Arthur Phillip

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Arthur Phillip : biography

11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814

Phillip is referred to in the John Williamson song "Chains around my ankle".

Kate Grenville’s 2008 novel The Lieutenant portrays Phillip through the character Commodore James Gilbert.

In his honour

His name is commemorated in Australia by Port Phillip, Phillip Island (Victoria), Phillip Island (Norfolk Island), the federal electorate of Phillip (1949–1993), the suburb of Phillip in Canberra, the Governor Phillip Tower building in Sydney, and many streets, parks and schools.

Stabilising the colony

Despite Phillip’s earlier order that Aboriginal Australians must never be slain, and his insistence that no retaliation be taken to avenge his own non-fatal spearing, Phillip’s stance toward Aboriginals changed markedly after the death of his gamekeeper, John MacIntyre. After being fatally wounded by an Aboriginal man, on his deathbed, MacIntyre confessed to a priest that he had exhibited cruelty to Aboriginals. MacIntyre, suspected of hunting more than just game, was dreaded by Bennelong and other Aborignals, and is believed to have been wounded in retribution for the Aboriginals he had killed. Nevertheless, Phillip, alarmed and outraged, made a surprising move, ordering that the Natives be made severe examples of. He ordered a party to capture six Natives the very next day, 14 December 1790, and put them to death.

Lieutenant William Dawes and colleague Watkin Tench, who were ordered to lead the revenge party, expressed disgust at the idea. Dawes and Tench had befriended the Aboriginals, and Dawes was even reported to have engaged in a relationship with an Aboriginal woman. Tench revealed in his journal that he had been given provisions for three days, ropes to bind the Aboriginal victims, and bags to collect their severed heads. However, the fleet was uncooperative. Phillip, growing frustrated with the burdens of upholding a colony and his health suffering, resigned soon after this episode.Watkin Tench, 1788 (ed: Tim Flannery), 1996, ISBN 1-875847-27-8, p. 167

By 1790 the situation had stabilised. The population of about 2,000 was adequately housed and fresh food was being grown. Phillip assigned a convict, James Ruse, land at Rose Hill (now Parramatta) to establish proper farming, and when Ruse succeeded he received the first land grant in the colony. Other convicts followed his example. Sirius was wrecked in March 1790 at the satellite settlement of Norfolk Island, depriving Phillip of vital supplies. In June 1790 the Second Fleet arrived with hundreds more convicts, most of them too sick to work.

By December 1790 Phillip was ready to return to England, but the colony had largely been forgotten in London and no instructions reached him, so he carried on. In 1791 he was advised that the government would send out two convoys of convicts annually, plus adequate supplies. But July, when the vessels of the Third Fleet began to arrive, with 2,000 more convicts, food again ran short, and he had to send a ship to Calcutta for supplies.

By 1792 the colony was well established, though Sydney remained an unplanned huddle of wooden huts and tents. The whaling industry was established, ships were visiting Sydney to trade, and convicts whose sentences had expired were taking up farming. John Macarthur and other officers were importing sheep and beginning to grow wool. The colony was still very short of skilled farmers, craftsmen and tradesmen, and the convicts continued to work as little as possible, even though they were working mainly to grow their own food.

In late 1792 Phillip, whose health was suffering from the poor diet, at last received permission to leave, and on 11 December 1792 he sailed in the ship Atlantic, taking with him many specimens of plants and animals. He also took Bennelong and his friend Yemmerrawanyea, another young Indigenous Australian who, unlike Bennelong, would succumb to English weather and disease and not live to make the journey home. The European population of New South Wales at his departure was 4,221, of whom 3,099 were convicts. The early years of the colony had been years of struggle and hardship, but the worst was over, and there were no further famines in New South Wales. Phillip arrived in London in May 1793. He tendered his formal resignation and was granted a pension of £500 a year.