World History Sources Logo
Finding World Histoy Heading Graphic

Keyword Search Graphic

Advanced Search GraphicAdvanced Search Go Button

Matthew Flinders Collection

State Library of New South Wales, Australia
Printer-Friendly Version

Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
October 2003

This site celebrates the life and work of Matthew Flinders (17741814), an English naval officer who made some of the first charts of the Australian coast and promoted the name Australia for that continent. Between 1801 and 1803, Flinders circumnavigated Australia in HMS Investigator, carrying out an extensive survey of the coastline. On his return voyage to England, he was imprisoned for six years by the French on the island of Mauritius in the context of the Napoleonic Wars. He published A Voyage to Terra Australis in 1814 and died a day after he received the first copy of the book from the publisher.

The primary sources are found in the “Matthew Flinders Electronic Archive,” accessed from the home page. The archive includes 13 manuscripts with more than 2,000 pages and more than 60 images of memorabilia, pictures, and maps. They have been digitized and are displayed in the form of Web books. The manuscript collection includes Flinders’s journals of his voyages in the sloop Norfolk (in which Flinders circumnavigated Tasmania, 179899), the first two volumes of the journal of HMS Investigator (180103), his private journal (started while a prisoner in Mauritius), three volumes of private letters, his public letter book, charts, and personal memorabilia. The third volume of the letter book also contains letters by Flinders’s wife, Ann.

The site is well laid out and easy to navigate. Material is arranged into “Manuscripts,” “Maps and Charts,” and “Realia.” The last of these consists of images of objects associated with Flinders that were preserved by his family after his death. Two key advantages of the site are its highly accessible presentation of charts and the manuscripts. The manuscripts are available both in facsimile form (with an option to access a higher quality image) and in full transcription. The charts are presented with an excellent zoom function that allows them to be clearly viewed in detail. A drawback of the site is that there is no search function.

To put the material in context, the collection includes a timeline of Flinders’s life and biographical details on relevant individuals. The biographical lists also include information on the Norfolk and the Investigator and on Flinders’s beloved cat Trim, who circumnavigated Australia, survived an 1803 shipwreck, and came to grief in Mauritius, where Flinders suspected he had been stolen and eaten by slaves. A short account of Flinders’s life, “Voyaging with Matthew Flinders,” allows access to material from the archive mentioned in the account, as well as to images of 23 “People and objects associated with Matthew Flinders.”

This site is well suited to any study wishing to place exploration and cartography within an imperial framework. Flinders’s journals cover important milestones in Pacific navigation by Europeans as well as (through his imprisonment in Mauritius) touching on the global conflict of the Napoleonic Wars. The inclusion of his letter books (as well as the letters of Ann Flinders after her husband’s death) also allows exploration of a private side to Flinders. The circumstances in which Ann Flinders’s letters were written would allow students to discuss the expression of grief in early 19th-century British society. She wrote, when informing connections in Mauritius of his death, “For more than twenty years, He was the Idol of my heart, the centre of my earthly happiness, & altho deprived of his dear society above nine years absence never for one moment weaned my affection.”

Students and teachers wishing to investigate this aspect of the explorer further can consult two recent edited editions of Flinders’s personal letters: Matthew Flinders: Personal Letters from an Extraordinary Life1 and Letters to Ann: The Love Letters of Matthew Flinders and Ann Chappelle.2 Matthew Flinders: Navigator and Chartmaker3 provides a detailed work of reference and interpretation. A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim4 by Matthew Flinders is also available in print.

1 Paul Brunton ed., Matthew Flinders: Personal Letters from an Extraordinary Life (Sydney: Hordern House, 2002).
2 Catharine Retter and Shirley Sinclair, Letters to Ann: The Love Story of Matthew Flinders and Ann Chappelle (Pymble: Harper Collins, 1999).
3 Geoffrey C. Ingleton, Matthew Flinders: Navigator and Chartmaker (Guildford: Genesis Publications, 1986).
4 Matthew Flinders, A Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim (Pymble: Angus & Robertson, 1997).

finding world history | unpacking evidence | analyzing documents | teaching sources | about

A project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University,
with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
© 2003-2005 center for history & new media