State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 13 March 1974

14

Matthew Flinders’ Papers

After Matthew Flinders’ death in 1814 his personal papers which included copies of his logbooks and journals, personal diary and letter-books in the possession of his wife and daughter, appear to have remained entire until 1877 when his daughter, Mrs. William Petrie, presented the ‘Narrative of an Expedition to Furneauxs Islands’, to the Public Library of Victoria. Before her death in 1892 the remaining papers were given to her son (later Professor Sir) William Matthew Flinders Petrie, (1853–1942) the noted egyptologist, who in 1880 presented his grandfather's copies of the Sydney Gazette to the Library. Subsequently he made copies and extracts of most of the papers for Mr. J. J. Shillinglaw of Melbourne who was collecting material for a book on Flinders. These Shillinglaw presented to the Library, the bulk of them being bound in the volume titled ‘Flinders Papers'. The second volume of Flinders’ ‘Public Letters and Orders', a letter to his wife, the ‘Appendix to the Abridged Narrative’ and Flinders’ copy letters written in 1808 were lent to Shillinglaw; all these items were ultimately presented to the Library on behalf of Flinders Petrie, who also presented some of the more important items relating to Flinders’ Australian explorations to the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
These included the originals of the first two volumes of the Investigator logbooks (fair copies, probably written in Mauritius, were lodged with the Admiralty and are now in the Public Record Office), his Diary 1803–14, three volumes of Private Letterbooks, and a volume of Public Letters. The residue of the papers is now in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich together with some of Mrs. Flinders’ papers and Flinders Petrie's papers and correspondence concerning his grandfather.
The manuscripts presented by Mrs. Petrie and Flinders Petrie form the bulk of the Flinders holographs and are the treasures of the La Trobe Library's Flinders collection. For students of Flinders’ life and work the copies of documents make the collection an extremely important one. The extracts and copies of documents made by Flinders Petrie, the ‘Flinders Papers’, give a synoptic view of contents of the papers before they were dispersed and though they reflect Flinders Petrie's views of what was important and ‘publishable’ and consequently omit sections of some papers, they include comments and explanations that compensate for some of the omissions. Two other important sets of documents are the Bonwick transcripts of Flinders’ correspondence with the Admiralty (No. 15 in the list of papers) and the copies of documents relating to Flinders in the Decaen Papers (No. 16).
The voluminous Shillinglaw Papers (No. 17) are at present unindexed and as yet their contents are imperfectly known, but as far as Flinders is concerned they appear to be extremely important both for the copies of documents they contain and for the correspondence Shillinglaw had with members of the Flinders family and the families of those who knew him well. Exploratory prospecting suggests that here is a rich lode awaiting mining.
The Library also contains some ‘relics’. Most interesting, perhaps, a portrait of a young midshipman reputed to be Matthew Flinders at about the age of sixteen, by Gainsborough Dupont (c. 1754–1797) a nephew and assistant of Thomas Gainsborough. While the twentieth century history of this portrait is known its nineteenth century provenance is not, and information about it would be welcome. The Library's Historical Collection also has a chest that belonged to Flinders and an indifferent portrait of unknown authorship.
T. M. PERRY