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Date range: 
CE 1650 to CE 1850
South Australia,
Encounter Bay

This small but highly significant collection relates to European exploration of the Australian, particularly South Australian, coastline from the 17th to mid 19th century. The collection includes artefacts retrieved from Dutch trading vessels shipwrecked off Australia’s south west coast in 1656. Its most iconic objects are those linked to the voyages of British explorer Matthew Flinders and French commander Nicolas Baudin, whose expeditions both charted the South Australian coastline in 1802.


Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Australia from 1801 to 1803 and is responsible for completing the first accurate chart of the South Australian coastline; he is hailed as one of the most important figures in South Australian history and in the history of maritime exploration in Australia.

The collection includes the best bower anchor from Flinders’ ship HMS Investigator.  On 17 May 1803 Flinders anchored off Middle Island at the western end of the Great Australian Bight to provision the ship.   When a strong breeze threatened to dash Investigator onto the rocky shore, Flinders ordered the anchor to be severed. It was retrieved by the Underwater Explorers Club in 1973. The museum holds fragments of a copper plaque Flinders placed at Memory Cove near Port Lincoln, in South Australia after eight of his crew drowned there in February 1802. The plaque is part of South Australia’s Historical Relics Collection and is one of the Australia’s first memorials - perhaps the first physical item left by Europeans in South Australia. The collection also includes a marble plaque commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin in 1841 to commemorate Flinders’ expedition and the role of her husband Sir John Franklin who served under Flinders. A full exhibition ship model of the HMS Investigator (1795) helps audiences understand the challenges faced by a 19th century captains and crew living and navigating a small wooden vessel in uncharted waters. The rigors of the voyage and its discoveries are documented in Flinders account of the expedition A Voyage to Terra Australis published in 1814. 

The collection also includes a first edition of Freycinet and Peron’s account of the French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin - Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes (Paris, 1807-16). Between 1801 and 1803, under instruction from Napoleon Bonaparte, French commander Nicolas Baudin led one of the best equipped scientific voyages of discovery ever mounted by the French. It collected more than 100,000 specimens of Australian fauna and flora representing almost 4,000 species. Despite their respective countries being at war, the expeditions of Flinders and Baudin encountered each other off the South Australian coast in April 1802 and exchanged information.   This encounter is perhaps the most significant events in the history of South Australian maritime exploration.  

The collection includes artefacts retrieved from the Dutch trading vessel Vergulde Draeck wrecked off the south west coast of Australia in 1656. These objects highlight the fact that other European nations had established lucrative trading syndicates and ventured into Australia’s waters well before the French and English. The museum owns a small 17th century iron swivel gun (part of the Historic Relics Collection) that was retrieved in 1907 from a cairn in the Northern Territory. Research indicates that it probably was linked to Macassan voyagers, whose connections with Australia and particularly the Indigenous people of Northern Australia substantially pre date the Dutch.  

Early 19th century terrestrial and celestial globes in the collection illustrate geographical knowledge explorers had of the world during their voyages, while octants and sextants dating from the turn of the 19th century help audiences understand the ways in which they navigated and mapped the coastline.

Collection highlights

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