Who is Matthew Flinders (and why are so many places named after him)?

If you were to go to Donnington in Lincolnshire, England, and ask about Matthew Flinders, you would probably be met with a puzzled look. Although born in Lincolnshire, Flinders is more well-known and celebrated in Australia than he is in his native country. That’s right, lots of places might be named after him in Australia but he’s actually British!

Matthew Flinders, naval midshipman and cartographer, was the first man to circumnavigate Australia and identify it as a continent. Not only that but he was also the first person to use the name “Australia” in his 1814 book Voyage to Terra Australis.

The early years

Flinders joined the British Navy in 1789 when he was 15 years of age, incidentally the same time the French revolutionaries were using the guillotine to cut off the heads of their royal families.

He went on to sail with Captain Bligh (he of the infamous Mutiny on the Bounty) when Bligh was undertaking his second breadfruit voyage to Tahiti in 1792. It was there that Flinders discovered a passion for mapping and exploring the new lands before him.

In 1975, while he was on the HMS Reliance, Flinders and the ship’s surgeon, George Bass, undertook the task of surveying the land around Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour). Among the things they discovered was that Tasmania was an island and not part of the mainland, and when he returned to England, Flinders was determined to get up an expedition to chart the land of Terra Australis.

Circumnavigation of Australia

Financed by Sir Joseph Banks, Flinders set off in 1801 on the Investigator, a ship that was unfortunately not in a good state of repair. However, despite the leaks, he, along with a team of botanists and scientists, managed to circumnavigate Australia.

Flinders brought back to England 1500 species of plants that were new to science, which was not bad when you consider Captain Cook’s second voyage, also considered a botanical success, only brought back 350 new plants.

Iconic places named after Matthew Flinders

There are quite a number of streets and schools that have Flinders in their name, and those are just the beginning. Iconic places and landmarks that bear the name of Matthew Flinders are many, including the Flinders River, which is the longest river in Queensland, and the Melbourne suburb of Flinders.

The Flinders Mountains are the largest range of mountains in southwest Australia, and there is also Flinders Island, which is just off the north-eastern tip of Tasmania. Flinders Island is home to plants and animals that are found nowhere else on the planet, which, along with the breathtaking mountain ranges of the Strzelecki National Park, makes it a haven for visitors and tourists to explore.

Flinders Bay in New South Wales, the base for whalers, carries Flinders’ name, as does the Flinders Chase National Park. Home to a colony of long nosed fur seals, the national park plays host to some truly stunning natural features such as the Admirals Arch and the Remarkable Rocks.

Last but certainly not least, there’s Flinders University, which has produced some remarkable graduates including the writer/director Noni Hazlehurst and the director Scott Hicks, who went on to direct Sir Anthony Hopkins in Hearts in Atlantis, and is best known for writing and directing Shine, the Academy Award winning biopic of the pianist David Helfgott.