Matthew Flinders: Remains of Australia explorer re-discovered during HS2 works near Euston Station

The archaeological excavation and research works at St James's Gardens, Euston. Picture: James O'Jen

The archaeological excavation and research works at St James's Gardens, Euston. Picture: James O'Jenkins/HS2 - Credit: Archant

Archaeologists digging up St James’ Burial Ground as part of HS2 works have discovered the remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, who is credited with being among the first to circumnavigate Australia.

Experts were able to identify the Royal Navy explorer, who died in 1814 by the lead breast plate on his coffin. The discovery scotches the urban myth that he was buried under platform 15, after being moved when Euston station was originally expanded in the 1840s.

Cpt Flinders made several significant voyages, notably as commander of HMS Investigator which he navigated around the entire coast of Australia.

This made him the first known person to sail around the country in its entirety, confirming it as a continent. He is credited with giving Australia its name, with his work popularising its use.

His loyal ship’s cat, Trim, was also well known and is often depicted with Cpt Flinders.

The discovery was made as archaeologists excavate the site where the HS2 station will be built. Around 40,000 other human remains are believed to be buried in the burial ground. Bill “the Black Terror” Richmond, a former New York slave who became a free Londoner and a well-known boxer. James Christie, who founded Christie’s auction house is also buried at St James’s.

Cpt Flinders himself was buried on July 23 1814.

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At the 200th anniversary of his death in 2014, a memorial statue of Trim and Cpt Flinders was unveiled by the Duke of Cambridge at Australia House, and later installed at Euston Station.

The rediscovery is timely, with Australia day taking place on Saturday.

Commenting on the discovery, Helen Wass, HS2’s head of heritage, said: “The discovery of Captain Matthew Flinders’s remains is an incredible opportunity for us to learn more about the life and remarkable achievements of this British navigator, hydrographer and scientist. Cpt. Matthew Flinders put Australia on the map due to his tenacity and expertise as a navigator and explorer.

“Given the number of human remains at St. James’s, we weren’t confident that we were going to find him. We were very lucky that Cpt. Flinders had a breastplate made of lead meaning 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.”

The bodies that have been excavated at St James’ Gardens will be reburied at a later date.