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Historical Records of New Zealand

James Maria Matra’s Proposal

James Maria Matra’s Proposal.

page 36

A Proposal For Establishing a Settlement in New South Wales.

I am going to offer an object to the consideration of our Government what [that] may in time atone for the loss of our American colonies.

By the discoveries and enterprise of our officers, many new countries have been found which know no sovereign, and that hold out the most enticing allurements to European adventurers. None are more inviting than New South Wales.

Capt. Cook first coasted and surveyed the eastern side of that fine country, from the 38th degree of south latitude down to the 10th, where he found everything to induce him to give the most favourable account of it. In this immense tract of more than 2,000 miles there was every variety of soil, and great parts of it were extremely fertile, peopled only by a few black inhabitants, who, in the rudest state of society, knew no other arts than such as were necessary to their mere animal existence, and which was almost entirely sustained by catching fish.

The climate and soil are so happily adapted to produce every various and valuable production of Europe, and of both the Indies, that with good management, and a few settlers, in twenty or thirty years they might cause a revolution in the whole system of European commerce, and secure to England a monopoly of some part of it, and a very large share in the whole.

Part of it lies in a climate parallel to the Spice Islands, and is fitted for the production of that valuable commodity, as well as the sugar-cane, tea, coffee, silk, cotton, indigo, tobacco, and the other articles of commerce that have been so advantageous to the maritime powers of Europe.

I must not omit the mention of a very important article, which may be obtained in any quantity, if this settlement be made the proper use of, which would be of very considerable consequence, both among the necessaries and conveniences of life. I mean the New Zealand hemp or flax plant, an object equally of curiosity and utility. By proper operations it would serve the various purposes of hemp, flax, and silk, and it is more easily manufactured than any one of them. In naval equipments it would be of the greatest importance; a cable of the circumference of ten inches would be equal in strength to one of eighteen inches made of European hemp. Our manufacturers are of opinion that canvas page 37 made of it would be superior in strength and beauty to any canvas of our own country. The threads or filaments of this plant are formed by nature with the most exquisite delicacy, and they may be so minutely divided as to be small enough to make the finest cambrick; in color and gloss it resembles silk. After my true, though imperfect description of this plant I need not enlarge on it, as a very singular acquisition, both to the arts of convenience and luxury.

This country may afford an asylum to those unfortunate American loyalists to whom Great Britain is bound by every tie of honour and gratitude to protect and support, where they may repair their broken fortunes, and again enjoy their former domestic felicity.

That the Government may run no risque nor be left to act in a business of this kind without sufficient information, it is proposed that one ship of the peace establishment (to incur the least possible expence) be directly sent to that country, for the discovery and allotment of a proper district, for the intended settlement; that one or two gentlemen of capacity and knowledge, as well in soil and situation, as in every other requisite, be sent in her, that there may be no imposition on the Government, nor upon the Americans, who, with their families, shall adventure there.

If the Government be disposed to extend this plan, two vessels may be sent with two companies of marines, selected from among such of that corps as best understand husbandry, or manufacturies, and about twenty artificers, who are all the emigration required from the parent State; these last to be chiefly such as are taken on board ships of war for carpenters’ and armourers’ crews, with a few potters and gardeners.

These twenty men and the marines, under a proper person, to be left at the new settlement, with materials and provisions, to prepare for the reception of the intended settlers, that their wants may be as few as possible on their arrival.

As the ship, or ships, stop at the Cape of Good Hope, a sufficient stock to begin with of cows, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, and seeds may be obtained there. A supply of the like articles, as well as cotton seeds, plantains, grapes, grain, &c., &c., may be had in any quantity at Savu or any of the Moluccas, which are very near New South Wales.

When the landing is effected the smaller vessel may be dispatched home with the intelligence; and while the party designed to be left are superintending the gardens and increase of live stock, the other ship may, if thought proper, be despatched to New Caledonia, Otahite, and the neighbouring islands to procure a few families there, and as many women as may serve for the men left page 38 behind. There is every reason to believe they may be obtained without difficulty. If but one vessel goes, the party with their stock may be left without apprehension of danger from the natives.

Sir Joseph Banks is of opinion that we may draw any number of useful inhabitants from China, agreeably to an invariable custom of the Dutch in forming or recruiting their Eastern settlements.

As it is intended not to involve the Government in either a great or a useless expence (for the settlement is designed to increase the wealth of the parent country, as well as for the emolument of the adventurers), a sum not exceeding £3,000 will be more than adequate to the whole expence of Government. Most of the tools, saws, axes, &c., &c., for the use of the party left may be drawn from the ordnance and other public stores, where at present they are useless; and the vessels also, being part of the peace establishment, neither can, nor ought to be, fairly reckoned in the expenditure.

