Captain Arthur PhillipBath
1738-1814
 
 

 

The humble beginnings of Arthur Phillip gave no hint of the great heights he would later attain. He became an Admiral in the British Navy and Governor of a newly established Colony in Australia.

Born in London on 11 October 1738, Arthur was the second child of Jacob Phillip, a language teacher. His mother was the widow of a naval officer and this may have influenced the decision to enrol Arthur in a school for ‘poor boys of Seamen’ at Greenwich at the age of 13. He underwent a 4 years apprenticeship, two of which were spent at sea.

Attained rank of Lieutenant
In the navy he saw active service during the Seven Years’ War and was made a Lieutenant following the capture of Havana in 1761. Peace was attained in 1763 and Lieutenant Phillip was retired on half-pay.
 
He married in 1763 and spent the next eleven years living on and managing two properties at Lyndhurst in Hampshire. Unfortunately the marriage must have been unhappy because he separated from his wife after six years.
 
Attained rank of 'Captain'
In 1774 the British Admiralty lent him to the Portuguese navy. He served with distinction as a Captain for the next four years in South American waters. In 1778 he returned to the British navy and in 1781 was made captain taking command of the 24-gun Ariadne. A year later he was promoted to command of the 64-gun Europe. With him went his friend Lieutenant P G King who later accompanied him to Australia.
 
Although his orders sent him to India he did not see any action and was again retired on half-pay in 1784. The signing of peace treaties was not good news for naval officers because the navy was effectively mothballed and the officers put into semi retirement.
 
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Appointed Govenor of New South Wales
The Admiralty gave him a job doing survey work and then he got his big break! In 1786 he was appointed governor of the penal colony of New South Wales in Australia.
 
Arthur Phillip had risen through the ranks of the Admiralty through merit and recognition of his administrative talents by his peers. He had been described as brave, honest, obedient and self-sacrificing. He was a competent farmer from his time living on his properties at Lyndhurst and during his time in the Portuguese navy had transported convicts to South America. He was admirably suited to the task of establishing the colony of New South Wales and captaining The First Fleet.
 
Although the British government was more interested in the new settlement being a good place for getting rid of undesirable convicts, Governor Phillip was keen to encourage free settlers. The First Fleet left England in May 1787 and arrived in Botany Bay, Australia on 18 January 1788. The success of the voyage was a testament to Phillip’s excellent planning and forethought.
 
Settlement moved to present site of Sydney
The original site chosen by the British government for settlement was not suitable so Phillip chose another one and on 26th January they all went ashore. Of the 1,030 arrivals, 294 were marines, free settlers, wives and children and 736 were convicts including 188 women.
 
The distance from England meant that Governor Phillip was virtually responsible to no-one. Fortunately they had chosen the right man for the job as he was a capable, honest and fair Governor doing his best for the fledgling colony. Despite some of his officers losing faith in the colony and doing their best to cause it to fail, he continued to send glowing reports to England. He sent his trusted friend P G King to England to report personally on the colony’s establishment.
 
Return to England & Resignation as Govenor
During the five years Phillip spent in New South Wales he made many requests to England to send out more free settlers but all he got was more convicts. In all, only 13 new free settlers arrived in the five years and they landed after Phillip’s departure in 1792. He was forced to return to England because of ill health, fully intending to return as soon as he was well enough to continue the work of establishing a new empire and fulfilling his vision for a prosperous, lawful and fair society.
 
He resigned as Governor on 23 July 1793 but was consulted on the running of the settlement for some time after. Although he recommended that his old friend P G King be appointed as his successor, this was not taken up. He re-married in 1794 and by 1796 his health had recovered sufficiently for him to resume his naval duties, albeit on shore.
 
Attained rank of Rear Admiral
Phillip was made a Rear Admiral and appointed ‘Commander of the Sea Fencibles’ throughout England, in charge of all sea defences against a possible invasion by Napoleon. He eventually retired in 1805. For the next nine years he lived in Bath and 3 months after receiving his last promotion to Admiral he died on 31 August 1814.
 
Admiral Phillip is buried in the St Nicholas Church, Bathampton.
 
There is a memorial to this great man in Bath Abbey.
 
Google Maps - St Nicholas Church, Bathampton