About LEMA | Find | Projects | Documents | Research | Gallery
1817 sydneygazette

Philo Free Letter
January 1817



Early in the last century the famous South Sea scheme was projected, and ran through its short-lived but disastrous career, all its dreams of golden showers having proved a mere illusion, by the bursting of that never-to-be-forgotten-bubble, which involved in its explosion a great mass of the English Nation, and induced much public distress; leaving all, but the few artful and designing projectors themselves, to deplore too late their credulity and national gullabillity. In our days, a "New South Wales Philanthropic Society" has been formed, and liberal subscriptions entered into for the laudable purpose of extending "protection and civilization to such of the Natives of the South Sea Islands as may arrive at Port Jackson. "Now, Sir, although the circumstances will not perhaps warrant its being also termed a bubble, yet there are some features in the two schemes so much alike that I think an able hand could make no bad parallel between them — "si fas est magnis componere parva." Thus, the South Sea scheme held out the bait or lure of such extravagant profits in the way of trade, that the sordid and mercenary were dazzled at the prospect, and shares originally purchased at £100, were frequently transferred at eight times that amount. — The illusion however lasted but a few months, and all the fabrick went to ruin, leaving not a wreck behind. The South Sea Islands Philanthrophists in 1813, without the temptation of the gilded pill of wealth uncountable having been held out to them, cheerfully subscribed their money under the assurance that they should have the spiritual consolation at least of having performed charitable acts, and rendered humane services to the Natives of the South Seal Islands! — These were the profits that the subscribers in general had in view: — how they have been realized we now in 1817, all know too well; for, to this day, we have never been favoured even with a single report of the application of the funds; and thus, like the bubbletonians of 1720, after having come down with our dumps we have had no return, either to our purse or to the stock of our benevolence; and " for aught that I can learn or read," we are not likely to be gratified with such a result.

In former times the active and enterprizing spirit of the Jesuits led them, for religion's sake ostensibly, to visit the most remote regions of the known world; their zeal for the Church of Rome never slumbered, but they soon superadded thereto the lust of wealth, power, and dominion; and that fraternity commencing in holy and religious zeal, degenerated into temporal factions, which at length wrought their own downfall, and relieved Europe from their domineering and tyrannical usurpation of the exclusive trade of those Settlements where they had established themselves. — Now, a missionary spirit of a somewhat more humble cast has pervaded the Islands in the South Seas, introducing with it the art of distillation, and that tiny race of animals, which on being boiled, do not prove to be lobsters ! — An ardent thirst for the influence of this spirit at this time pervades the inhabitants of all the Islands of the Pacific, with which we have any intercourse; and pigs, and pine trees, New Zealand flax, &c. are the return made in full tale for the comforts of the spirit instilled into them, and by which they are inspired. The active exertions of him who is the worthy head of these sectarian visionaries or missionaries (whichever you please, Mr. Editor), in propagating the Gospel by such means, and the transmission from time to time of muskets and cutlasses, will, no doubt, redound much and highly to the honour of the Christian Mahomet, and of the church so planted, whilst the pecuniary advantage of the chosen few will not be altogether overlooked. But what availeth all this, Mr. Editor, to you and me, in the common class of the subscribers? Those who bolt the pork and the profits, should, in my opinion unbolt their coffers, and bear also the expences of their gospel venders and bacon curers; and, for myself, I shall be well content to see them possessed equally of the exclusive honour of evangelizing, by such means, the New Zealanders, the Otaheitans, the Gimeoaans, &c. &c. But to be very candid with you, I do not wish to see men in any garb, or under any mask or pretence whatever, arrogate to themselves such consequential airs of importance, for acts of public beneficence, which they have never exhibited in their private lives; and still less, if possible, in their public characters towards the abject Natives of New South Wales. True it is, that these people are not yet qualified or enabled to make other returns than those of humble gratitude and peaceful demeanour; and these, perhaps, are not worthy of being recorded in the faithful pages of an Eclectic Review, with the exalted deeds of the evangelizing heroes, whose never dying fames are there trumpeted forth.

Although this may be the case, I am notwithstanding one of those who wish to introduce civilization; and the pure doctrines of the Christian religion among the sable sons of Australia, maugre all the objections started by vulgar prejudice, or sordid views of personal aggrandizement; and I do not hesitate to say, that I feel it an imperious duty owing to those among whom I live and have my subsistence, to make the effort to reclaim these children of Nature, even if that effort were to be rendered nugatory by any circumstances whatever. This leads me to inform you, and by that means the Public also, that in a conversation lately with some other members of the New South Wales Bubble (the trading concerns thereof being duly excepted from that appellation), it appeared to be the general wish that the subscriptions should be restored and appropriated to the establishment of schools for the children of the poor within the Colony, and the diffusion of Christian knowledge among the heathen natives. A Bible and general Book Society is I understand in contemplation, to be connected with the school institutions; and by these means (if even the advantage of the library originally destined for the poor, by its humane donors, should continue unavailable), the great and glorious object of dispelling the dark and gloomy clouds of ignorance under which it has pleased Providence to permit the Aborigines of this Colony to remain unto the present time, the nineteenth century of the Christian era, and the twentieth-ninth year of the British settlement on its shore, may be happily effected.

I can assure you, Mr. Editor, that many of the wisest and best men among us are most zealously anxious, for such establishments being commenced upon; and I have the sanity to think, that even the desultory remarks made in this hastily drawn up letter, written in my cabin, without the aid of books (for my little collection went a pilgrimage, I have been told, to the Friendly and Society Islands), will tend to remove some ill-founded prejudices, to confirm liberal and generous dispositions, and to open the eyes of all, to a sense of duty and Christian charity towards our adopted country, and its harmless, though uncivilized natives.



4th January 1817.

Top of page

Sydney Gazette 4 January 1817; see also the 'Philo Free' Trial 21-23 October 1817 (reported in Sydney Gazette 1 November 1817), and Historical Records of Australia 1:9 pp.891-893.

The publication of this anonymous letter set in train a series of events that culminated in the prosecution by the Reverend Samuel Marsden of J. T. Campbell, Secretary to the Governor, for libel. This elaborately sarcastic review of the missionary activities of the 'Christian Mahomet' of the South Seas was obviously directed at Marsden, and had been composed by Campbell who was incensed at Marsden's failure to attend the annual meeting of Aboriginals convened by Macquarie at Parramatta on 28 December 1816.

Two trials were convened later in 1817. In the first in the Criminal Court Campbell was found guilty of allowing the libel to appear, but no sentence was passed. In the second trial in the Supreme Court Marsden gained a successful civil action and obtained 200 damages. The outcome was an embarrassment to Campbell as well as to Macquarie, but perhaps its' main significance lies in the way that Marsden's open defiance of and resistance to the governor's authority and policies had prompted Campbell to act in such a reckless fashion.

Return to: 1817 | Documents

Copyright © 2011 Macquarie University. All rights reserved.

Macquarie University
NSW State Library
National Library of Scotland
Historic Houses Trust
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
State Records of NSW