CHAPTER 1. BIRTH AND ORIGINS.
Matthew Flinders was the third of the triad of great English sailors by whom the principal part of Australia was revealed. A poet of our own time, in a line of singular felicity, has described it as the "last sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space; "* (* Bernard O'Dowd, Dawnward, 1903.) and the piecemeal, partly mysterious, largely accidental dragging from the depths of the unknown of a land so immense and bountiful makes a romantic chapter in geographical history. All the great seafaring peoples contributed something towards the result. The Dutch especially evinced their enterprise in the pursuit of precise information about the southern Terra Incognita, and the nineteenth century was well within its second quarter before the name New Holland, which for over a hundred years had borne testimony to their adventurous pioneering, gave place in general and geographical literature to the more convenient and euphonious designation suggested by Flinders himself, Australia.* (* Not universally, however, even in official documents. In the Report of the Committee of the Privy Council, dated May 1, 1849, "New Holland" is used to designate the continent, but "Australia" is employed as including both the continent and Tasmania. See Grey's Colonial Policy 1 424 and 439.)
But, important as was the work of the Dutch, and though the contributions made by French navigators (possibly also by Spanish) are of much consequence, it remains true that the broad outlines of the continent were laid down by Dampier, Cook and Flinders. These are the principal names in the story. A map of Australia which left out the parts discovered by other sailors would be seriously defective in particular features; but a map which left out the parts discovered by these three Englishmen would gape out of all resemblance to the reality.
Dampier died about the year 1712; nobody knows precisely when. Matthew Flinders came into the world in time to hear, as he may well have done as a boy, of the murder of his illustrious predecessor in 1779. The news of Cook's fate did not reach England till 1781. The lad was then seven years of age, having been born on March 16th, 1774.
His father, also named Matthew, was a surgeon practising his profession at Donington, Lincolnshire, where the boy was born. The Flinders family had been settled in the same town for several generations. Three in succession had been surgeons. The patronymic indicates a Flemish origin, and the work on English surnames* that bids the reader looking for information under "Flinders" to "see Flanders," sends him on a reasonable quest, if to no great resulting advantage. (* Barker, Family Surnames 1903 page 143.)
The English middle-eastern counties received frequent large migrations of Flemings during several centuries. Sometimes calamities due to the harshness of nature, sometimes persecutions and wars, sometimes adverse economic conditions, impelled companies of people from the Low Countries to cross the North Sea and try to make homes for themselves in a land which, despite intervals of distraction, offered greater security and a better reward than did the place whence they came. England derived much advantage from the infusion of this industrious, solid and dependable Flemish stock; though the temporary difficulty of absorption gave rise to local protests on more than one occasion.
As early as 1108, a great part of Flanders "being drowned by an exudation or breaking in of the sea, a great number of Flemings came into the country, beseeching the King to have some void place assigned them, wherein they might inhabit."* (* Holinshed's Chronicle edition of 1807 2 58.) Again in the reign of Edward I we find Flemish merchants carrying on a very large and important trade in Boston, and representatives of houses from Ypres and Ostend acquired property in the town.* (* Pishey Thompson Collections for a Topographical and Historical Account of Boston and the Hundred of Skirbeck 1820 page 31.) In the middle of the sixteenth century, when Flanders was boiling on the fire of the Reformation, Lincolnshire and Norfolk provided an asylum for crowds of harassed refugees. In 1569 two persons were deputed to ride from Boston to Norwich to ascertain what means that city adopted to find employment for them; and in the same year Mr. William Derby was directed to move Mr. Secretary Cecil, Queen Elizabeth's great minister, to "know his pleasure whether certain strangers may be allowed to dwell within the borough without damage of the Queen's laws."* (*Boston Corporation manuscripts quoted in Thompson, History and Antiquities of Boston 1856.)
During one of these peaceful and useful Flemish invasions the ancestors of Matthew Flinders entered Lincolnshire. In the later years of his life he devoted some attention to the history of his family, and found record of a Flinders as early as the tenth century. He believed, also, that his people had some connection with two men named Flinders or Flanders, who fled from Holland during the religious persecutions, and settled, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, in Nottinghamshire as silk stocking weavers. It would be very interesting if it were clear that there was a link between the family and the origins of the great Nottingham hosiery trade. A Flinders may in that case have woven silk stockings for the Royal termagant, and Lord Coke's pair, which were darned so often that none of the original fabric remained, may have come from their loom.
Matthew Flinders himself wrote the note: "Ruddington near Nottingham (it is four miles south of the town) is the place whence the Flinders came;" and he ascertained that an ancestor was Robert Flinders, a Nottingham stocking-weaver.