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Matthew Flinders
16 March 1774 ~ 19 July 1814


 


Born
16 March 1774 in Donington, Lincolnshire, England, the son of Matthew Flinders, a surgeon, and his wife Susannah, née Ward.
Early Life

He was "induced to go to sea against the wishes of my friends from reading Robinson Crusoe", 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.

Married

On 17 April 1801, Flinders had married longtime friend Ann Chappelle (1772–1852).

He had hoped to bring her with him to Port Jackson contrary to the Admiralty's rules against wives accompanying captains.

Despite these rules, Flinders brought her on board and meant to take her to Australia, though his attempt was discovered when his ship ran aground while they were below deck, subsequently he was chastised by the Admiralty.

As a result, she had to stay in England, and they would not see each other for nine years.

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.

Voyage to NSW

On his first voyage to New South Wales, in 1795 as a midshipman aboard HMS Reliance, 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.

On board the Reliance was 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.

Tasmania

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, 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

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.

Prison

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.

Naming
Australia

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

Death

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

 


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