History of West Australia/George Braithwaite Phillips



WESTERN Australia contains no better known military figure than that of Colonel Phillips. Associated with the Civil Service in the colony since 1851, he has been actively before the public for nearly the whole of that period. For many years his attention was devoted to his work in the Colonial Secretary's office, and at different times he has performed all the duties attendant on the Colonial Secretaryship, with a seat in the Executive Council. Then he was a most active member of the local volunteers, and held the position of Commandant of the Western Australian Military Forces. He entered the ranks as a private, and rose to the highest appointment in the gift of the military authorities for this colony. Subsequently he took up the duties of Commissioner of Police.

George Braithwaite Phillips HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

George Braithwaite Phillips was born in Perth in 1836, and is the son of John Randell Phillips, a pioneer of 1831. The latter gentleman came to the colony to take up land, but, subsequently changing his mind, he entered the Public Service. In 1853 the pioneer died; his son, Colonel Phillips, has well maintained the dignity of his name. As a boy, Colonel Phillips was educated at Albany, but leaving a public school at the age of thirteen years he enjoyed the joint tuition of his father and a private tutor. In 1851 he became a clerk, on probation, and without pay, in the Colonial Secretary's Office, Perth, and in March, 1852, he obtained a place on the permanent staff as third clerk. The Public Service was then but a limited affair, and Colonel Phillips has witnessed the growth of the present extensive system. Of a somewhat adventurous dispositon, he was chosen by the Government in 1854 for important work. It had been arranged, when Surveyor Robert Austin started on his exploration of north-west country, that a vessel should be sent to Sharks Bay with stores to meet him when part of his journey was completed. The young clerk in the Colonial Secretary's office was placed in charge of these stores, and though but eighteen years old he proceeded to the place of meeting. After remaining in that then inhospitable locality for several months, instead of, as was expected, a few weeks, vainly waiting for the exploring expedition, he was compelled to return to Perth. The explorers had failed to penetrate the dense thickets and miserable small bush which for many miles surrounded Sharks Bay. At Perth, Colonel Phillips attended to his work, and in 1856 was appointed second clerk in the Colonial Secretary's office. Combined with these duties, he was engaged in the capacity of confidential clerk to Governor Hampton, and was also Assistant District Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. Then the confidence in which he was held was shown by the Royal Geographical Society in asking him to take the post of second in command of their expedition, equipped to explore the west coast, under F. T. Gregory. He accepted the flattering offer, but the Governor prevailed upon him to resign, and remain at his post in the Public Service. During the next few years he paid close attention to his work, and his reward came in 1865, when he was gazetted acting chief clerk in his office. In the following year he was permanently raised to the office of chief clerk. With this position he was Registrar General, Registrar of Titles, and Registrar of Deeds in Western Australia. From December, 1872, to July, 1873, he was Acting Colonial Secretary, and from July, 1875, to August, 1877, and January, 1878, to January, 1880, he was Acting Colonial Treasurer, with a seat in the Executive Council, the chief official body in the colony. In 1878 he was gazetted a Justice of the Peace, and in 1880 he was permanently appointed Assistant Colonial Secretary, and in the same year, and also in 1883, acted as Colonial Secretary.

It was in the early seventies that Colonel Phillips first connected himself with the volunteer force. He entered as a private, and proving ready and quick in all matters of drill, and after mastering the regulations and requirements, he was, in 1875, given a commission in the artillery, and later obtained a command. In 1879 he was made a staff officer. On three separate occasions Colonel Phillips has been Acting Commandant of the Western Australian Military Forces. He resigned his staff officership on the appointment of Colonel Angelo as Commandant, but on that gentleman's retirement he was gazetted Acting Commandant. When Colonel Phillimore arrived in the colony he took up the duties, and Colonel Phillips retired as a captain on the Colonial Office list. In 1887 he succeeded Captain Smith as Commissioner of Police, and had, meanwhile, been brought into active service again in the military force. On Colonel Phillimore's retirement he was raised to the rank of Major. Major Pilkington, the aide-de-camp, was then appointed commandant. Thus, with his work as Commissioner of Police, and in the volunteer service, Colonel Phillips had little spare time. In 1880 he was appointed commandant by the Governor, but was subsequently succeeded by Colonel Fleming, an Imperial Officer. Colonel Phillips now retired from the local forces with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel, and devoted his undivided attention to the police forces.

During recent years he has been compelled to exercise all his ingenuity and ability in the control of the Western Australian police. The population has so increased, and so many new and remote communities have been established, that the police forces have had to be augmented. Colonel Phillips proved himself a master in organising ability. Notwithstanding the presence of numerous undesirable characters, who have migrated hither, like old-time bloodthirsty camp followers of victorious armies, to rob those following the victorious march, crime has not increased in proportion to the increase of population. Every centre and district is well served; the Western Australian police are a fine body of men. Colonel Phillips exercises judgment in his appointment of new members to the service, and he has cleverly placed his forces so as to secure effective administration. During his term of office he has had to conduct numerous important criminal cases for the Crown, the histories of which would supply startling matter for novels.

Colonel Phillips has been twice married; in 1869 to the second daughter of Mr. Edward Gustavus Hare, one time Superintendent of Police, and afterwards Government Resident at Albany; and on the second occasion to a daughter of the late Mr. Samuel Burges, "Tipperary," York. Colonel Phillips has a fine military presence. Whether in the Colonial Secretaryship, in the military forces, or in the control of the local police forces, he has acquitted himself with distinction, and is to be reckoned among the large number of local born public men who have placed the colony under debts of gratitude for their public services.