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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 on board 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. These charts are held in the Mitchell Library and you can view them here.
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.”
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. On this day in 1814, The day after his book was published, Matthew Flinders died, aged only 40, but already with an indelible place in Australian history.