# 34728

FORSTER, Matthew (1796-1846)

[TASMANIA; POLICE; CONVICTS] Manuscript letter from the Chief Magistrate of Police in Van Diemen’s Land, to the Police Magistrate at Richmond, re. directions given by the Colonial Secretary for keeping prisoner records. April 1833.

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Foolscap folio, 320 x 200 mm, manuscript in ink on laid paper watermarked ‘J. Whatman Turkey Mill 1828’, 2 pages; written in a clerical hand and signed at the foot ‘M. Forster, CPM’ (Matthew Forster, Chief Police Magistrate), headed ‘Circular. Police Office, Hobart, 23rd April 1833’, addressed to ‘The Police Magistrate, Richmond’ (William Thomas Parramore); Forster writes: ‘I have the honour to transmit herewith for Your information and Guidance Copy of a letter received from the Colonial Secretary conveying certain directions as to the mode of disposing of Police characters made out on Parchment of all the Prisoners in your District and which when completed are directed to be forwarded to you by the Muster Master. I am at the same time directed to request that you will have the goodness to give full effect by all the means in your Power to the Lieutenant Governor’s wishes upon this subject and that you will take care that your clerk enters all sentences in a small clear and legible hand….’; the document has become separated along the centre horizontal fold (no loss of text), edges a little roughened, but complete.

Matthew Forster (1796-1846), soldier and public servant, was the son of John Randall Forster, of Berwick-on-Tweed, lieutenant-colonel of the 24th Regiment in 1799 and later brigade major at Plymouth, England. After studying at the Royal Military College, Gentleman Cadet Matthew Forster was commissioned ensign in the 46th Regiment in December 1811 and promoted lieutenant in the 12th in December 1812. He transferred to the 85th the following year, served in the Peninsular campaigns and then for fifteen years in Ireland. He was promoted captain in 1822, served as brigade major at Limerick and acted for a time as deputy judge advocate. In 1830 he sold his commission. He was recommended to the Colonial Office by Lord Holland, the veteran Whig politician, and by Sir Herbert Taylor of the Horse Guards; since he had married St Helena Worsley, a niece of Colonel (Sir) George Arthur, lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land, it was with fair prospects that he sailed in the Mary Ann for Hobart Town, accompanied by his wife and daughter, and bearing testimonials from the former secretary of state, Sir George Murray, and other military officers.

He arrived on 23 August 1831. Arthur, anxious to recruit for his administration competent and honest officials, who had been so difficult to procure in the past, immediately asked him to join the committee inquiring into the treatment of the Aboriginals, and on 30 December appointed him chief police magistrate at a salary of £600. In December 1833 he was appointed to the Legislative Council and in April 1836 replaced Chief Justice (Sir) John Pedder on the Executive Council.

As chief police magistrate, in January 1833 Forster drew up a valuable report on the police establishment. He made himself familiar with all the details of the Police Department and, always insistent on efficiency from his subordinates, under Arthur’s watchful eye he carried out his duties impartially and efficiently, despite recurring eye-trouble, and the secretary of state’s refusal of two applications for an increase in salary—the latter perhaps not unconnected with the magistrate’s pleasure-loving personality and his wish to repay the loan he had secured from the lieutenant-governor for his house. Though criticized by opponents of Arthur’s penal policy, who resented the ‘Algerine Laws’ which restricted their liberty, he was moderately liberal in politics; he pleaded that Nonconformist churches should receive government aid and recommended complete freedom of religious teaching in schools. He supported the opening of Legislative Council debates to the public, and thereafter he won press approval for his opposition to the Newspaper Act….’ (A. G. L. Shaw, ADB)

Provenance: Robert Muir Old & Rare Books, Perth (1981); ex Peter Dodds (1929-1980)

Peter Dodds was a notable Australian antiquarian book collector and antique dealer, Melbourne-born but based in Perth from 1949, and later York, Western Australia, from 1976. See: Australian book collectors : some noted Australian book collectors & collections of the nineteenth & twentieth centuries / edited by Charles Stitz, volume 1, pp 97-98 (Bendigo : Bread Street Press, 2010).

In 1981 Robert Muir issued two catalogues (69 and 74) that featured 950 lots comprising the cream of Dodds’ private collection, including much Australian colonial material (books, maps, engravings and ephemera) of major significance. In his introduction to the first of these catalogues Muir wrote: ‘The Dodds Collection was certainly one of the most important, extensive and erudite ever to be assembled and shown in Western Australia. It was catholic in taste and direction, though Peter himself had a great knowledge of, and appreciation for, such areas as maritime and land history and exploration (with a bias to Bligh’s Bounty); the convict era; limited editions; early domestic furniture and appliances; and by no means least, West Australiana … This is the first truly substantial and West Australian based Library ever to be assembled then later catalogued for sale in this state.’