Captain Matthew Flinders RN

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Captain Matthew Flinders

Birthplace: Donington, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
Death: July 19, 1814 (40)
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Place of Burial: London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Matthew Flinders; Matthew Flinders; Elizabeth Flinders and Elizabeth Flinders
Husband of Ann Chappelle
Father of Anne Flinders
Brother of Henrietta Chambers; John Flinders; Susannah Flinders; Samuel Flinders; Hannah Flinders and 2 others

Occupation: Lieutenant in the Navy
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Captain Matthew Flinders RN

Captain Matthew Flinders RN (16 March 1774 – 19 July 1814) was a distinguished navigator and cartographer, who was the first to circumnavigate Australia and identify it as a continent.

On his first voyage to New South Wales, he made friends with the ship's surgeon George Bass, and the two of them presently sailed through what became the Bass Strait, confirming that Tasmania was an island. In 1801 he was commissioned to chart the whole coastline of New Holland, and he specially noted the fertile land around Port Phillip, today's Melbourne.

Heading back to England in 1803, his vessel needed urgent repairs at Mauritius. Although Britain and France were at war, Flinders thought the scientific nature of his work would ensure safe passage, but a suspicious governor kept him under arrest for more than six years. In captivity, he recorded details of his voyages for future publication, and put forward his rationale for naming the new continent 'Australia', as an umbrella-term for New Holland and New South Wales – a suggestion taken up later by Governor Macquarie.

His health had suffered, however, and although he reached home, he did not live to see the publication of his widely-praised book and atlas, A Voyage to Terra Australis.

Early life

Flinders was born in Donington, Lincolnshire, England, the son of Matthew Flinders, a surgeon, and his wife Susannah, née Ward. In his own words, he was "induced to go to sea against the wishes of my friends from reading Robinson Crusoe",[2] and at the age of fifteen he joined the Royal Navy in 1789.

Initially serving on HMS Alert, he transferred to HMS Scipio, and in July 1790 was made midshipman on HMS Bellerophon under Captain Pasley. By Pasley's recommendation, he joined Captain Bligh's expedition on HMS Providence, transporting breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. This was also Bligh's second "Breadfruit Voyage" following on from the ill-fated voyage of the "Bounty".

First voyage to New South Wales Flinders' first trip to Port Jackson was in 1795 as a midshipman aboard HMS Reliance, carrying the newly appointed Governor of New South Wales Captain John Hunter. On this voyage he quickly established himself as a fine navigator and cartographer, and became friends with the ship's surgeon George Bass.

Not long after their arrival in Port Jackson, Bass and Flinders made two expeditions in small open boats, both named Tom Thumb: the first to Botany Bay and Georges River, the second, in a larger Tom Thumb, south from Port Jackson to Lake Illawarra.

In 1798, Matthew Flinders, who was now a Lieutenant, was given command of the Norfolk and orders "to sail beyond Furneaux's Islands, and, should a strait be found, pass through it, and return by the south end of Van Diemen's Land". The passage between the Australian mainland and Tasmania enabled savings of several days on the journey from England, and was named Bass Strait, after his close friend. In honour of this discovery, the largest island in Bass Strait would later be named Flinders Island. The town of Flinders near the mouth of Western Port also commemorates Bass' discovery of that bay and port on 4 January 1798. Flinders never entered Western Port, and only pass Cape Schanck on the 3rd. May 1802.

Flinders once more sailed the Norfolk, this time North on 17 July 1799, he arrived in Moreton Bay between Redcliffe and Brighton. He touched down at Pumicestone Passage, Redcliffe and Coochiemudlo Island and also rowed ashore at Clontarf. During this visit he named Redcliffe after the Red Cliffs.

In March 1800, Flinders rejoined the 'Reliance' which set sail for England.

Command of the Investigator

Main article: HMS Investigator (1798)

Flinders' work had come to the attention of many of the scientists of the day, in particular the influential Sir Joseph Banks, to whom Flinders dedicated his Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait, etc.. Banks used his influence with Earl Spencer to convince the Admiralty of the importance of an expedition to chart the coastline of New Holland. As a result, in January 1801, Flinders was given command of the Investigator, a 334-ton sloop, and promoted to Commander the following month.

The Investigator set sail for New Holland on 18 July 1801. Attached to the expedition was the botanist Robert Brown, botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer and landscape artist William Westall. Due to the scientific nature of the expedition, Flinders was issued with a French passport, despite England and France then being at war.


