Final voyage of explorer who named Australia as excavated remains to return home

The last voyage of a Royal Navy explorer credited with giving Australia its name will see his remains returned to the village where he was born, it has been announced.

The remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, who led the first circumnavigation of Australia, were discovered by experts excavating St James’s burial ground, Euston, London, for the new High Speed rail project.

Following a request by descendants of the Flinders family and the local community that he be returned to his home village of Donington, Lincolnshire, HS2 Ltd’s chief executive Mark Thurston has written to the family to say he can be buried there.

His final resting place, more than 200 years after his death, will be at the Church of St Mary and the Holy Rood in Donington, near Spalding, where he was baptised, and where many members of his family are buried.

The move has been supported by the Church of England’s Diocese of Lincoln, which has given consent to the reburial at the parish church.

The Rt Rev Dr David Court, acting Bishop of Lincoln, said: “It is an honour for both the church and the diocese that we will be able to welcome home one of Lincolnshire’s great explorers.”

In his will Captain Flinders, who joined the Navy aged 15, left instructions for the erection of four marble slabs in the church to commemorate him and his forefathers, while there is also a display and a stained glass window marking his life.

Captain Matthew Flinders statue unveiling
The Duke of Cambridge after unveiling a statute in honour of Captain Matthew Flinders, the first cartographer to circumnavigate Australia and identify it as a continent, at Australia House, London (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

The Rev Charles Robertson, Vicar of St Mary and the Holy Rood, said: “It is with great honour and joy that we received the good news that the mortal remains of Captain Matthew Flinders will come to Donington.

“It is a privilege to welcome home this great explorer to rest in peace in his home church.”

Helen Wass, HS2 head of heritage, said: “It is fitting that the last voyage of Captain Matthew Flinders will be back to the village of Donington where he grew up and we are pleased to be playing our part in his last journey.

“This local boy from Donington put Australia on the map due to his tenacity and expertise as a navigator and explorer.”

Captain Matthew Flinders remains
The breast plate of Captain Matthew Flinders’ coffin identified his remains (HS2 Ltd/PA)

Captain Flinders made several significant journeys, notably as commander of HMS Investigator which he navigated around the entire coast of Australia, the first known person to do so, confirming it as a continent.

He is also credited with giving Australia its name, although he was not the first to use the term, with his work popularising its use.

Tens of thousands of skeletons will be removed from the burial ground where the station for the HS2 rail route will be built, and re-interred at another consecrated site which is yet to be announced.

Archaeologists conducting the dig were not confident they would find Captain Flinders among the 40,000 people interred there, as the headstone marking his resting place had been removed during expansion of the station in the 1840s.

But the experts were able to identify the remains of the explorer, who was buried in the burial grounds on July 23 1814, by the lead depositum plate, or breast plate, placed on top of his coffin.

A specialist team from HS2 will transfer the remains to the Diocese of Lincoln for safekeeping until further burial arrangements can be made, which will be announced at a later date.

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