Matthew Flinders was born in Donington, Lincolnshire in March 1774, and entered the navy in 1789. He served as a midshipman under William Bligh on the second breadfruit voyage to Tahiti and subsequently aboard the Bellorophon in the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794. He was then posted to HMS Reliance on its voyage to Australia and on board struck up a friendship with George Bass.
Once in New South Wales Flinders and Bass explored the coast south of Sydney in small open boats, exploring Botany Bay and George's River on the first, and in a second voyage going farther south to Lake Illawarra. Later in 1798 Flinders, now lieutenant, joined the schooner Francis on a visit to the Furneaux Islands and carried out useful hydrographic work. Then again with George Bass, he circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land in the sloop Norfolk from 7 October 1798 to 12 January 1799, proving it an island. In March 1800 he sailed for England in the Reliance, where reports of his outstanding ability had preceded him. While in England in 1801 he published his Observations on the Coasts of Van Diemen's Land, on Bass's Strait and its Islands, and on Part of the Coasts of New South Wales and also began promoting his idea for a major exploration of the Australian coast.
Promoted commander in February, he was appointed to command H.M.S. Investigator, with instructions from the Admiralty to explore in detail, among other places, that part of the south Australian coastline, then referred to as 'the Unknown Coast', which stretched eastwards from the head of the Great Australian Bight to the Victorian border.
Flinders sailed on 18 July 1801 and was off Cape Leeuwin by 6 December. Sailing eastwards he reached the western extreme of the Unknown Coast, near the Head of the Bight on 28 January 1802 and made a landing in Fowler Bay, which he named after the Investigator's first lieutenant. He explored the islands of St Peter and St Francis, reached by Frans Thyssen and Pieter Nuyts in the voyage of the Gulden Zeepard in 1627, naming the whole archipelago after Nuyts. Flinders continued with his charting of the coast and in February entered a large inlet stretching northwards (Spencer Gulf); this raised hope that it might be the entrance to a strait which was at the time believed to stretch as far as the Gulf of Carpentaria but this hope was soon disillusioned. On 22 March Kangaroo Island was discovered and a landing was made. Many kangaroos were killed for food. Gulf St Vincent was next explored and charted revealing the leg-shaped Yorke Peninsula, and, after a second brief visit to Kangaroo Island, the Investigator sailed east.
Further detail of the voyage with extracts from Flinders' Voyage to Terra Australis, maps and details of the work of naturalists and artist, accounts of the disaster off Memory Cove can be found on the Encounter 1802-2002 website under Flinders' voyage.