Every year over 71 million people pass through Euston Station in London. It’s the southern terminus of the busiest passenger route in Britain and is the gateway from London North to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is one of the busiest railway stations in the UK. And there are plans to redevelop and expand the rail system here to make it even bigger and busier. This will double the number of seats available, and it will build the HS2 or High Speed 2 rail system to the major cities in the North. It’s a huge project and over 1000 people are at work on the sites around the station.
Now right near the main entrance to Euston Station is a new statue of a man kneeling down and beside him sits a cat. Who is this man with the cat and why is his statue here at Euston Station? Well, to find out, we need to go back hundreds of years.
About 2 kms from Euston Station is the famous St James Church, Piccadilly, in London’s West End. It’s a beautiful church, designed by the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, and it was consecrated on 13 July 1684. It was a popular church with many members, and by 1788 there was a need for more burial ground. So, land next to Euston Station was purchased as the church’s additional burial ground.
The new cemetery was used from 1790 to 1853 for about 60,000 burials. Then in 1887 the burial ground was closed, the majority of the monuments and tombstones were removed, and it was opened as a public garden, known as St James’s Gardens. The thousands of underground graves were left undisturbed until the High-Speed Rail Project at Euston Station bought the gardens for the construction of the HS2.
Before construction could begin, a team of archaeologists began to painstakingly remove and sift the soil of the old cemetery, in the hopes of finding artefacts or human remains that could be historically significant. The archaeologists worked under a massive white marquee just behind the station. Here, hidden away under cover, they methodically went about their work of excavating the site. The archaeologists were aware that the famous navigator and explorer Matthew Flinders had been buried somewhere in the vicinity of the station. But they realised that the chance of actually finding his grave was very slim – bearing in mind that there were over 60,000 graves here. Some said he was buried under platform 4; others suggested platform 12 or 15. Only a small portion of the bodies exhumed had been identified, so searching for Flinders’ grave was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
But then on the 25th January 2019, the unbelievable happened: The grave of Matthew Flinders was located. It was the most significant find of the entire excavation. The archaeologists identified Flinders’ coffin via a lead plate attached to the top. The plate was inscribed with the words Matthew Flinders RN. Died 19th July 1841. aged 40 Years.
Beneath the remains of the coffin, which had mostly disintegrated with age and decay, lay the skeleton of Captain Flinders himself. Though the skeleton was not in the best condition, it was carefully retrieved, washed, cleaned and sent to a forensic archaeology lab to undergo testing.
So, why is this statue here at Euston Station? Well, it commemorates Captain Matthew Flinders – one of England’s most famous sea explorers and the man who formally named the country of Australia. He was also the first person to circumnavigate the Australian continent and map its rugged coastline. Join us this week as we take a closer look at the life and adventures of Captain Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim, Down Under.
Matthew Flinders was born in 1774 in the small market town of Donington in Lincolnshire, just over 200kms north of London. The family lived in a small home on the edge of the bustling market square. This blue plague shows the place where the house stood. Matthew’s father was a doctor and had high hopes that his son would one day follow in his footsteps.
When Flinders was a young boy, he picked up a copy of Daniel Defoe’s epic adventure Robinson Crusoe. He devoured every word of the spellbinding tale, which conjured up images of sailing to distant shores in search of action and adventure. When he came to the end of the book, a single thought was firmly etched into his young mind: he was determined to be just like Robinson Crusoe, a seafaring adventurer conquering new and untamed frontiers.
His family and friends were less than pleased about his decision to go to sea. He came from a family of surgeons and his father was determined that he should become a doctor and tried hard to convince him to give up his seafaring notions. But the young Flinders could not be persuaded. Robinson Crusoe had left an indelible impression on his young mind and, as he wrote later in life, he burned with a desire to have adventures of his own and to make his mark as an explorer, discovering new lands.
Interestingly, in the years ahead, Flinders’ tenacity and drive would lead him to live a life of adventure much like his favourite literary hero, placing him in the same league as explorers like Captain James Cook and Captain William Bligh, both successful explorers and cartographers.