On 17 April 1801, Flinders had married longtime friend Ann Chappelle (1772–1852). Flinders had hoped to bring her with him to Port Jackson, however the Admiralty had strict rules against wives accompanying captains. As a result, Ann was obliged to stay in England and would not see her husband for nine years, following his imprisonment in France on his return journey. When they finally reunited, Matthew and Ann had one daughter, Anne, born 1 April 1812, who later married William Petrie (1821–1908) and was the mother of the eminent archaeologist and Egyptologist, William Matthew Flinders Petrie.

Exploration of the Australian coastline

Aboard the Investigator Flinders reached and named Cape Leeuwin on 6 December 1801, and proceeded to make a survey along the southern coast of the Australian mainland.

On 8 April 1802 while sailing east Flinders sighted the Géographe, a French corvette commanded by the explorer Nicolas Baudin, who was on a similar expedition for his government. Both men of science, Flinders and Baudin met and exchanged details of their discoveries, Flinders named the bay Encounter Bay.

Proceeding along the coast, Flinders explored Port Phillip, which unbeknownst to him had been discovered only 10 weeks earlier by John Murray aboard the Lady Nelson. Flinders scaled Arthur's Seat, the highest point near the shores of the southernmost parts of the bay, where the ship had entered through The Heads. From there he saw a vast view of the surrounding land and bays. Flinders reported back to Governor King that the land had 'a pleasing and, in many parts, a fertile appearance'. He stated on 1 May, "I left the ship's name on a scroll of paper, deposited in a small pile of stones upon the top of the peak". Here, Flinders was drawing upon a British tradition of constructing a stone cairn to mark a historical location. The Matthew Flinders Cairn, which was later enlarged, is located on the upper slopes of Arthurs Seat a short distance below Chapman's Point.

With stores running low, Flinders proceeded to Sydney, arriving on 9 May 1802.

Having hastily prepared the ship, Flinders set sail again on 22 July, heading north and surveying the coast of Queensland. From there he passed through the Torres Strait, and explored the Gulf of Carpentaria. During this time, the ship was discovered to be badly leaking, and despite careening, they were unable to effect the necessary repairs. Reluctantly, Flinders returned to Sydney, though via the western coast, completing the circumnavigation of the continent. On the way, Flinders jettisoned two wrought iron anchors, which were found by divers in 1973 at Middle Island, Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia. The best bower anchor is on display at the South Australian Maritime Museum while the stream anchor can be seen at the National Museum of Australia.

Further information: HMS Investigator Anchors

Arriving in Sydney on 9 June 1803, the Investigator was subsequently judged to be unseaworthy and condemned.

Attempted return to England and imprisonment

Unable to find another vessel suitable to continue his exploration, Flinders set sail for England as a passenger aboard HMS Porpoise. However the ship was wrecked on Wreck Reefs, part of the Great Barrier Reef, approximately 700 miles (1127 km) north of Sydney. Flinders navigated the ship's cutter across open sea back to Sydney, and arranged for the rescue of the remaining marooned crew.

Flinders then took command of the 29-ton schooner Cumberland in order to return to England, but the poor condition of the vessel forced him to put in at French-controlled Mauritius for repairs on 17 December 1803.

War with France had broken out again the previous May, but Flinders hoped his French passport (though for a different vessel) and the scientific nature of his mission would allow him to continue on his way. Despite this, and the knowledge of Baudin's earlier encounter with Flinders, the French governor, Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen, was suspicious and detained Flinders. The relationship between the men soured: Flinders was affronted at his treatment, and Decaen insulted by Flinders' refusal of an invitation to dine with him and his wife. Decaen's search of Flinders' vessel uncovered a trunk full of papers from the governor of New South Wales that were not permitted under his scientific passport. Decaen referred the matter to the French government; this was delayed not only by the long voyage but also by the general confusion of war. Eventually, on 11 March 1806, Napoleon gave his approval, but Decaen still refused to allow Flinders' release. It has been suggested that by this stage Decaen believed Flinders' knowledge of the island's defences would have encouraged Britain to attempt to capture it. Nevertheless, in June 1809 the Royal Navy began a blockade of the island, and in June 1810 Flinders was paroled. Travelling via the Cape of Good Hope, he received a promotion to Post-Captain, before continuing to England.

Flinders had been confined for the first few months of his captivity, but he was later afforded greater freedoms to move around the island and access his papers. In November 1804 he sent the first map of the landmass he had charted (Y46/1) back to England. This was the only map made by Flinders where he used the name "Australia" (in all capitals) for the title, and the first known time he used the word "Australia".

