Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Phillips, Thomas (1635?-1693)

PHILLIPS, THOMAS (1635?–1693), military engineer, is first mentioned in a letter from James, duke of York, appointing him in 1661 master-gunner of the ship Portsmouth. On 30 June 1672, after passing a satisfactory examination by the master-gunner of England, he was appointed by warrant one of the gunners of the Tower of London. In the following year he was sent as master-gunner to Sheerness. In 1679 and 1680 he was in the Channel Islands as a military engineer, busily engaged in making maps and plans of the bays and probable landing-places, and of the defences both existing and required. Many of these plans are now in the British Museum.

In the beginning of 1683 Phillips was similarly employed in the Isle of Wight, and in the summer he was sent to Tangiers under Major (afterwards Sir) Martin Beckman, with the expedition commanded by Lord Dartmouth, to demolish the defences and the Mole. Samuel Pepys accompanied this expedition, and refers to Phillips in his correspondence. Phillips returned to England in May 1684, having, in the previous March, been promoted to be his majesty's third engineer. In August, at Lord Dartmouth's request, he visited Portsmouth to examine the defence works in progress ‘against the coming of the king to that garrison,’ and to set in hand further fortifications proposed by Sir Bernard de Gomme [q. v.] and approved by the board. During the next year Phillips was in Ireland employed in making maps of the country and designs for defences.

On 23 Dec. 1685 Phillips was appointed by royal warrant to be his majesty's second engineer. During the remainder of the reign of James II, Phillips remained in London at the board of ordnance, but visited, as occasion required, Poole, Portsmouth, Chatham, and Sheerness, with the master-general or surveyor-general of the ordnance, to inspect and advise as to the defences. On 10 Dec. 1687 he was appointed captain of a company of miners. On 8 May 1689 a royal warrant of William and Mary renewed the appointments of Phillips as second engineer and captain of a company of miners; but in the summer he declined to join Schomberg in Ireland, and in December, on Schomberg's representations, he was dismissed from both offices. In 1690 he invented a new gun-carriage, with which all the guns of the ship Royal Sovereign were ordered to be supplied; and his services were in request at Portsmouth and also in Ireland, where he was present under the Earl of Marlborough as his engineer at the sieges of Cork and Kinsale, and was paid 100l. royal bounty by Lord Ranelagh [see Jones, Richard, first Earl of Ranelagh.]

On 8 May 1691 Phillips was reinstated as second engineer. A proposal made in the following month to send him to Newfoundland on special duty to secure the trade of English merchants against the depredation of the French was abandoned for the time on his advice. A letter of Phillips, describing the object of his proposed mission to Newfoundland, is printed in ‘Gent. Mag.’ for 1802 (pt. ii. p. 918).

Phillips was employed in the ordnance train in the summer expedition of the fleet against the coast of France in 1692, and again by royal warrant of 16 May 1693, as chief engineer in the train under Sir Martin Beckman, when he accompanied Captain John Benbow (1653–1702) [q. v.] in the Norwich to the rendezvous of the squadron in Guernsey road. The squadron, including a number of bomb-vessels, sailed on the morning of 16 Nov. 1693 for St. Malo, and anchored before the Quince Channel the same afternoon. It bombarded the place all night, and hauled out on the morning of the 17th, when Phillips, who was in charge of the ‘bombs,’ fired about seventy. The following day, the 18th, the firing was continued, and on the 19th a galliot called ‘Ye Infernal,’ filled with powder and carcases, was taken by Phillips himself to the foot of the wall and fired, Phillips escaping to his ship. The explosion was a terrible one, shaking the whole town like an earthquake, damaging hundreds of houses, and bringing down the sea-wall. Whether Phillips was hurt or became ill from anxiety or excitement is not known, but he died on board Benbow's ship on the return of the squadron to Guernsey roads on the evening of 22 Nov. 1693. <section end=Phillips, Thomas (1635?-1693)/ He left a widow, Frances, and a family in indifferent circumstances, as his pay seems to have been in arrear; and the state papers contain a petition from her for 800l., part of it due for expenditure in works in Tangiers ten years before.

In the British Museum are plans or maps drawn by Phillips of Athlone, 1685; Belfast and the design for erecting a citadel upon the Strand, 1685; Culmore Fort; the bay and harbour of Dublin, 2 sheets, 1685; the fort of Duncannon; a prospect of the fort of Duncannon; the barony of Enishowen, co. Donegal; numerous charts, prospects, and plans of Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, and Herm, dated 1680 (mainly coloured); and a description of the several harbours, bays, landing-places, and castles of Guernsey, illustrated by coloured plans. Macaulay refers to Phillips's map of Belfast as ‘so exact that the houses may be counted’ (History, 1883, ii. 184n.)

[War Office Records; Royal Engineers' Records; State Papers; Cottonian MSS.; London Gazette; Charnock's Biogr. Navalis; Kennett's Complete History of England; Campbell's Lives of the British Admirals; Treasury Papers; Life, Tour, and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, 2 vols. 1841; Porter's Hist. of the Corps of Royal Engineers.]

R. H. V.