Could dig answer Flinders mystery?

The statue of Matthew Flinders in Donington.
The statue of Matthew Flinders in Donington.

Could an archaeological dig, set to exhume 60,000 bodies in a former London cemetery finally answer the mystery of where famed explorer Matthew Flinders is buried?

At the end of his life, Flinders was buried at St James’ Churchyard off Hampstead Road. However, in 1852 his grave was discovered missing after Euston station was expanded.

His daughter wrote that his aunt had gone looking for the grave and found ‘the churchyard remodelled, and quantities of tombstones and graves with their contents had been carted away as rubbish, among them that of my unfortunate father, thus pursued by disaster after death as in life.’

Theories suggest his body may have been among thousands moved to other cemeteries in London, including Finchley Park, or that he remains buried under a platform at the station.

Now archaeologists are set to exhume more than 60,000 bodies from the area as part of preparation work for the HS2 High Speed rail line - but could the dig find Flinders? It’s unlikely according to organisers and historians.

Helen Wass, HS2 Lead Archaeologist said: “Captain Matthew Flinders is a widely celebrated figure in Australia and it will be very exciting if we were to discover his remains at St James’s Gardens but given the number of bodies buried there, it’s not going to be an easy task.

“Like other notable figures in the burial ground, unless his coffin is still intact, with a metal name plate and some sort of distinguishable funerary decoration, the chances of identifying him are slim.

“However, if we do find Captain Matthew Flinders and other notable figures buried there, it will be an incredible opportunity to celebrate the lives these people who have contributed so much to our history, here in the UK and further afield in Australia.”

Distant family member John Flinders, who campaigned for a statue of Matthew Flinders to be placed in Euston Station – originally under Platform 15 where he was thought to lay, and later moved to the external plaza – told The Standard the family did like to think he was still buried somewhere in the cemetery.

He added they were not bothered by the building of HS2 over the site - saying that the level of decomposition of bodies in the area would make it difficult to identify people.

He added, however: “If they do come across his remains when they carry out work they are duty bound to reinter them elsewhere.”

He approved of suggestions that Flinders, if found, could be buried in Donington with other members of his family, including his brother and father.

“We can’t be certain his remains are still there, but if they are, yes, it would be lovely to think they could be taken back to Donington.”