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Matthew Flinders' journeys

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Matthew Flinders, (1774-1814), was the first man to circumnavigate Australia. His charts were so accurate that some are still in use to this day.


After sailing with the famous Captain Bligh on the Providence, Flinders' adventures brought him to Australia onboard the Reliance. In 1796 he explored the coastline around Sydney in a tiny open boat called Tom Thumb. He next proved that Tasmania was an island by finding and sailing through Bass Strait.

His most successful voyage came between 1801 and 1803 when he charted the coastline of Australia, completing and linking together other partial surveys to give us the first complete picture of our island nation. 

Flinders recorded his voyage on the HMS Investigator. Read more about his circumnavigation in the journals he kept on board the ship:
Matthew Flinders - journal on HMS Investigator, Volume 1, 1801-1802
Matthew Flinders - journal on HMS Investigator, Volume 2, 1802-1803

Flinders was later shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Remarkably, he managed to navigate the ship's cutter across open sea back to Sydney, a distance of some 700 miles, and arranged for the rescue of the marooned crew on Wreck Reef.

On the return to England in 1803 Flinders stopped off in Mauritius for repairs. Away at sea and without news, he was not aware that England and France were now at war and he was arrested as a spy on arrival in this French colony. His incarceration would last almost 7 years.

Later that year he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks mentioning "my general chart of Australia." He continued to promote the name but could not convince Banks to endorse it. As a result, Flinders' book was published under the title A Voyage to Terra Australis.

The day after his book was published in 1814, Matthew Flinders died, aged only 40, but already with an indelible place in Australian history.

Flinders lasting legacy is the name 'Australia' he gave to our country. He wrote to his brother: 
"I call the whole island Australia, or Terra Australis."

Matthew Flinders' mementos

[Matthew Flinders, ca. 1800 - watercolour miniature portrait] Lock of hair inside Flinders miniature
ca. 1800 (dated by a period of Flinder's residence in England)
Digital ID: 
a069002
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[Matthew Flinders, ca. 1800 - watercolour miniature portrait] Back of Flinders miniature
Digital ID: 
a069003
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About this item: 

This coat or sash badge appears to date from after 1812, when the Royal Navy introduced a new button design, which incorporated a crown above the traditional cable and anchor : see Dudley Jarrett "British Naval Dress" 1960, p. 65

Naval coat or sash badge, belonging to Matthew Flinders
ca. 1812
Digital ID: 
a064001
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Bicorn, or cocked hat, belonging to Matthew Flinders
ca. 1800
Digital ID: 
a068001
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Item 02-04: Shaving brush, mirror and glass dish belonging to Matthew Flinders
1800-1830
Digital ID: 
a071004
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About this item: 

Signatures / Inscriptions: On the top locket is engraved "Gibbens Portsmouth"

General Note: It is unclear if this is a navy sword: if it was one would expect to see an anchor somewhere engraved, either on its langets or blade. It is probably not a dress sword: Philip J. Lankester, Senior Curator, Royal Armouries, London.

It has not proved possible to accurately date the sword. The geometric blind embossed design on the scabbard was considered old fashioned by 1800 (see P.G.W. Annis, Naval Swords, Arms and Armour Press, 1970 p. 44), but the design of the stirrup hilt implies a ca. 1800, or later, date.

William Gibbons was a Portsmouth sword cutler who was working at the end of the eighteenth century : see W.E. May & P.G.W. Annis, Swords for Sea Service, London, 1970 vol. 2 p. 326

Sword : said to have belonged to Matthew Flinders
c. 1800
Gibbons, William
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Digital ID: 
a066001
Item 05: Box of pressed flowers and locks of hair collected by Ann Flinders
1800-1830
Digital ID: 
a075037
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Item 01: Wooden chess set belonging to Matthew Flinders
1800-1830
Digital ID: 
a073002
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