Australia

Explorer Matthew Flinders' remains discovered under London train station

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The body of explorer Matthew Flinders have been found during an archeological dig at Euston train station.

The remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, the English explorer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia, have been discovered ahead of construction works at London’s Euston train station.

Archaeologists identified him by an iron breast plate, which had been placed on his coffin before burial.

“It’s a relatively plain breast plate, I was rather hoping there would be a ship, or an anchor, something that linked to his nautical endeavours,” said Helen Wass, the head of High Speed Rail 2’s heritage programme.

Archaeologists remove the breast plate of Captain Matthew Flinders.
Archaeologists remove the breast plate of Captain Matthew Flinders.
Supplied

“But it’s so exciting to see it here and to know we found his grave.”

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Experts have been digging at the site for months, preparing the area for the construction of a new rail line. It’s not the first time this centuries old burial ground has been disturbed.

Matthew Flinders was laid to rest on the site in July 1814. 

But in the 1840s, nearby Euston station was expanded, taking over part of the cemetery, while the rest was turned into a park.

Flinders’ headstone, along with many others, was removed. Historians thought his remains might have been lost forever. A popular urban legend suggested he was buried somewhere beneath platform 15. But the myth proved to be just that.

An estimated 60,000 people are buried in what was once St James’ Park. Archaeologists relied on a few old records and a lot of luck to find the navigator.

“They identified a spot that they thought he could be in, because of the person they found buried next to him.” said Ms Wass.

“He’s at the slightly more affluent end of the burial ground. Generally, the richer you were, the closer you were buried to the church. Matthew Flinders wasn’t rich when he died, but he’s buried in the slightly better end of the cemetery.”

Captain Flinders was the commander of HMS Investigator, which circumnavigated the Australian coast from 1802-1803.

The archaeological excavation and research works at St James’s Gardens, Euston, London.
The archaeological excavation and research works at Euston station, London.
Supplied

New burial site

The voyage confirmed the land mass to be a continent and Flinders is often credited with giving Australia its name. 

He and his cat Trim were honoured in 2014, the bicentenary of the explorer’s death, with a memorial statue in the Euston station forecourt.

A decision on where the remains will be reburied is yet to be made.

The archaeological excavation and research works at St James’s Gardens, Euston, London.
The archaeological excavation and research works ahead of construction at Euston station in London.
Supplied

“It remains to be seen what the family wants to do with those remains, and I hope when they are an appropriate form of memorial will be buried over the final resting place,” said George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK.

“We should mark his role in Australia’s history and his place in the great age of navigation in the late 18thand early 19thcenturies.”

The big dig at the site will continue, with more remains being found every day. The discovery of Captain Flinders is just one of many fascinating discoveries to come. 

“It’s great to have a figure that has such resonance across the whole world,” said Ms Wass.

“But we’re also going to find other stories, whether they’re a bronze age burial, roman settlements- there’s so many stories to tell.”

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