News last month that the remains of early 19th century explorer Matthew Flinders had been found beneath Euston railway station. But just who was Flinders and what, aside from being the location of his burial, were his connections to London?

Flinders was not a native Londoner by birth – he was born on 16th March, 1774, in Donington, Lincolnshire, the son of a surgeon-apothecary and educated in local schools. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15, serving first on HMS Alert as a lieutenant’s servant and several other ships including the HMS Providence, captained by William Bligh (of mutiny on the Bounty fame) on a voyage taking breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. He also subsequently saw action while on the HMS Bellerophon in 1794, when the ship was involved in the Battle of the Glorious First of June against the French in the English Channel.

In 1795, he served as a master’s mate on the HMS Reliance which sailed to New South Wales with the mission of delivering its new governor, John Hunter.

As well as establishing a reputation as a navigator and cartographer on the voyage, he became friends with the ship’s surgeon George Bass. After arriving at Port Jackson in New South Wales, Flinders undertook two expeditions with Bass in small boats dubbed the Tom Thumb and Tom Thumb II – the first to Botany Bay and the Georges River and the second to Lake Illawarra.

In 1798, now a lieutenant and based in New South Wales, Flinders was given command of the sloop Norfolk with the aim of proving Van Diemen’s Land (now the state of Tasmania) was an island. He did so and named the strait between it and the Australian mainland after his friend Bass (the largest island in the strait would later be named Flinders Island).

In 1799, he sailed the Norfolk north to Moreton Bay before in March, 1800, returning to England on the Reliance.

Thanks to the advocacy of Sir Joseph Banks, to whom Flinders had dedicated his text Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen’s Land, on Bass’s Strait, etc, in January, 1801, Flinders was given command of HMS Investigator and, subsequently promoted to commander, given the mission of charting the coastline of the Australian continent, then known as New Holland.

Having married his longtime friend Ann Chappelle on 17th April, 1801, he set sail for New Holland on 18th July of that year (without Ann – he had intended taking her on the journey but ordered to remove her from the ship by the Admiralty).

Flinders reached and named Cape Leeuwin in what is now Western Australia on 6th December and then proceeded eastward along the continent’s southern coast. He met the French explorer Nicolas Baudin, aboard the Geographe, in what he named Encounter Bay, named Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in what is now South Australia and further to the east spent time exploring the environs of Port Philip Bay (around the modern city of Melbourne). He proceeded north to Sydney, arriving on 9th May, 1802, setting sail again on 22nd July.

Heading northward, he surveyed the coast of what is now Queensland before, having charted the Gulf of Carpentaria, discovering his ship was badly leaking. Unable to undertake repairs, he decided to return to Sydney but did so via the west coast of the continent, thus completing the first documented circumnavigation of it. Back in Sydney, the Investigator was found to be unseaworthy and condemned.

Unable to find another vessel to continue his explorations and hearing of his father’s death and wife’s illness back in England, Flinders looked return home as a passenger aboard the HMS Porpoise. But the Porpoise was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and Flinders undertook the role of navigating the ship’s cutter back across open sea to Sydney so the remainder of the ship’s crew could be rescued.

He was then given command of the HMS Cumberland to return to England but the poor condition of that ship forced him to put into the French controlled Isle de France (Mauritius) for repairs on 17th December, 1803. War had broken out between England and France and Flinders was detained (it was during his period of detainment – he was allowed to venture around the island after the first few months – that he sent back to England a map of the Australian continent, the only one in which he used the name “Australia” for the title. While he wasn’t the first to use the name Australia, he is credited with popularising it).

Flinders wasn’t released until June, 1810, after a Royal Navy blockade of the island (despite being granted his release by the French Government in 1806, authorities on Mauritius decided to keep holding him). Travelling via the Cape of Good Hope, he returned to England where he was promoted to post-captain.

On returning to home, Flinders, now in poor health, and his wife Ann lived at several rental properties in London – there’s an English Heritage Blue Plaque on one former property at 56 Fitzroy Street in Fitzrovia, central London – and had a daughter Anna (her son Matthew Flinders Petrie, later Sir Flinders Petrie, would go on to become a famous archaeologist and Egyptologist).

It was during this period that Flinders wrote a book about his voyages, A Voyage to Terra Australis. It was published on 18th July. Remarkably, Flinders died of kidney failure just a day later. He was buried on 23rd July in the graveyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, which was located up in Camden.

The location of his grave was later forgotten when the headstone was removed and the site became gardens, part of which were subsequently built over by Euston station. Famously, of course, his body was found last month during excavations conducted ahead of the construction of the Euston terminus for the high-speed rail link, HS2, between London and Bristol.

Flinders legacy lives on in the more than 100 geographical place names bearing his moniker in Australia including the iconic Flinders Street Railway Station in Victoria and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. There’s also a statue of him in his home town of Donington and in July, 2014, the 200th anniversary of his death, a large bronze statue by Mark Richards depicting Flinders and his cat Trim (we’ll deal with Trim’s story in an upcoming post) was unveiled at Australia House by Prince William. It was later installed at Euston Station near where his grave was assumed to be (pictured above).

