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DE MESTRE FAMILY HISTORY

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Prosper de Mestre
PROSPER DE MESTRE

 

There have been numerous articles written about Prosper de Mestre, both in history books and on the internet. Prosper de Mestre was a successful merchant, trading in tea and other commodities in the early days of the colony of Sydney. 

 

Prosper's Origins

 

It was originally believed that Prosper had been born on a ship travelling to Martinique in 1793, and  Prosper claimed in his application to be naturalised as a British citizen, that it was a British ship.  A court decision regarding the nationality of Prosper de Mestre was made in 1830.  

See http://www.law.mq.edu.au/research/colonial_case_law/nsw/cases/case_index/1830/in_re_de_mestre/  relative to the Claim of Mr. P.De Mestre to the privilege of registering a Ship as a British Native Subject

 

Recently, (August 2008) proof of Prosper's birth in 1789 in Lorient in France has been found, with Heleine Cotrell named as his mother, but no name given for his father.

 

We also believed that Prosper's father was Andre de Mestre, and that he had married Heleine Cottrell in Rennes in 1788 - this now needs to be investigated. No record of a marriage has been found, but at their daughter Melanie's baptism in 1790,  Andre is named as the father, with the information that they were married.  

 

It  appears that Melanie might not have been with them in Martinique. Family letters said she had been left in the care of an aunt who was an Abbess at a Monastery at Nantes.  This is also being investigated.

Melanie later married Charles Levistone, in Georgia, USA, but it is unclear where it was that Melanie grew up.

 

There is a family story that Prosper's father was actually the Duke of Kent, but this has been disproved by a careful look at documents and troop movements of the time. 

 

If you return to the main page, and follow the link to Maree's blog, you will find all the details about this research.

 

Andre de Mestre was killed at Martinique, and Helene married an English officer, James Armstrong, in 1795.  They had one child, Andrew Cottrell, who was born in 1797. Andrew was naturalised in Philadelphia in 1812, so may have been living out of the country, perhaps with family in Ireland.  In 1803, James was seriously wounded at St Lucia, and perhaps Helene thought he was dead. In December 1803, Heleine married Joseph Paul Coulon in Philadelphia, USA. Coulon was Frenchman, who had taken American citizenship. In his Army records , James Armstrong stated that he was married in Windsor and that his children were all dead. This marriage has not been found, but if it did take place, both Helene and James married bigamously. His son, Andrew, was not dead, but living in Philadelphia at the time. A later record in 1820 (Burkes) says that James was married in the West Indies and living in France.

 

Prosper worked in the shipping industry for his step father, Joseph Coulon, as supercargo. He left Philadelphia in 1812 for China, and after living in various countries arrived in Sydney in 1818, as supercargo on Magnet. He liked what he saw, and decided to stay. In 1830 Prosper wrote a Statement in support of his application for British Citizenship.

 

"Gentlemen, Adverting to our conversation, I beg to state, that I claim the right of holding a British Register on the following grounds.  My father an officer of the French Royal Service, emigrated in the time of the French Revolution, and the British Vessel that took him and my Mother off the coast of France (in which vessel I was born) landed us, at the reduction of Martinique (the end of the year 1793) on that Island where my father was killed previous to the capitulation.  My Mother married afterwards a British Officer (Captain Armstrong) on that Island, and on the evacuation of said Island at the Peace of Amiens, I was sent to Philadelphia for my education, and remained until 1812 when I left it for China, and have since been residing in the Isle of France and other British Colonies, and India and the last twelve years in this place, where I married a British Subject, and have a family of five children.

 

I have etc. (signed) P. de Mestre

M.E. Cotton, esq, Collector

B. Laura, Esq., Comptroller

 

Prosper de Mestre had benefited earlier on as an American citizen, as his trade was not restricted by the East India Company. Then, as the part owner of a British ship, the legality of this was being challenged, and so Prosper applied for British citizenship. Claiming to have been born on a British ship gave him the right to claim British citizenship, and it is not known if Prosper knew the truth about his birth.

 

The Citizenship was granted, as no one doubted the word and signed statement of such a prominent businessman.

 

Prosper in Australia

 

Prosper married Mary Ann Black, the daughter of Captain John Black and Mary Hyde, in 1821 at St Phillips Church of England in Sydney. Mary Hyde subsequently married Simeon lord, who held land in trust for Mary Ann and her brother John Henry Black. Mary Ann received her portion of the land as a dower, Prosper bought the adjacent block of land from John Henry Black, and it was here in George Street Sydney that Prosper lived with his family.

