[COLLINS] SMYTH, Thomas
[SYDNEY] An important letter to Thomas Smyth’s banker in London, regarding a substantial payment he made to David Collins, signed by Collins on the verso.
Autograph letter signed by Thomas Smyth, dated Sydney, 19 March 1795, addressed to his banker in London, John Madden Esq.; manuscript in ink on a single sheet of laid paper, 227 x 183 mm; endorsed and signed on the verso by David Collins; fine.
First Fleeter and Provost Marshal Smyth makes a substantial payment to David Collins.
An attractive and significant letter, in which the First Fleeter Thomas Smyth authorises payment to the NSW Judge-Advocate David Collins of the substantial sum of £48. Collins, in turn, confirms the arrangement in a note of his own to his London-based banker on the reverse of the sheet, confidently signing his name in full: the fact that Collins has also annotated and signed the letter is a most attractive addition as original manuscript material relating to this major figure of Australian history is much sought after.
Dated in Sydney in March 1795, the letter sheds some light on the conditions prevailing under the military rule of Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, a period of social unease as Paterson continued to privilege an influential military clique through the profligate dispersal of land. Not only are original manuscripts relating to this era scarce, especially in private hands, but the present letter is also more significant as an extremely rare example of any letter by Smyth, an Irish-born sergeant in the Marines who is now best remembered for his key role, as a member of the Loyal Association, in the dispersal and punishment of the convict uprising at Vinegar Hill in 1804.
Although originally in Watkin Tench’s company in Sydney, in October 1788 Smyth was sent to Norfolk Island, returning three years later. He was given the plum role of storekeeper at Sydney in August 1792, a promotion which Collins would later write gave “general satisfaction” in the town. Smyth received his first land grant, in the district of ‘Bulanaming’ (near the Cooks River), two years later. Continuing his rapid rise, in 1796 Governor Hunter promoted him to provost marshal, much to the disgust of one of his rivals for the job, who called Smyth an “illiterate… drunken sot” (if nothing else, the present letter puts to rest any doubts about Smyth’s literacy).
By 1799 Smyth’s land grants in Bulanaming had become so profuse and disorganised that they were united into a massive 470 acre holding by order of Governor Hunter, which Smyth consolidated through the addition of grants at Bankstown (190 acres) and Windsor (30 acres), making him one of the most substantial of the early settlers, working particularly closely with the later founder of the Theological College in Sydney, Thomas Moore. However, the present letter draws Smyth much closer into the ambit of Collins, the long-serving judge-advocate and chronicler of the early colony, than has hitherto been recognised to be the case. It is not immediately clear as to why Smyth was paying Collins such a large sum, although presumably it related to one of the elaborate private land sales taking place around this time, especially given it is dated in early 1795, only a few months after the flurry of land grants made in November and December 1794. Given Collins was perennially short of funds, in part because his loyalty to Phillip meant that he stayed on in Sydney much longer than he wanted to, missing out on promotions, the letter is clear evidence of the deals he was making and the private arrangements among the increasingly unrestrained military caste.
The letter was sent by Smyth, as he notes at the foot, to his banker in London William John Madden Esq., for many years Paymaster of the Royal Marines. Collins personally endorsed the back with a note that it should be forwarded to his own banker, Charles Cox (the most well-known of the agents for the officers of the Royal Marines). Such an arrangement is testament to the complexity of all financial dealings in early Sydney.
Smyth died in Windsor, a wealthy man, on 19 December 1804. His old company leader, Tench, was named as his executor.
Provenance: Almost certainly part of the well-known dispersal of the papers of the banker Cox in the mid-twentieth century.
ADB; David Collins, Account of the English Colony (1975); Gillen, Founders of Australia (1989)