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Who Was Flinders?

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If you’ve strolled through Melbourne’s CBD, you’re sure to have spotted a recurring name – on streets, train stations – even a brand of bread. But who was Flinders?

Matthew Flinders joined the Royal Navy at the ripe age of fifteen and came to name the majority of Australia’s coastline. Oh, and for those of you who preferred being called New Holland, spoilers ahead.

Flinders first arrived at Port Jackson in 1795 as entourage to the governor of New South Wales, befriending ship’s surgeon George Bass along the way. Known for his cartography skills, Flinders was instructed to find a strait beyond the Furneaux Islands. Not only did he find the strait but named it after his fave navy surgeon, the Bass Strait forever paying tribute to the joys of high sea “bromance.”

Roll around 1801 and Flinders would find himself back in England with some sea-street cred and a new offer from the navy. Having just taken Ann Chappelle as his sea faring wife, Commander Flinders was once again heading back to “New Holland”, but this time with another type of booty.

With a sly middle finger to the Admiralty, Flinders didn’t much feel like leaving his new lady back home. Ann fearlessly stowed away below deck, only to be discovered shortly after the ship ran aground. She was promptly escorted back to England and the newlyweds would not see each other again for nearly a decade, bringing an abrupt end to the exotic honeymoon.

Flinders’ HMS Investigator would sail the coastline and run into French Captain Baudin, on a parallel mission of exploration. Sharing data freely, cause hey why not, the two captains would come to name nearly 70% of Australia’s coastal features. Flinders best flexed his own brand of creativity in naming the bay of his French encounter, Encounter Bay.

Wrapping up circumnavigation two years later, Flinders was taken prisoner by the French upon his return trip home. Even for a pro like Flinders, France and England at war plus an expired scientific passport equaled jail. He would not be paroled till 1810.

His publication of A Voyage to Terra Australis in 1814 challenged the name of New Holland. He justified the title of Australia as “being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.” The new moniker was a slow burn, eventually being adopted a decade later.

So next time you’re catching that train at Flinders Station, just remember an English Captain who shared in our identity, so we share his with the streets.


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