Personal letters and volumes of Captain Matthew Flinders find a home at National Archives of Australia

Thursday, 17 March 2022

National Archives of Australia will be receiving a significant gift of records relating to the first inshore circumnavigation of Australia by navigator and cartographer Captain Matthew Flinders in the early 1800s. Flinders is credited as the first to use the name 'Australia' to describe the continent, helping to enter the word into common usage.

National Archives’ Steven Fox, Assistant Director-General, Collection Management, welcomed the donation. He said, 'The records not only provide a unique insight into one of the great seafaring explorers, but also into early encounters with First Australians'.

'They complement the National Archives’ vast and unique collection documenting our national memory. Alongside items in the collections of other national cultural institutions, these records will help to inform how we understand Captains Flinders’ journey.'

The records in the gift include a signed letter to his sister-in-law Belle Tyler, written aboard HMS Investigator on 29 April 1801, and his copy of ‘First voyage’, including James Cook’s Endeavour journal information by British publisher John Hawkesworth. 

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.

Two Aboriginal men, Bungaree and Nanbaree accompanied Flinders as he chartered the coastline, to help him navigate cultural protocols.

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 the National Archives to share with all Australians.

Miss Mason made a generous $1 million donation in support of the National Archives in mid-2021, ensuring that tens of thousands of fragile photographic negatives of Australian service men and women are digitised and made accessible as part of the Archive’s 'Putting a face to the name' World War II digitisation project.

'This recent acquisition will allow the National Archives to diversify the collection ensuring that the memories for our nation is preserved for future generations,' said Mr Fox.

The announcement coincides with the 248th anniversary of Matthew Flinders’ birth on 16 March in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, and comes just a few years after Flinders’ remains were re-discovered by archaeologists beneath Euston Station.

Available for interview:

Steven Fox, Assistant Director-General, Collection Management 

Images available on request. 


Contact information

National Archives of Australia Media Team
Phone: 0417 247 157

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