Despite Flinders’ desire to join the Royal Navy, he was aware of the fact that without the right connections it would be almost impossible for him to secure a position on board a ship. What he needed was a link to a senior naval officer who would be willing to nominate him for a posting. Providentially, he soon found such a link. His cousin Henrietta Flinders had been employed as a governess by the family of Captain Thomas Pasley. When Henrietta mentioned her young cousin’s ambitions, Captain Pasley asked her to invite Matthew to his home for a visit.
The short, overnight stay proved to be extremely fruitful. Captain Pasley was highly impressed with young Flinders and made arrangements for him to be placed as a lieutenant’s servant on board the HMS Alert, a 14-gun brig-sloop.
On the 23rd of October 1789, 15-year-old Matthew Flinders found himself walking up the gang plank of the two-masted ship and was immediately thrown into an overwhelming and fascinating new world.
After a seven-month apprenticeship on board the Alert, Captain Pasley was convinced that Flinders had the makings of a competent sailor, and he transferred him on board his own ship, the Scipio, a massive 64-gun ship which was an agile warship, sporting cannons mounted on two decks.
Sailing under Pasley’s command, Matthew soon learned the ropes and progressed rapidly. A year later he was transferred to a bigger ship, the 74-gun Bellerophon, which was also under the command of Captain Pasley. By now Flinders had risen to the rank of midshipman.
Over the next few months Flinders found himself in a holding pattern, quietly working through an endlessly familiar pattern with little excitement and even less time out at sea. He was frustrated by the lack of adventure and chafing to be out on the open ocean where the action was.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long. He was soon transferred to HMS Providence which was heading out on an expedition to Tahiti and Jamaica. Finally, he was being given the opportunity to have a taste of the adventures he had craved for so long.
Though the voyage was a far cry from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Flinders relished the opportunity to venture out into the unknown waters of the South Pacific and was equally excited about serving under the command of the famous Captain William Bligh. Bligh was known in Naval circles of the time for his adventures aboard his ship, the HMS Bounty. Bligh had lost the ship to a gang of 21 mutineers, all members of his crew, after it had left Tahiti in April 1789. After leaving England in 1787, the Bounty spent five months in Tahiti before setting out on the second and final leg of her voyage to the West Indies. Many of the crew didn’t want to leave Tahiti, where they had formed relationships with the natives and enjoyed the relaxed pace of life.
After three weeks out at sea a group of crew members under the leadership of Christian Fletcher mutinied and forced Captain Bligh and 18 of his loyal supporters on board a small open launch in the middle of the ocean, where they were set adrift.
The group of mutineers took the ship and hightailed it back to the Pacific where many of them settled on Pitcairn Island.
Meanwhile, Bligh and his ill-fated supporters managed to navigate their way across 3600 nautical miles of treacherous water back to safety. It was an extraordinary feat of nautical genius that turned Bligh into a hero overnight, bringing him to the attention of the King who favoured him with a special audience to congratulate him on his bravery and skill.
For Matthew Flinders, preparing to set sail with Bligh on what would be his second voyage transporting breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica was a dream come true. An opportunity to learn about sailing from a true master mariner. It was a strangely unlauded but significant moment of maritime history. A moment when history was unfolding in real time, shaping and chiselling a new master mariner, ushering in the new guard beside the old. Setting in place the final member of a famous trio to be recognised centuries later as three of the greatest seafaring explorers of all time; James Cook, William Bligh and the new fledgling, soon to break upon the pages of history: Matthew Flinders.
Being part of Captain Bligh’s successful voyage to the South Pacific proved invaluable to the young Flinders. Not only had they managed to successfully transport all the breadfruit trees to the West Indies, they had also discovered new islands along the way and successfully navigated and charted the Torres Strait. It had given Flinders the chance to be part of a historic venture, mapping more of the unknown world of the South Pacific, and it had also given him a taste of the swashbuckling adventures he had craved as a young boy.