That the Ministry may be convinced that this is not a vain, idle scheme, taken up without due attention and consideration, they may be assured that the matter has been seriously considered by some of the most intelligent and candid Americans, who all agree that, under the patronage and protection of Government, it offers the most favourable prospects that have yet occurred to better the fortunes and to promote the happiness of their fellow-sufferers and countrymen.

Sir Joseph Banks highly approves of the settlement, and is very ready to give his opinion of it, either to his Majesty’s Ministry or others, whenever they may please to require it.

Should this settlement be made, we may enter into a commerce that would render our trade to China, hitherto extremely against us, very favourable. The Aleutian and Foxes islands, situated between Asia and America, which abound with the choicest furs, lie nearly north of New South Wales. It is from these islands the Russians get the most and best of their furs, with which they carry on a very lucrative trade by land with the Chinese. Our ships that sailed under the command of Captain Cook and Clerke stopped at some of them, and the skins which they procured then sold in China at 400 hard dollars each, though for the few they brought home, of the same quality, they only received about ten pounds each. As our situation in New South Wales would enable us to carry on this trade with the utmost facility, we should be no longer under the necessity of sending such immense quantities of silver for the different articles we import from the Chinese Empire.

page 39

There is also a prospect of considerably extending our woollen trade. We know that large quantities of woollen cloth are smuggled to Japan by the Russians, which, as it is taken by land carriage from St. Petersburg to Kamschatka, and then to the islands by a very precarious navigation in boats, must be extremely dear. The Japanese, however, go in their junks to the islands and purchase great quantities of it.

The peninsula of Korea, a kingdom tributary to the Chinese, and unvisited by Europeans, has its supply at second-hand chiefly from the Japanese. No ship has ever attempted this commerce, excepting once or twice that the Spaniards ventured thither from their American dominions; but as the inhabitants of New Spain are but indifferent navigators for the high, cold latitudes, they could not oftener repeat the enterprise.

It may be seen by Captain Cook’s voyage that New Zealand is covered with timber of size and every quality that indicates long duration; it grows close to the water’s edge, and may be easily obtained. Would it not be worth while for such as may be dispatched to New South Wales to take in some of this timber on their return, for the use of the King’s yards? As the two countries are within a fortnight’s run of each other, and as we might be of the utmost service to the New Zealanders, I think it highly probable that this plan might become eminently useful to us as a naval power, especially as we might thus procure masts, a single tree of which would be large enough for a first-rate ship, and planks superior to any that Europe possesses.

By the preliminary articles of peace with Holland we are entitled to a free navigation in the Molucca Seas. Without a settlement in the neighbourhood, the concession is useless; for the Dutch have an agent almost on every island in those seas. If we have a settlement, it is unnecessary; for as spices are the only articles we could expect by it, it is probable we should stand lies in no need of their indulgence, for as part of New South Wales lies in the same latitude with the Moluccas, and is even very close to them, there is every reason to suppose that what nature has so bountifully bestowed on the small islands may also be found on the larger. But if, contrary to analogy, it should not be so, the defect is easily supplyed, for, as the seeds are procured without difficulty, any quantity may speedily be cultivated.

To those who are alarmed at the idea of weakening the mother country by opening a channel for emigration, I must answer that it is more profitable that a part of our countrymen should go to a new abode, where they may be useful to us, than to the American States. If we cannot keep our subjects at home, it is sound policy to point out a road by following of which they may add to the national strength.

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The place which New South Wales holds’on our globe might give it a very commanding influence in the policy of Europe. If a colony from Britain was established in that large tract of country, and if we were at war with Holland or Spain, we might very powerfully annoy either State from our new settlement. We might, with a safe and expeditious voyage, make naval incursions on Java and the other Dutch settlements; and we might with equal facility invade the coast of Spanish America, and intercept the Manilla ships, laden with the treasures of the west. This check which New South Wales would be in time of war on both those powers makes it a very important object when we view it in the chart of the world with a political eye.

Sir Joseph Banks’ high approbation of the scheme which I have here proposed deserves the most respectful attention of every sensible, liberal, and spirited individual amongst his countrymen. The language of encomium, applied to this gentleman, would surely be inequitably censured as the language of adulation. To spurn the alluring pleasures which fortune procures in a frivolous and luxurious age, and to encounter extreme difficulties and dangers in pursuit of discoveries, which are of great benefit to mankind, is a complicated and illustrious event, as useful as it is rare, and which calls for the warmest publick gratitude and esteem.

I shall take this opportunity to make a remark on colonization which has not occurred to me in any author, and which I flatter myself will contain some important civil and political truth.

