As many as 40,000 graves in the cemetery in which Flinders was buried are being exhumed by archeologists as part of the development of a high-speed rail line linking London with Birmingham.
The grave of the explorer, who died of a kidney infection at sea when he was 40 years old, was identified by a lead plate attached to his coffin, according to Australian national broadcaster ABC.
“This is a very exciting moment for Australia,” said George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK. “It is serendipitous the discovery of the remains of Matthew Flinders, one of the great early explorers, should come in the week of Australia Day.”
Flinders died just as his greatest work, an atlas and book of discoveries made circumnavigating the continent, was published.
While Flinders never received significant recognition for his achievements while alive, he is now celebrated as a national hero in Australia — where his name adorns one of the country’s largest universities, a major thoroughfare in Melbourne and a town in the state of Victoria.
He was buried in a sprawling churchyard on the site of what is now Euston, one of the British capital’s busiest rail stations. He will be re-interred with the other bodies discovered at the site in another location, yet to be determined, the ABC reported.
PM Morrison to celebrate life of Cook
The discovery came as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a grant of AU$11 million ($7.8 million) for a controversial project to “rediscover” the life and achievements of Captain James Cook, who claimed Australia for the British, including a replica of Cook’s ship, which will undertake a months-long circumnavigation of Australia.
The 18th-century explorer provokes mixed emotions in Australia, where he is both celebrated for his achievements in exploring a region that was then largely unknown to Europeans, including charting the country’s eastern coast, and vilified for what followed — a brutal colonization which wrought huge damage on the continent’s indigenous population.