PICTURE: AndyScott (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, a Royal Navy explorer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with popularising the name the country now bears, have been found by archaeologists working on the HS2 rail project in Euston. While the general area in which he was buried – the former St James’s burial ground – has long been known, archaeologists were able to narrow down the location of his grave among the 40,000 on the site thanks to a lead breast plate placed on top of his coffin upon which, conveniently, his name was written. The HS2 project will see a high speed rail link constructed between London and Birmingham and as part of the preparations for the project, the largest archaeological dig ever to take place in the UK is underway on the site of what will be the London terminus. Flinders was buried in St James’s burial ground in 1814 but when Euston station expanded westward into the burial ground in 1840s, his headstone was removed and the location of his grave thought lost (despite a persistent myth that he was buried under Platform 15). There is already a statue of Captain Flinders at Euston Station – unveiled on the bicentenary of his death in 2014 (originally at Australia House), it depicts both Flinders, busy charting Australia’s coastline, and his cat, Trim. There is now talk of a memorial marking the site of the grave.

Oriental The UK’s first major exhibition on the work of the innovative but violent 17th century artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione opens tomorrow at the Queen’s Gallery next to Buckingham Palace. The exhibition, which features 90 drawings and prints from the Royal Collection, is aimed at re-establishing Castiglione as one of the greatest artists of the Baroque period, thanks to his being credited with creating huge drawings in oil directly on paper, producing about 60 etchings and inventing the technique of monotype. Works include his monotype prints Head of an oriental (late 1640s) and The Nativity with angels (about 1655), a translation of Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love and drawings like Circe with the companions of Odysseus transformed into animals. Castiglione’s “nomadic” career was marred by his violent temperament – he was repeatedly before the courts for assaulting people, apparently tried to throw his sister off a roof and was forced to leave Rome because, it is believed, he had committed murder. Castiglione: Lost Genius runs with Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen, an exhibition of prints and drawings given to the Queen by Royal Academicians to mark her Diamond Jubilee, until 16th March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, The head of an oriental, late 1640s. Royal Collection Trust/©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013.

The restored Met Locomotive 1 and the Victorian Jubilee Carriage 353 will be on show this weekend as part of the London Transport Museum’s Open Weekend at its Acton Depot. Visitors will be able to explore the depot’s vast collection of more than 400,000 objects along with a range of other activities including miniature tram and railway rides, heritage bus rides, talks and film screenings, and costumed interpreters as well as the chance to watch artist Ross Ashmore paint the locomotive and Jubilee Carriage. The weekend kicks off tomorrow. For more information and bookings, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/events.

On Now: Australia. This landmark exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House in Piccadilly features more than 200 works including paintings, drawings, photography, watercolours and multimedia pieces by 146 Australian artists. Spanning the period from 1800 until today, the display includes works by Aboriginal artists such as Albert Namatjira, nineteenth century immigrants such as John Glover and Eugene von Guerard, impressionists like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, early modernists like Margaret Preston and Roy de Maistre, 20th century painters including Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Brett Whiteley and contemporary artists including Gordon Bennett, Fiona Hall and Shaun Gladwell. Highlights include Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer (1904), four paintings from Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series (1946), Rover Thomas’ Cyclone Tracy (1991) and Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Big Yam Dreaming (1995). Organised with the National Gallery of Australia, the exhibition runs until 8th December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

We’ve already touched on the history of St Mary-le-Bow in our earlier series on Sir Christopher Wren but thought it was worth revisiting in a bit more detail. 

Another of Wren’s churches (after all, remember he designed more than 50 in the city), St Mary-le-Bow, on the corner of Cheapside and Bow Lane, has a history dating back at least to the Norman Conquest (although it is thought it may stand on the site of an earlier Saxon church) when it was constructed of Caen stone on the orders of Lanfranc, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and was perhaps seen as a symbol of Norman oppression.

The name ‘le Bow’ is said to come from the Norman arches (it was apparently initially known as St Mary de Arcubus) which stand in what is now the crypt – this would have only been partially underground when built. From 1251, it hosted one of the church’s most important courts, which, thanks to its location, was known as the Court of the Arches. There is now a cafe in the crypt.

Like many other churches in the City, St Mary-le-Bow has been repeatedly repaired and rebuilt – following damage in a tornado in the late 11th century, the collapse of its tower in 1271, and, of course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 – Wren’s subsequent rebuilding included the construction of the fine great tower (pictured here against the backdrop of more modern City buildings, it was his second tallest structure after St Paul’s and was built to accommodate the Bow bells ). The church’s most recent remodelling was in 1964 after it was almost completely destroyed during bombing in May, 1941.

One of the church’s most important claims to fame is its bells. These included the city’s principal curfew bell, rung at 9pm each day since at least as far back as 1363. It is said that ‘true Londoners’ or ‘Cockneys’ must be born within hearing of the Bow bells and it was the pealing of the Bow bells (or what may have only been one bell at the time) which, of course, caused thrice-mayor Dick Whittington to turn back when leaving London. The church (in particular, its curfew bell) is also among a number of City churches mentioned in various versions of the rhyming song, Oranges and Lemons.

Features inside include a memorial to the first British Governor of New South Wales in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born nearby, and a bronze relief of St George and the Dragon given by Norway in commemoration of the work of the Norwegian Resistance during World War II. The churchyard outside contains a statue of Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia, and former parishioner.

For an indepth history of the church, you can’t go past the rather comprehensive St Mary-le-Bow: A History.

WHERE: Cheapside (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 7.30am to 6pm Monday to Wednesday (closes 6.30pm Thursday and 4pm Friday and not usually open on weekends or bank holidays)COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylebow.co.uk.