Remains of Flinders University’s namesake rediscovered

Archaeological find means tragic explorer will no longer ‘rest unnoticed’

January 25, 2019
Bust of explorer Matthew Flinders at Flinders University's Bedford Park campus

The unfortunate British explorer who gave South Australia’s Flinders University its name, and is credited with naming Australia itself, has been discovered under London’s Euston station.

The remains of navigator Matthew Flinders, reportedly identified thanks to a well-preserved lead breastplate, were found by archaeologists working on the High Speed 2 rail project.

Flinders was on the voyage that proved Tasmania was an island and later oversaw the first circumnavigation of Australia, proving in the process that it too was an island – not two, as had been suspected.

But on the way home he was detained in Mauritius for seven years, lost his health and died at the age of 40 – the day after the publication of his memoir, A Voyage to Terra Australis.

Flinders University claims inspiration from its namesake in its strategic plan, describing him as “a man of purpose” who explained his hazardous voyages by proclaiming that “I have too much ambition to rest in the unnoticed middle order of mankind”.

But historical quirks meant that he rested unnoticed for many decades. After he was entombed near his home in what was then St James’ burial ground, alterations to the churchyard obliterated his grave, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

“He was pursued by disaster after death as in life,” it notes. His remains are among those of thousands of people now being moved to facilitate construction at Euston, which will be a terminus of the high-speed line.

Flinders vice-chancellor Colin Stirling said that the discovery had ended a long-standing mystery, enabling its namesake to be honoured properly. “The great explorer can now be assigned a fitting final resting place where his legacy can be appropriately recognised,” Professor Stirling said.

“I’m very pleased that he can now be treated with the respect he deserves,” added Flinders honorary senior research fellow Gillian Dooley, who is scheduled to give a lecture on the explorer and his cat Trim in London in April.

“Even in death, after his short and unsettled life, he hasn’t been allowed to rest in peace in the English countryside, which is what he wished for. Let’s hope this can now be achieved.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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