From Timor to Mauritius: Matthew Flinders' Island Identity

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In the official journal that Matthew Flinders kept on the Investigator there is a passage describing his visit to an estate on the island of Timor in April 1803. This does not appear in any form in his later account of Voyage and unlike the rest of the journal is decidedly personal. He writes, ‘I could not prevent my ideas from dwelling upon the happiness that a man whose desires were moderate might enjoy in this delightful retreat with the beloved of his heart’. But, following this train of thought, he decides that there ‘could be no collision of mind upon mind’, without which even reading would pall. ‘I energetically exclaimed No – I was not meant for this.’ The island life was not for him.
In December of the same year, Flinders put into the island of Mauritius (then Ile de France) in the Cumberland, seeking a safe harbour to repair his tiny schooner, and was detained by the French colonial governor until 1810. In October 1805, when he had been on Mauritius for two years, he ruminated in his Private Journal about his situation, ‘a prisoner on a mountainous island in the Indian Ocean, lying under a cascade in a situation very romantic and interior’ (101). On Mauritius he was without ‘the beloved of his heart’ – his wife Ann, who was waiting for him in England – but there were unexpected compensations for his enforced sojourn: new friendships, and time to read, think and mature. His view of the drawbacks of island life was confirmed in one respect: the pace of his life on the island necessarily slackened, or relaxed; but this allowed, or forced, the ambitious over-achiever to ‘learn patience’. As chronicled in his journal, he developed in ways he could not foresee.
In this paper I will explore the island identity that Flinders developed during his long stay on Mauritius, in the context of his vision of islands as sites of romance, contemplation and intellectual stagnation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcross and Beyond
EditorsNishi Pulugurtha
Place of PublicationWest Bengal, India
PublisherAvenel PRESS
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)978-81-946404-9-3, 9788194640493
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

First published in Cafe Dissensus, June 2018


  • Matthew Flinders
  • islands
  • life writing


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