SYDNEY - The remains of the first British explorer to circumnavigate the Australian continent and popularize the country’s name have been found near a busy London railway station.
Archaeologists sifting through a vast burial ground near Euston Station said Friday that they had found a coffin plate identifying the last resting place of Royal Navy Capt. Matthew Flinders.
Flinders was buried on July 23, 1814, but not before publishing “A Voyage to Terra Australis,” which described his circumnavigation of Australia from 1802 to 1803, a journey that proved the land was a continent.
“Flinders put Australia on the map due to his tenacity and expertise as a navigator and explorer,” said Helen Wass, an archaeologist overseeing the dig for the HS2 high-speed rail project, which will directly connect London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester in phases between 2026 and 2033.
With 40,000 remains at the site, archaeologists were not sure they were going to find Flinders, whose resting place was subject to much speculation.
“We were very lucky” said Wass. Flinders “had a breastplate made of lead, so it would not have corroded.”
“We’ll now be able to study his skeleton to see whether life at sea left its mark and what more we can learn about him.”
Flinders is a hero to many Australians of European origin, with stations, streets, squares and towns across the country named after him. The discovery of his remains comes on the eve of Australia Day, a controversial national holiday that falls on the date of the arrival of the British First Fleet to Australia.
Many Australians, however, view the fleet and men like Flinders as harbingers of the decimation suffered by its ancient Aboriginal societies and cultures.
There is also controversy over the role played an aboriginal Australian aide to Flinders named Bungaree. The aide has been largely eclipsed by his British captain, but historians now believe he played a crucial role in the success of the voyages.