Arthur Phillip


Arthur Phillip : biography

11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814

After his return to England from India in April 1784, Phillip remained in close contact with Townshend, now Lord Sydney, and the Home Office Under Secretary, Evan Nepean. From October 1784 to September 1786 he was employed by Nepean, who was in charge of the Secret Service relating to the Bourbon Powers, France and Spain, to spy on the French naval arsenals at Toulon and other ports.Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, OUP, 1987, pp.129-133. There was fear that Britain would soon be at war with these powers as a consequence of the Batavian revolution in the Netherlands.Alan Frost, Convicts & Empire: A Naval Question, 1776 1811, Melbourne, Oxford U.P., 1980, pp.115-116, 129.

At this time, Lord Sandwich, together with the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, was advocating establishment of a British colony in New South Wales.James Matra to Banks, 28 July 1783, British Library Additional MS 33979: 206; published in Alan Frost, The Precarious Life of James Mario Matra, Melbourne University Press, 1995, p.110. A colony there would be of great assistance to the British Navy in facilitating attacks on the Spanish possessions in Chile and Peru, as Banks’s collaborators, James Matra, Captain Sir George Young and Sir John Call pointed out in written proposals on the subject. The British Government took the decision to found the Botany Bay colony in mid-1786. Lord Sydney, as Secretary of State for the Home Office, was the minister in charge of this undertaking, and in September 1786 he appointed Phillip commodore of the fleet which was to transport the convicts and soldiers who were to be the new settlers to Botany Bay. Upon arrival there, Phillip was to assume the powers of Captain General and Governor in Chief of the new colony. A subsidiary colony was to be founded on Norfolk Island, as recommended by Sir John Call, to take advantage for naval purposes of that island’s native flax and timber. Phillip’s fleet sailed from Portsmouth in May 1787.

Governor of New South Wales

In October 1786, Phillip was appointed captain of and named Governor-designate of New South Wales, the proposed British colony on the east coast of Australia, by Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary.

Phillip had a very difficult time assembling the fleet which was to make the eight-month sea voyage to Australia. Everything a new colony might need had to be taken, since Phillip had no real idea of what he might find when he got there. There were few funds available for equipping the expedition. His suggestion that people with experience in farming, building and crafts be included was rejected. Most of the 772 convicts (of whom 732 survived the voyage) were petty thieves from the London slums. Phillip was accompanied by a contingent of marines and a handful of other officers who were to administer the colony.

The 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail on 13 May 1787. The leading ship, reached Botany Bay setting up camp on the Kurnell Peninsula, With an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (1789) – from Project Gutenberg on 18 January 1788. Phillip soon decided that this site, chosen on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks, who had accompanied James Cook in 1770, was not suitable, since it had poor soil, no secure anchorage and no reliable water source. After some exploration Phillip decided to go on to Port Jackson, and on 26 January the marines and convicts were landed at Sydney Cove, which Phillip named after Lord Sydney.

Shortly after establishing the settlement at Port Jackson, on 15 February 1788, Phillip sent Lieutenant Philip Gidley King with 8 free men and a number of convicts to establish the second British colony in the Pacific at Norfolk Island. This was partly in response to a perceived threat of losing Norfolk Island to the French and partly to establish an alternative food source for the new colony. The early days of the settlement were chaotic and difficult. With limited supplies, the cultivation of food was imperative, but the soils around Sydney were poor, the climate was unfamiliar, and moreover very few of the convicts had any knowledge of agriculture. Farming tools were scarce and the convicts were unwilling farm labourers. The colony was on the verge of outright starvation for an extended period. The marines, poorly disciplined themselves in many cases, were not interested in convict discipline. Almost at once, therefore, Phillip had to appoint overseers from among the ranks of the convicts to get the others working. This was the beginning of the process of convict emancipation which was to culminate in the reforms of Lachlan Macquarie after 1811.