 

Prosper applied for a land grant, and on 7 September 1821 was granted 700 acres at West Bargo, near Camden. The grant was on condition that he maintain and employed 7 convicts on the property.  Prosper de Mestre was a benevolent man, who regularly donated to charities. These included the Benevolent Fund, and the Catholic Chapel Fund, which financed the building of St. Mary's Cathedral, the first Catholic Church in the community. In June 1823 he was elected a director of Sydney and Van Dieman's Land Packet Co. Two years later, in June 1825 he was elected to the committee of the Agricultural Society of NSW and on August 30th of that year he was naturalised by a Special Act of Parliament.

From 1822-23, 1826-28 and 1829 42, Prosper was a director of the Bank of NSW, and also of the Marine Insurance Company. In 1840 he was a founder of the Mutual Fire Insurance Co. of Sydney, as well as having interests in whaling. In 1836 as a supporter of the Church of England he joined the committee in opposition to the proposed National School System and in 1841 became a trustee of Christ Church, St. Laurence, Sydney.

 

On 25 February 1836 Prosper received a grant of 1300 acres on the Shoalhaven River from Governor Bourke. He called this property Terrara. He had been promised a similar sized grant in 1824 by Governor Brisbane, and had not received it. In 1841 he received a grant of 1280 acres at Yerriyong on the Calymea Creek, about 6 miles west of Terrara.

 

From the Shoalhaven Internet site:  

 

On the S. by a line W. 80 chs On the W. by a line N 144 chs to the Shoalhaven River and by that river to the North West Corner of Messrs Berry & Wolstencrafts 2320 purchase afsd being the land of which the sd P de Mestre was authorised to take possn on the date above mentd in lieu of the like quantity promised to him by Sir Thomas Brisbane on 19th Febry 1823 being also the land inserted as No. 155 in the Govt Notice of 17 March 1835 to be called Terrara.

 

The depression of the early 1840s reduced Prosper to near bankruptcy, and as his health was failing, he moved with his family to Terara. Most of his land and property were auctioned to pay his debts, but Mary Ann de Mestre moved to prevent the Shoalhaven properties being sold. As the George Street property had been her dower, she questioned whether it should be included in the sale. Her solution was that this property could be included in the sale, if the Shoalhaven properties were not.

 

Gentlemen,

Mr de Mestre informs me that you deem it necessary I should state in writing what I require as compensation for Barring my Dower - My former proposal (when I thought there would be a reversion of the property in favour of my children) was to take the Terrara estate at Shoal Haven, the whole of the plate, horses etc., etc., on the establishment in Liverpool Street, the six cows, horse and cart at Helsarmel; and tho' I am assured by disinterested parties that it is not an equivalent for what I give up yet in order to facilitate the arrangements of Mr de Mestre's affairs, I am willing to abide by my agreement with the proviso that I am permitted to occupy the thirty-two acres at Petersham until the house at Shoal Haven can be rendered fit for the residence of my family.

 

Prosper's town house was sold, and the family moved to Terara. Soon after, however, on 13 September 1844, Prosper died, and was buried on the estate.

 

Read about Prosper de Mestre on the Australian Dictionary of Biography site.

 

Terara, St John's and the Burial Ground

After the death of Prosper de Mestre, Mary Ann continued to work the property with the aid of her three sons. It became the centre of Terara village, with Adams wharf being its access for trade. The area was low lying and often flooded, but in 1854 the de Mestres had wharves built, and in 1856 a steam flourmill was erected. This was managed by the eldest son, Prosper John who lived at Millbank. Andre and Etienne de Mestre lived at Terara House.

 

In 1856 St Johns Church, Terara was opened on land donated by Mary Ann de Mestre. She also gave a large part of the capital for the building.

 

Mary Ann de Mestre died on 11th July 1861, and divided the property among her children. Millbank was left to Prosper John, along with the steam mill and premises which he was occupying at the time. Terara House and the property attached was left to Andre and Etienne de Mestre, and the girls each received a portion of land.

 

It is now apparent that the Church did not heed Mary Ann's wishes, as the original Church site was sold, and the exact location of the graves lost.

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