HISTORIC AUSTRALIANS
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FLINDERS, MATTHEW (1774-1814),

captain in the navy, discoverer,

was born at Donington, Lincolnshire, England, on 16 March 1774. His father Matthew Flinders was a surgeon and a son of a surgeon, his mother's name was originally Susannah Ward. He was educated at the free school at Donington, which had been founded and endowed by Thomas Cowley in 1718, and at the Horbling Grammar School. In October 1789 he entered the royal navy having been in his own words, "induced to go to sea against the wishes of my friends from reading Robinson Crusoe". One friend who tried to restrain him was his uncle, John Flinders, who had himself been 11 years in the navy without having reached the rank of lieutenant. He concluded his letter of advice by saying that if the boy did decide to join he should study Euclid and the books on navigation of John Robertson and Hamilton Moore. It is probable that Flinders's early study of these books helped to make him the excellent cartographer he subsequently became. Flinders joined his first vessel, the Alert, in October 1789, from her was transferred to the Scipio, and in July 1790 he became a midshipman on the Bellerophon. In 1791 With his captain's concurrence he joined the Providence as midshipman, and served under Captain William Bligh (q.v.) who was making his second expedition to the South Seas. One of the objects of the expedition was to obtain breadfruit-trees for the West Indies, which was successfully accomplished in January 1793. Flinders had opportunities during this voyage of preparing charts and making astronomical observations, and generally fitting himself for the tasks he was to undertake later on. On his return he reported himself to his former chief, Captain Pasley, on the Bellerophon, and rejoined her. On her he took part in the naval battle fought off Brest on 1 June 1794, generally known in history as the glorious First of June. Flinders kept a diary and wrote in it a full and interesting account of this battle. He was never afterwards in action; his work was to lie in other directions.

In February 1794 Captain John Hunter (q.v.) was appointed governor of the infant settlement at Port Jackson. He sailed in February 1795 on the Reliance, and Flinders was on board as a mid- shipman. On the same vessel was George Bass (q.v.) as surgeon, another Lincolnshire man, with whom he became very friendly. Both were interested in maritime discovery, and soon after their arrival in Sydney began an exploring expedition along the coast and up George's River in a small boat called the Tom Thumb. The Reliance sailed for Norfolk Island in January 1796, and, when she returned in March, the two men, accompanied by a boy, made a second survey of the coast south of Sydney. They had bad weather and nearly went down in a gale, but found the entrance of Port Hacking and were back in Sydney nine days after their start. Flinders next went on the Reliance to Cape Town to obtain stock for the settlement, and as it was found on her return that the vessel was badly in need of repairs he had to remain on board, while Bass on 3 December 1797 went off on the voyage during which he discovered Bass Strait. In February 1798 the schooner Francis was sent by Hunter to rescue some sailors who had been wrecked on the Furneaux Islands, some 15 months before. "I sent in the schooner", said Hunter in a dispatch, Lieutenant Flinders of the Reliance (a young man well qualified) in order to give him an opportunity of making what observations he could amongst those islands." Flinders was then barely 24 years of age. He was away about five weeks, having discovered the Kent group and made a most interesting record of the bird and animal life found on the various islands. He also observed the strong set of the current westward which made him strongly suspect that a strait existed, but the terms of his commission did not allow him to investigate further. On his return to Sydney he discussed this with Bass who had just completed his famous voyage in a whaleboat which had practically settled the question, but it was not until September that the friends had an opportunity of putting it beyond all doubt. Hunter then gave Flinders command of the Norfolk, a leaky 25-ton sloop. Flinders and Bass were not inclined to grumble, they gladly received their commission "to sail beyond Furneaux Islands, and, should a strait be found, pass through it, and return by the south end of Van Diemen's Land". They started at daylight on 7 October 1798, and, having discovered Port Dalrymple, sailed through Bass Strait and round Tasmania, arriving at Sydney again on 12 January 1799. During the voyage much of the coast was surveyed for the first time, and Flinders's notes range from how best to bring a ship to anchorage in Twofold Bay, to an account of meeting Tasmanian aborigines. The discovery of Bass Strait, for so it was named after their return, was most important for it meant a considerable saving in the duration of ships' voyages from England. Flinders's next voyage along the southern coast of Queensland did not have important results, and in March 1800 he went back to England in the Reliance, now in a very leaky condition. He had been a midshipman when he left five years before and was now a lieutenant. His work was being recognized among the scientists of his time, and he had come especially under the notice of Sir Joseph Banks (q.v.). He dedicated to him his Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait, etc., which was published in 1801. He also wrote to Banks offering to explore minutely the whole of the coasts of Australia, provided that the government would give him a proper ship. Banks used his influence and Earl Spencer the first lord of the admiralty was sympathetic. On 25 January 1801 Flinders was given command of a 334-ton sloop the Investigator, and on 16 February he was promoted to the rank of commander. Unfortunately the ship was an old one and she had not been long at sea before she became very leaky. She was, however, well stored and Flinders had a specially selected crew of 83. Attached to the expedition were Robert Brown (q.v.) as naturalist, Ferdinand Bauer (q.v.) botanical draftsman, and William Westall (q.v.) landscape and figure draftsman. It is pleasing to know that though England and France were then at war, the French minister of marine and colonies issued a passport to Flinders, and, as the Investigator was on a voyage of discovery which would extend human knowledge, French officers were commanded not to interfere with the ship, but on the contrary to assist it if necessary. On 17 April 1801, Flinders was married to Ann Chappell, and hoped that his wife would be allowed to accompany hint on his voyage, but the lords of the admiralty would not agree and he was reluctantly obliged to leave her in England. He did not receive his sailing orders until 17 July, and it was not until 6 December that he sighted Australia. He immediately began making a complete survey of the southern coast. Others had been before him as far as a point near the line dividing Western from South Australia, but no one had done the work so carefully as he was to do it. From this point he was the first to record the outline of the coast and the map is now strewn with the names of people associated with the expedition from the first lord of the admiralty downwards. When the well-known names gave out he was able to use place names from his native Lincolnshire. He explored Spencer's Gulf and the Gulf of St Vincent and a few days later, on 8 April 1802, a sail was seen on the horizon. It proved to be Le Géographe, under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin, part of a scientific expedition sent out by the French government. The vessels hailed each other and Flinders had a boat hoisted out, and, accompanied by Brown who was a good French scholar, called on the French captain. They had an amicable interview and Flinders breakfasted with Baudin next morning. A few days later Baudin went to Kangaroo Island and Flinders continued his survey of the coast. His actual discovery work on this coast had been completed. Baudin had done the work from the mouth of the Murray eastward to Cape Banks, and Captain Grant (q.v.) in the Lady Nelson had followed the coast farther eastward until the turn towards Port Phillip. Flinders, continuing on his course in bad weather, found it prudent to keep well to the south and came upon King Island, which, however, had been discovered previously. With better weather he headed for the coast again, and on 26 April 1802 came to Port Phillip and congratulated himself on a new discovery, only to find on reaching Sydney that it had been discovered 10 weeks before by Lieutenant John Murray (q.v.) who had succeeded Grant on the Lady Nelson. Flinders carefully examined Port Phillip, but his stores were running low and in a few days he left for Sydney. He arrived on 9 May having completed one of the most important voyages of discovery in the history of Australia. Moreover he landed his crew in perfect health, a remarkable record in the days when scurvy was so great a scourge.

