The return of Matthew Flinders


Friday 12th July
There will be a service to celebrate the life of Matthew Flinders at 11am which will be attended by approximately 300 schoolchildren from Donington and the surrounding villages. This will not be open to the public.

Saturday 13th July
The Reburial
This will start with a slow drive through the village by the hearse. The main party will assemble in the Marketplace at 2pm to parade to the church and will include Bishop Stephen Conway and Navy personnel. The road will be lined with Sea Cadets.

Attendance at this service is by invitation only and those who have applied to attend were chosen by random ballot on 16th March. There will be room for around 300 in the church, plus a further 100 in a marquee (with a screen) in the church grounds. After the ceremony there will be a handover of some Flinders artefacts to an Australian Senior Officer to take back to Australia. In the centre of Donington, mainly in the Marketplace and Flinders Park, there will be a range of entertainments with refreshments and stalls with a Flinders focus. These will continue into the early evening and will finish with a fireworks display.

Sunday 14th July
There will be a service at the church at 11am which will be open to all until the church is full. The service will reflect on the life of Matthew Flinders and will be led by Bishop Nigel Peyton. There will be a guard of honour by the Royal Navy and a display of Royal Navy Standards.

Words by:
Jane Keightley
Featured in:
June 2024

Jane Keightley charts the story of Captain Matthew Flinders, the Lincolnshire explorer credited for naming Australia, who will be reburied in his home village of Donington in July.

Having grown up just down the road from his birthplace, I have always known about Matthew Flinders and regularly drive past his statue in Donington. On the whole though he is not very well known in this country, but hopefully this will start changing now, as a historic event in Lincolnshire is set to capture his remarkable story.

Following the discovery of his remains in 2019, during excavations for HS2 at Euston Station in London, the people of Donington felt strongly that these should be reinterred in the village church and the ‘Matthew Flinders Bring Him Home Group’ was formed.

Thanks to their persistence and local support, three services will be held in July, at Donington’s Church of St Mary and the Holy Rood.

Historical significance
Captain Matthew Flinders led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with giving the country its name. He is very well known there and there are streets in every town named after him. He also appears on banknotes and stamps.

He was born in Donington, near Spalding, on 16th March 1774 and was the son of the local apothecary and male midwife. His father always hoped that he would follow in his footsteps but after reading Robinson Crusoe young Matthew was inspired to go to sea.

He was so scared to tell his father this and he left him a written message one day. His father was not happy about his son’s aspirations, but Matthew got his way in the end and entered the Navy as a Lieutenant’s servant in October 1789.

Flinders soon worked his way through the ranks, first becoming an able-seaman and then a midshipman.

Navy adventures
In May 1791 he joined Captain William Bligh’s expedition on HMS Providence, which was going to transport breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. Captain Bligh had done a breadfruit voyage previously on the ill-fated HMS Bounty and although this voyage was eventful, it ended up being a successful one.

Calling at a small island off the coast of what is now known as Tasmania, they gathered more supplies and met some of the local aboriginal people. This was Flinders’s first visit to what was to become the continent of Australia.

After successfully arriving in Tahiti, they loaded up with a great many breadfruits then headed off back west towards Jamaica. Having offloaded the breadfruits when they got there, they then returned to England with Flinders having been away two years.

Flinders’s next adventure was on board the HMS Bellerophon during the battle known as the ‘Glorious First of June’, a battle between Britain and France during the French Revolutionary Wars. After this he decided he would prefer to have exploratory commissions rather than military naval ones.

He next enlisted as a midshipman on HMS Reliance in 1795, which was heading out to New South Wales taking the recently appointed Governor. On this voyage Flinders made friends with George Bass, the ship’s surgeon, who was also a Lincolnshire lad. His brother Samuel was also on board on this voyage.

In between some of his adventures Flinders did get home to Donington to see his family. He and his father last met in April 1801, when he unexpectedly came home with a wife, a Miss Ann Chappelle of Partney. The couple were married in St Nicholas Church and the village maintains close links with Donington and the Flinders story. His father wrote: “I had no notice of intention, I am seldom consulted by my young folk, except on the need of raising money for them.”

After this he was promoted to commander and was chosen to command HMS Investigator. He was given the task to explore the south Australian coastline. He wanted to take his new wife along with him, but the Admiralty would not allow it and it would be nine long years before they were together again. He arrived in Southwestern Australia and started mapping Australia’s ‘Unknown Coast’. He was a very methodical and precise man, and his maps were very detailed.

Although Flinders did not have the company of his wife on this trip, he did have his faithful cat Trim, who was born aboard ship and definitely had more than nine lives – surviving falling overboard and two shipwrecks.

Unfortunately, the HMS Investigator started leaking badly and Flinders hoped to return to England on the HMS Porpoise to obtain another more suitable vessel to finish his surveying work. However, the Porpoise struck the Great Barrier Reef and he had to start out for England in another leaky boat, the HMS Cumberland.

However, the state of the boat forced him to stop at the French controlled Isle de France (now Mauritius). France and Britain were at war at that time and Flinders was arrested and kept there for six years. Finally, in June 1809, the Navy blockaded the island and in June 1810 he was freed. He was now promoted to Captain, but his health was deteriorating.

As soon as he got back to England in October 1810, he got on with writing his book A Voyage to Terra Australis and his atlas of maps. Sadly, Flinders died at 40 years old from kidney disease at his London home, 14 London Street, which is now the site of the BT Tower. He died the day after the book was published, so never saw it.

Laid to rest
He was buried in the burial ground of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, which was located some way from the church in Camden. By 1852, the location of the grave had been forgotten because of alterations to the cemetery. In 1878 it became St James Gardens and later was built over when Euston Station was expanded.

The Gardens were closed to the public in 2017 for work on the High Speed 2 rail project, which required the expansion of Euston Station. During the excavations, Flinders’s breastplate was located on top of his coffin, which was found along with 40,000 other skeletons buried there between 1788 and 1853. This put paid to the rumour that he was buried under platform 15.

It was proposed that his remains be buried somewhere that HS2 would decide, after they had been examined by osteoarchaeologists. However, they did not realise that the people of Donington would feel so strongly about bringing his remains back to be reinterred in the village church. The Matthew Flinders Bring Him Home Group formed and they were supported in their campaign by the British-Australia Society and Flinders’s direct descendants.

On 17th October 2019 it was announced by HS2 that Flinders’s remains could be reinterred in the Church of St Mary and the Holy Rood in Donington, where he had been baptised.

Permission was then given by the Diocese of Lincoln for reburial in the north aisle. Many members of Flinders’s family are buried in the churchyard, including his brother, father and grandparents. It was all going very well until Covid reared its ugly head and all the plans had to be put on the back burner until the pandemic was over. However, every cloud has a silver lining and during this time the Bring Him Home Group had managed to get a grant of £35,000 from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which would help a great deal with their plans.

A grave has now been prepared in the north aisle of the church and is now waiting for Flinders’s remains to return on Saturday 13th July. Lots of events are planned in the village over this weekend and there will be many members of the Flinders family attending the re-interment service, as well as high ranking officials from the Navy and Australia.

I am sure that Matthew Flinders would be very happy about returning to the village where he was born and grew up.

Written by Matthew Flinders

The best and the most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends
Faithful of servants
And best of creatures
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia
Which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers.

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