Arthur Phillip


Arthur Phillip : biography

11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814

Phillip showed in other ways that he recognised that New South Wales could not be run simply as a prison camp. Lord Sydney, often criticised as an ineffectual incompetent, had made one fundamental decision about the settlement that was to influence it from the start. Instead of just establishing it as a military prison, he provided for a civil administration, with courts of law. Two convicts, Henry and Susannah Kable, sought to sue Duncan Sinclair, the captain of Alexander, for stealing their possessions during the voyage. Convicts in Britain had no right to sue, and Sinclair had boasted that he could not be sued by them. Someone in Government obviously had a quiet word in Kable’s ear, as when the court met and Sinclair challenged the prosecution on the ground that the Kables were felons, the court required him to prove it. As all the convict records had been left behind in England, he could not do so, and the court ordered the captain to make restitution. Further, soon after Lord Sydney appointed him governor of New South Wales Arthur Phillip drew up a detailed memorandum of his plans for the proposed new colony. In one paragraph he wrote: "The laws of this country [England] will of course, be introduced in [New] South Wales, and there is one that I would wish to take place from the moment his Majesty’s forces take possession of the country: That there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves",Historical Records of New South Wales, Volume 1, Part 2, Phillip 1783–1792, p 53 and he meant what he said. Nevertheless, Phillip believed in discipline, and floggings and hangings were commonplace, although Philip commuted many death sentences.

Phillip also had to adopt a policy towards the Eora Aboriginal people, who lived around the waters of Sydney Harbour. Phillip ordered that they must be well-treated, and that anyone killing Aboriginal people would be hanged. Phillip befriended an Eora man called Bennelong, and later took him to England. On the beach at Manly, a misunderstanding arose and Phillip was speared in the shoulder: but he ordered his men not to retaliate. Phillip went some way towards winning the trust of the Eora, although the settlers were at all times treated extremely warily. Soon, a virulent disease, once thought to be smallpox but now believed to be chickenpox, and other European-introduced epidemics ravaged the Eora population.

The Governor’s main problem was with his own military officers, who wanted large grants of land, which Phillip had not been authorised to grant. The officers were expected to grow food, but they considered this beneath them. As a result scurvy broke out, and in October 1788 Phillip had to send Sirius to Cape Town for supplies, and strict rationing was introduced, with thefts of food punished by hanging. Arthur Phillip quoted "The living conditions need to improve or my men won’t work as hard, so I have come to a conclusion that I must hire surgeons to fix the convicts."