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Matthew Flinders strengthens UCL’s links with Australia

23 July 2014

23 July 2014

A maquette of Matthew Flinders, the British explorer who was first to name and circumnavigate Australia, has been unveiled today at University College London’s (UCL) faculty of Engineering Sciences.

The small statue commemorates the distinguished navigator and cartographer’s death, 200 years ago in July 1814.

His legacy lives on with many South Australian landmarks named by and after the explorer, including Kangaroo Island, the Flinders Ranges, Flinders Chase National Park, Flinders Street and even the suburb of Flinders Park.

Flinders was also the first person to name the continent as ‘Australia’ in 1804, following his his circumnavigation in 1802-1803.  He has a long history with UCL, his grandson, Sir William Flinders Petrie, was a professor of Egyptology at UCL and created the famous Petrie Museum. 

The maquette is one of 75, valued at more than A$7000, by British portrait sculptor Mark Richards, who was commissioned by the South Australian Government to make a life-size bronze statue of Matthew Flinders which was last week unveiled at London’s Euston train station, where it is rumoured the explorer’s remains are buried under platform four or five.

The sculpture shows Matthew Flinders working over a map with his cat Trim who accompanied him on his expeditions.

The bronze maquette was unveiled at UCL by Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, who says the tribute is a fitting link to Australia, strengthening the university’s ties with South Australia, the location of its first overseas campus which opened in Adelaide in 2010.

“We greatly value our relationship with Australia and see this as an appropriate way to both memorialise a truly dedicated man and bring our most distant department, UCL Australia, closer. As a global university, we aim to bring together experience from all around the world in our campuses.  Also, we all like cats,” he says.

UCL Australia Chief Executive David Travers says, in many ways, the qualities of the explorer who had such a significant impact on Australia’s history is being resonated in the research students at UCL today.

“The maquette is a fitting tribute to a remarkable explorer, and a lasting inspiration to students at UCL both in London and Australia of what can be achieved through determination and persistence,” he says. 

Further notes on the historic UCL - South Australia connection:

• Matthew Flinders’ daughter, Anne, married an electrical engineer named William Petrie, and their son and Flinders' grandson became Sir William Flinders Petrie, a professor of Egyptology at UCL. Flinders Petrie, as he was known, was the first chair of Egyptology in the UK, assembling the collection that now forms the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

• UCL’s founders and members of UCL’s first Council - Jeremy Bentham, Henry Brougham and George Grote - inspired the founding of colonies in South Australia through the sale of lands in South Australia to voluntary emigrants; in contrast to the rest of eastern Australia, where many European migrants were transported convicts.

Jeremy Bentham himself produced, but did not publish, work outlining his vision for the new colony based on Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s ‘systematic colonization’ scheme, even suggesting names such as 'Felicitania', 'Liberia' and 'Utopia'.

• The names of UCL's first Council members can still be traced in the streets of Adelaide; streets are named after Bentham, Grote, Mill, Russell and others. 

• UCL Australia organises regular energy-themed 'Grote Lectures' to which the Adelaide academic community, policy makers and members of the public are all welcome.