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The body of the explorer Captain Matthew Flinders — the first known person to circumnavigate Australia — has been uncovered during HS2 works at Euston.
A coffin with a lead breastplate bearing Flinders' name was unearthed in St. James's burial ground, immediately to the west of Euston station. He was buried here on 23 July 1814, but following the expansion of Euston station into part of the burial ground in the 1840s, Flinders' headstone was removed, and it was thought that his remains had been lost forever.
This thrilling discovery all-but proves that the long-held 'urban myth' that Flinders was buried somewhere beneath platform 15, was in fact not far off. That Flinders' remains have apparently been discovered so early on — and among 40,000 other human remains — makes this finding all the more uncanny.
Helen Wass, HS2 Head of Heritage, said:
We weren’t confident that we were going to find him. We were very lucky that 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.
This discovery is particularly exciting for me as an archaeologist as Matthew Flinders was the grandfather of renowned Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, commonly known as the 'Father of Archaeology'.
Flinders made several significant voyages, most notably as commander of HMS Investigator which he navigated around the entire coast of Australia in 1802. He is also credited with giving Australia its name. Flinders gives his name to many places in Australia, including Flinders Station in Melbourne, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the town of Flinders in Victoria.
A statue of Flinders and his cat Trim — who often travelled with the explorer — was unveiled inside the station in 2014. Later — possibly due to passengers using it as a dumping ground for coffee cups — it was moved out the front of Euston, joining the esteemed company of Robert Stephenson.
Flinders' remains will be reinterred with the buried population of St. James's Gardens, at a location to be announced.
The archaeological digs are happening ahead of building the new HS2 station here — with a planned opening of 2026. The chosen site has not been without its controversies, with some protests having previously taken place.