Stained Glass window in St Mary and the Holy Rood Donington

Matthew Hinders was born in Donington on the 16th of March 1774 the son of a well respected country surgeon and apothecary. The family had arrived in Donington from Nottinghamshire in the late 1600’s. Matthew’s grandfather, John, had also been the village surgeon and the family hoped that the young Matthew would follow the family example and become a doctor. To this end Matthew’s father set about giving him the best education the area could offer. Firstly he sent him to two schools in Donington, at an early age Matthew went to Mrs Moor’s School and then until he was twelve to the Cowley Grammar School. The boy was very bright and willing to learn so in July 1786 he was sent to a new school in Horbling, six miles to the west of Donington. Run by the Rev John Shingler in a room at St Andrews Church, the lad boarded there at a cost of £.10-10s a year. The main skills that Matthew probably learned while at Horbling were to write in a clear and concise way and to have an excellent grasp of mathematics, which would be important in his later career in navigation and surveying. In 1787, when Matthew was thirteen, he was taken out of school by his father, who wrote in his diary “My son Matthew, I have taken him home from school. I mean him to assist me in my business, he has made a proficiency in learning, exceeding any hopes I could reasonably form. I hope he will be a comfort and a blessing to us.”

At about the age of fifteen Flinders decided that a country doctor’s life was not for him. He had read “Robinson Crusoe”, a book written by Daniel Defoe that fascinated him and gave him the urge to go to sea. For some time the young Matthew dared not mention his decision to his parents, fearful of refusal and hurting the feelings of his father who wanted him to follow in the family footsteps and become a doctor. In the end, instead of speaking to his father on the subject, he wrote his wishes on the surgery slate. Angry at first his father refused his permission, but finally gave his son his consent and young Matthew entered the Navy as a Lieutenants Servant in October 1789. Matthew’s first visit home was in May of 1790, and he returned for a short visit in August of the same year. At this time his father noted in his diary, “He is grown and much altered by his uniform, he appears to be satisfied with his situation, I pray to God he may be prosperous.” He returned in May 1791, just before his voyage with Captain Bligh (who had a few years earlier famously survived a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian) and again in September 1793 on its completion. In late summer 1794 Matthew again visited home and on his return to duty took with him his brother, Samuel, to join him on the ‘Reliance’. Matthew and his father last met in April 1801, when Matthew came home from after his first visit to a land that he was later to call Australia. His father wrote, “Matthew came home suddenly and unexpectedly, with a wife, a Miss Chappell of Partney, I had no notice of intention, I am seldom consulted by my young folk, except on the need for raising money for them.” Matthew then left Donington for the last time — going to embark on the journey that would make him famous, lead to a long imprisonment by the French on the island of Mauritius and also eventually to his early death in 1814.

The original house where Matthew was born, at the joining of the Market Place and Station Street, was demolished in 1908, and a new house built in its place. At the side of the front door to this house is a plaque recording the fact that on this site, Matthew Flinders — Explorer was born. On the anniversary of his birthday in 2006 a bronze life size statue was unveiled in Donington market place, just fifty yards from the site of his birthplace. Matthew Flinders had at last come home.