PHILLIP, Arthur (1738-1814)


PHILLIP, Arthur (1738-1814)
admiral, and first governor of New South Wales
was born in the city of London on 11 October 1738. His father, Jacob Phillip, who came from Frankfurt, was first a steward and then a teacher of languages in London, his mother, originally Elizabeth Breach, had previously married Captain Herbert, R.N. It was possibly the influence of her first husband's family that enabled Arthur Phillip to obtain entrance to Greenwich school, as strictly speaking only the sons of seamen were admissible. At the age of a little more than 15 he was apprenticed to William Readhead of the ship Fortune. Two years later he was released from his indentures and entered the navy on H.M.S. Buckingham. He fought at the action off Minorca on 6 April 1756, and in February 1757 was promoted midshipman on the Neptune. He served on various ships, but it was not until December 1760 that he became a master's mate, and in 1762 lieutenant. He saw a considerable amount of active service, and, the war having come to an end, was placed on half pay in April 1763. He then married and spent some years farming near Lyndhurst in southern England. Between November 1770 and July 1771 he was serving in the navy again and in 1774, having obtained permission to fight on the Portuguese side in the war with Spain, was given a commission as captain in their navy. He remained in this service for three and a half years, and gained the reputation of being one of the best officers in the service. In 1778 England was again at war with Spain and Phillip was on active service as first lieutenant on H.M.S. Alexander. About 12 months later he obtained his first ship as master of the fire-ship Basilisk. He became a post captain in November 1781, and in December 1782 was given command of H.M.S. Europe, on which vessel was also Lieutenant Philip Gidley King (q.v.). He was on half pay again in May 1784 and in October 1786 was appointed captain of the Sirius and governor-elect of New South Wales. Great Britain was no longer able to send convicts to America, the jails were full, and it was decided to send them to New South Wales.
The reasons why Phillip was selected for this difficult task are not known, but possibly the fact that he knew something of farming was an influence. The choice was certainly a wise one and if some of Phillip's ideas had been adopted his task would have been much lightened. His suggestion that ships with artisans on board should precede the convict ships by some time was an excellent one although not acted upon, and he had some very wise views about keeping the more vicious of the convicts on one ship, so that all might not be contaminated. Everything had to be thought of in advance, for if provisions, or indeed anything else, failed, they could only be replenished after long delay. The total number of persons involved was 1486, of whom 778 were convicts, and on 13 May 1787 the fleet of 11 ships set sail. The leading ship reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 and two days later the remainder arrived. A few hours stay satisfied Phillip that the site was not suitable, it was decided to go on to Port Jackson, and on 26 January some of the marines and convicts were landed. Phillip had taken great care of his people, he had given them liberal supplies of fresh meat and fruit at Rio de Janeiro and the Cape, and considering the difficulties and the state of health of some of the convicts, it was remarkable that there were no more than about 30 deaths during the voyage of eight months. After the landing there was much apparent confusion, everyone was busy, but there were few skilled artisans and real progress was slow. Sickness broke out and fresh vegetables were badly needed, it was long before a sufficient supply was grown. On 7 February, in the presence of the whole of the convicts and the military, Captain Collins (q.v.), the judge-advocate, read the commission appointing Captain Arthur Phillip as captain-general and governor in chief of New South Wales. The power given to the governor was practically unlimited. Phillip addressed the convicts, pointed out that every individual must do his share, and that those who did not labour should not eat. Justice was promised, but they were warned that those who committed faults would be severely punished.