Flinders wasted no time before continuing his explorations, A few weeks were spent in refitting the Investigator, and on 22 July he journeyed north making many discoveries as he went. He passed through Torres Strait and skirted the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and, though his vessel was getting into a bad condition, he decided that there would be no more risk in continuing than in retracing his path. He eventually circumnavigated Australia and arrived at Port Jackson on 9 June 1803. His ship by now was in so bad a state that had they met with one severe gale it must have foundered. Another vessel had to be found and of those available the Porpoise appeared to be the best. She was not really a sound ship for exploration purposes, and it was decided that she should go to England with Flinders as a passenger, so that he might put his charts and journals before the admiralty and endeavour to obtain another more suitable vessel. On 17 August 1803 the Porpoise was wrecked about 740 miles north of Sydney. Ninety-four survivors were cast upon a small island little more than a sandbank. Fortunately a large amount of the stores was rescued, and it was decided that Flinders should take the largest boat available and go to Sydney for assistance. He started on 25 August and on his arrival the captain of the Rolla which was bound for China agreed to call at the island and take some of the survivors to Canton. The Francis was also sent to bring the remainder back to Sydney. Flinders took command of the Cumberland, a schooner of only 29 tons, so that he might sail for London with his charts and papers. Flinders was joyfully received on his arrival at the island, and with a crew of 10 he parted from the other relieving ships on 11 October and set out on his long cruise of 15,000 miles. He sailed through Torres Strait across the north of Australia and then south-west for the Cape of Good Hope. The little ship leaked badly and on 6 December 1803 he found that the only prudent course was to make for Ile-de-France (Mauritius). On his arrival he discovered that war had again broken out between England and France, but he had a passport which had been made out by the first consul and the king of England and hoped that all would be well. General Decaen, however, as governor of the island was not unnaturally suspicious, and first put Flinders under guard and then closely questioned him. Flinders unfortunately became affronted and declined to accept an invitation to dine with the governor and his wife. It is not improbable that if Flinders had accepted the invitation and talked the position over with the governor, his detention might have been short. As Flinders was so uncompromising, if not indeed even arrogant, General Decaen referred the matter to the French government which meant a probable delay of about 12 months.

