Archaeologists have found the remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, a British Royal Navy explorer who was the first to sail around Australia and is credited with naming it, while working on a rail project connecting London to other cities.
Flinders’ coffin was discovered among 40,000 other human remains in St James’s burial ground during digging ahead of the construction of the Euston station terminal for the High Speed 2 (HS2) network, which will link the capital to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.
HS2 said archaeologists identified the remains of the explorer, who died in 1814, thanks to the lead breastplate on his coffin.
“Given the number of human remains at St. James, we weren’t confident that we were going to find him,” Helen Wass, HS2’s Head of Heritage, said in a statement on the project’s website.
“We were very lucky that Captain Flinders had a breastplate made of lead meaning it would not have corroded. We’ll now be able to study his skeleton to see whether life at sea left its mark and what more we can learn about him.”
Flinders, who travelled with his cat Trim, is best known for commanding the H.M.S Investigator around the Australian coast in the early 1800s. Despite not being the first to use it, he is recognised for giving Australia its name by promoting it through his publications.
Many believed Flinders’ remains had been lost after his headstone was removed as Euston station was expanded in the 1840s.
“The scientific study of human remains from St James burial ground will better our understanding of life and death in London’s 18th and 19th centuries, shedding light on health and disease, social status and lifestyle,” HS2 said.
It added that Flinders’ remains would be buried at a new, as yet unnamed, location.
Wass also suggested the Flinders discovery may not be the last of the huge HS2 project.
“The whole programme of archaeology for High Speed 2 is the biggest ever undertaken in the UK and possibly Europe, so up and down the route we’re going to find amazing discoveries from pre-history up to the post medieval period.”