The really big thing about visiting the obscure village of Donington is that this is the birthplace of Matthew Flinders and Matthew Flinders is a really big thing for Australian visitors.
This is what I find fascinating about travel, every now and again I come across an amazing story. Flinders is one of the most important explorers in history and his home town was the tiny village of Donington in the south of Lincolnshire.
Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales. The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form. The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland. There is a Tasmania of course.
Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.
In my Dad’s book that he gave to me before he died – “The Boys’ Book of Heroes”, there is Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and James Cook but no mention of Matthew Flinders. Neither did he get a nomination in the BBC poll of the Hundred Greatest Britons. Cook made twelfth place, Drake came in at forty-ninth and Raleigh at ninety-third.
In English history he is a forgotten hero. In web site lists of famous people he never gets a mention, he doesn’t even make it on to lists of famous explorers.
He couldn’t really be included in the poll of Greatest Australians of course because he came from Donington in Lincolnshire in England, but wait just a minute because he was included at number fifty as an honorary Australian along with James Cook from Yorkshire.
I could write a complete blog post about Matthew Flinders but John has promised to do that sometime soon and he knows a lot more about Flinders than I do so I will leave that to him.
We visited the village market square where he was born. The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements. Again, I will leave this to John to explain when he writes his post.
One thing that I will mention is about finding his coffin. England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago. The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.
The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.
Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia and I said to John that how lucky he was to be among the first to come and he nodded in agreement.
He agreed again that he would write the story.
“People will come Ray, people will come…”
After coffee we left Donington for the final stop on the whistle-stop tour of The Fens.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…