Hand crafted ship model of HMS INVESTIGATOR. The vessel is highly significant in Australian history as the ship commanded by Lieutenant Matthew Flinders that circumnavigated Australia and charted the entire coastline. Built in Sunderland Co. Durham in 1795, she had a long and illustrious life as collier, naval warship, explorer ship, and finally trader, until she was broken up in Port Philip in 1872.

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Built in 1795 at Monkwearmouthshore, Sunderland, Co. Durham, as a collier for the North-East English coal trade, the warship HMS INVESTIGATOR was initially given the name FRAM. As a collier, she was rated as a great load carrier having a comparatively shallow draught, round bluff bows, broad deep centre section, and tapered stern, but was rather slow sailing. She was sold in 1796 to James Dunning, a coal fitter of Darlington Co. Durham, then resold to George Wakefield of North Shields Co. Durham, before finally being sold to the Royal Navy in April 1798 for 2000 pounds, and renamed HMS XENOPHON.

Although in relatively poor condition, the XENOPHON was refitted as a warship, and twenty gunports cut in her sides to accommodate twenty 32 pounder carronades, which reduced the integral strength of her hull. For the voyage of discovery to Terra Australis her armament was reduced to two long 6 pounders, two 18 pound carronade stern chasers, six 12 pound carronades ,and two swivel guns. The ship was now renamed INVESTIGATOR under the command of Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, along with botanist Robert Brown, botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer, and the landscape artist William Westall, to conduct a thorough exploration of the continental coastline. Flinders’ patron and benefactor was Sir Joseph Banks, who, with his considerable political influence, was able to ease Flinders’ path to obtaining required provisions and refitting the ship. The circumnavigation and charting of the coastline was successfully completed between December 1801 and June 1803. The INVESTIGATOR was by then in poor condition with rotting timbers and was considered unseaworthy, so was left decommissioned as a storeship at Port Jackson.

In 1804, Governor King ordered a survey of the INVESTIGATOR which found the ship could be repaired, rerigged, the front deck cut down, and the ship returned to active service. On 1805, the INVESTIGATOR returned to England carrying Robert Brown and Ferdinand Bauer along with their collections. She continued in naval service until November 1810 and, then in poor condition, was sold for scrap. However, she was not broken up, but rebuilt; her hull recoppered, fitted with a new quarterdeck and upperworks, rigged as a brigantine, reverting to her old name of XENOPHEN. She traded to Canada, Russia, the Mediterranean, and in 1853 arrived in Geelong from Liverpool during the Australian gold rush. She eventually completed her lifetime under sail finishing in Melbourne as a 2 masted hulk with one deck, and was finally broken up in 1872 at Port Philip.

Matthew Flinders was born 16 March 1774 in Lincolnshire. He entered the Royal Navy in 1789 as a 15 year old midshipman. He first served under Captain Bligh on HMS PROVIDENCE on a voyage taking breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, with the purpose of starting commercial breadfruit production there. In January 1795 he joined HMS RELIANCE along with another Lincolnshire native, George Bass, to travel from the penal colony of Botany Bay and to carry out a coastal survey to the south. Bass and Flinders used a 2.4 m. sailing boat called TOM THUMB to explore the coast south from Botany Bay. Later, transferring to the sloop HMS NORFOLK, they were the first to discover that there was a strait separating Tasmania from the mainland, and named it ‘Bass Strait’.

Flinders returned to England in 1800, and married Ann Chappell. After which he received the commission to circumnavigate and chart of the Australian coastline. Flinders next sailed as a passenger on HMS PORPOISE, but the ship was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, whereupon he navigated the ship’s cutter across open sea back to Sydney and arranged for the rescue of the remaining marooned crew. He then took command of the 29 ton schooner CUMBERLAND to return to England. However, the poor condition of the vessel forced him to put in at French controlled Mauritius for repairs and provisions, on 17th December 1803. He was unaware that war had broken out between France and England, and he was seized and detained in Mauritius for nearly seven years. When he was released in June 1810, he was in poor health. Flinders eventually reached England on 24th October 1810, receiving a promotion to Post-Captain. On 19th July 1814, the book ‘ A Voyage to Terra Australis’ was published, and on the next day Matthew Flinders died, aged 40.

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