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)

euston-gardensThe name Euston first makes an appearance in London in the Georgian era when Euston Square was laid out north of the City.

The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.

The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.

It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).

Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.

Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.

PICTURE:  Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0

The original entrance to Euston Station, Euston Arch was not so much an arch as a colonnaded monumental gateway, formally known as a propylaeum, which resembled the entrance to a Greek temple.

Euston-ArchBuilt in 1837 (pictured here in 1851), it was designed by architect Philip Hardwick and inspired by the ancient architecture he had encountered on a trip to Europe – in particular the grand entrance to the Acropolis in Athens.

Commissioned by the London and Birmingham Railway as the grand entrance to the company’s new station then facing on to Euston Square (the site is now covered by the station structure), it was designed to complement the existing structure which had been built at the other end of the line in Curzon Street Station in Birmingham.

The building, which rose to a height of 21.5 metres and was built from Yorkshire-sourced sandstone, featured four columns behind which stood large iron gates. Rather controversial even when built, it led to an apparently unexciting courtyard lined with offices. There were lodges to either side.

While there had been a couple of proposals to relocate the arch – particularly after notice was given in 1960 that it would be demolished so the station could be rebuilt – none of the proposals came to fruition, and despite some intense last minute lobbying to preserve the arch by conservationists (among those lobbying were poet Sir John Betjeman and architectural scholar Sir Nikolaus Pevsner), demolition – viewed by some as an “architectural crime” – started in December 1961.

While sections of the arch was subsequently used as fill in the Prescott Channel in East London (numerous sections have since been recovered from the water), the main gates were saved and given to the National Railway Museum in York.

There has been talk of rebuilding the arch particularly since the formation of the Euston Arch Trust in 1994 (the patron of which is Michael Palin) with the aim of reusing some of the lost stonework. While rebuilding hasn’t yet eventuated, the proposed redevelopment of Euston Station in more recent years has given the project new impetus.

PICTURE: Wikipedia.