Arthur Phillip

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Arthur Phillip : biography

11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814

Early life and naval career

Arthur Phillip was born in 1738, the son of Jacob Phillip, a Frankfurt-born language teacher, and his English wife, Elizabeth Breach.

Phillip was educated at the Greenwich Hospital School, part of Greenwich Hospital, and at the age of 13 was apprenticed to the merchant navy.

Seven Years’ War and Spanish-Portuguese War

Phillip joined the Royal Navy at about fifteen, and saw action at the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in the Mediterranean at the Battle of Minorca in 1756. In 1762 he was promoted to Lieutenant, but was placed on half pay when the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763. During this period he married, and farmed in Lyndhurst, Hampshire.

In 1774 Phillip joined the Portuguese Navy as a captain, serving in the War against Spain. While with the Portuguese Navy, Phillip commanded a frigate, the Nossa Senhora do Pilar. On this ship he took a detachment of troops from Rio de Janeiro to Colonia do Sacramento on the Rio de la Plata (opposite Buenos Aires) to relieve the garrison there. This voyage also conveyed a consignment of convicts assigned to carry out work at Colonia. During a storm encountered in the course of the voyage, the convicts assisted in working the ship and, on arrival at Colonia, Phillip recommended that they be rewarded for saving the ship by remission of their sentences.Maurine Goldston-Morris, OAM, The Life of Admiral Arthur Phillip, RN, 1738–1814, Naval Historical Society of Australia Monograph No.58, Garden Island, [1997]. A garbled version of this eventually found its way into the English press when Phillip was appointed in 1786 to lead the expedition to Sydney.See for example, The World, 16 April 1789: "BOTANY BAY.— Mr. Philip, who has this command, has the aid of experience. He had a similar expedition entrusted him by PORTUGAL, to carry convicts to South America.". Phillip played a leading part in the capture of the Spanish ship San Agustín (1768), on 19 April 1777, off Santa Catarina. The San Agustin was commissioned into the Portuguese Navy as the Santo Agostinho, and command of her was given to Phillip. The action was reported in the English press: Madrid, Aug. 28. Letters from Lisbon bring the following Account from Rio Janeiro: That the St. Augustine, of 70 Guns, having being separated from the Squadron of M. Casa Tilly, was attacked by two Portugueze Ships, against which they defended themselves for a Day and a Night, but being next Day surrounded by the Portugueze Fleet, was obliged to surrender.The St. James’s Chronicle, The London Chronicle, The Daily Advertiser, The Gazetteer and The Public Advertiser, 16 September 1777.

In 1778 Britain was again at war, and Phillip was recalled to active service, and in 1779 obtained his first command, HMS Basilisk. He was promoted to captain in 1781, and was given command of .

In July 1782, in a change of government, Thomas Townshend became Secretary of State for Home and American Affairs, and assumed responsibility for organising an expedition against Spanish America. Like his predecessor, Lord Germain, he turned for advice to Arthur Phillip.Viscount Keppel, First Lord of the Admiralty, to Townshend, 25 September 1782; Clements Library (Ann Arbor), Sydney Papers, 9; British Library, India and Oriental, H 175, f.237; quoted in Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, 1987, p.114. A letter from Phillip to Sandwich of 17 January 1781 records Phillip’s loan to Sandwich of his charts of the Plata and Brazilian coasts for use in organising the expedition.Phillip to Sandwich, 17 January 1781; National Maritime Museum (Greenwich), Sandwich Papers, F/26/23. Phillip’s plan was for a squadron of three ships of the line and a frigate to mount a raid on Buenos Aires and Monte Video, then to proceed to the coasts of Chile, Peru and Mexico to maraud, and ultimately to cross the Pacific to join the British Navy’s East India squadron for an attack on Manila.Blankett to Shelburne, August 1782; Clements Library (Ann Arbor), Sydney Papers, 9; quoted in Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, p.114. The expedition, consisting of the Grafton, 70 guns, Elizabeth, 74 guns, Europe, 64 guns, and the Iphigenia frigate, sailed on 16 January 1783, under the command of Commodore Robert Kingsmill.Admiralty Lords to Kingsmill, 17 December 1782, National Archives, Kew, ADM 2/113: 522-3; Kingsmill to Admiralty Lords, 1 January 1783, National Archives, Kew, ADM 1/2015; Keppel to Middleton, 17 December 1782, National Archives, Kew, HO 28/2: 410-1; quoted in Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, Melbourne, OUP, 1987, p.114. Phillip was given command of the 64-gun , or Europe.National Archives, Kew, ADM 51/354; ADM 2/113; quoted in Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.114. The departure of the squadron from Portsmouth was reported in The General Evening Post, The London Chronicle, 18 January, The Morning Post, 20 January 1783; Phillip’s return to Portsmouth in the Europe was reported in The Whitehall Evening Post, 24 April 1784. Shortly after sailing, an armistice was concluded between Great Britain and Spain. Phillip learnt of this in April when he put in for storm repairs at Rio de Janeiro. Phillip wrote to Townshend from Rio de Janeiro on 25 April 1783, expressing his disappointment that the ending of the American War had robbed him of the opportunity for naval glory in South America.India Office Records, H 175, f.237; quoted in Alan Frost, Convicts & Empire: A Naval Question, 1776 1811, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1980, p.209. Phillip used the contemporary Portuguese spelling for Montevideo.