Phillip's troubles soon began. The convicts would not work except under strict supervision, they would sometimes straggle from the camp, and the marines and seamen found the women's quarters attractive. The wood used for building was hard, unseasoned and difficult to work, and an outbreak of scurvy was a serious hindrance. Various offences were at first treated leniently by the governor, but in the circumstances of the colony, stealing from the stores was a very serious crime, and for this severe floggings were given. On 2 March Phillip started in his long boat to examine some country to the north of Port Jackson. He had hoped to find better land than that surrounding the settlement. What he did find was Pitt Water, now one of the beauty spots near Sydney. He adopted the right attitude to the aborigines, and walked unarmed among them though they were armed. He had determined that he would never fire on them except in the last resort. He had trouble with the military officers who wanted grants of land which Phillip would not make, though each was allowed the use of two acres for growing grain. He also had trouble with the lieutenant-governor, Major Ross, which continued during the next two years. Explorations were made round Sydney, and Phillip showed great courage by walking unarmed up to about 200 apparently hostile aborigines. In October 1788 the Sirius sailed for the Cape of Good Hope for supplies, and in the meantime everyone was rationed. The situation was relieved to some extent when the Sirius returned seven months later, but in October 1789 rationing began again. By January 1790 everyone had been lodged in huts or barracks and vegetables had been grown, which had a good effect on the health of the community. On 2 June 1790 the first vessel of the second fleet arrived with 222 female convicts, and before the end of the month a storeship and three convict transports also reached port. But the shocking overcrowding of the convicts had resulted in the death of a fourth of their number, and the remainder in most cases were so ill that they had to be helped ashore. There were 86 more deaths in the next six weeks. Phillip was quite unprepared for this influx but he faced the position bravely. In September he was seriously wounded by a spear thrown by a native, but fortunately recovered six weeks later. Though Phillip himself had shown great forbearance and tact in dealing with the aborigines, some of the convicts had undoubtedly misbehaved in their relations with them and several convicts had been killed. In December 1790 a punitive expedition was ordered, but the natives prudently kept out of the way. There was a partial drought, the crops at Sydney failed, and operations were largely transferred to Rose Hill. Phillip showed himself to be a good town planner in his original design of Sydney, but unfortunately his plan was never carried out and for a time the town grew in an almost haphazard way. He was much troubled by the fact that many men claimed to have completed their sentences, but as he had not been supplied with proper records, he could only keep them working on rations. In December 1790 Lieutenant King reached London with dispatches from Phillip and was able to give the government full particulars about the position at Sydney. In reply to his dispatches Phillip was informed that the government intended to send out two shipments of convicts annually, and that there would be no danger in future of a shortage of supplies. Some of the officers had complained against Phillip, but he was supported, and his sending of Major Ross to Norfolk Island was approved. Phillip had applied for leave of absence to do urgent private business in England, but was requested to continue in his position until his presence in the colony could be better dispensed with. In March 1791 James Ruse (q.v.) the first successful farmer in Australia, advised Phillip that he was able to maintain himself on the land he was farming and was granted 30 acres at Parramatta, the first grant of land in Australia. This, however, was exceptional, in April the settlement was running short of food again, and Major Ross was in the same position at Norfolk Island. Matters continued to grow worse until July, when the vessels of the third fleet began to arrive, but Phillip had to make arrangements for housing and feeding nearly 2000 more people. The food available was limited, and he immediately sent one of the transports to Calcutta for provisions. Other problems kept arising such as the question of currency. The Spanish dollar was the most common coin and Phillip decided that its value should be five shillings English. The beginnings of a whaling industry was made, men whose sentences had expired were encouraged to settle on the land, and a certain amount of live stock was brought from the Cape of Good Hope. Vine cuttings were also procured from the same place and did well. The great needs were practical farmers who could properly develop the land and live stock, and overseers for the convicts, who continued to give great trouble. Trouble was also brewing among the military officers who were already forming the military caste that was to cause so much mischief in later years. Phillip was again faced with famine early in 1792, and there was great mortality among the convicts. Vegetables were fortunately plentiful and the vines and fruit trees were beginning to bear, but there was a shortage of everything else. On 26 June the first of three store ships arrived from England, and the new colony was never again in such straits for want of food. Articles of merchandise began to come from England, but the "rum traffic" gave much trouble. The issuing of a licence for the sale of wine and spirits did not improve matters, and drunkenness and debauchery showed no signs of diminishing. Phillip would not allow his optimism to be quenched, and one of his last acts before leaving was the giving of what government live stock could be spared to the settlers. On 11 December 1792 he sailed for England in the Allantic taking with him two aborigines and many specimens of plants and animals. The population of the settlement was then 4221 of whom 3099 were convicts. The death rate had been very high, but the worst was past. Phillip had done his work well, and it must have been a great satisfaction to him to know that his administration had the approval of the king's ministers. He arrived in London on 22 May 1793.
