Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillip, Arthur

PHILLIP, ARTHUR (1738–1814), vice-admiral and first governor of New South Wales, was born in the parish of Allhallows, Bread Street, London, on 11 Oct. 1738. His father, Jacob Phillip, a native of Frankfort, was a teacher of languages; his mother was Elizabeth (née Breach), the widow of Captain Herbert, R.N. The boy, being intended for the navy, was educated at Greenwich, and in 1755 became a midshipman in the Buckingham; this vessel was on the home station till April 1756, and then went as second flagship under Admiral Byng to the Mediterranean, where Phillip first saw active service. He followed his captain, Everett, to the larger ship, Union, and then to the Stirling Castle, which went to the West Indies in 1761. He was at the siege of Havannah in 1762, and was there promoted lieutenant on 7 June 1762.

In 1763, when peace was declared, Phillip married and settled at Lyndhurst, where he passed his time in farming and the ordinary magisterial and social occupations of a country gentleman. But it would appear that about 1776 he offered his services to the government of Portugal, and did valuable work in that country. On the outbreak of hostilities between France and Great Britain in 1778, he returned to serve under his own flag. On 2 Sept. 1779 he obtained the command of the Basilisk fireship; on 30 Nov. 1781 he was promoted post-captain to the Ariadne, and on 23 Dec. transferred to the Europe of 64 guns. Throughout 1782 he was cruising, and in January 1783 was ordered to the East Indies, but arrived home in May 1784, without being in action.

In 1786 Phillip was assigned the duty of forming a convict settlement in Australia. There seems to have been some reluctance at the admiralty as to his undertaking the work (Rusden). ‘I cannot say,’ wrote Lord Howe to Lord Sydney, ‘the little knowledge I have of Captain Phillip would have led me to select him for service of this complicated nature.’ But Phillip proved exceptionally well suited for the work. From September 1786 he was engaged in organising the expedition, and on 27 April 1787 he received his formal commission and instructions. The ‘first fleet,’ as it was so long called in Australia, consisted of the frigate Sirius, Captain (afterwards admiral) Hunter (1738–1821) [q. v.], the tender Supply, three store-ships, and six transports with the convicts and their guard of marines. On 13 May 1787 it set sail, Phillip hoisting his flag on the Sirius. Dangers began early, for before they cleared the Channel the convicts on the Scarborough had formed a plan for seizing the ship. Making slow progress by way of Teneriffe and Rio Janeiro, the fleet left the Cape of Good Hope, where the last supplies were taken in, on 12 Nov. On the 25th Phillip went on board the Supply, and pushed on to the new land, reaching Botany Bay on 18 Jan. 1788. Not satisfied with this situation, Phillip set out on 22 Jan. to examine Port Jackson, a harbour mentioned by Captain Cook, and here, without hesitation, he pitched the new settlement. On 26 Jan. 1788 he founded the city, which he christened Sydney, after Thomas Townshend, viscount Sydney, the secretary of state [q. v.]; on 7 Feb. he formally inaugurated the new government with such pomp as he could command. But anxieties soon tested Phillip's capacities; the supply of food was limited, and before the end of February a plot for a raid on the stores was discovered. It was of the first importance to make the colony self-supporting, and the soil around Sydney turned out disappointing. The unwillingness of the convicts to work became daily more apparent, and it would be long before free settlers could be induced to come over. In October 1788 Phillip despatched the Sirius to the Cape for help. The frigate returned in May 1789 with some small supplies; but even in January 1790 no tidings from England had yet reached the colony; the whole settlement was on half-rations; the troops were on the verge of mutiny, and their commanding officer was almost openly disloyal. Phillip shared in all the privations himself; kept a cheerful countenance, encouraged exploration, and made every effort to conciliate the natives. It was not till 19 Sept. 1790 that the danger of starvation was finally removed. About the same time Phillip's efforts to enter into regular relations with the natives bore fruit. On a visit to the chief, Bennilong, he was attacked and wounded by a spear; but he would allow no retaliation, and his courage produced a good effect. Bennilong sent apologies. By the firmness with which he dispensed justice to native and to convict alike, Phillip gradually won the confidence of the former, and when he left the colony in 1792 the native chiefs Bennilong and Yemmerawanme asked to accompany him to England. To exploration Phillip had little time to devote. As early as March 1788 he examined Broken Bay at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, calling the southern branch Pitt River, after the prime minister. In April 1788 he made an inland excursion, but did not get far. In July 1789 he explored the Hawkesbury River to Broken Hill. In April 1791 he set out with a party to explore the Nepean River, taking natives with him, and, not being successful, he sent another party in June 1791, which produced better results. The settlement of Norfolk Island was entirely due to Phillip and his lieutenant, King. In September 1791 his confidential envoy, King, arrived from England, and brought from the home government formal approval of his policy. But Phillip's health was failing, and in November he asked permission to resign. His government was still full of difficulties. In December the convicts made a disturbance before Government house by way of protest against Phillip's regulations for the issue of provisions; Phillip repressed such disorder with a strong hand. The home government begged him to withdraw his resignation. But his state of health compelled him to return to England on 11 Dec. 1792, and final permission to resign was granted him on 23 July 1793.

Phillip's energy and self-reliance, his humanity and firmness, made a lasting impression on New South Wales. He permanently inspired the colony, despite the unpromising materials out of which it was formed, with habitual respect for law and deference to constituted authority (Rusden).

On his return to England Phillip's health improved, but he lived in retirement on the pension granted ‘in consideration of his meritorious services.’ On 1 Jan. 1801 he became rear-admiral of the blue, on 23 April 1804 rear-admiral of the white, and on 9 Nov. 1805 of the red. On 25 Oct. 1809 he was made vice-admiral of the white, and on 31 July 1810 of the red. He died during November 1814 at Bath.

Phillip published an account of his ‘Voyage to Botany Bay,’ 4to, 1789, 1790; a portrait engraved after Wheatley is prefixed.

[Naval Chronicle, xxvii. 1; Phillip's Voyage to Botany Bay, London, 4to, 1789; Therry's History of New South Wales; Rusden's History of Australia, vol. i.; Gent. Mag. 1814, ii. 507.]

C. A. H.