Too great a diminution of inhabitants of the mother country is commonly apprehended from voluntary emigration—an apprehension which seems to me not to be the result of mature reflexion. That we almost universally have a strong affection for our native soil is an observation as true as it is old. It is founded on the affections of human nature. Not only a Swiss, but even an Icelander, when he is abroad, sickens and languishes in his absence from his native country; therefore, few of any country will ever think of settling in any foreign part of the world, from a restless mind and from romantic views. A man’s affairs are generally in a very distressed, in a desperate situation when he resolves to take a long adieu of his native soil, and of connections which must be always dear to him. Hence a body of emigrants, nay a numerous body of emigrants, may in a commercial view be of great and permanent service to their parent community in some remote part of the world, who, if they continue at home, will probably live to see their own ruin, and will be very prejudicial to society. The politician of an expanded mind reasons from the almost invariable actions of human nature. The doctrine page 41 of the petty statesman is hardly applicable to a larger extent than that of his own closet. When our circumstances are adverse in the extreme they very often produce illegal and rapacious conduct. If a poor man of broken fortunes and of any pretensions be timid in his nature, he most probably becomes a useless, if he has an ardent spirit, he becomes a bad and a criminal, citizen. There are indeed some epochs in a State when emigrations from it may be too numerous; but when from some calamitous and urgent publick cause it must be unworthy of inhabitants.

James M. Matra.

August 23rd, 1783.

When I conversed with Lord Sydney on this subject it was observed that New South Wales would be a very proper region for the reception of criminals condemned to transportation. I believe that it will be found that in this idea good policy and humanity are united.

It will here be very pertinent to my purpose to give an extract from the report of the committee appointed to consider the several returns relative to goals [gaols].*

1st Resolution:—“That the plan of establishing a colony or colonies in some distant part of the globe, and in new discovered countries, where the climate is healthy, and where the means of support are attainable, is equally agreeable to the dictates of humanity and sound policy, and might prove in the result advantageous to navigation and commerce.“

2d. Resolution:—“That it is the opinion of this committee that it might be of publick utility if the laws which now direct and authorize the transportation of certain convicts to his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in N. America were made to authorize the same to any part of the globe that may be found expedient.“

The following facts will particularly corroborate the second resolution:—

Seven hundred and forty-six convicts were sent to Africa from the year 1775 to 1776. The concise account of them given into the committee exhibits an alarming expenditure of human life. 334 died, 271 deserted to no one knows where, and of the remainder no account could be given. Governor O’Hara, who had resided in Africa many years, was of opinion that British convicts could not for any time exist in that climate.

The estimate of the expence, given in by Mr. Roberts, necessary to establish a settlement there, to receive them, amounted page 42 to £9,865. Afterwards the annual charge to the publick for each convict would be about £15 14s. Government pays annually to the contractor for each convict who is employed in the hulks £26 15s. 10d. The annual work of each man is valued at a third of the expence.

I am informed that in some years more than 1,000 felons are convicted, many of whom are under 18 years of age. The charge to the publick for these convicts has been increasing for the last seven or eight years; and, I believe, now amounts to more than £20,000 per annum.

When the convicts were sent to America they were sold for a servitude of seven years. A proposal has been made for the alteration of this mode, respecting those sent to Africa, by condemning them to some publick work there. They were to be released from servitude, and some ground was to be given them to cultivate in proportion as a reformation was observed in their conduct.

Neither of those plans can I approve.

Give them a few acres of ground as soon as they arrive in New South Wales, in absolute property, with what assistance they may want to till them. Let it be here remarked that they cannot fly from the country, that they have no temptation to theft, and that they must work or starve. I likewise suppose that they are not, by any means, to be reproached for their former conduct. If these premises be granted me, I may reasonably conclude that it is highly probable they will be useful; that it is very possible they will be moral subjects of society.

Do you wish, either by private prudence, or by civil policy, to reclaim offenders? Show by your treatment of them that you think their reformation extremely practicable, and do not hold out every moment before their eyes the hideous and mortifying deformity of their own vices and crimes. A man’s intimate and hourly acquaintance with his guilt, of the frowns and severities of the world, tend more powerfully, even than the immediate effects of his bad habits, to make him a determined and incorrigible villain.

By the plan which I have now proposed a necessity to continue in the place of his destination and to be industrious is imposed on the criminal. The expence to the nation is absolutely imperceptible, comparatively, with what criminals have hitherto cost Government; and thus two objects of most desirable and beautiful union will be permanently blended—economy to the publick, and humanity to the individual.

James M. Matra.

* Committee of the House of Commons, appointed in 1777.

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J. M. Matra to Under Secretary Nepean.*

Marston House, Frome, Somersetshire, 1st October [November], ’84.

