Australia in the 1800s

Mapping the coast of Australia

Matthew Flinders (1774–1814) was a British naval officer and experienced explorer who became the first European person to circumnavigate the continent, charting much of the southern coast of Australia. In 1801, the British Government was concerned that two French boats were mapping parts of the coast and they feared France might claim the land as theirs. Flinders set off in the Investigator from Sydney, sailing north along the eastern coast and through the Great Barrier Reef. During his journey, he met up with the French explorer Captain Nicolas Baudin at Encounter Bay. The French and English exploration teams had an amicable meeting and each proceeded to rename certain geographical features of the area. Flinders arrived back in Sydney in 1803. He had also successfully solved the problem of compass deviation caused by the use of iron in ships.

During his circumnavigation of the continent, Flinders was accompanied by Bungaree of the Kuring-Gai people. He was born at Broken Bay and became friends with Matthew Flinders in the late 1790s and assisted him on his expeditions, mediating between the British and local Indigenous groups. When the ship moored close to shore Bungaree would go alone and unarmed to communicate with the local Indigenous people. Bungaree was renowned as a diplomat and an entertainer as he often impersonated governors and other local figures. His portrait was one of the most commonly depicted by the early painters and sketchers of the time.

In 1804, on his return voyage to England, Flinders was forced to stop in at the French Island of Mauritius due to problems with his ship the Cumberland. At this time, Britain and France were at war and Flinders and his crew were arrested and imprisoned for six years. During this time he wrote his book, A Voyage to Terra Australis, about his maritime explorations. In the book, he promoted the use of the name, Australia, instead of the Dutch term, 'New Holland'.

Mapping the coast of Australia

A snapshot of 1808

  • January
    • The governor, Captain William Bligh, was deposed and placed under house arrest.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became surveyor-general following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • The first medical diploma in the colony was issued to William Redfern.

  • October
    • The colonial office in London announced the recall of the New South Wales Corps to England.

  • November
    • The Cascades Female Factory for women convicts opened in Hobart Town.


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