Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Decker, Matthew

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DECKER, Sir MATTHEW (1679–1749), writer on trade, born in Amsterdam in 1679 of a Flemish commercial family forced to flee their country during Alva's persecution, came to London and established himself as a merchant in 1702. He rapidly acquired wealth, and was director of the East India Company 1713–43, being deputy-governor 1720–1 and 1729–30, and governor 1725–6 and 1730–33. He was tory M.P. for Bishops Castle 1719–22, and in 1729 was sheriff of Surrey. He was created a baronet by George I on 20 July 1716. He entertained that monarch at his splendid mansion and garden on Richmond Green, where he built a special room for his guest. A pineapple, said, though probably erroneously, to have been the first ever raised in England (Brayley, Surrey, iii. 101, 102), was part of the banquet. The pineapple, whether eaten or not, was painted, and a Latin inscription affixed to the picture related that ‘thought worthy of a royal feast it was raised at the expense of Decker, and produced by the skill of Netscher.’ Decker's truly Dutch passion for gardening was also evidenced by a holly hedge (then considered a great ornament), which a traveller (Mackay, Journey through England, 1722, i. p. 77) describes as ‘the longest, the largest, and the highest he ever saw.’

Decker died on 18 March 1749. There is a tablet to his memory on the outside of the north wall of Richmond church. He was survived by his wife Henrietta, daughter of Richard Watkins, D.D., rector of Whichford, Warwickshire. Three daughters were born of this marriage. Decker died very suddenly and was much lamented. The obituary notices recorded that ‘indefatigable in all the offices of friendship, he advised with sincerity, admonished with freedom, and acted with zeal. His domestick life was an undisturbed series of domestick comforts. By an orderly and well-understood hospitality, the great who frequented his house were properly received, and the poor who crowded it were abundantly supplied’ (Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 141.).

Decker was the reputed author of two remarkable tracts: 1. ‘Serious Considerations on the several High Duties which the Nation in general, as well as Trade in particular, labour under, with a proposal for preventing the removing of goods, discharging the trader from any search, and raising all the Publick Supplies by one single tax,’ 1743 (the name is affixed to the seventh edition, 1756). Decker's ‘proposal’ was (1) to take the duty off tea and oblige each family using that beverage to take out a license costing from five to twenty shillings (p. 8); (2) to raise the revenue by one single excise tax on houses over all Great Britain (p. 14). 2. ‘An Essay on the causes of the Decline of the Foreign Trade, consequently of the value of the lands of Britain, and on the means to restore both’ (1744, but ‘begun in the year 1739;’ French translation by the Abbé de Gua de Malves, 1757). The ‘means’ were ‘to the effect that the existing excise and certain duties should be repealed and replaced by duties on licenses to consume certain specified goods, which were to be payable by all parties using the same.’ Adam Smith pointed out very clearly the fatal objections to this scheme. The author also was quite wrong in believing our trade was decaying, and he did not question the chief fallacy of the commercial system. Yet the tract contains some very pithily expressed arguments for freedom of trade (Wealth of Nations, ed. McCulloch, p. 396; see also various other references to Decker in the same work). McCulloch, who praises both works highly, gives reasons against their being by the same hand. On the authority of the contemporary writer Fauquier, he is inclined to ascribe the ‘Essay on the Causes of the Decline of Foreign Trade’ to William Richardson, but McCulloch has not noticed that the license plan is common to both treatises. Both schemes excited considerable attention, and were much discussed. The proposed tax on houses was by Joseph Massie [q. v.] ‘laid open, and shown to be a deep concerted project to traduce the wisdom of the legislature, disquiet the minds of the people, and ruin the trade and manufactures of Great Britain’ (1757). To these and other attacks (see McCulloch, Lit. of Political Economy, and Brit. Mus. Cat. under ‘Decker’) no reply was made.

[Collins's English Baronetage; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, 1844; Lysons's Environs of London. vol. i. and supplement; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey; various notices in Gent. Mag.; London Mag. 1749, p. 145; Scots Mag. 1749, p. 150; Add. MS. 24120, f. 241.]

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