Phillip had suffered much in Australia from a pain in his side, and he was advised that he was not fit for active service. In July 1793 he resigned his governorship, and was granted a pension of £500 a year. He was then nearly 55 years of age. He had married in 1763 Margaret Charlott, the widow of John Denison, who had some private fortune. She remained in England while Phillip was in Australia, and died apparently about the middle of 1792. Her will provided for a legacy of £100 to her husband and the return to him of the marriage bond. He lived for a time at Bath and London, and in May 1794 married Isabella Whitehead. In 1796 he was placed in command of H.M.S. Alexander of 74 guns and did patrol and convoy work, in October was transferred to H.M.S. Swiftsure, and in September 1797 he was in command of the Blenheim of 98 guns. In February 1798 he was superseded in the command of the Blenheim in circumstances involving no reflection on him. He was at Lisbon at the time and immediately returned to London. In April 1798 he received an appointment as commander of the Hampshire Sea Fencibles. In January 1799 he became rear-admiral of the blue, and in 1803 was in command of the whole of the sea fencibles. In 1805 he retired from this command and spent most of the rest of his life at Bath. His correspondence shows that he continued to keep up his interest in New South Wales. He was promoted rear-admiral of the red on 9 November 1805, vice-admiral of the white on 25 October 1809, vice-admiral of the red on 31 July 1810, and on 4 June 1814 admiral of the blue. With his pension of £500 a year for his colonial services, and his half pay, he was in comfortable financial circumstances. He had a severe illness in 1808 but recovered, and so late as 1812 we find him taking an interest in F. H. Greenway (q.v.) the architect. On 31 August 1814 he died at Bath. His wife survived him but there appear to have been no children by either marriage. He was buried in St Nicholas's Church Bathampton. The story that Phillip committed suicide by throwing himself from his window is not supported by any evidence. Portraits of him will be found in the national portrait gallery, London, and the William Dixson gallery, Sydney. A monument to his memory in Bath Abbey Church was unveiled on 3 June 1937. Another is at St Mildred's Church, Bread-street, London, and there is a statue by A. Simonetti in the botanic gardens, Sydney.
Phillip was a slight, dark complexioned man of below medium height, quick in manner, self-controlled and courageous. His task was to make a settlement in a wilderness with few and imperfect tools, and a host of broken men to use them. He had, however, the determination that enables a man to make the best of the conditions. His strong sense of duty did not help to make him personally popular, and he received little help from some of his subordinate officers. His second in command, Major Ross, was a positive hindrance to him. Steadfast in mind, modest, without self seeking, Phillip had imagination enough to conceive what the settlement might become, and the common sense to realize what at the moment was possible and expedient. When almost everyone was complaining he never himself complained, when all feared disaster he could still hopefully go on with his work. He was sent out to found a convict settlement, he laid the foundations of a great dominion.
G. Mackaness, Admiral Arthur Phillip, with good bibliography; M. Barnard Eldershaw, Phillip of Australia; Historical Records of New South Wales, vols. I and II; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. I and II; National Historical Memorial to Admiral Arthur Phillip R.N., St Mildred's Church; The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay; Eris O'Brien, The Foundation of Australia. See also Ed. by Owen Rutter, The First Fleet, The Record of the Foundation of Australia, and G. D. Milford, Governor Phillip and the Early Settlement of New South Wales.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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