Captain Matthew Flinders, 1774-1814

Print, bearing the caption: 'Captain Flinders R N. Autograph copy of Parole on his release from six years Captivity in the Isle of Mauritius'. This is a late 19th- or early 20th-century photo-lithographic facsimile of Flinders's manuscript parole undertaking, to which his portrait has been attached above from a print illustrating the biography published in the 'Naval Chronicle', 1814 (July-Dec, pp. 177-91, facing p. 177), following his death on 19 July that year, aged 40 (he was born on 16 March 1774). The original miniature from which the print was taken was painted when he was 27, just after being promoted commander in February 1801 and before he sailed for Australia in the 'Investigator' that July, when it was left in possession of his wife.

It is now in the State Library of New South Wales and shows him in the dress of a master and commander RN, 1795-1812 pattern: that is, wearing a normal captain's coat but with the commander's rank distinguished by the epaulette worn on the left shoulder. (A captain of under three years' seniority would wear a single epaulette on the right shoulder and, over three years', on both shoulders.) The text reads: 'I undersigned, captain in His Britannic Majesty's navy, / having obtained leave of His Excellency the captain-general [of Mauritius] to return in / my country by way of Bengal, Promise on my word of honour not to / act in any service which might be considered as directly or indirectly hostile / to France or its Allies during the course of the present war, / Port Napoleon [i.e. Port Louis], Isle de France, 7th June 1810, / (signed) Matthw Flinders'. Flinders left Mauritius for Bombay on 13 June but, meeting with the blockading squadron off the island, transferred to the 'Otter' bound to Cape Town, and from there reached Portsmouth on 24 October 1810. As soon as his release was known of in Britain, he was promoted to captain with seniority dated back to 7 May 1810, though the strong case that it should have been to 1804 (i.e. as if he had not been taken into captivity while homeward bound from his circumnavigation of Australia) was not successful, since it would have required an Order in Council, which the Admiralty board was unwilling to seek.

Flinders spent the rest of his life writing up his 'Voyage to Terra Australis' in steadily declining health. He just lived to see a copy sent immediately to him before he died the day after it was published and was interred in the detached burial ground of St James's, Piccadilly, just west of modern Euston Station. His grave had been lost by 1852 when this was closed and, in 1887, remodelled as St James's Gardens. These closed in 2017 before archaeological investigation and clearance of some 40,000 burials began later in the year, in preparation for the new HS2 station extension to Euston. In January 2019 it was announced that his remains had been found, identified by his well-preserved and decorated lead coffin-plate, engraved 'Captn. Matthew / Flinders R N / Died 19 July / 1814 / Aged 40 Years'. Flinders widow, Anne (with whom he had a daughter, also Anne, aged two at his death), later remarried and was also mother to Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the eminent Egyptologist.

Object Details

ID: PAF3511
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Saunders, Hargrove
People: Flinders, Matthew
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Primary support: 509 mm x 324 mm; Mount: 560 mm x 406 mm

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