Flinders was kept in close confinement at first and his health suffered, but on being transferred to what was known as the Garden Prison, a large house standing in two acres of ground, it improved again. No word was received from France, Napoleon had become emperor and Flinders's case was probably overlooked. He busied himself with improving his Latin, playing the flute, making a fair copy of the log of the Investigator, walking, and playing billiards. He received much courtesy from visiting French officers, and in August 1805 he was informed that if he wished he could live in the interior of the island. A home was found for him in the house of Madame D'Arifat at Wilhelm's Plains. He gave his parole that he would not go more than two leagues from his house, and conditions were made as pleasant as was possible for a man who was virtually a prisoner of war. He became friendly with his neighbours, was treated with kindness and courtesy, and having been given access to his papers, wrote the history of his voyages. Many efforts were made to bring about his release. A literary and philosophical society on the island addressed a memorial to the Institute of France with this object. The governor-general of India made a request to Decaen that Flinders might be released and allowed to go to India, and Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew tried to have him exchanged for a French officer. The truth may have been that Decaen was afraid that Flinders had learned too much about the condition of the defences of the island, and that if he were released a British expedition would have been sent to capture it. Even when he received in July 1807, what was practically an order of release, he decided as a matter of expediency for the good of his country, that he should postpone the carrying out of the order. Flinders might possibly have escaped but he would not break his parole, and his captivity dragged on. In June 1809 the British Fleet began to blockade the island, and early in the following year Decaen recognized that he could not hope to hold it much longer. Mr Hugh Hope was sent by the governor-general of India to negotiate for the exchange of prisoners, and on 15 March 1810 Flinders received a letter from him informing him that the governor had agreed to his being liberated. On 7 June he signed a parole agreeing not to act in any capacity against France during the war, his sword was given him, and on 13 June he sailed for India. He had been a captive for a little under six and a half years. A few days later he was transferred to the Otter which was going to Capetown, where he was delayed for some weeks. He arrived in England on 23 October 1810, after being away nine years and three months, and had an affecting reunion with his wife, who came up to London to meet him.

Flinders was well received in England. Banks gave a dinner in his honour, Bligh took him to see the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV, but he was anxious to get on with his charts, which are monuments of his unremitting care and knowledge. He completed the text of A Voyage to Terra Australis, but his health was failing towards the end of 1813, and he lived only long enough to see the book through the press. The first copy arrived on 18 July 1814, the day before he died, his wife placed it on the bed beside him, but he was not conscious of it. He died on 19 July 1814 at 14 London-street, Fitzroy Square, London, and was buried in the graveyared of St James, Hampstead Road. His grave is not now traceable. He was only 40 years of age, but the hardships of his voyages and the anxieties of his captivity, had made an old man of him. When he was 39 his wife wrote to a friend that he looked 70. He was 5 feet 6 inches in height, spare of frame, but well-proportioned. He had bright eyes and a commanding, almost stern look, which could not disguise the real kindliness of his character. One of the first things he did on his return was to procure the release of some French prisoners of war connected with families who had shown him kindness in his own captivity. He took great care of his men and their health, and, though he immortalized many of his friends by giving their names to geographical features of the coast, he never named anything after himself. He was the first to systematically use the name Australia, and after the publication of his book, the name was gradually adopted, although New Holland was sometimes used up to the middle of the nineteenth century. He was a great seaman who successfully brought ships home that were utterly unseaworthy, and was one of the great cartographers and discoverers of the world. When he died the applications of Banks and others for a special pension for the widow and the daughter that had been born in 1812 were refused. Mrs Flinders received no more than the trifling pension of a post-captain's widow until she died in 1852. In 1853 the governments of New South Wales and Victoria, not being aware of her death, each voted a pension of £100 a year to her with reversion to her daughter, Mrs Petrie. In her letter of thanks, Mrs Petrie expressed her extreme gratification that the pension would enable her "to educate my young son in a manner worthy of the name he bears Matthew Flinders". That son became Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) the distinguished Egyptologist. In 1877 Mrs Petrie presented the manuscript of her father's Narrative of an Expedition to Furneaux Islands to the public library of Victoria, and Professor Flinders Petrie also presented other valuable manuscripts relating to his grandfather to the same institution. The Mitchell Library at Sydney has a most important collection of Flinders's manuscripts, including two of the three volumes of the log of the Investigator, his private diary from December 1803 to July 1814, and four letter-books 1801-14. Most of these manuscripts were presented by Prolessor Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie. In addition to Flinders's two published books he wrote a valuable paper "0bservations on the Marine Barometer" which was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society In 1806. There are three statues of Flinders in Australia. One by W. R. Colton. R.A., stands at the west end of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, another by C. Web, Gilbert is alongside St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, the third is in North Terrace, Adelaide.