Recently I happened to be perusing the 1816 volume of The Gentleman’s Magazine. I was photocopying the meteorological tables, beginning with March, so that I would have a sense of the weather conditions for the months in which several characters in my new novel are encountering unexpected headwinds. In most issues, the weather tables appear just after the obituary section. While I waited for my printer to spit out the weather table for April, I read the obituaries shown on the upper half of the page. An entry caught my eye:1

At Eastbourne, Sussex, in his 38th year, Lieut. Thomas Evans, R.N. He sailed with the late Capt. Matthew Flinders in the Investigator on a voyage of discovery in the years 1800, 1801, 1802, and 1803, when the Investigator and the Porpoise her consort, in exploring the coasts of Van Diemen’s land, suddenly struck upon a coral-rock, and were both of them immediately wrecked, but all the crews were fortunately saved.

“The late Capt. Matthew Flinders…” Why I know Captain Flinders! Well, not personally, of course, but I know of him, for I was introduced to him when I lived in Melbourne, Australia.

Matthew Flinders, 1801 (Source: State Library of New South Wales) (Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Flinders, 1801 (Source: State Library of New South Wales) (Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Flinders (1774-1814): A Regency Naval Officer

Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) was an English navigator and cartographer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia. He is also credited with having confirmed in 1798-99 that Van Dieman’s Land (now known as Tasmania) is an island. His book, Observations on the Coasts of Van Dieman’s Land, was published in 1801. (Although listed on Google Books it is not available for downloading or reading, despite being more than two hundred years old and presumably beyond the reach of copyright law, which vexes me no end. A 1946 paperback edition of it can be bought on Amazon for about $7.)

Matthew Flinders: A Well-Known Name in Melbourne, Australia

My introduction to Captain Flinders came only days after moving from Sydney to Melbourne. My husband and I stayed in a hotel not far from the train station while we hunted for an apartment to rent. Flinders Street—named after the captain—runs alongside the train station and takes up a full city block.

Flinders Street train Station (Wikimedia Commons)

Flinders Street train station, Melbourne, Australia (Wikimedia Commons) (A 1927 black-and-white photo of Flinders Street station is also available.)

The above photo shows how I remember the train station on a hot summer’s day: bright blue skies; people streaming out of the station, heading north into the heart of Melbourne; the tarnished dome sitting atop the vivid ochre-colored building. What looks funny to me is the background. All that empty blue sky. But wait, what is that peaking out behind the spire atop the dome? Ah, it’s the 93-story Eureka Tower under construction. Here’s what that same view looked like in 2006 when my husband and I lived in Southbank:

Flinders Street train station (2006©Peter Lloyd)

Flinders Street train station, Melbourne, Australia, showing the 93-story condominium building, Eureka Tower, situated in the background on the opposite side of the Yarra River (2006©Peter Lloyd)

The scale of that magnificent building is impossible to appreciate unless you’re standing next to it. In any event, I used to walk from Southbank across the pedestrian bridge (over the Yarra River), through a tunnel beneath the train station, and across Flinders Street. I was usually heading for Coles, a grocery store located nearby, or to Readers Feast (a bookstore, of course) or Haigh’s Chocolates in the Block Arcade or the Victoria library. I crossed Flinders Street nearly every day.

Matthew Flinders’ Cat, Trim

In fact, if you were to turn right and walk about half a block up Swanston Street from where my husband took the above photo, you would see a statue of Matthew Flinders facing Swanston Street. More interesting to me is the statue of Flinders’ cat, Trim, who was born onboard the HMS Reliance in 1799 and traveled with Flinders on his voyages. The photo below shows the statue of Trim in England. There is also a statue of Trim in Sydney, although I don’t recall seeing it when I lived there.

Trim, Matthew Flinders' cat, Donington, Lancashire (Author: Rodney Burton, 2006) (Wikimedia Commons)

Trim, Matthew Flinders’ cat, Donington, Lincolnshire (Author: Rodney Burton, 2006) (Wikimedia Commons)

Regency Research

This is a good example of the fun of conducting research. When I least expect it, I find a link between the Regency era and some person or place in my own life. Or else I find a discrepancy, as I did with the first photo of the Flinders Street train station posted at the beginning of this blog: the file on Wikimedia Commons indicates that the photo was posted in 2010. That may well be true, but the photo itself must have been taken before 2006. We lived in Southbank in 2006-2007 and the building had been finished, except for the observation deck on the top floor and perhaps one or two of the upper floors, where the condominiums had yet to be sold. Here’s a photo to show the scale of Eureka Tower in all its glory:

Eureka Tower, Southbank, Melbourne, Australia (2006©Diane Morris)

Eureka Tower, Southbank, Melbourne, Australia (2006©Diane Morris). The train station is located on this side of the river to the right of the bridge.

Source: 1The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1816, vol. 86, p. 382 (PDF p. 408).