Flinders – father of the ‘great southland’

It has been estimated that there are about 200 statues in Australia alone of Donington’s most famous son, Captain Matthew Flinders.

Universities, medical centres, mountain ranges, streets and even suburbs are named after the explorer, scientist and seaman widely acknowledged to have been the first person to circumnavigate the Australian mainland in between 1801 and 1803.

Thomas Cowley High School, Donington, headteacher Martyn Taylor, Peter Lorimer, Dr Gillian Dooley of Flinders University, Australia, and Karen Major with Matthew Flinders tea towels and postcards on the night of a talk about the explorer.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

Thomas Cowley High School, Donington, headteacher Martyn Taylor, Peter Lorimer, Dr Gillian Dooley of Flinders University, Australia, and Karen Major with Matthew Flinders tea towels and postcards on the night of a talk about the explorer. Photo by Tim Wilson.

But this year, the 200th anniversary of both Flinders’ death and the publication of his landmark work, A Voyage to Terra Australis, the man regarded as having given Australia its name is still a relative unknown.

The fittingly named Matthew Flinders Hall on the site of Thomas Cowley High School, Donington, was therefore the perfect place for an attempt to put the record straight with a talk on Matthew Flinders: the Man behind the Map of Australia.

More than eight-and-a-half years after the unveiling of a statue of Flinders in Market Place, Donington, Dr Gillian Dooley of Flinders University, Australia, was back in south Lincolnshire on Tuesday night to acclaim one of her nation’s most revered heroes.

Dr Dooley, whose research of Flinders’ life began more than 15 years ago, said: “Matthew Flinders is well-known in Australia but I find myself having to tell people in England who he was and how he’s a kind of inspirational figure that Australians all know about.

Matthew Flinders: the Man behind the Map of Australia, a talk by historian Dr Gillian Dooley at Thomas Cowley High School, 'Donington.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

Matthew Flinders: the Man behind the Map of Australia, a talk by historian Dr Gillian Dooley at Thomas Cowley High School, 'Donington. Photo by Tim Wilson.

“Every city has a something major named after him but 
my talk concentrated on who Matthew Flinders was, coming from a position where I suspect that people know he was the captain of the first ship to circumnavigate Australia and what significant things he did for science and cartography.

“I wanted to talk about what makes that sort of person, a son of Donington, have that desire, ambition, determination, intelligence and a certain amount of stubbornness to do what he wanted to do.”

The simple facts about Flinders are these – he was born in Donington of March 16 1774, the son and grandson of doctors who wanted him to follow in their career footsteps.

Flinders attended Donington Free School, now Thomas Cowley High School, before going on to study classics and maths at Horbling Grammar School.

The unveiling of a bronze statue of Captain Matthew Flinders and ship's cat Trim by the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, with Shropshire-based sculpturer Mark Richards.  Photo supplied.

The unveiling of a bronze statue of Captain Matthew Flinders and ship's cat Trim by the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, with Shropshire-based sculpturer Mark Richards. Photo supplied.

A life in the Royal Navy came Flinders’ way in 1789 and two years later, Flinders joined the crew of HMS Providence under the captaincy of William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

But Flinders will be forever associated with captaining HMS Investigator which set sail for Australia on July 18 1801.

Dr Dooley said: “People may be proud of him already but so much of what Australia became is down to Flinders.”

Donington hero gets statue of bronze

More than 71 million people a year use London Euston railway station, according to figures from Network Rail.

From July 19 this year, commuters have been welcomed to Euston by a bronze statue of Captain Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim on the site where the Donington explorer is thought to have been buried after his death on July 19 1814.

The Flinders statue was sculpted by Mark Richards, formerly senior sculptor at Madame Tassauds UK, and unveiled by the Duke of Cambridge to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his death.

Writing in a programme for the unveiling ceremony, the Duke of Cambridge said: “While Captain Matthew Flinders has long been a household name on Australia, this beautiful commemorative statue will ensure that his life and work is better understood and more widely celebrated in the United Kingdom.

“It certainly deserves to be because Matthew Flinders was a remarkable explorer, scientist and seaman, instrumental in the naming of Australia, as well as promoting the world’s understanding of the great southland and all it had to offer.”