When Flinders returned home, he found England preparing for war. France was embroiled in revolution. King Louis XIV was beheaded, followed by the reign of terror that saw over 40,000 people slaughtered throughout France. England prepared for war amid the uncertainty and the swirling rumours that France had set her eyes on an English conquest. The Royal Navy was hurriedly beefed up in an attempt to form a frontline to defend the English Channel.
Flinders was recruited by his old mentor Captain Pasley who was leading search and destroy missions out into the English Channel. Pasley invited Flinders to join him on board his ship, the Bellerophon, as an aide-de-camp.
After spending a brief period of time on the battle front, Flinders returned home and was given a posting on board the HMS Reliance, a 90-foot full rigged discovery vessel setting sail for the new penal colony that had been established at Port Jackson, in New South Wales.
Flinders had spent time in Van Diemen’s land, known today as Tasmania, during his voyage with Captain Bligh, and the prospect of returning to this uncharted territory excited him. His sole objective for the mission was clear cut: to explore this new southern frontier and to go where no European explorer had gone before.
During the voyage to New South Wales Flinders established himself as a skilled cartographer and navigator with an attention to detail. He also made friends with George Bass, the ship’s surgeon, a man who shared his passion for adventure and discovery.
Bass was three years older than Flinders and was also from Lincolnshire. He had managed to combine his love for the ocean with his love for medicine and was certified by the Royal Navy as a surgeon’s mate. The connection between Bass and Flinders was immediate and would prove to be lasting.
Before long Bass and Flinders had formed a plan to explore and survey Botany Bay and the Georges River, a major tributary that flowed down into the south-west corner of the bay and Port Hacking. They were granted leave of absence from their Naval duties, and the young explorers rummaged around for a suitable vessel.
They settled on a little boat that Bass had brought with him from England, stowed away on the HMS Reliance. The boat named Tom Thumb was completely open and not much bigger than a bathtub with a small sail attached. Taking the boat, they sailed towards Botany Bay. This bay was where Captain Cook first weighed anchor in 1770. At first, Cook had named it Stingray Bay, but later changed the name to Botanists’ Bay in honour of the excellent botanists on board his ship. The name was later shortened to Botany Bay.
Bass and Flinders completed their mission in nine days and pulled their little bathtub sized boat ashore without any major incidents. They went back to their lives as navy shipmen while they planned their next adventure.
Their second adventure called for a new boat, one somewhat larger than the Tom Thumb. They commissioned a crewmate, Daniel Paine, who had been appointed as the colony’s first master boat builder, to build them a new boat. Paine hurriedly built a new vessel which they christened the Tom Thumb II. They took the boat out on an exploratory trip along the coast south from Port Jackson to Lake Illawarra. During the trip they hit bad weather and were forced to take shelter at Wattamolla, a sheltered cove, south of Port Jackson.
After his two initial expeditions Flinders was forced to put his explorations on hold and turn his attention to his work as a Naval officer. He was sent on an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, to buy cattle. When he returned, he brought back a black cat he affectionately named Trim. In fact, Flinders was so fond of the little creature that he later wrote a short biographical novel about his little friend, where he described him as an extremely intelligent and brave animal. The kitten’s mother had been on board the Reliance as resident rat catcher when it had left England.
Then in 1798 the Governor of New South Wales commissioned Bass and Flinders to explore the stretch of ocean between Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania, and the southern coast of New Holland, the name which was first given to Australia. To complete their mission, they were given command of a 25-ton sloop named the Norfolk. The ship was not the most ideal vessel to take out to sea, but it was the best they had available and after making a few modifications they set sail from Port Jackson on the 7th of October, 1798.
Flinders was given authority to sail south beyond the known Furneaux Islands, a small cluster of islands off the northeast cape of Tasmania, and discover if Van Diemen’s Land was an island.
On the 2nd of November they approached Van Diemen’s Land and guided the ship through the small passage between Waterhouse Island and a larger area of land. Beyond that they discovered an inlet which they named the Tamar River.
