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Uncovering London Euston

St James' Gardens Burial Ground, London

The discovery of Captain Matthew Flinders has thrilled archaeologists.

Archaeologists working on the HS2 project in Euston have discovered Victorian time capsules and the remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, the Royal Navy explorer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia.

Archaeologists at St James Gardens

What we learned

Victorian time capsules In 2017, two Victorian time capsules buried nearly 140 years ago, to mark the opening of the UK's first "sober" hospital, were uncovered during the demolition of the derelict National Temperance Hospital.

Captain Flinders Archaeologists were able to identify Captain Matthew Flinders's remains by the lead coffin breast plate placed on top of his coffin. He led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with giving the country its name.

The final voyage Over two hundred years after his death, Captain Flinders made his last journey home to Donington, Lincolnshire to the church where he was baptised.

Image of St James' archaeology site.

Given the number of human remains at St. James’s Gardens, we weren’t confident that we were going to find him. We were very lucky that Captain Flinders had a breastplate made of lead meaning it would not have corroded.

The discovery

HS2 archaeologists were able to identify Captain Matthew Flinders’s remains by the lead depositum plate (breast plate) placed on top of his coffin. The discovery of his burial site among 40,000 other human remains, in Euston’s St James’s burial ground, so early on in the archaeological excavation was amazing.

Flinders’s achievements

Captain Flinders made several significant voyages, most notably as commander of H.M.S Investigator which he navigated around the entire coast of Australia. This made him the first person to sail around the country in its entirety, confirming it as a continent. He is also credited with giving Australia its name. He was not the first to use the term, but his work and publications popularised it. His surname is associated with many places in Australia, including Flinders Station in Melbourne, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the town of Flinders in Victoria.

Flinders died in 1814 and was buried in the St James’s Gardens burial ground. Following the expansion of Euston station westwards into part of the burial ground in the 1840s, his headstone was removed and it was thought that his remains had been lost. For a long time, there was an urban myth that Captain Flinders was buried under platform 15.

Portrait of Captain Flinders

Portrait of Captain Flinders.

Learn more about Captain Flinders