First-person narrations of historical events are powerful. Yet readers, gripped by the story, often neglect to question the narrative form. What strategies guided their progression through the story? Were those strategies employed to shape their judgments about the people and events portrayed? One of the tales in the creative component of my recently completed practice-led PhD was based on Matthew Flinders’ Narrative of Tom Thumb’s cruize to Canoe Rivulet (Flinders 1985): a first-person account of the exploration trip Flinders, George Bass, and Bass’s servant, William Martin, took along the south coast of New South Wales. I was writing a fictional story about a historical event but how reliable was the Flinders narration? I needed to analyse the historical manuscript and decide on what to explore in my fictional retelling. This paper deconstructs Canoe Rivulet, hypothesises about Flinders’ rhetorical purpose, and considers the ethical dimension of the narrative act. It was only after completing this analysis that I could shape my own rhetorical purpose and begin to clarify ethical questions I might consider when writing my fictional tale.