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Pattaya Daily News

24 February 2010 :: 16:02:35 pm 14082

Matthew Flinders: A Brief History

Matthew Flinders born in Donington, Lincolnshire, England in the year 1774 and died at the age of 44, unknown and uncelebrated in England with few people outside his village knowing that he gave Australia its name and many other places around its coastline. His father, also Matthew Flinders, was the local surgeon and chemist.
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Matthew was educated at home and in Lincolnshire schools and at the age of 15 influenced by the book Robinson Crusoe, he joined the Royal Navy in 1789 against the wishes of his friends.

He initially served on HMS Alert, later transferring to HMS Scipio then in July 1790 was made midshipman on HMS Bellerophon under Captain Pasley. Pasley recommended he join Captain Bligh’s expedition on HMS Providence. This was young Flinder’s first look at Australian waters, landing at Adventure Bay, Tasmania in 1792. On his return to England, he rejoined the Bellerophon in which he saw action.

As midshipman aboard HMS Reliance carrying the newly appointed Governor of New South Wales, Captain John Hunter, Flinders made his first trip to Port Jackson in 1795, quickly establishing himself as a fine navigator and cartographer and becoming friends with the ships surgeon George Bass.

Flinders who became Lieutenant was given command of the sloop Norfolk in 1798 and orders to sail beyond Furneaux Island. The passage between the Australian mainland and Tasmania saved days on the journey from England and was named Bass Strait after his close friend.

Many of the scientists of the day, especially Sir Joseph Banks, came to hear of Flinders. Banks influenced Earl Spencer to convince the Admiralty of the importance of an expedition to chart the coastline of Australia.  In January 1801 Flinders was given command of the Investigator and promoted to Commander.

Flinders married his long time friend Ann Chappelle in April 1801.  He had hoped to take her with him to Port Jackson, but permission was refused. Despite this, he still attempted to take her with him, but was chastised by the admiralty and she as a result was to stay in England and wait nine years for his return.

The Investigator set sail in July 1801 for Australia and due to the scientific nature, Flinders was issued a French passport despite England and France being at war.

Flinders arrived at his destination in December 1801 proceeding along the southern coastline of the Australian mainland. In April 1802 Flinders sighted the Geographe, a French corvette commanded by Nicolas Baudin who was on a similar trip for his government. Both men being men of science, they both exchanged details of their discoveries  at what was later nemed Encounter Bay. Flinders explored Port Phillip which unknowned to him had been discovered only weeks before. Flinders proceeded to Sydney arriving May 1802.

Flinders set sail again in July heading north to survey the coast of Queensland and on through Torres Straits, exploring the Gulf of Carentaria. It was then discovered the ship was letting in water and were unable to repairs necessary so reluctantly returned to Sydney via the western coast, completing the circumnavigation and arriving in Sydney in June 1803. The Investigator was deemed un-seaworthy and condemned.

Flinders set sail as a passenger aboard HMS Porpoise, however the ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Flinders navigated the ship’s cutter back to Sydney and arranged for the marooned crew to be rescued.

Flinders then commanded the 29 ton schooner Cumberland in order to return to England but the poor condition of the ship forced him to the French controlled Mauritius for repairs in December 1803.

War had broken out with France again the previous May, but Flinders hoped his French passport though for a different ship and the scientific nature of his journey, would  allow him to continue back to England, but despite this and the knowledge of Baudin’s encounter with Flinders, Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen, the French Governor detained Flinders souring the relationship between the two men. Flinders was not happy with his treatment by Decaen and Daecan in return was insulted at Flinders refusal to dine with him and his wife and searched Flinders ship, finding a trunk full of papers from the governor of Austrailia that were not permitted under his scientific passport.

The matter was referred to the French Government, which was delayed by the long voyage and also the general confusion of the war.   In March 1806, Napoleon gave his approval, but Decaen still refuse to release Flinders. It was suggested that Decaen believed Flinders knowledge of the islands defences would have encouraged Britain to attempt to capture it. In June 1809 the Royal Navy began a blockade of the island and Flinders was paroled in June 1810 receiving promotion to Post Captain before returning to England

In November 1804 Flinders sent the first amp of the landmass charted back in England and was the only map where he had used the name Australia for the title. Finally returning to England in October 1810 and in poor health he immediately resumed work, preparing a Voyage to Terra Australia for publication. Matthew Flinders died on 18th July 1814, the day after the book was published, he was 40 years old.

In April 1812, he and his wife had a daughter who became Mrs. William Petrie. In 1853, the government of New South Wales and Victoria bequeathed a belated pension of 100 pounds per year. This Mrs. Anne Petrie nee Flinders, accepted on behalf of her young son named William Matthew Flinders Petrie who went on to become an accomplished archaeologist and Egyptologist. Flinders wrote to his brother in 1804 stating that he calls the whole island Terra Australia.

Flinders continued with the use of the word until he returned to London in 1810 where he found that Banks did not approve of the name and had not viewed the chart he had sent.  Flinders then wrote his book titled A Voyage to Terra Australia.  The final proofs were brought to his death bed, but Flinders was unconscious. The book was published in July 1814 but Flinders died never knowing that his name for the continent would later be accepted.

In Australia, there are many monuments and statues to Flinders with countless places and streets named after him including the Flinders University and Flinders Station in Melbourne, but in his own country he doesn’t even have a headstone with Euston station having been built on top of the church he was buried in. The first public statue of him has been erected in his home village with money raised by the people of Lincolnshire. The bronze statue was unveiled in March 2006.

It has been said that the Spanish were the first to put a name to Australia, but there is little evidence to substantiate this, however if new evidence is unearthed as it is from time to time, then the information will have to be revised.

Patty Brown

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