Thursday, September 29, 2011

Britain: please return Australia's birth certificate

Matthew Flinders' original 1804 map contains what is thought to be the first reference to the name 'Australia'. This map is stored at the UK Hydographic Office in Taunton, Somerset, where it is accessible only be appointment. This is the truw Birth Certificate of our Nationa and, as such, deserves to be placed on public display. There is currently a petition for the British Government to have Flinders' original map gifted to Australia so it can be displayed in time for the bi-centenary of Filnders' death in 2014.

In 1801, Matthew Flinders was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks to map previously uncharted regions of the ‘great south land’. After many adventures and mishaps, Flinders completed his circumnavigation of Australia in the Investigator in June 1803. On his way back to England, Flinders was taken prisoner by the French on the island of Mauritius until 1810. He was to be held there until 1810. Flinders completed his map of the continent in 1804 while languishing in prison. He titled his map: ‘Australia or Terra Australia’. This is the first known use of the name ‘Australia’ by any navigator. The imprisonment of Flinders by the French in the Indian Ocean prevented him from publishing his detailed charts of Australia before the French, who issued Louis de Freycinet’s first complete map of Australia in 1811.

Back in London, Matthew Flinders set about preparing his account of the voyage for publication. A Voyage to Terra Australis was published by G & W Nicol on 18 July 1814, the day before his death. Flinders’ charts of Australia were considered so accurate that they were used for over a century by the British Admiralty. In 1817, Governor Macquarie, learning of Flinders’ preference for the name ‘Australia’, adopted the name Australians have come to cherish.

Campaigners have launched a petition to the British Government to take the map to Australia in time for the bicentenary of Matthew Flinders’ death in 2014. Federal Member for Flinders, Greg Hunt has stated:

"This is the ture birth certificate of our nation and deserves to be placed on public display here in Australia. A document so vital to our national heritage should not remain in oscurity. We want to work co-operatively with the British Government to have Flinders' original map gifted to the people of Australia."

The map has been dubbed the Elgin Marbles of Australian history. The 2,500-year-old Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, were removed from the ancient Greek Parthenon in 1811 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador at the time. They have been in the British Museum in London since 1817. Greece hopes one day to display the collection in the Acropolis Museum.