Flinders finally returned to England in October 1810 in poor health and immediately resumed work preparing "A Voyage to Terra Australis" and his Atlas of maps for publication. The full title of this book, which was first published in London in July 1814, was given, as was common at the time, a synoptic description: "A Voyage to Terra Australis : undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803 in His Majesty's ship the Investigator, and subsequently in the armed vessel Porpoise and Cumberland Schooner. With an account of the shipwreck of the Porpoise, arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and imprisonment of the commander during six years and a half in that island" . Original copies of the "Atlas to Flinders' Voyage to Terra Australis" are held at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia as a portfolio that accompanied the book and included engravings of 16 maps, and 4 plates of views, and 10 plates of Australian flora. The book was republished in 3 volumes in 1964, accompanied by a reproduction of the portfolio. Flinders' map of Terra Australia was first published in January 1814 and the remaining maps where published before his atlas and book. On 19 July 1814, the day after the book and atlas was published, Matthew Flinders died, aged 40.

On 12 April 1812 he and his wife had had a daughter who became Mrs William Petrie; in 1853 the governments of New South Wales and Victoria bequeathed a belated pension to her (deceased) mother of £100 per year, to go to surviving issue of the union. This she, Mrs Anne (née Flinders) Petrie (1812–1892), accepted on behalf of her young son, named William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who would go on to become an accomplished archaeologist and Egyptologist.

The naming of Australia and discovery of Flinders' 1804 map Y46/1

Flinders' map Y46/1 was never “lost”. It had been stored and recorded by the UK Hydrographic Office before 1828. Geoffrey C. Ingleton mentioned Y46/1 in his book "Matthew Flinders Navigator and Chartmaker" on page 438. By 1987 every library in Australia had access to a microfiche copy of Flinders Y46/1. In 2001–2002 the Mitchell Library Sydney displayed Y46/1 at their “Matthew Flinders – The Ultimate Voyage.” exhibibition.[16] Paul Brunton called Y46/1 “...the memorial of the great naval explorer Matthew Flinders”. The first Hard-copy of Y46/1 and its Cartouche was sent to Australia in February 2004, by the UK Hydrographic Office.

Flinders was not the first to use the word "Australia". He owned a copy of Alexander Dalrymple's 1771 book An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean, and it seems likely he borrowed it from there, but he applied it specifically to the continent, not the whole South Pacific region. In 1804 he wrote to his brother: "I call the whole island Australia, or Terra Australis" and later that year he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks and mentioned "my general chart of Australia." That 92 cm x 72 cm chart, made in 1804, was the first time Australia was used to name the landmass we know today. A map Flinders constructed from all the information he had accumulated while he was in Australian waters and finished while he was detained by the French in Mauritius. Flinders explained in his letter to Banks:

The propriety of the name Australia or Terra Australis, which I have applied to the whole body of what has generally been called New Holland, must be submitted to the approbation of the Admiralty and the learned in geography. It seems to me an inconsistent thing that captain Cooks New South Wales should be absorbed in the New Holland of the Dutch, and therefore I have reverted to the original name Terra Australis or the Great South Land, by which it was distinguished even by the Dutch during the 17th century; for it appears that it was not until some time after Tasmans second voyage that the name New Holland was first applied, and then it was long before it displaced T’Zuydt Landt in the charts, and could not extend to what was not yet known to have existence; New South Wales, therefore, ought to remain distinct from New Holland; but as it is requisite that the whole body should have one general name, since it is now known (if there is no great error in the Dutch part) that it is certainly all one land, so I judge, that one less exceptionable to all parties and on all accounts cannot be found than that now applied.

Flinders continued to promote the use of the word until his arrival in London in 1810. Here he found that Banks did not approve of the name and had not unpacked the chart he had sent him, and that "New Holland" and "Terra Australis" were still in general use. As a result, a book by Flinders was published under the title A Voyage to Terra Australis despite his objections. The final proofs were brought to him on his deathbed, but he was unconscious. The book was published on 18 July 1814, but Flinders did not regain consciousness and died the next day, never knowing that his name for the continent would be later accepted.

Banks wrote in a draft introduction to Flinders' Voyage, referring to the map published by Melchisedec Thevenot in Relations des Divers Voyages (1663), and made well-known to English readers by Emanuel Bowen’s adaptation of it, A Complete Map of the Southern Continent, published in John Campbell’s editions of John Harris's Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca, or Voyages and Travels (1744–48, and 1764):

It was not until after Tasman's second voyage, in 1644, that the general name Terra Australis, or Great South Land, was made to give place to the new term of New Holland; and it was then applied only to the parts lying westward of a meridian line, passing through Arnhem's Land on the north, and near the Isles St Peter and St Francis on the south: All to the eastward, including the shores of the Gulph of Carpentaria, still remained Terra Australis. This appears from a chart by Thevenot in 1663, which he says "was originally taken from that done in inlaid work upon the pavement of the new Stadt House at Amsterdam". It is necessary, however, to geographical precision that the whole of this great body of land should be distinguished by one general term, and under the circumstances of the discovery of the different parts, the original Terra Australis has been judged the most proper. Of this term, therefore, we shall hereafter make use when speaking of New Holland and New South Wales in a collective sense; and when using it in an extensive signification, the adjacent isles, including that of Van Diemen, must be understood to be comprehended.

