Arthur Phillip

Arthur Phillip was born in London on 11 October 1738, the son of Jacob and Elizabeth Phillip. He attended the Establishment of the Poor Boys in Greenwich which was a school for the sons of seamen. He graduated in 1755 after being at sea for two years and joined the Royal Navy where he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1762. A year later he was married, retired on half pay and spent the next 15 years looking after his property in Hampshire.

However during the Spanish-Portuguese war, Phillip joined the Portuguese navy from 1774-1778 where on one occasion he took a shipload of convicts across the Atlantic. During the American War of Independence he returned to the English navy and became a post captain before retiring again in 1784. In October 1786 the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, appointed him as Governor of the proposed penal settlement at Botany Bay. Phillip was 48 years old at this stage and was working as a surveyor for the Admiralty. The choice of Phillip was thought to have been because of Phillip’s farming knowledge and experience.

Phillip captained HMS Sirius in the First Fleet and his 8-month voyage across the seas to Australia must have been very scary because he did not know anything about the new land they were going to. He asked that people with skills in farming, building and trade to join the fleet, but this request were rejected and instead there were 772 convicts and a number of marines, and offices to administer the new colony.

The First Fleet arrived on 18 January 1788 on Kurnell Peninsula; however Phillip did not like this site because the soil was poor, and a reliable water source could not be found. The ships travelled on towards Port Jackson and eventually landed at Sydney Cove (which Phillip named after Lord Sydney) on 26 January 1788, which is now known as Australia Day.

Many issues arose during the early years of settlement. This included establishing laws for the colony, in which Phillip would enforce current laws in England to New South Wales. Phillip also negotiated with the Eora Aboriginal people who lived around Sydney Harbour. He befriended an Eora man, named Bennelong who he took to England. Phillip made great efforts to win the trust of the Eora. Once, he was speared in the shoulder after a misunderstanding on the beach at Manly, but ordered his men not to retaliate. Eventually European diseases such as smallpox infected the indigenous Australians, which devastated their population.

Another issue that Phillip had to deal with was with his own military officers who wanted lots of land but not to work for it. There was a lack of fresh food as the officers did not want to do any farming work. This led to the population getting scurvy, and Phillip had to send out a ship to Cape Town in South Africa to get supplies for the new colony.

By 1790 the new settlement was stabilising, and the population was about 2,000 which had housing and fresh food being grown. By 1792 the colony was well established, with random plots of wooden huts and tents. Phillip left New South Wales in December 1792 in ill health, but resumed his duties in the navy in 1796 and reached the rank of rear-admiral by 1801. He died in Bath on 31 August 1814.