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Matthew Flinders: Chart of Terra Australis - North Coast. Sheet I

Map: AUNZ2777
Cartographer: Matthew Flinders
Title: Chart of Terra Australis - North Coast. Sheet I
Date: 1814
Published: London
Width: 37 inches / 94 cm
Height: 24 inches / 61 cm
Map ref: AUNZ2777
Highly detailed chart of the Torres Strait between Cape York and New Guinea from the surveys taken during the first circumnavigation of Australia in H.M.S. Investigator. Out of all the charts presented by Flinders in his survey, this particular one best encapsulates the extraordinary dangers faced by explorers during the Age of Sail and before. At its narrowest point, the distance between Cape York and New Guinea is 150km; the seas between are also extremely hazardous both in terms of currents and reefs. The chart does not show the currents but it does give an accurate impression of the sheer amount of navigational hazards with which ships have to contend there even to this day.

As well as showing his own ship’s route, Flinders also charts the routes his later voyage on the H.M.S. Cumberland to England, that of Captain William Bligh on his second “Breadfruit Voyage” in the ships Providence and Assistant, the route of Cook in the Endeavour and the route of H.M.S. Pandora under Captain Edward Edwards. The latter shows the most dangerous aspect of the straits. The ship had been sent to detain the mutineers on the H.M.S.“Bounty” and upon its return journey with some of the mutineers in the brig, ran onto the Great Barrier Reef. The ship sank but ninety-nine of its crew including ten mutineers were able to launch four open boats and sail to Kupang in Timor, arriving there after 17 days on the open seas.

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 [AUNZ2777]