Australians have launched a
campaign calling on Britain to hand over the first map that refers to the
nation as ‘Australia’.
The chart, drawn by British
explorer Matthew Flinders in 1804 after circumnavigating the continent in a leaky,
rotting boat, has been described as the country’s ‘birth certificate’.
Before then navigators had usually
referred to the land as New Holland or Terra Australis.
The appeal for the ‘return’ of the
map, which is not on display at the British Hydrographic Office in Taunton,
Somerset, came as patriots Down Under celebrated Australia Day.
A group of academics, politicians
and students have launched an online petition to claim what an MP called the
‘Elgin Marbles of Australian history’.
Historian and president of
Federation of Australian Historical Societies Don Garden said Flinders is a
Flinders, whose name was given to
more than 100 geographic features, including a mountain range, set out to
circumnavigate Australia in 1801 after being commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks.
He completed his journey in June
1803 and was jailed by the French in Mauritius, where he had stopped for
repairs, on his journey back to Britain.
Flinders remained in jail for six
Only on returning to Britain in
1810 was he able to work more on his map and an account of his journey, called
A Voyage to Terra Australis.
His map of Australia and book were
not published until 1814 while Flinders was on his deathbed.
He died without seeing the fruits
of his work.
Greg Hunt, the MP for the
constituency of Flinders in the state of South Australia, has written a letter
to Dr Liam Fox, the British Defence Secretary, asking for his assistance.
He said he hoped 100,000 people
would put their names to the petition to have the map returned in time for the
bicentenary of Flinders’ death.