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Both the English and the French expeditions of the early 1800s set out to explore the coastline of Terra Australis, particularly the southern 'unknown coast', and to determine whether a strait existed from the south of the continent through to the north.
The Investigator sighted Cape Leeuwin in December 1801. Sailing eastwards, Flinders made a running survey of the southern coastline from Fowler's Bay to Encounter Bay. From January to April 1802, Spencer Gulf, Gulf St Vincent, and the northern coastline of Kangaroo Island were charted and explored. Flinders used a systematic method of measuring and rechecking his readings to produce extremely accurate charts.
The chart of the 'unknown coast' published in the Atlas as South Coast Sheet III was essentially completed in June 1802 and sent to England in 1803 by Governor King. It was not published, however, as Flinders had not named the various capes, bays and other inlets - instead he had numbered them intending to add place names later. Only a few points of land were named immediately by him and these included Cape Catastrophe, Memory Cove, Kangaroo Island and Mt. Lofty.
After wintering at Port Jackson, Flinders sailed north to make a more detailed survey of the eastern coast, adding to Cook's charts. He then surveyed the Gulf of Carpentaria. The coastal survey was abandoned at Wessel Islands, due to the Investigator's poor condition and the crew's ill-health. After ship repairs were completed at Timor, Flinders continued to circumnavigate the continent, sailing down the western coast and across the Great Australian Bight, to arrive back at Port Jackson in June 1803. Flinders was the first to circumnavigate mainland Australia, proving it to be one land mass.
On the homeward voyage to England, Flinders was held as a prisoner of war at Ile de France [Mauritius] for six and a half years. During this time, Flinders continued work on his charts so he would have them ready for publishing when he returned home.
Returning to England in 1810, Flinders worked further on his charts and text, but to his dismay discovered that all of his charts were flawed. An error in the tables of the Nautical Almanac, which was used to calculate longitudes, had been found after the Investigator sailed. All of these lengthy measurements had to be recalculated, and the charts redrawn.
The delay in placing names upon the coast that he charted, his detention at Ile de France, and the need to correct his calculations, meant that Flinders' charts of southern Australia were not published until 12 years after he had surveyed the coast. A voyage to Terra Australis with Atlas, in which the charts were engraved by Arrowsmith, was finally published in July 1814.
After this voyage, Flinders was acknowledged as one of the foremost navigators and hydrographers of any age. His accomplishments are especially outstanding when the poor work conditions of a leaking, rotting sailing ship, and the relatively unsophisticated surveying instruments of the day, are considered.
He charted Australia's coastline with such impressive accuracy that his charts remained in use for some areas until World War II. The survey of Australian waters is an ongoing task carried out by the Royal Australian Navy's Hydrographic Service - continuing the tradition of Flinders and those who came after him.
CHARTING THE UNKNOWN COAST, Maps of South Australia from the Flinders and Baudin Expeditions of 1802
In April 1802 the British navigator Matthew Flinders and his French counterpart Nicolas Baudin met at Encounter Bay.
Both men had been sent out by their respective governments to chart and explore the unknown southern coast of Australia. Between them, Flinders and Baudin explored, mapped and named most of the 3,700 kilometres from Ceduna on the west coast to Robe in the southeast, known in 1802 as 'the unknown coast'.
One map was produced by the English expedition, led by Matthew Flinders, aboard the Investigator. The other map was produced by Louis Freycinet, the cartographer-surveyor aboard Le Naturaliste, travelling as a member of the French expedition, led by Nicolas Baudin.
The State Library of South Australia has published facsimiles of the two maps as a limited edition of two hundred. The maps are hand numbered and boxed as a pair, symbolizing the historic meeting of the two expeditions at Encounter Bay in April 1802.
The Flinders' map with its accuracy and attention to detail and Freycinet's more lyrical version of the coastline make a fascinating duo and a unique present for that hard to buy for person!
The maps may be viewed by clicking the links above.
Click on the "PDF file" thumbnail to load a full size PDF of the map (approx 1.0 mb each. These pdf files can be magnified and reduced for enhanced viewing. The Acrobat Reader is available for free download at Adobe's website.
Clicking on the "Thumbnail" link will load a screen resolution version of the map, with catalogue details.
Matthew Flinders Collection: maps and charts
Atlas of South Australia 1986 edition: Charting the gulfs
Australian Hydrographic Service
Badger, Geoffrey. Explorers of Australia. East Roseville, N.S.W.: Kangaroo Press, 2001 [details surveying equipment]
Brown, Anthony J. Ill-starred captains: Flinders and Baudin. Hindmarsh, S. Aust.: Crawford House Publishing, 2000.
Cooper, H. M. The unknown coast: being the explorations of Captain Matthew Flinders, along the shores of South Australia, 1802. Adelaide: The author, 1953
The globe: journal of the Australian map circle, no. 23, 1985, pp.1-10. Perry, T.M. 'Matthew Flinders and the charting of the Australian coast.'
Ingleton, Geoffrey C. Matthew Flinders, navigator and chartmaker. Guildford, Surrey: Genesis Publications in association with Hedley Australia, 1986.