royal Navy's ranks that he was given command of the HMS Investigator. Tragically the years he spent captured took a toll on his health; he died in 1814 aged forty, a mere four years after arriving home in England.