Although Thevenot said that he had taken his chart from the one inlaid into the floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall, in fact it appears to be an almost exact copy of that of Joan Blaeu in his Archipelagus Orientalis sive Asiaticus published in 1659. It appears to have been Thevenot who introduced a differentiation between Nova Hollandia to the west and Terre Australe to the east of the meridian corresponding to 135° East of Greenwich, emphasized by the latitude staff running down that meridian, as there is no such division on Blaeu's map.

In his book, Flinders wrote:

There is no probability, that any other detached body of land, of nearly equal extent, will ever be found in a more southern latitude; the name Terra Australis will, therefore, remain descriptive of the geographical importance of this country, and of its situation on the globe: it has antiquity to recommend it; and, having no reference to either of the two claiming nations, appears to be less objectionable than any other which could have been selected.

...with the accompanying note at the bottom of the page:

Had I permitted myself any innovation upon the original term, it would have been to convert it into Australia; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.

So Flinders had concluded that the Terra Australis, as hypothesised by Aristotle and Ptolemy (which would later be discovered as Antarctica) did not exist, therefore he wanted the name applied to Australia, and it stuck.

Flinders' book was widely read and gave the term "Australia" general currency. Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales, became aware of Flinders' preference for the name Australia and used it in his dispatches to England. On 12 December 1817 he recommended to the Colonial Office that it be officially adopted. In 1824 the British Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.


Although he never once used his own name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders' name is now associated with over 100 geographical features and places in Australia in addition to Flinders Island, in Bass Strait. Flinders is seen as being particularly important in South Australia, where he is often considered the main explorer of the state. Landmarks named after him in South Australia include the Flinders Ranges and Flinders Ranges National Park, Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, Flinders University, Flinders Medical Centre, the suburb Flinders Park and Flinders Street in Adelaide. In Victoria, eponymous places include Flinders Street in Melbourne, the suburb of Flinders, the federal electorate of Flinders, and the Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College in Geelong.

Flinders Bay in Western Australia and Flinders Way in Canberra also commemorate him. There is even a school named after him: Flinders Park Primary School. Another school named in his honour is Matthew Flinders Anglican College, on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. A former electoral district of the Queensland Parliament was named Flinders. There are also Flinders Highways in both Queensland and South Australia.

.  Bass & Flinders Point in the southernmost part of Cronulla in New South Wales features a monument to George Bass and Matthew Flinders, who explored the Port Hacking estuary.

Australia holds a large collection of statues erected in Flinders' honour, second only in number to statues of Queen Victoria. In his native England the first statue of Flinders was erected on 16 March 2006 (his birthday) in his hometown of Donington. The statue also depicts his beloved cat Trim, who accompanied him on his voyages.

Flinder's proposal for the use of iron bars to be used to compensate for the magnetic deviations caused by iron on board a ship resulted in them being known as Flinders bars.

Flinders, who was John Franklin's uncle by marriage, instilled in him a love for navigating, and took him with him on his voyage aboard the Investigator.

In 1964 he was honoured on a postage stamp issued by Postmaster-General's Department[3], again in 1980 [4], and in 1998 with George Bass.

Flindersia is a genus of 14 species of tree in the citrus family. Named by the Investigator's botanist, Robert Brown in honour of Matthew Flinders.


A Voyage to Terra Australis, with an accompanying Atlas. 2 vol. – London : G & W Nicol, 18. July 1814
Trim: Being the True Story of a Brave Seafaring Cat.

Private Journal 1803–1814. Edited with an introduction by Anthony J. Brown and Gillian Dooley. Friends of the State Library of South Australia, 2005.
Flinders, Matthew (1806). "Observations upon the Marine Barometer, Made during the Examination of the Coasts of New Holland and New South Wales, in the Years 1801, 1802, and 1803". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 96: 239–266. doi:10.1098/rstl.1806.0012.
Flinders, Matthew (1805). "Concerning the Differences in the Magnetic Needle, on Board the Investigator, Arising from an Alteration in the Direction of the Ship's Head". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 95: 186–197. doi:10.1098/rstl.1805.0012

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Captain Matthew Flinders RN's Timeline

March 16, 1774
Donington, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
July 19, 1814
Age 40
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
July 23, 1814
Age 40
St James Burial Grounds, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom