Friday, 28 January 2011

Matthew Flinders and his map of Australia

Australians are demanding that Britain hands back a map of the country drawn by explorer Matthew Flinders in 1804. Often referred to as the nation's 'birth certificate' on account of the fact that it's the first map to refer to the land mass as Australia, it is currently currently kept at the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) in Taunton, Somerset - but is not on display.

In 1798, Lincolnshire born Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, who had studied navigation and cartography under William Bligh joined Royal Navy surgeon George Bass on a voyage around Van Diemen's Land, charting its coasts and proving that it was separate from the main continent. From 1802 to 1803 he circumnavigated the continent aboard the Investigator, filling in many unknown stretches of coast on the charts. Flinders's map, produced while he was detained by the governor of Mauritius from 1803-10, was the first to call the continent Australia. The name was adopted by the British Admiralty in 1824.Flinders died in 1814.

Australian MP Greg Hunt has written to the Dr Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary, asking for his assistance and has started a petition calling for the return of the map to Australia. However, the Daily Telegraph reports that UKHO's response to the request was to say: "Matthew Flinders was a Commander in Her Majesty's Royal Navy on board the HMS Investigator and, as such, the UK Government holds it as a public record and [it] is officially part of the UK National Archives."

Matthew Flinders's Voyage to Terra Australis can be read here and for a little more information about him see this Manchester Guardian piece that appeared on July 21 1919:

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