The Captain’s treasures: Flinders’ letters and books join archival collection

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

National Archives of Australia (National Archives) has received precious items belonging to Captain Matthew Flinders, which will now become part of the national archival collection. 

Items include a signed letter penned by Flinders to his sister-in-law Belle Tyler, written aboard HMS Investigator on 29 April 1801 and his copy of ‘First voyage’, a 3-volume set of books produced by British publisher John Hawkesworth. These books include significant explorers accounts of travels abroad including James Cook’s Endeavour journal. 

Director-General of National Archives Simon Froude welcomed the donation into the national archival collection. 

‘Prior to the donation, the items were part of a private collection. Their arrival at National Archives marks the start of a journey to ensure the items are preserved and accessible for generations to come.’ 

‘These rare volumes almost certainly travelled with Flinders on his journey to Australia and during his circumnavigation of the continent from 1801 to 1803.

‘They feature notes by Flinders correcting Cook’s geographical descriptions and contain the first written European record of the language of First Australians in King George Sound, Western Australia,’ said Mr Froude.

The items provide a unique and personal insight into who Flinders the explorer really was.

‘We can clearly see he was using these books as a guide; constantly referencing Cook’s observations and noting his own travels side-by-side with Cook’s. So, what we have are two explorers, 30 years apart, surveying the same coastline.’ 

‘From the letter we get a sense of his close relationship to family, a young man starting out on his journey, sending a ‘locket of hope’ to his new sister in-law; a gentle and vulnerable gesture,' said Mr Froude. 

These unique records of Australia’s past were purchased at a Christie’s auction in London in December 2021 by philanthropist and supporter Barbara Mason, who has generously donated them to National Archives.  

‘I know this generous donation by Ms Mason will be seen as an important resource not just for National Archives, but a resource for all Australians,’ said Mr Froude.

Ms Mason is a keen supporter of National Archives, generously sponsoring the 'Putting a face to the name' Second World War digitisation project, helping to ensure tens of thousands of fragile photographic negatives of Australian service men and women are digitised and made accessible via National Archives’ website. 


Contact information

National Archives of Australia Media Team

Phone: 0417 247 157


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