Thursday, June 17, 2010

Matthew Flinders, Odysseus and Indianna Jones at the Ogygia Hotel

Matthew Flinders, intent on circumnavigating New Holland (and thus proving it was a continent and not a series of islands)  in the earliest part of the nineteenth century, was forced to sail north to Timor and finally to Mauritius, through a series of extenuating circumstances. Modern day politicians and people such as myself would call this kind of executive stress 'extenuating circumstances'.'  Flinders called it exhaustion, a boat full of woodworm, starvation, scurvy.
Due to a lack of email or text messaging, Flinders limped into Mauritius completely unaware that the Napoleonic wars had kicked off again. The Governor there, Daecan, probably would have preferred a post elsewhere like India, but he was stuck looking after an island out in the middle of the Indian Ocean that everyone/nobody else wanted. So poor old Flinders was locked up there for six and a half years by the disgruntled and colonially-jilted Daecan.

"I am a very important man!" Deaf ears. Flinders, halfway through writing his charts of a continent that he named Australia, was imprisoned and all of his writings and mathematical meanderings removed from him. He was sent up into the lush hills of Mauritius to be under house arrest with the most beautiful women of the French colonies. and there he was held for six and a half years.

Blame it on Calypso. There's a history with that old sea bitch.

Every morning Matthew Flinders put on his white linen shirt, walked, wrote in his journal and worked on the maps of the new continent, rightfully terrified (given the current political climate) that the places he'd tagged - Bass Strait, Flinders Island, King Island, Australia - would be renamed by his French captors.
Every day, he lived with the beautiful French women. And everyday, he pined for his wife, Ann. His frustration at the coitus interruptus of his work and his marriage is palpable in his diaries.

And you know, in the 1940's, Ernestine Hill sailed through the Gulf of Carpentaria with a fisherman who seemed to know his way.
"Whose chart are you using?" she asked him.
"Flinders'. No one has ever produced a better chart than Flinders, to this day." the skipper replied.

Image by Matthew Flinders, courtesy of the National Library of Australia.


  1. If you put aside the inevitable negative consequences of exploration and subsequent colonization these guys were absolutely brilliant. Did you hear that they have just recreated Bligh's journey in an open boat after the mutiny and by all accounts he too was a real secrafting legend of a man.

  2. Bligh was indeed, but no I hadn't heard about that.
    They were amazing men yes.