The Norfolk

See the film on the building of the Norfolk

Learn about what goes into building a sloop like Norfolk from the selection of the huon pine log to its maiden voyages.

From Construction

See how the timbers are steamed and fitted to the ribs.

To adventure

See the final creation and its maiden voyages and the media reports.

In 1798, George Bass and Mathew Flinders sailed the sloop Norfolk from Sydney to solve a riddle – was Van Diemen’s Land (the former name for Tasmania) joined to the mainland of Terra Australis, or was Tasmania an island?

The explorers proved that it was an island by becoming the first Europeans to circumnavigate the island of Van Diemens Land, sailing through was it today known as Bass Strait. Their first encounter with the island was the Tamar River on November 3, 1798 where they spent several days exploring and charting. 

The Norfolk spent the first nights anchored off the entrance to West Arm. She stayed until November 20, during which time Bass explored the shores and Flinders surveyed the river. 

While anchored at Outer Cove (now George Town), he drew up reliable sailing instructions for use by ships entering the river.

Until such time of the voyage of Bass and Flinders in the Norfolk, the only Europeans in Australia lived in Sydney and surrounding districts. There was need to find appropriate sites for expansion. 

The British also required to settle bases to protect against the possibility of the French, or any other country , laying claim to other parts of the land. 

The voyage by Bass and Flinders was also made to test  a theory held by Bass that there may be a strait of water between what was then New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land. At that time, the island was thought merely to be a peninsula of the mainland. The possibility that a strait existed was significant because it could reduce the sailing time from England to New South Wales by around one week.

The discovery of the strait which now bears Bass’ name was only one of Bass and Flinders’ major discoveries. Another was the Tamar River. They spent about two weeks in the river, as far up as the Crescent Shore, close to today’s Swan Point. This was the only major river that either Bass or Flinders discovered.

The report which they made to the Governor of New South Wales was crucial in the decision to establish two settlements on the island. The first of these was Risdon Cove, which was later moved to Sullivans Cove, now Hobart. 

The second settlement was founded in November 1804 when Colonel Paterson and a party of convicts and soldiers landed at George Town.

The close link between the discovery by Bass and Flinders and the choice of what was to become George Town as the first settlement.


  • Norfolk
  • Elizabeth
  • Tom Thumb
  • Captains Cabin theatrette

Films to see

  • Life of Flinders
  • Building the replica Norfolk
  • The Navigators


  • Admin
  • Ph 03 63823792
  • Email admin@bassandflinders.org.au
  • Location

The Bass and Flinders Centre is operated by volunteers under a trust arrangement and is self funded.

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