Mapping the navigator

flindersBefore setting out to Australia for a second time in 1801, Matthew Flinders boasted to Sir Joseph Banks that he would map its coastline so thoroughly that no-one would need to do it again.

He didn’t fulfil his ambition, but by comparing his intentions with his achievements, Dr Gillian Dooley can tell us how close he got and why he fell short.

Dr Dooley is Flinders University’s Special Collections librarian as well as an honorary research fellow in English. In 2005, she co-edited an edition of Flinders’ private journals from 1803 to 1814.

On February 3 she will present a lecture to the Historical Society of SA entitled ‘To perfect the discovery of that extensive country’: Matthew Flinders’ achievements in the exploration of Australia.

Dr Dooley says that Flinders’ grand plan was undermined by bad luck as well as his own impetuous character.

She said that after extensive mapping of the southern coast and his famous encounter with Baudin, Flinders sailed north from Sydney but was forced to interrupt his progression along the northern coast by the condition of his ship, The Investigator.

“It was rotting beneath him,” Dr Dooley said.

Impatient to obtain a replacement, Flinders headed off to England in 1803 in a small schooner. Unaware of the outbreak of war between France and England, his landfall on Mauritius became a six-and-a-half year detention from which his health never recovered. He died in England in 1814.

Nonetheless, Dr Dooley said, his achievements were spectacular; as well as charting large portions of the continent’s coastline for the first time, he established the existence of Torres Strait.

“His navigation was meticulous, and he worked out a method of charting that was so accurate that his maps were useable for 150 years,” she said.

Dr Dooley said Flinders may have been scientifically exacting, but his journals and letters reveal a man who was also warm-hearted, romantic and prone to poetic language.

“In that period, the Enlightenment, those traits weren’t seen as incompatible,” she said,

The talk is at 7.30pm on Friday, February 3 at Burnside Community Centre. All are welcome.

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