Matthew Flinders was born on the 16th of March 1774 in Donington Lincolnshire. He was academically very bright and was expected to follow his father in the medical field. Matthew had other ideas and had the urge to go to sea. He was advised by his cousin John Flinders a Royal Navy lieutenant to study surveying. This he did and became adept.
Reluctantly Matthew’s father agreed to his son’s wishes and on the recommendation of a Captain Thomas Pasley he was accepted into the Royal Navy. He was aged fifteen which was quite old for joining the service.
Initially he was assigned to HMS Alert. An inshore posting at Chatham Dockyards. This lasted for six months and he served as a lieutenant’s servant. It gave him a good grounding into the ways of the Navy.
In the May aged sixteen he joined HMS Scipio under the command of his patron Captain Thomas Pasley. He was enrolled as an able seaman.
(The Scipio was a 64 gun Crown class ship of the line.)
After a few days Captain Pasley moved to the Bellerophon and took Matthew with him as a mid-shipman. Matthew spent eight months cruising the homeland waters.
(The Bellerophon nick named the Billy Ruffian was a 74 gun Arrogant Class ship of the line with a crew of 550.)
On the recommendation of Captain Pasley Matthew joined HMS Providence under the command of Captain William Bligh. Matthew was aboard from 1791-1793 when the ship carried out the successful 2nd Bread Fruit voyage to the West Indies. The voyage was also to examine the Torres Strait separating New Holland from New Guinea. During this voyage Matthew made his first visit to Australia when they landed at Adventure Bay Tasmania.
Matthew was encouraged to use his charting skills under the guidance of Master Mariner Captain William Bligh.
(HMS Providence was a 10 gun sloop of war with a crew of 100.)
In the September after a two year voyage Matthew re-joined Captain Pasley on board HMS Bellerophon. The following year he distinguished himself whilst fighting the French at the Battle of the Glorious First of June.
Matthew joined HMS Reliant as a mid-shipman. This was to be his first voyage to Port Jackson. On board he met up with the ship’s surgeon George Bass and together as well as separately they would explore the coast’s of New South Wales and Tasmania, culminating in the circumnavigating of the latter in 1798-99 and the drawing of its first map, which was published in 1800.
The early exploratory voyages were carried out in Tom Thumb 1 & 2. These were small open sailing dinghies.
(HMS Reliant was a Discovery vessel with a crew of 59.)
Matthew was now a lieutenant in command of the Norfolk.
(The Norfolk was a 25 ton Colonial sloop.)
Matthew in Command of the Investigator.
Investigator returns to Port Jackson in an unseaworthy condition.
(HMS Investigator was launched in 1895 as a civilian collier called the Fram. In 1798 it was renamed the Xenophon before finally becoming the Investigator in 1801. It was a 22 gun sloop-of-war with a crew of 88.)
Matthew Flinders was anxious to complete the surveys outlined by the Admiralty. With another ship being unavailable in Port Jackson he decided to return to England to find something suitable. In August he set sail as a passenger aboard HMS Porpoise in convoy with the Cato and Bridgewater. Soon after leaving the Porpoise and the Cato struck a reef and were lost. With the exception of three young boys all the crews from both vessels managed to get on to a sandbank. A lot of food, water and materials were salvaged enabling a camp to be set up. The remaining ship the Bridgewater hung around for a while before inexplicably leaving the area.
Flinders being the most senior officer took command of a ship’s cutter which along with a small crew he navigated back the 700 miles to Port Jackson. This was a truly great achievement. Having arranged for relief vessels all of the wrecked shipmates were rescued.
Flinders sailed in the 29 ton schooner the Cumberland in which he intended to return with his charts to England.
The schooner soon proved totally unfit for service, needing almost constant pumping to keep her afloat. With this in mind he decided to seek assistance in Mauritius. Although England was at war with the French his passport should have guaranteed him safe passage.
This was not to be the case and he was detained and accused of being a spy. All told he was held under house arrest for six and a half years.
On the 14th of June Flinders sailed via the Cape of Good Hope for England arriving on the 24th of October. He travelled initially in the Otter and the rest of the journey in the Olympia.
Flinders only returned to sea in home waters where he persevered with his works on the problems of inaccuracies in ship’s compasses. This he eventually solved with the invention of the Flinders Bar.