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Epic Australian Voyage



From Roslin O Roslin, Summer 2001 (Vol 3 No 24), Rory Sinclair, Editor.


by David Mitchell

This article was written by David Mitchell of South Africa. Those of you who were members of the Millennium Gathering last year will remember the appearance in Caithness of the Cape Town Highlanders. You should know that it was David Mitchell, an officer of this illustrious Regiment who was instrumental, along with Niven Sinclair, in setting this up. [ed.]


In July 1801, Lt Matthew Flinders RN set out from Portsmouth on board H.M. Sloop The Investigator with a brief from the Admiralty and the Royal Society to circumnavigate Australia and to chart the Gulf of Carpentaria.

This was no ordinary voyage. Flinders had recently returned to England in 1800, a junior lieutenant with just two year's seniority. He had been on various voyages to Van Diemen's Land and had circumnavigated Tasmania. On his return he had submitted an urgent proposal to Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, "for completing the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis". The plan was approved, and within three weeks Flinders was on his way - swift bureaucratic action that was even more phenomenal then than it would be today - on an epic voyage of discovery to Australia, a voyage that is now the subject of special bi-centenary celebrations in Australia in September 2001.

One of the young midshipmen serving with Flinders on this voyage was a 16 year-old lad from Chatham, Kent - none other than Kennett Sinclair of Brompton (born on 19th August 1785 and baptised at St Mary's, Chatham, on 4th October 1786).

Kennett Sinclair's father, also Kennett Sinclair and also Royal Navy, had been born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1750, reputedly somewhere near Inverness. In 1785, he served in the Far East on the H.M.S. Defence, as bosun under Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell, and had returned to Great Britain as the Admiralty pulled back its far-distant fleets to bolster the home defences against the French.

It was on this return voyage, at the island of St. Helena on 5th October 1784, that Kennett Sinclair (the elder) married his Cape Town-born sweetheart, Anna Susanna Dell of the Cape of Good Hope, daughter of Johan Christoffel Dell, a carpenter and cabinet-maker from Eisenach, Saxony, Germany, who had emigrated to the Cape in 1752, and his wife Catharina Helena Carstens.

Small wonder then, when word got out that Flinders was to undertake an exploratory expedition of this special nature and with the speed and urgency with which this expedition was put together, that this appealed to the excitement and challenge of the younger Kennett Sinclair. Flowing through his veins was not only his Viking and Sinclair heritage of epic voyages in the north Atlantic of centuries before, but also the blood of his Cape forebears.

Kennett's mother Susanna bore the name of her great-great-grandmother, Susanna of Bambaser, a young lass of unknown origin, probably from India or Malaysia, who had been brought to the Cape as a slave in about 1685, and who had been granted her freedom by her master Anthony of Angola, a free black at the Cape, on his deathbed in 1691. Kennett was a young man of both the east and the west.

Flinders reached the head of the Blight on 27th January 1802 and proceeded to survey the coastline of south Australia. His diary of 25th February refers to the fact that they had heard some [native] "Australians" calling in the bush, but had had no contact with them. This was the first recorded use of the term.

On 28th March 1802 they reached the site of the present city of Adelaide. It was around this date that Flinders reached and explored the area near Ceduna and Port Augusta in South Australia, some 850 kilometres northwest of Adelaide, where he named a small peninsula "Point Sinclair" after his young midshipman.

Point Sinclair is today described as "502 square kilometres of coastline with good surfing, good fishing and camping in an area characterised by dramatic cliffs, blowholes and huge sand dunes". Point Sinclair was the first land in South Australia to come under a 1980 Heritage Agreement whereby its owner was exempted from local rates and taxes in exchange for maintaining its native vegetation with restricted public access.

Kennett Sinclair (the younger) died of yellow fever in Port Royal, Jamaica, on 31st July 1805, three weeks before his 20th birthday. As Master's Mate of the H.M.S. Reindeer, he had just taken a Spanish Galleon into Jamaica, a Prize to the Reindeer. His father had died two years earlier on 22nd April 1803, at the age of 52, at Brompton, near Chatham, Kent.

In 1807/1808, the widowed Susanna Sinclair returned to Cape Town, her birthplace, with her surviving children (except for two of her sons who were at the naval school in Greenwich). Most of the South African Sinclairs are descended from Kennett's two younger brothers, Thomas Sinclair (born 10th April 1794) and John Albert Sinclair (born 7th June 1803).

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