Mrs Maurine Goldston-Morris OAM, MmAVL, FRGS
Admiral Arthur Phillip was one of the outstanding men of the 18th century. He is the Father and Founder of Modern Australia. As Captain General of the First Fleet he brought 11 ships and 1500 men and women halfway around the world on a unique voyage that took from the 13th May 1787 to the 18th January 1788, over 8 months travelling with the loss of only 39 lives. Many of the convicts were quite elderly, one woman was in her 80s when sentenced.
Phillip was described by his Naval Officers as “possessed of very good sense, well informed, indefatigable upon service, humane and at the same time spirited resolute”.
Phillip brought a motley band of soldiers and convicts to a harsh wilderness, he had the task of creating a viable self-sufficient community. They were inexperienced, ill-equipped, ill-provisioned but, Phillip, by his untiring efforts, nursed the infant settlement through famine and neglect to achieve their goal.
Arthur Phillip was born in Bread Street, London, a few doors from his church, known throughout the world as “Bow Bells”, on the 11th October 1738. His mother was English, Elizabeth Breach Herbert, widow of Captain Herbert RN, killed in naval action, and his father was Jakob Phillip, a teacher of languages, born in Frankfurt-Am-Main. At 11 years of age he entered the Greenwich Naval Seamans College in June 1750. His father is noted in the College Registry as Jacob Phillip, Steward. A Steward in the 18th century was a man of high esteem. All the great estates were run by Stewards, the equivalent of General Manager in the 20th century. His first school reports states “how fortunate Arthur Phillip is to have had such an excellent grounding in Latin from his father, he speaks and writes his father’s language fluently and has a sound knowledge of French”. It is interesting to note that Phillip spoke 6 languages apart from his mother tongue, English.
The Headmaster’s report on the 22 June 1753 is the most interesting, he states “Arthur Phillip is noted for his diplomacy, mildness, nervously active, unassuming, reasonable, business-like to the smallest degree in everything he undertakes, always seeking perfection”. This last remark is perhaps the key to Phillip. He went through life always seeking that perfection.
At 14 he was apprenticed to William Redhead Mariner, firstly sailing on a whaler to Iceland and Greenland, on the “The Fortune” to ports in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Malta and Holland. He was accepted into the Royal Navy as a Midshipman in July 1756, 16 years of age.
In this short address I shall mention a few highlights of Phillip’s extraordinary career that are not well known!
Phillip was posted to the West Indies and promoted to Lieutenant in Antigua in 1762. The slave trade horrified Phillip and he became an ardent anti-slaver for the rest of his life.
On his arrival in Botany Bay on the 18th January 1788 his first law in Australia was “There will never be any slavery in this land, where there are no slaves there will be no slavery”.
Whilst in the West Indies he was made aware of the horrific loss of life in the Navy from scurvy, mosquitoes, smallpox etc. and was surprised to discover that on some of the plantations, whilst the slaves were undoubtedly unhappy, the slaves were healthy and strong and were given limes and lemons each day, their food included vegetables of different varieties, their living quarters were thoroughly cleaned each week and every slave had to have a bath as well. Phillip decided if this diet and cleanliness worked for the slaves it should for the sailors.
He requested to his Captain, John Everett, that this be tried on HMS Sterling Castle. The ship was thoroughly scrubbed and limes, lemons, pineapples and vegetables were taken on board, the first in the Royal Navy and death and illness rate diminished notably. The ships under Phillip’s command were always known as clean ships and not one death from scurvy was logged on the long voyage out to the Great South Land by the First Fleet.
Fortunately for Australia, Phillip gained great knowledge of the land after his marriage to Charlotte Denison, a wealthy widow, and the couple moved to her property “Vernals” in New Hampshire. In this new environment Phillip attained knowledge of crops and their rotation, animal husbandry, the vagaries of climate and soil protection. Here the perfectionist came into his own and is Australia’s first environmentalist as his law on the Tank Stream shows, banning the cutting down of trees on either side of the Tank Stream, the life blood of the colony.
In 1774, there was still no RN ship available for Phillip and Portugal had asked for Officers to help in their 3rd Colonia Wars against Spain. Portugal is England’s oldest ally, with the Treaty of Alliance signed in June 1386. Phillip asked permission to join the Portuguese Navy, and it was granted. He was a Captain in the Portuguese Navy from the 24th August 1774 to August 1778. He became a great Portuguese hero, the only English sailor to be given a Royal Salute and the Royal Colours, as Commander of the Fort Colonia Do Sacremento and his capture of the Spanish 70 Gun Flagship the “San Augustin”. He became Captain of this great new Flagship, renamed “Santo Augustino” for 2½ years.
In Colonia he had for the first time convicts under his command, and he appealed to the Portuguese Prime Minister Pombal, that convicts at the end of their sentences, if they have behaved well, should be treated as free men and given land grants.
Portugal was the first country to give convicts land grants and Phillip the first man to request this be so.
The highlight of his Governorship in New South Wales, was the discovery of Port Jackson, “the greatest harbour in the world, where a 1,000 ships of the line could lie in safety”, the discovery of Parramatta and the much better soil around Rose Hill and his attempt to get a Treaty for the Aborigine people.
He was speared at Manly, the first place he named in Australia, by an aborigine but took no retaliative action as he believed it was in reaction to the killing and wounding of aborigines by Admiral La Perouse when he was forced to fire on attacking aborigines in Botany Bay.
Following his spearing, Phillip was at long last able to make contact with the Aborigine people and, returning to England ill and emaciated, he took Bennelong and Yerramewannie with him. The latter was only 18 years of age but could read and write quite well and Phillip thought he would be a great leader of the Aborigine people. Phillip tried to get a treaty for them, but Yerramewannie died of a lung infection and poor Bennelong was by now addicted to alcohol, so the Treaty signed by King George III was never accepted by Parliament.
Phillip was sent to Portugal as Supreme Commander of both the English and Portuguese Navies, as it was thought that Spain would attack Portugal, but then the Prime Minister William Pitt realised France under Napoleon was becoming a great danger and England could not afford to have Spain as an enemy as well, so Phillip was recalled after a wonderful greeting, a hero’s return in Lisbon.
Phillip devised a method to stop Napoleon landing in England, by using any fishing or sailing vessels available. As we know Napoleon did not attempt to land, but Phillip’s plan was used intact for the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War.
Phillip named not one place after himself in his extraordinary success story in New South Wales.
In his Royal Navy Autobiography he is the only Admiral described as
“SCHOLAR, SEAMAN AND GENTLEMAN”.
This extraordinary man who founded a great nation, my country. Australia