Statue of Australian Explorer commemorates UCL-South Australia link

23 July 2014

UCL Engineering has unveiled a miniature statuette of South Australian explorer Captain Matthew Flinders, the first man to circumnavigate and name Australia, accompanied by a permanent video link to UCL Australia in Adelaide. The installation, in the Roberts Engineering building, represents the relationship between the university and the state of South Australia.

The South Australian Government proposed and commissioned the statue of Matthew Flinders, which will be permanently installed in Euston Station, and has produced a series of miniature statuettes for others with connections to the explorer and area. The UCL statuette is installed on the first floor of the Roberts Engineering building, above the Engineering Cafe and includes a live permanent link to our furthest-flung campus, giving passersby a view of their colleagues’ environment in Adelaide and connecting the two sites. It was unveiled on 23rd July by the Dean, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, and Matt Johnson, Deputy Agent General for South Australia.

Captain Matthew Flinders was an English explorer and cartographer, the first to circle Australia and identify it as a continent. His support for the name Australia for the southern continent led directly to the name used today, and his mapping of the coastline encouraged and enabled the settlement of the area by Europeans. Extremely dedicated to his work, he took each bearing and angle in his charts himself and, through his careful methodology, also made many contributions to the science of navigation.

A statuette of Australian explorer, Captain Matthew Flinders, housed at UCL

A statuette of Australian explorer, Captain Matthew Flinders, housed at UCL

Many locations in Australia are named after or by him, but so far he has little recognition in his birth country. It is believed that his grave is currently located beneath platform 15 of Euston Station, which has inspired the erection of the memorial on the 200th anniversary of his death. Throughout his travels he was accompanied by his cat, Trim, who is also immortalised in the statue.

His 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.

However, UCL’s connection with South Australia begins before that with the thoughts and writings of Jeremy Bentham, and the College’s founders such as Henry Brougham and George Grote, who had been influenced by Bentham’s writings on education. These 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’.

While none of these ideas were wholly adopted, they are part of the history of European settlement of South Australia and the names of men who promoted settlement there can still be traced in the streets of Adelaide, named after radicals, utilitarian philosophers and others involved in its founding. Today, visitors to UCL Australia still cross streets named after Bentham, Grote and other members of UCL’s first Council.

In the modern day, UCL Australia is one of UCL’s two overseas campuses, and focuses on energy and resources production, a key industry in Australia and concern for the world. From its base in Adelaide, UCL Australia maintains excellent connections with the energy industries of South Australia as well as local communities and governments who must make energy policy choices. The CEO of UCL Australia, David Travers, was previously the Deputy Agent General for the Government of South Australia in London and organises regular energy-themed ‘Grote Lectures’ to which the Adelaide academic community, policy makers and members of the public are all welcome.

Professor Anthony Finkelstein, Dean of UCL Engineering, said:

“We greatly value our relationship with South Australia and see this installation 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.”

Bill Muirhead, Agent General for South Australia said:

“Flinders was a truly remarkable man who had an immeasurable influence on South Australia by helping to shape the entire country. It’s a great honour to finally be able to properly recognise his astonishing achievements with this statue.

This installation further strengthens the historic bond between South Australia and Great Britain. Adelaide is Australia’s education city and very proud home to both Flinders University and also UCL Australia.

We look forward to the next generation of bright young minds from both countries being inspired to learn and travel by the spirit of Flinders himself.”

Many thanks to the team at UCL Public Collections & Engagement, particularly Nick Booth and Tim Causer, for information on the connections between the founders of UCL and South Australia.

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