Matthew Flinders statueMatthew Flinders was a naval navigator, chart maker, and explorer who was the first person to circumnavigate the Australian Continent (New Holland) in the ship ‘Investigator’, in 1802. It was also Matthew Flinders who suggested that the continent take on the name “Australia” which was later adopted in 1824.

Matthew Flinders was born at Donington in Lincolnshire, England. Flinders, wanting to become an explorer after being enthralled by the novel Robinson Crusoe, joined the navy and trained as a navigator. He first ventured to Australia on the ship, ‘Reliance’ in 1795. On the voyage, he became friends with George Bass, the ship’s surgeon.

Van Dieman’s Land

In 1796, Flinders, along with Bass, explored the coastline south of Sydney in the sloop ‘Norfolk’. In 1798, Bass and Flinders convinced Governor Hunter to fund an expedition to Norfolk, through the Bass Straits, which was previously-unknown (later to be named in honour of George Bass), and around Van Dieman’s land (Tasmania). The successful expedition was to prove once and for all that Van Dieman’s land was in fact an island.

Circumnavigate Australia

In 1800 Flinders returned to England and married. In 1801 the British Government invited Flinders to head an expedition to circumnavigate Australia and chart the coastline. He sailed back to Australia as commander of the HMS Investigator and set sail from Sydney in July 1802. By June 1803 he returned to Sydney, having charted the east coast, Western Australia’s coastline (to include Cape Leeuwin and King George Sound) and the Gulf of Carpentaria and successfully circumnavigated Australia. Flinders’s charts were very precise and accurate and were used for many years following his expedition.

Final Chapter

On Flinders return to England in 1803 he was interned by the French in Mauritius charged as a spy. He was not released until 1810. During this time England was at war with France (Napoleonic Wars). Shortly before Flinders’s death in 1814 he completed a book, ‘Voyage to Terra Australis’. Terra Australis meaning southern land which was derived from the word “auster” which was a Latin name for southern wind. Flinders died at the age of forty on the day his book was published.

Things You May Not Know About Matthew Flinders

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia, the Flinders River in Queensland, and Flinders Island were named after Matthew Flinders.
Matthew Flinders’s grandson, Sir Matthew Flinders Petrie, was an archaeologist who was credited for working out the units of measurement used by the builders of Stonehenge and for devising the method of dating archaeology sites by dating objects.