Outside Euston station is a statue of a man bending over a map while his cat looks the other way. This is a newish addition to the area, having arrived in 2014, on the bicentenary of the subject’s death.
It’s of Captain Matthew Flinders, the British navigator and cartographer who led the first inshore circumnavigation of mainland Australia, and also the man generally considered to be the first person to utilise the name Australia to describe the entirety of the continent.
He’s famous in Australia, but until recently, fairly little known in the UK.
Born in Donington, Lincolnshire in 1774, he later said he was encouraged to life on the seas after reading Robinson Crusoe, and joined the Royal Navy aged 15. After years working up the career ladder, in 1801-03, he commanded HMS Investigator on a survey expedition to study the coastline of Australia and was to become the first ship to circumnavigate the continent.
The ship was deemed unseaworthy after it limped into Sydney, and he sought to return to the UK on another ship. Unfortunately for him, that ship stopped off at French-controlled Isle de France (now known as Mauritius), and as Britain was at war with France at the time, he was imprisoned, and not released until 1810.
He returned to the UK, where he worked on his magnum opus from the voyage, but it was published just one day before he died in 1814, aged just 40. He was buried in a graveyard in Camden, but over the years, the location of his grave was lost.
And in the UK at least, his legacy pretty much vanished, to be someone spoken of by historians and people familiar with Australia’s early European history, but not much else.
To mark the centenary of his death in 2014 though, a sculpture was commissioned. The sculptor, Mark Richards didn’t go for the classic upright grand looking statue that most cities have, preferring a more human-scale representation of the sea captain as someone out on a voyage of discovery. So he’s shown here bent over a map of Australia, holding the instruments of his work in surveying the continent.
His cat, Trim, is by his side which we’re told adds a slightly surreal and playful dimension to the composition.
It was decided to put the sculpture inside Euston station close to where he was thought to be buried, in part due to the urban myth that Cpt. Flinders was buried under platform 15.
Around the plinth, the text reads:
In commemmoration of CAPTAIN MATTHEW FLINDERS RN 1774-1814 who named Australia and charted its unknown coast’ with the help of Bungaree and the crew of HM Sloop Investigator
Sculptor: Mark Richards FDRBS
Unveiled by HRH The Duke of Cambridge in July 2014.
The statue was later moved outside the main station concourse, and can now be found in the large plaza, where arguably it’s easier to see as its previous location was generally surrounded by crowds staring at the departure boards, and using the plinth to sit on.
A second copy of the sculpture was later created and installed in the City of Port Lincoln, South Australia.
However, in 2019 Flinders grave was rediscovered, as part of work to clear the burial ground next to Euston station for the enlarged HS2 station. Following a campaign, he will be reburied in his home town of Donington.
There is an unexpected legacy from Matthew Flinders efforts though. He married and had a daughter, Anne. In 1853, his then deceased wife was awarded a pension of £100 per year by the governments of New South Wales and Victoria to be spent on her own children.
The daughter, Anne had by now married a London engineer, William Petrie — and their son, William, given a good education thanks to that pension, was to later go on to become known as the father of modern archaeology, William Flinders Petrie.
So in Euston is a statue of the father, and just down the road is the Petrie Museum in memory of the son.