Later in 1804 a little settlement would be established here on the banks of this river. At first named Patersonia after its founder Lieutenant Colonel Paterson, the settlement was later renamed Launceston.
Flinders and Bass continued around the coastline of Van Diemen’s Land, charting the topography of the island and discovering that there was a strait between the island and the mainland of Australia. When they returned home, Flinders recommended to the Governor that the small passage of ocean be named Bass Strait.
After sailing the Norfolk out on one more exploratory voyage which took him north up to Moreton Bay, in Queensland, Flinders returned to Port Jackson. In March 1800 he joined the crew of the Reliance and returned home to England, his beloved cat Trim travelling safely with him.
Soon after returning home Flinders wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, a renowned English naturalist, botanist and patron of the natural sciences, expressing his desire to continue his exploration of the coast of New Holland. Flinders told Banks that he would like to not only explore the coast but also chart it and asked that the government provide him with a ship for the purpose. Banks used his influence with Earl Spencer, who at the time was the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Earl Spencer spoke to the King and immediately secured a ship for Flinders. In January 1801, Flinders was given command of HMS Investigator, a 22-gun sloop originally used for war but retired from service because it was in poor condition.
Shortly after being given command of the Investigator, Matthew Flinders found the time to travel to Lincolnshire where he married one of his childhood friends, Ann Chapelle, on the 17th of April, 1801. The wedding was a hasty affair with not many family members in attendance. After the wedding Flinders was busy preparing for his voyage and wasn’t quite sure that his superior officers would take well to the idea of marriage, especially if it meant having a young bride on board an exploratory vessel headed for the very ends of the earth.
As it turned out, he was right. A month after they were married Flinders received a letter from Sir Joseph Banks telling him in no uncertain terms that the Lords of the Admiralty didn’t want him to take his wife to New South Wales with him.
Faced with the threat of being fired from his own exploratory mission, Flinders was stunned and tried to negotiate with the Lords of the Admiralty, but they wouldn’t budge. And so, with a heavy heart, Matthew Flinders left behind his new bride and sailed for Terra Australis on the 18th of July,1801.
On 6th of December,1801 Flinders reached the most south-westerly mainland point on the Australian continent and after a brief exploration named it Cape Leeuwin, after the first ship which was known to have visited the area; the Leeuwin or Lioness.
From there he made his way down to a bay nestled to the east of Cape Leeuwin, known today as Flinders Bay. He then proceeded to explore and chart the southern coast of the Australian mainland and stopped at Oyster Harbour in Western Australia. He continued steadily towards the east and on the 8th of April spotted Le Geographe, a French naval vessel under the command of Nicholas Baudin. Now Baudin was also exploring and charting the coastline of Australia on behalf of the French government. The explorers met together in a bay just off the coast of what we know today as South Australia. They compared notes and charts while discussing their voyages and the discoveries they had made. In honour of their meeting Flinders named the spot Encounter Bay.
Flinders next stop was Port Phillip, the site of what would later become Melbourne. He continued up the coast and arrived in Sydney on the 9th of May 1802. After a short break he set out again, surveying and charting the coast of Queensland. From there he sailed through the Torres Strait and along the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The ship began to take on water at this point, forcing Flinders to hurriedly continue his voyage and complete the first circumnavigation of Terra Australis in 1803. The term Terra Australis is Latin and means south land. The term dates back to second century legends which refer to Terra Australis Incognita or ‘a great unknown southern land’. Today Matthew Flinders is credited as the man who named not only a continent, but also a nation: Australia.
On their return to Sydney the Investigator was pronounced unseaworthy and condemned. Unable to find another ship to continue his explorations, Flinders decided to head home to England. Unfortunately, his new ship, the HMS Porpoise, was severely damaged on the Wreck Reefs in the southern part of the Coral Sea, about 1000kms/700 miles north of Sydney.
