Blog post from Monday, 16 March, 2015

On this day, 16 March 1774, Matthew Flinders, the great sea explorer and the first man to circumnavigate Australia, was born.

Matthew Flinders was born on 16 March 1774 in Donington, Lincolnshire, England. In 1789, he entered the Royal Navy. He became a sea explorer, and arrived in Australia in the 1790s. Together with George Bass, Flinders completed much sea exploration around Australia, adding to the knowledge of the coastline, and producing accurate maps. Flinders, together with Bass, was the first to prove that Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania, was an island and not connected to the mainland. Flinders was also the first to circumnavigate the continent, and between December 1801 and June 1803, he charted most of the coastline of Australia. Australia was previously known as New Holland, and Flinders first proposed the name “Terra Australis”, which became “Australia”, the name adopted in 1824.

Flinders was captured by the French on the island of Mauritius in 1803. He was kept prisoner until 1810 on the grounds that he was a spy. He was finally released to return to England, but his health began to fail and he died young, on 19 July 1814. Before his death he completed a book on his travels called ‘A Voyage to Terra Australis’, and died on the day that his book was published.

See more in Discover collections at the State Library of New South Wales. In the Library’s collections are Memorabilia, including his hat and sword, plus mementos kept by his wife.

Matthew Flinders, ca. 1800 - watercolour miniature portrait