Mathew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was born in Donington, Near Spalding, Lincolnshire on 16 March 1774. As a child he attended Donington parish school and then Horbling Grammar School. While there he read Robinson Crusoe, which fired his imagination and made him want to be an explorer. At the age of fifteen he joined the navy and served on HMS Alert as lieutenants’ servant. Later sailing with the famous Captain Bligh on The Providence.

He sailed to Australia on The Reliance, establishing himself as a fine navigator and cartographer, and in 1796 explored the coastline around Sydney in a tiny open boat called Tom Thumb. In 1798 he circumnavigated Van Diemans Land (Tasmania) aboard The Norfolk, therefore proving it to be an island. The passage between Australia and Tasmania became known as the Bass Straight after the ships’ doctor, George Bass, and a large island was named Flinders Island.

He returned to England in 1800 and married Ann Chappelle, on 17 April 1801. She was the step-daughter of the Reverend W Taylor, rector of Brothertoft. The British Government asked him to return to Australia in order to make a detailed survey of the coastline. It had long been thought that Australia was a series of islands. He returned to Australia in command of The Investigator. Unable to gain permission to take Ann with him, he had to leave his new wife behind.


During the period between December 1801 and 9 June 1803 he proceeded to sail around Australia, charting and surveying the entire coastline as well as islands, bays and headlands. Flinders named many features after members of his crew. Memory Cove was named when eight members of his crew drowned whilst searching for fresh water. He named a beautiful harbour Port Lincoln after his home county. Sir Joseph Banks, the famous botanist, has a group of islands named for him. It was Flinders who suggested that Terra Australis be named Australia.

On returning to Sydney, he learned of his fathers death and that his wife was seriously ill. He set sail for England but was shipwrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. After rowing back to Sydney, he left again, this time aboard The Cumberland, taking all his maps and journals with him. They were forced to call in to Mauritius for repairs to the quickly deteriorating ship, not knowing that England was at war with France. He was interned by the French as a spy, and kept prisoner for six and a half years, being released in June 1810.

On his return to England, in very poor health, he started to write his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis. In 1812 his daughter Anne was born.

Matthew died on 19 July 1814; the day after his book was published. He was buried in St James, Hampstead. Ann died in 1825. His daughter later married, and her son Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, became a famous archaeologist and Egyptologist.

The Matthew Flinders Project was completed in 2001, the bicentenary of his journey. All his papers, journals, letters, diaries and mementoes have been made into an electronic Archive which will be held at the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Macquarie Street, Sydney, New South Wales, 200.

St Marys church in Donington hosts a display dedicated to Matthew Flinders. It includes a stained glass window, a bust and a first edition of A Voyage to Terra Australis. His brother Samuel, who accompanied Matthew aboard The Investigator, is buried in the graveyard there. A statue has now been erected to Matthew Flinders in Donington.