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Admiral Arthur Phillip
(11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814)


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

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

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.

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.

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.

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 HMS Europe, but in 1784 he was back on half pay.


Phillip's wife, Margaret, had died in 1792.

In 1794 he married Isabella Whitehead, and lived for a time at Bath.

His health gradually recovered and in 1796 he went back to sea, holding a series of commands and responsible posts in the wars against the French.

First Governor of NSW

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

His choice may have been strongly influenced by George Rose, Under-Secretary of the Treasury and a neighbour of Phillip in Hampshire who would have known of Phillip's farming experience.

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 First Fleet, of 11 ships, set sail on 13 May 1787. The leading ship, HMS Supply reached Botany Bay setting up camp on the Kurnell Peninsula 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.

The Early 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 and 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.

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.

No Slavery in the Colony

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", and he meant what he said.

Nevertheless, Phillip believed in discipline, and floggings and hangings were commonplace, although Philip commuted many death sentences.

Eora Aboriginal people

Phillip also adopted 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, smallpox and other European-introduced epidemics ravaged the Eora population.


In January 1799 he became a Rear-Admiral and in 1805, aged 67, he retired from the Navy with the rank of Admiral of the Blue, and spent most of the rest of his life at Bath.

He died in Bath in 1814.


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