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Matthew Flinders: General Chart of Terra Australis or Australia

Map: tempMid
Cartographer: Matthew Flinders
Title: General Chart of Terra Australis or Australia
Date: 1814
Published: London
Width: 37 inches / 94 cm
Height: 24 inches / 61 cm
Map ref: AUNZ2774
Iconic map of Australia with the first use of the name "Australia", showing the first circumnavigation of the landmass and the basis on which Flinders formulated the theory that it was a new continent. Flinders worked on his charts and papers while a prisoner on Mauritius and when he finally returned to England, suggested the name Australia to the Admiralty. It was rejected but Governor Macquarie had been informed of this nomenclature and began using it regularly in his correspondence. Reluctantly the Admiralty changed their minds and accepted the name but not until ten years after the death of Flinders, in 1824.

The map is a truly remarkable geographical achievement and integrates all of the surveys in which Flinders participated, with the greatest prominence given to the work of H. M. S. Investigator. Other routes are also shown, including the two ill-fated attempts by Flinders to reach England, on H.M.S. Porpoise and H.M.S. Cumberland.

Finally, as noted above, this is the first use of the name “Australia” on a map. It was a name chosen quite carefully by Flinders and avoided any political implications for the two European powers claiming the landmass at the time, Great Britain and Holland, Flinders was also determined to promote his theory that Australia was a new continent and he aligned the name to match the existing continental names, Europa, Africa, Asia and America. Despite initial reluctance on the part of the Admiralty, the name was widely adopted and is still in use today. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this map is Australia’s birth certificate.

Matthew Flinders (1774-1814)

Matthew Flinders was one of the greatest navigators and explorers of the early 19th century. He sailed to the Pacific three times and, on his second voyage, was the first person to record that Tasmania was an island and not part of the Australian landmass.

His third and final voyage was his longest and greatest, being also the first full circumnavigation of Australia. Lasting from 1801-3, Flinders, now in command of the sloop H.M.S. Investigator, began a detailed survey of the coast of the new continent from Cape Leuwin in the southwest. He surveyed the south coast, and then turned north to record the coasts of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. He reached the northwest coast of the Gulf of Carpenteria, before he was forced to abandon the project due to the increasingly poor condition of his ship. He rounded the west coast and returned to Sydney in 1803.

In Sydney H.M.S. Investigator was condemned as unseaworthy and decommissioned, requiring Flinders to find an alternative route home. He made two attempts to return to Great Britain: the first, on H.M.S. Porpoise, resulted in a shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef and a heroic 800 mile journey back to Sydney. On his second attempt, on H.M.S. Cumberland, the condition of the ship was so dangerous that they were forced to dock at the French-owned Ile de France (Mauritius) in December of 1803. France and Britain had recently resumed hostilities in the Napoleonic Wars, and Flinders was taken prisoner by the French governor of Mauritius. He was imprisoned for five years and seven months, remaining on the island until 1810 when he was exchanged for a captured French officer by an English fleet blockading the island.

Flinders finally reached Great Britain in October, 1810, and after a period of recovery he began to prepare his papers for publication. His account of the voyage, which was published in 1814, included an atlas of sixteen charts pertaining to his coastal survey. It remains one of the greatest and most important accounts of Pacific exploration. Sadly, Flinders, whose health had been shattered, did not live to see their success, passing away just before the work was issued, at age 40. SL [AUNZ2774]