MATRA, James Mario (c. 1745-1806)

MATRA, James Mario (c. 1745-1806)
who in 1783 proposed that a colony should be formed in Australia
was born in New York possibly about the year 1745. The name is unusual, and it has been suggested that he may have belonged to the same family as General Matra who is mentioned in Boswell's An Account of Corsica. He was a midshipman on H.M.S. Endeavour with Cook (q.v.) in 1770 under the name of J. Magra, and may have landed with Banks (q.v.) and Solander (q.v.) at Botany Bay. In December 1772 he was British consul at Teneriffe, and between 1774 and 1779, his father having died, he made various efforts to get to New York to look after his estate, and failing to obtain a "share of the allowance granted for the Loyal Americans", was endeavouring in February 1783 to obtain an appointment to one of the Spanish "consulages". On 28 July 1783 he wrote to Banks stating that he had heard rumours of two plans for settlements in the South Seas, one of them in New South Wales, and asking for information about them, as he had "frequently revolved similar plans in my mind". Matra probably conferred with Banks and promptly brought forward a plan, dated 23 August 1783, for a settlement in New South Wales and suggested it could form an asylum for the unfortunate American loyalists. His primary idea was a settlement of free men, but in a postscript he discussed the question of transportation. Matra may have been hoping that if the plan were adopted he would be given an official position in connexion with it. In 1787, however, he was appointed consul-general at Tangiers, and during his term he twice conducted negotiations with the Sultan of Morocco for which he received the thanks of the government. He died at Tangiers on 29 March 1806.
In 1914 Captain J. H. Watson contributed a paper to the Royal Australian Historical Society at Sydney, in which he claimed that Matra was the "Father of Australia". This, however, is claiming too much. In 1779 a committee of the house of commons was inquiring into the question of transportation, and when Banks was examined as a witness he stated that Botany Bay appeared to him to be the most eligible for such a settlement. It is clear from Matra's letter to Banks in 1783, already quoted, that the question was still being kept alive, and the chief merit of Matra's suggestion was his belief that a settlement for free men might be possible. It would certainly have been better if practical farmers had first been sent out as he suggested, instead of the unfortunate convicts that Phillip (q.v.) had to look after, but the fact remains that Matra's plan was not adopted.
J. H. Watson, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. X, pp. 152-86; G. A. Wood, ibid, vol. VI, pp. 49-58; Miss L. Thomas, ibid, vol. XL pp. 63-82; G. B. Barton, Introductory Sketch, History of New South Wales, vol. I; G. Mackaness, Sir Joseph Banks; Gentleman's Magazine, vol. LXXVI, p. 478. See also ed. by Owen Rutter, Th First Fleet, The Record of the Foundation of Australia.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Matra — /ˈmætrə/ (say matruh) noun James Mario, c. 1745–1806, American born loyalist and midshipman; served on the Endeavour; influential in the settlement of NSW …  

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