A Letter of Credit for the First Fleet

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In June 2016, a member of the Cologan family in Tenerife emailed the First Fleet Society the text of a letter of credit relating to the Prince of Wales, one of the ships which sailed with the First Fleet. The following is an analysis of the text.


31 January 1787 – Letter from Cologan, Pollard & Cooper, London, to Messrs John Cologan & Sons, Teneriffe.

"We beg have to introduce you the bearer Captain Mason of the Ship Prince of Wales which is expected to touch at your Island with a Fleet bound to New Holland, and as he may be in want of some supplies for the use of said Ship, such as Wine, live stock and we beg you will accommodate him therewith all in your Power taking his bill for the same on his owner here William Mathew Esquire and also serve Captain Mason in anything he may want in his own Account, whom we recommend to your Civilities during his stay at your place which will be estimed as shown to. . .


Your most obedient servant. . ." (Original in possession of the Cologan family in Teneriffe)

1. Cologan, Pollard & Cooper

The firm of Cologan, Pollard & Co is listed in the London directories at 24 Mark Lane from 1778 to 1780, and 20 Swithin’s Lane from 1781 to 1784. The firm was known as Cologan, Pollard & Cooper from 1785 to 1795, when Cologan withdrew, possibly because of ill-health. The principals were John Cologan, William Pollard and James Cooper.

Cologan was part of an Irish family, with strong links to another branch of the family based in Tenerife, John Cologan & Sons. As a result, Cologan, Pollard & Cooper were actively involved in the wine trade. From 1794 (at the latest), they had contracts to supply naval vessels calling at the Canary Islands with wine.

Shortly after the First Fleet became public news, the firm wrote to the Treasury, seeking to supply the convoy with wine at Santa Cruz:

17 October 1786 – Messrs Cologan, Pollard & Cooper to the Treasury, offering to supply Tenerife wine for the troops being sent to Botany Bay, delivered on board at Santa Cruz. (TNA T1/639, No.2498)

26 October 1786 – Treasury read the letter of Messrs Cologan, Pollard & Co, of 17 October, offering to supply Tenerife wine. (Cover of TNA T1/639/127)

8 November 1786 – Steele (Treasury) to Navy Board. He had laid before their Lordships the proposal of Messrs Cologan, Pollard & Cooper for supplying the troops going to Botany Bay with wine, he was commanded by them to transmit the same to the Navy Board for their consideration and their opinion. There is a note on the reverse, instructing the officers to advise Steele that the orders they had received for providing rations and provisions for these men did not anywhere include wine or spirits. (TNA T27/38/391; NMM ADM/OT)

13 November 1786 – Navy Board minute, in response to letter from Steele of the 8th instant, enclosing a proposal from Messrs Cologan, Pollard and Cooper for supplying the troops going to Botany Bay with wine. Acquaint him that in the orders they had received for providing the rations of provisions for them, there was no mention of wine or spirits. (TNA ADM106/2622)

- Navy Board to Steel, in response to his letter of the 8th, returning the proposal from Messrs Cologan Pollard & Cooper for the supply of wine for the troops going to Botany Bay. The orders don’t include wine or spirits. (T1/639, No.2618)

17 November 1786 – Treasury read a letter from the Navy Board, which stated that in the orders concerning rations for troops going to Botany Bay, there was no mention of wine or spirits, and returning a proposal by Messrs Cologan Pollard & Co for supplying wine for that service. (TNA T29/58/95)

2. The Ownership of the Prince of Wales

In the registration of the ship in January 1787, the owner of the 'Prince of Wales' was listed as James Mather.

15 January 1787 – The registration of the 'Prince of Wales' lists the owner as James Mather of Birchin Lane, Cornhill, merchant. (TNA BT107/8, No.17)

However, it is known that a relative, William Mather, was closely involved with him at this time. Two days before this letter was written, William Mather gave evidence at the Old Bailey.

29 January 1787 – John Mather was described in a court case as a wharfinger and shipowner of St Ann Middlesex (Limehouse). John Anderson was his overseer at the site. He was described as having a yard at Blackwall. William Mather gave evidence in that case. (R v Anderson and Gardiner, Old Bailey Trials)

There appears to be a transcription error in the letter, with ‘Mather’ copied as ‘Mathew’.

This seems to indicate that William Mather also had shares in the Prince of Wales.

3. Letters of Credit

The significance of the letter is that it indicates how the masters of the merchant ships in the First Fleet were able to obtain fresh provisions and other articles (such as wine) whilst in foreign ports.

George Whitlock was the shipbroker for the Prince of Wales on the First Fleet, but interestingly, he was not used to obtain credit for the ship – presumably because the firm had better links through Cologan, Pollard & Cooper and other merchants. (Navy Board Minute, 28 December 1786, TNA ADM106/2622)

The journal of the Prince of Wales opens on 30 December 1786 and she began taking in ballast on the following day. She sailed for Portsmouth on the 13th of February. (Log of the Prince of Wales, TNA ADM51/4376)

The ship’s journal makes no mention of fresh provisions or wine having been taken on board at Tenerife, although the entries are brief. The entries while the ship was at Rio de Janeiro list fresh provisions for the marines and convicts, but again there is no mention of the arrangements for the crew.

Mason would have carried similar letters of credit to merchants at Rio de Janeiro and the Cape.