Later in 1803 Flinders took command of a new ship for the voyage back to England but was forced to turn into port at Isle de France, known today as Mauritius, in order to conduct urgent repairs to the ship. At this time England was at war with France and the French governor of the island immediately arrested Flinders as a spy.
While he was in prison, Flinders produced the first map of what he called the continent of Australia in 1804. He also began to write out the details of his adventures in Australia, complete with maps and charts detailing the terrain around the coastline, in a manuscript called, A Voyage to Terra Australis.
Flinders remained a prisoner on the island for the next six years, until finally the British negotiated his release and he returned to England in October 1810 in poor health. He lived in a house in Fitzrovia and continued work on his manuscript A Voyage to Terra Australis, which detailed his expedition and observations. He died four years later in July 1814 of kidney failure in London, and his book A Voyage to Terra Australis was published just the day before his death. He was buried in the additional burial grounds of St James’s Church near the current site of Euston Station in London.
But 200 years later, archaeologists discover his coffin in January 2019, and then
Flinders’ remains were returned to the St Mary and the Holy Rood Church in Donington, to be buried with his family. Inside the church you can see the beautiful stained glass etching of Matthew Flinders beside Joseph Banks and George Bass – as well as wall plaques featuring Matthew Flinders and his father and grandfather.
Also, in the church on display is the book A Voyage to Terra Australis, Flinders’ ground-breaking account of his adventures charting and mapping the new continent. This book provides significant insights into the new, virtually unexplored land Down Under.
Matthew Flinders was a man of action and adventure. He set out to explore new and uncharted frontiers with the hopes of making new discoveries and bringing back fresh insights of a great south land in a far-flung corner of the world.
The Bible is full of stories of pioneers and explorers. Men and women who ventured out in search of new frontiers in far flung corners of the world in order to bring fresh insights to those who lived in those distant lands.
The Book of Acts tells us of the exploits of the early church. Of men like Paul and Barnabas and Peter who travelled the length and breadth of the great Roman empire, always searching for new territory. But unlike Matthew Flinders they were not just looking for new terrain to explore. They were in search of men and women whose hearts were longing for hope.
Perhaps the greatest explorer of all time is Jesus. He left the safe confines of his home in heaven and came down to our earth. He sought out new territory and breached the perimeters of new frontiers. But the territory he sought was the embattled expanse of the human heart. He forged ahead with a deep desire to know and understand humanity: our joys, our sorrows, our trials. He was so interested in us that he became one of us, shared our lot and then worked tirelessly to help us find peace and hope.
Like the early church who followed his footsteps, Jesus was most concerned with bringing salvation to the uncharted regions of the human heart. He was absorbed with helping us understand our condition as sinners and offering us the solution to the devastation that sin brings.
Jesus is the ultimate explorer and he longs to come into your heart and explore the deepest longings that reside there. In Revelation 3:20 he says,
’See, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ Revelation 3:20 CSV
Jesus stands at the door of your heart knocking, asking for permission to come in and get to know you. He desires to understand you and help you to find the answers to the deepest questions that niggle in the quiet recesses of your mind. He longs to give you the answers to life’s most fundamental questions: Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is right and wrong, and where am I going? –Why don’t you choose to open your heart to him today?
Why not choose to study the Bible today so you can get to know him better and hear his voice speaking to you?
If you would like to know more about God and to reach out to Him, then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for all our Incredible Journey viewers today. It’s God’s word, The Bible. This book will change your life and help you find the answers to life that we are all looking for. I guarantee there are no costs or obligations, so why not make the best decision you can ever make and accept this free offer to receive your own Bible.
If you have enjoyed our journey in the footsteps of Matthew Flinders, and our reflections on the hope, peace and assurance that we can find in knowing God, then be sure to join us again next week, when we will share another of life’s journeys together. Until then, I invite you to join me as we pray to God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
we thank you for the love that you give us and for your book, The Bible, which can give us the answers to the big questions in life. We want to know more about you and so we reach out to you asking that you will guide our lives and give us hope, happiness and peace.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.