Early on the morning of 19 July 1814 Isabella Tyler, Matthew Flinders’ sister-in-law, went into his bedroom where she immediately saw that his spirit had departed and his countenance was placid and at peace. She stood at the foot of the bed for a few moments before going to fetch her sister. Ann, on entering the room went and kissed his cold lips in a heart-breaking moment, all was now over. Isabella made the funeral arrangements and on 23rd July brother Samuel supporting Ann led a small cortege to the St. James’ Churchyard off the Hampstead Road. Flinders’ daughter, Anne, would have been two years of age.
St. James’ Burial Ground where Flinders was interred belonged to St James’ Church, Piccadilly. St. James’ Chapel was adjacent to the cemetery and the funeral service would have been conducted there. There were several very large inter-connected cemeteries in the district covering an area eastwards from the Hampstead Road through what is St. James’ Garden, Euston Station and as far as St. Pancras today. During the mid-1800’s the expansion of the railways led to the closure of several of these cemeteries under the Extramural Interment Act of 1854 and the remains (of thousands) removed to a mass grave at Finchley.
Photo from DiscoveringSecretLondon.co.uk
However, any move of Flinders’ remains to Finchley can be ruled out as that activity came much later. It is a matter of record that his sister-in-law, Isabella, visited the burial ground in February 1852 (two years before the Interment Act of 1854) and found that the entrance had been changed and the grave, where he was laid to rest, had gone. A letter written years later by his daughter, Mrs. Petrie, says: “Many years afterwards my Aunt Tyler went to look for his grave, but found the churchyard remodelled, and quantities of tombstones and graves with their contents had been carted away as rubbish, among them that of my unfortunate father, thus pursued by disaster after death as in life.”
Research has shown that it is almost certain that his remains were moved to an unmarked grave (or just dumped) a short distance to the east and he now lie under Euston Station (platforms 12-15) or still under St. James’ Garden (with, it is estimated, thousands of others). Today, in 2014, the Garden is a small, quiet but unimpressive ‘green’ area immediately to the west of Euston Station (still owned by the Anglican Church of London but maintained by Camden Council).
© Copyright Stephen McKay
There are a small number of large tombstones remaining on the western side while the northern and southern boundaries are lined with a large number of small gravestones which appear to have been ‘stacked’ after having been moved from their original location. These headstones are becoming overgrown by weeds and are in such a poor state that any engraved inscriptions are mostly illegible.
For these reasons it was deemed sensible by the Matthew Flinders Memorial Statue Steering Committee, in conjunction with Network Rail, to site the statue within the confines of the rail station, rather than the Garden, where it will be seen by a large number of people and easily protected and maintained.