Royal Naval Museum

 

Heroes of the Squadron

Henry Matson

NAME

Henry James Matson

LIVED

1810 – 1852

POSITION

Lieutenant and later Captain on the West Africa Squadron.

WHEN DID HE JOIN THE SQUADRON?

He joined the Squadron as a Lieutenant on HMS Curlew in the 1830’s.  He was stationed away from the Squadron for some years but returned to command the Squadron’s ship, HMS Waterwitch, in 1839.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT HIM

Matson came from a family of Navy men and had many relatives who were also sailors in the Royal Navy, including his father, uncle and several cousins.  Matson entered the Navy in 1823, on board HMS Seringapatam.  He joined the West Africa station on HMS Curlew, and was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant for his conduct during the capture of a number of slavers off the African coast. 

Like Denman, Matson was an outspoken abolitionist, and also an outspoken critic of Hotham’s command of the West Africa station.  In 1848, Matson published a pamphlet entitled Remarks on the Slave Trade and the African Squadron inside which he criticised both Hotham’s commitment to patrolling only off-shore, and his decision to end the detached boat service. In the same volume, Matson also levelled criticism at Denman, who, he believed, had only “a limited knowledge of Africa.”  Matson felt that Denman’s destruction of slaver’s properties, such as the slave barracoons and factories on the banks of the rivers inland, only acted to deter merchants from undertaking legitimate trade on the African coast.

Matson argued for his own strategy: a squadron of twelve steamers and 20 sails to patrol and blockade the coast.  Although promised by his superior officers, these were never delivered. As a result, the blockades of the coast could not be maintained because ports were left open when the Squadron had to run for provisions. 

WHAT IS HE BEST REMEMBERED FOR?

Matson has been described as one of the best officers in the Preventive Squadron.  He is remembered as a passionate abolitionist in his own right, and once declared his wish to “hang every Captain of a slaver at the yard arm.” 

His successful service in the suppression of the slave trade on the station earned him a promotion to the rank of Commander in 1843.  Following his promotion to Commander, in 1844 Matson served on the North America and West India stations until 1847.

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