The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N./Preface
The subject of this book died one hundred years ago. Within his forty years of life, he discovered a very large area of what is now an important region of the earth; he participated in stirring events which are memorable in modern history; he applied a vigorous and original mind to the advancement of knowledge, with useful results; and he was the victim of circumstances which, however stated, were peculiarly unfortunate, and must evoke the sympathy of everyone who takes the trouble to understand them. His career was crowded with adventures: war, perilous voyages, explorations of unknown coasts, encounters with savages, shipwreck and imprisonment are the elements which go to make up his story. He was, withal, a downright Englishman of exceptionally high character, proud of his service and unsparing of himself in the pursuit of his duty.
Yet up to this time his biography has not been written. There are, it is true, outlines of his career in various works of reference, notably that contributed by Sir J. K. Laughton to the Dictionary of National Biography. But there is no book to which a reader can turn for a fairly full account of his achievements, and an estimate of his personality. Of all discoverers of leading rank Matthew Flinders is the only one about whom there is no ample and convenient record.
This book endeavours to fill the gap.
The material upon which it is founded is set forth in the footnotes and the bibliography. Here the author takes pleasure in acknowledging the assistance he has received from several quarters. A previous book brought him the acquaintance of the grand-nephew of that Comte de Fleurieu who largely inspired three famous French voyages to Australia—those of Lapérouse, Dentrecasteaux and Baudin—all of which have an important bearing upon the subject. The Comte A. de Fleurieu had long been engaged in collecting material relative to the work and influence of his distinguished grand-uncle, and in the most generous manner he handed over to the author his very large collection of manuscripts and note-books to be read, noted, and used at discretion. Even when a historian does not actually quote or directly use matter bearing upon his subject, it is of immense advantage to have access to documents which throw light upon it, and which enable an in-and-out knowledge of a period and persons to be obtained. This book owes much of whatever value it may possess to monsieur de Fleurieu's assistance in this respect, and the author thanks him most warmly.
The Flinders papers, of which free use has been made, were presented to the Melbourne Public Library by Professor W.M. Flinders Petrie. They are described in the bibliography. The transcripts of family and personal documents were especially valuable. Although they were not supplied for this book, Professor Flinders Petrie gave them in order that they might be of use to some biographer of his grandfather, and the author begs to thank him, and also Mr. E. La Touche Armstrong, the chief librarian, in whose custody they are, and who has given frequent access to them.
The rich stores of manuscripts in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, have been thoroughly examined, with the assistance of Mr. W.H. Ifould, principal librarian, Mr. Hugh Wright, and the staff of that institution. Help from this quarter was accorded with such grace that one came to think giving trouble was almost like conferring a favour.
All copies of documents from Paris and Caen cited in this book have been made by Madame Robert Helouis. The author was able to indicate the whereabouts of the principal papers, but Madame Hélouis, developing an interest in the subject as she pursued her task, was enabled, owing to her extensive knowledge of the resources of the French archives, to find and transcribe many new and valuable papers. The author also wishes to thank Captain Francis Bayldon, of Sydney, who has kindly given help on several technical points; Miss Alma Hansen, University of Melbourne, who was generous enough to make a study of the Dutch Generale Beschrijvinge van Indien—no light task—to verify a point of some importance for the purpose of the chapter on "The Naming of Australia"; and Mr. E.A. Petherick, whose manuscript bibliography, containing an immense quantity of material, the fruit of a long life's labour, has always been cheerfully made available.
Professor Flinders Petrie has been kind enough to read and make some useful suggestions upon the personal and family passages of the book, which has consequently benefited greatly.
The whole work has been read through by Mr. A. W. Jose, author of The History of Australasia, whose criticism on a multitude of points, some minute, but all important, has been of the utmost value. The help given by Mr. Jose has been more than friendly; it has been informed by a keen enthusiasm for the subject, and great knowledge of the original authorities. The author's obligations to him are gratefully acknowledged.
It is hoped that these pages will enable the reader to know Matthew Flinders the man, as well as the navigator; for the study of the manuscript and printed material about him has convinced the author that he was not only remarkable for what he did and endured, but for his own sake as an Englishman of the very best type.
- Melbourne, June 1914.