Dear Sir,—

Of the many letters that I have long been pestered with on the subject of New South Wales, the enclosed is the only one that I am now desirous of answering, for which reason I take the liberty of sending it to you. I know that Mr. De Lancey, who is very sanguine on the business, has been active in procuring the consent of many people to go; and as a settlement somewhere is essentially necessary to them, I wish to be authorized to give him a decisive answer, which, whatever my private opinion may be, I think, would be improper till I hear from you. You will, therefore, do me a particular pleasure, if to the great trouble you have already taken in pushing forward this business for me you would be so obliging as to tell me if the Ministry have come to a decided resolution to reject the plan, or if there be any chance of its being entered on in the spring season. I shall go next Thursday for a few days to Ld. Craven’s, Benham Place, Berks., where your letter to me, under Ld. Cork’s cover, will safely reach me. My company, to be sure, is not politically orthodox, but when I assure you that I am not contaminated by their heresies, you will excuse the direction. I shall always be extremely cautious of obtruding on your time; and, were you to see but a list of the fiftieth part of the letters I am perplexed with about the S. Seas, I know you would pardon this instance.

I am, &c.,

James M. Matra.

* Evan Nepean, Under Secretary of the Home Department, which was charged with the administration of Colonial affairs. He was created a baronet in 1802. Mr. Matra’s letter and enclosure refer to a proposal to send American loyalists as emigrants to New South Wales. The American loyalists were the colonists who remained loyal to Great Britain in the War of Independence, and were punished by being driven from their homes. Mr. De Lancey’s suggestions did not meet with the approval of the British Government.

Thursday morning.

The Attorney-General, I believe by his own desire, has had communicated to him an observation on the passage of our China ships that I imagine will remove the only difficulty that I can think of in the way of the South Sea scheme.

It is a better rout and shorter for the ships bound to China to pass by the coast of New South Wales—now that it is so well known—than that which they at present pursue. Sir George Young has spoken to several of them on this subject, and it appears that the Government may send out convicts at about £15 a head, and as Mr. Pitt’s Commutation Bill will considerably page 44 increase the number of China ships, twenty being taken out by each yearly, will rid you of as many as are on hand. As perhaps the Attorney-General may not receive this in time, you will oblige me by communicating it to Ld. Sydney before he goes to the Cabinet Council.

As there are officers of some consideration in the service who are willing to go on this duty, and as the number of convicts taken out at the beginning are few, and chosen, I think the impropriety of employing King’s ships in the first instance sufficiently removed.

James De Lancey to J. M. Matra.*

Southampton, October the 12th, 1784.

Dear Sir,—

I should have answered yours of the 31st of August sooner, but waited in expectation of another letter from you, which would have contained something decisive in regard to New South Wales.

My brother will deliver this to you. He wishes much to have this business determined one way or the other, in order that, if the plan of making a settlement in the Southern Hemisphere should be given up, he may think of some other way of rendering himself usefull, as he has an active mind, and does not chuse to remain idle.

The season for a voyage to that country will soon be elapsed, and unless the equipment is speedily sett on foot, another year will be lost, and my prospect of procuring settlers from the loyalists in Nova Scotia rendered less favourable, for by next year I should suppose most of them who have gone there will have procured some kind of habitation for themselves, and will not chuse to quit them for an uncertain settlement in N.S. Wales, and I would like to have among the emigrants some of the better sort, and should not chuse to have the colony composed only of such persons who would not get their living anywhere else.

I find that the Treasury Board have met, and therefore hope that now the Ministers have returned to town some final determination will be had on this business, and flatter myself that a measure which appears to meet with general approbation will not be abandoned.

I am, &c.,

James De Lancey.

* This letter was addressed to James Maria Matra, Esq., No. 4, Duke-street, Grosvenor Square. No further correspondence on the subject has been found amongst the Records.

page 45

Lord Howe* to Lord Sydney.

Admiralty, 26th Dec., 1784.

I Return, my dear Lord, the papers you left with me to-day, which are copies only of the former sent to me on the same subject on Friday evening.

Should it be thought advisable to increase the number of our settlements on the plan Mr. Matra has suggested, I imagine it would be necessary to employ ships of a different construction. Frigates are ill adapted for such services. I conceive that ships of burthen to contain the various stores, provisions, implements, &c., wanted for the first colonists meant to be established there, and composing the chief part of the company of the ship, should be provided for the purpose, tho’ an armed vessel of suitable dimensions might be previously appointed to inspect and fix on the preferable station for forming the intended establishment. The length of the navigation, subject to all the retardments of an India voyage, do not, I must confess, encourage me to hope for a return of the many advantages in commerce or war which Mr. M. Matra has in contemplation.

I am, &c.,


* Admiral Howe, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Matra’s proposal.