Matthew’s second book, Emigration Fields was a logical development of the ideas expressed in Naval Timber. He recognised that the mechanisation of industrial and agricultural activities, although leading to increases in output, also made many skilled people unemployed. There had been a prolonged period of social unrest in the first decades of the nineteenth century in Britain, caused by the economic changes brought about by the second stage of the Industrial Revolution and accompanying urbanisation of the population. Matthew was not a Providentialist as has often been suggested. The population of Britain was growing rapidly and rather than accept the Providentialist view of the world of English authors like William Paley and Thomas Malthus who believed that poverty and starvation were part of God’s Creation, Matthew argued that if individuals could be encouraged to move abroad to lands which he considered to be under-exploited by their inhabitants, the emigrants could improve their own lot and that of humanity as a whole by making better use of the available resources. He understood providence in the Scottish sense that people should improve themselves via their own efforts and not rely on charity, and not in the English sense of a First Great Cause. In Note B of Emigration Fields this is made abundantly clear when he argues that “The rich man’s charity is an unnatural offence, human interposition contracting the laws of providence…. Common charity (alms giving), is much of an aristocratical thing, and has been the means of riveting the chains of indirect slavery” (p. 216). In contrast, to this false charity, “the providently charitable will endeavour to reform the laws which express the industry of the country, and which prevent the diffusion of useful information, and thus enable his fellow men to employ themselves in such a manner as render them independent of all charity.” The “rich man,” who “likes to do good in a lordly manner,” prefers to “build churches than to build schools.” At this point inhis argument, Matthew defines providence: “Providence, the reverse of this, works by wholesome general laws — and does not give charity — does not give for the asking, but for the doing — does not interpose by miracles to obstruct the working of these general laws. . . . The working man hates charity” (pp 216-17).

He was a keen supporter of imperialism and a British Empire controlled and supported by the Royal Navy, then the largest and most powerful fleet in the world. He recognised that a land-based empire needed a very large and expensive army to control, because movement overland was both slow and cumbersome, whereas an empire based on coastal colonies could be more cheaply maintained by naval forces which could could be deployed more rapidly and supplied locally. By encouraging emigration to North America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, there would be no need for charitable giving to working people who could make their own livings in an honest way. The book briefly reviewed what Matthew considered from his limited knowledge to be the advantages and opportunities for colonists to these far-away lands, but he was particularly interested in New Zealand which he recognised had a similar, and in his view favourable, climate to Britain.

Colonisation would also encourage free trade, which was another important concern for Matthew, because he believed that the old system of monopolies and protectionism which had been pursued by the British government until that time, worked against the natural order of things. Colonies would provide markets for, and be able to supply raw materials to, the burgeoning industry of Britain:

Prevented by our trade restrictive system from obtaining a market in foreign nations for the immense surplus fabrics which this vast increase of power is capable of producing, there is only one other available resource, - “to transport our surplus working-population to new lands.” This would not only bring about a salutary balance in our own economy, but at the same time, by raising up new and most valuable customers, would afford wide and extending fields of consumption, commensurate with the future increase of our powers of production. . . .Change of place within certain limits of latitude, seems to have a tendency to improve the species in animals as in plants. . . . It cannot therefore be doubted that the increase of the British race (evidently a superior race), and their extension over the world, and even the vigour of the race itself, will be more promoted by this colonising system, than by the utmost freedom of trade without the colonising system, and the turning of our entire energies to the manufacturing system. [pp. 2-3](original emphasis).

Matthew considered the indigenous peoples of these foreign lands less civilised than Europeans, and people of Anglo Saxon descent in particular. As he made clear in in On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, many of the world’s resources were not being exploited to their fullest extent for the benefit of mankind: “two thirds of the world are lying almost waste, and the other third very imperfectly cultivated” (Note C p. 7). The problems caused by rapid population increase in Britain could therefore be solved by encouraging people to move from Britain where there were shortages caused by the rapid population increase to those parts of the world where the populations were smaller and resources much greater. In New Zealand where the climate is similar to that of Britain, the natural superiority of the Caucasians would be of benefit to all by bringing the better qualities of the immigrant populations to the inferior inhabitants, and in doing so work with the processes of natural selection which he considered to be universal in nature.

He also published a prospectus in 1839 for the Scottish New Zealand Land Company, which was intended to charter a ship to take emigrants to New Zealand, but it failed to attract enough subscribers. The prospectus is a summary of the main points of the chapter in Emigration Fields with additional comments on how the new colony should be organised. In particular he followed his Chartist principles as he thought that the colonists should be small independent business people and farmers who controlled their own government. His scheme for government also involved a “Board of Native Protectors” and that the indigenous people should be given access to hospitals, encouraged to buy their own land and “be treated with untiring kindness”, a view which did not meet with the approval of many at the time.

Related material


Barker, J. E. “Patrick Matthew - Forest Geneticist.” Forest History Today, (Spring-Fall 2001): 64-65.

Dempster, W. J. Patrick Matthew and Natural Selection: nineteenth century gentleman farmer, naturalist and writer Paul Harris Publishing, Edinburgh, 1983.

Dempster, W. J. Evolutionary Concepts in the Nineteenth Century: Natural Selection and Patrick Matthew. Edinburgh: The Pentland Press, , 1996.

Matthew, Patrick. Emigration fields. North America, the Cape, Australia, and New Zealand; describing these countries, and giving a comparative view of the advantages they present to British settlers. Adam and Charles Black, Edinburgh, & Longman and Co. London, 1839.

Matthew, Patrick. Prospectus of the Scots New Zealand Land Company Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1839.

Matthew, Patrick. “The Potato Blight and Harvest Prospects in the North.” The British Farmer’s Magazine 41 New Series (1861): 90.

Patrick Matthew Project. Web. 24 February 18.

Last modified 28 February 2018