The BnF Centre came into being in 2006 for the sole purpose of finding a home for the replica Sloop, Norfolk.
In 1798 Matthew Flinders and George Bass in the sloop Norfolk, proved Bass Strait existed.
In a replica sloop, mariner Bern Cuthbertson and his crew re-enacted that same trip in a replica Norfolk.
A permanent home for the Norfolk was required as the sloop is not suited to carry tourists, with no motor or any facilities for cruising.
The old picture theatre in George Town was available and was specifically modified to house the sloop.
This is a short summary of the events that led up to the Centre being established and finally becoming home to the Norfolk, the Tom Thumb and the whale boat Elizabeth. The Centre includes other historic boats that visitors can explore in detail within this unique display.
Layout of the Centre.
The BnF Centre features the Norfolk berthed next to a wharf which is setup with a typical dockside warehouse, complete with crew waiting to go aboard.
Access to the wharf is via a wheelchair friendly walkway from ground level or alternatively via a set of stairs off the wharf.
Visitor can board the Norfolk and go below to explore the Captain’s cabin, the cargo hold and into the galley.
The Norfolk is fully rigged with its normal sails and the square rigged sail is hung on a wall next to the vessel. This gives an understanding of the amount of sail that she can carry.
A feature on the Norfolk is Trim the Cat, sleeping quietly on the hatch cover of the Captain’s cabin.
As one strolls to the wharf, there are interesting stories of the displays that can be read, along with videos of the Norfolk being transported to the Centre back in 2006.
A theatrette under the wharf allows visitors to view both the story of Flinders and the construction of the replica Norfolk.
Bern Cuthbertson & the Bass and Flinders Centre.
The events and re-enactments of the Bern Cuthbertson and his crews did not follow in date sequence.
The initial voyage in the Elizabeth (around Tasmania) became the catalyst for future voyages and the inspiration to build the Norfolk, for the 200 year re-enactment of Bass and Flinders discovery of Bass Strait.
• 1795 The Tom Thumb
George Bass was a surgeon on the Reliance sailing to the NSW colony, where he met Matthew Flinders. Both were passionate about exploring and Flinders had brought with him, a small dinghy named the Tom Thumb.
Immediately on reaching the Colony, they set out in this tiny craft and spent 9 days in the Georges River before returning to Sydney.
The replica is now on display in the Bass and Flinders Centre and was built along with the replica Norfolk as a deck boat.
After their initial trip, the two explorers obtained another dinghy, built in the Colony, which they also named the Tom Thumb. This boat was of similar size to the previous boat but had a sail.
• 1815 The Whale Boat Elizabeth
Bern Cuthbertson was interested in the story of Capt. James Kelly from a very young age at school. He tried on many occasion to interest local companies in the building of a whale boat to re-enact James Kelly’s voyage around Tasmania in a whale boat back in 1815.
Whale boats were very important to exploration and the smaller design was lighter and could be pulled out of the water much easier by their crew.
Kelly is likely to have used the smaller whale boat, which was normally carried on the larger whaling ship. It then would have had a crew of 4 oarsmen and a man on the rudder. Kelly borrowed the boat from the magistrate of Pittwater (Sydney) Major James Gorden, who had named the boat after his wife.
Bern decided to build such a boat of 28 ft. 6in and so, the Elizabeth, came into being. That same boat is now on display in the Bass and Flinders Centre.
James Kelly headed off on Dec 12 1815, but this time frame (in being away for Christmas), was not desirable to Bern, so he moved the start date of the voyage and set sail on Australia Day 1986.
This was just the start and during the trip with his crew, Thomas O'Byrne, Craig Dixon, Rick McMahon, and Geoff Zwar, the Elizabeth faithfully followed in the steps of Kelly which included a trip into Port Dalrymple at the mouth of the Tamar River, and landed in George Town.
The voyage can be read about in detail in Bern’s book, “Around Tasmania in a whaleboat”.
In January the following year 1987, after the successful trip around Tasmania, the Elizabeth set sail from Cowes on Philip Island for Sydney with a crew of five. This was the same date as George Bass some 189 years earlier, had set out on his whaleboat to return to Sydney after he and Flinders had discovered Bass Strait.
On this trip the crew consisted of Bern Cuthbertson, Graham Dudgeon, Ian Williams, Peter Marion and young David Wilson.
It was during the trip around Tasmania in the Elizabeth (1986), that the idea of re-enacting the voyage that Matthew Flinders and George Bass completed in 1798 came about. This was carried out in a sloop that Flinders had command of, called the Norfolk.
A 200 year anniversary would be the aim; all they had to do was build the Norfolk.
1798 The Norfolk
The initial problem with the Norfolk was to establish the design and so started a 5 year project.
After a lot of research into the type of boat used in those days Bern obtained original plans from British Admiralty in London.
In a specifically constructed shed on Richard Davis Ellendale sheep farm outside of (believe it or not) New Norfolk, Tasmania. Construction of the Norfolk by Richard Davis began.
The first task was to obtain Huon Pine logs and this was carried out in conjunction with Forestry Tasmania from a store of fallen Huon pine in and around Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania.
The construction of the Norfolk is a masterpiece and the work is best viewed at The Bass and Flinders Centre in a 40 min video.
No nails are used in the construction, only Trunnels, which are effectively wooden nails.
Unlike many other replica sailing ships build, the Norfolk has no motor. So the skill of the captain in protecting the crew from a watery grave is vital.
The Norfolk is fitted with oars to provide propulsion, as it was in Flinders’ time, and the deck boat was used to assist the movement of the Norfolk. This was the role of the Tom Thumb.
The craftsmanship of the boat and the conditions of those on board can be experienced at the BnF Centre, thanks to the passionate desire of Bern Cuthbertson to house the Norfolk in George Town, as the Norfolk spent some time in the Port and the Tamar River, carrying out exploration for future settlement.
There a many stories via the internet on Bass and Flinders as are there many newspaper articles on the exploits of Bern Cuthbertson.
His legacy is a display of three beautiful boats in the BnF Centre, being, the Norfolk,Tom Thumb and Elizabeth. All are worth a visit.