Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

Matra, James Mario - A journal of a voyage around the world

In 1768 Matra joined Endeavour as a "Captain's servant" and sailed on the first voyage of Pacific exploration with James Cook and (Sir) Joseph Banks. When the Endeavour returned to England in July 1771, Matra had his journal published anonymously as crew were forbidden to publish prior to the publication of the official account of the voyage. This extremely rare first edition provides some additional information and views to the official Admiralty record.

This rare first edition is of considerable significance, as it contains the first printed account of the east coast of Australia. Its predates the naming of Botany Bay, which is referred to as Sting-ray Bay, the name originally given to it by Cook. Anonymous and unauthorized, the publication preceded Hawkesworth’s official account of the voyage by some two years. It was the first of numerous so-called ‘surreptitious’ accounts of Cook’s voyages.

The legitimacy of this narrative as a first-hand account has, in spite of its anonymity, never been challenged: its authorship has always been attributed to a member of Cook’s expedition. However, Admiralty regulations decreed that all crew on the Endeavour surrender their journals at the end of the voyage, and forbade the publication of any voyage account until after publication of the official account – hence the need for the authors identity to be suppressed.

The original dedication leaf, which was not included in this issue, was printed separately from the text. Inserted by the publishers, Beckett and de Hondt, to give the publication an air of credibility and the false status of an authorized work, the dedication is to: The Right Honourable Lords of the Admiralty, and to Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander’, with an instruction to the binder to ‘Place this next the title’. The leaf was promptly removed following the threat of legal action by Banks and Solander, and as a result very few copies which retain the suppressed leaf have survived. 

Matra - title page
Matra - example page

James Mario Matra was born in New York to a prominent Corsican family which fell on hard times losing much of its wealth in the American Revolution. He was educated in England and joined Cook's Endeavour in 1768. While on board he got to know (Sir) Joseph Banks and formed a lifelong friendship with him. 

American loyalists, of which James Mantra was one, found themselves in an awkward position after the War of Independance. Unwelcome in America and viewed with suspicion in England they found themselves often disposessed and without a home. Having seen New South Wales, and been impressed, Matra put forward a plan for a colony to be established there for the American loyalists among others. With considerable foresight he suggested a wool industry could be successfully established there. He also pointed out the considerable trade advantages of having a base close to Asia and also the strategic advantages should conflicts arise with the Dutch, and Spanish. Although his plan was not adopted by the British Government it is thought to have influenced the decision to establish a penal colony at Port Jackson.

He saw out his days as British consul at Tangier, Morocco.

Frost, Alan. The Precarious Life of James Mario Matra: Voyager with Cook, American Loyalist, Servant of Empire. Melbourne, 1995
Giordano Antonio, A Dream of Southern Seas, Published by the author 1981.

RGSSA Catalogue number rgsp 910 41 J86