ADMIRAL ARTHUR PHILLIP 1738-1814
Founder and First Governor of Australia
West Country Gentleman
Arthur Phillip was born in London on 11th October 1738, the son of Jacob Phillip, a language teacher from Frankfurt, and Elizabeth, née Breach, who had remarried after the death of her previous husband, Captain John Herbert, RN. Young Arthur Phillip attended the Greenwich Naval Seamen’s College, was bound apprentice aboard a whaler based in Greenland, and joined the Royal Navy as a Midshipman at 15.
Phillip took part in the Battle of Minorca against the French and saw service in the Mediterranean. In 1760 he served in the Caribbean under a relative, Captain Everitt, arriving in Antigua in October of that year. There he saw slavery for the first time: he fought against it for the rest of his life. Promoted to lieutenant in June 1761, he was mentioned in dispatches at “The Siege of Havana” the following year.
Returning to an England at peace, Phillip was placed on the half pay list. In July 1763, he married Margaret Charlott Denison, the widow of a wealthy London merchant. The couple settled into country life near Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where Phillip farmed. The marriage later failed: they separated in 1768.
With the outbreak of war between England’s oldest ally Portugal and Spain in South America, Arthur Phillip served in the Portuguese Navy, as a Captain, sailing to Brazil in 1774, and serving with great distinction. He returned to England when the War of Independence in America began. He was appointed a lieutenant in the Alexander, and to command the Basilisk, and later (1781) the Ariade. He served in the Baltic and then sailed via South America and South Africa to join the Indian Squadron.
Following the loss of the American Colonies, the Home Secretary in the Pitt Government, Lord Sydney, proposed that a penal settlement be established at Botany Bay, which had been discovered by Captain Cook in 1770.
In 1786, Arthur Phillip was appointed Captain General of the First Fleet and Governor-designate of the Colony of New South Wales. He led 11 ships and more than 2,500 souls on a voyage half-way round the world, leaving Portsmouth on 13th May 1787 and arriving at Botany Bay on 18th January 1788 with not one death during that time from scurvy. Realising that Botany Bay was unsuitable for a settlement, Phillip explored northwards and found “the finest harbour in the world”. On 26th January 1788, he raised the flag for the new Colony at Port Jackson, later Sydney Cove.
Phillip faced serious obstacles to the establishment of a viable colony: e.g. food shortages and major supply difficulties. His achievements in building the foundations for an eventually successful colony and country gave convicts a new chance in life. He befriended the Aboriginal people.
Captain John Fortesque wrote in 1789, “I do think God Almighty made Phillip on purpose for this place, for never did man better know what to do or with more determination to see it done, and yet if they will let him, he will make them all very happy”.
The Dean and Chapter of the Abbey have attended the dedication of the memorial stone on Wednesday July 9th. One wreath was laid by HRH Prince Phillip. A second on behalf of the Fellowship of the First Fleet, Denis Smith, Vice President. The dedication was followed by a special reception adjacent to the Abbey.
As well as marking in stone Phillip’s place in history, it is our intention to create a lasting and living memorial by sponsoring bright and worthy students for higher education who in his name will enhance the exchange between Australia and Britain, two great nations with a shared heritage and unique links in the fields of law, science, commerce, sports and the arts.
Admiral Arthur Phillip Address 2020
Recent Insights and Events
This commemorative service has been held, and honour here done to Admiral Arthur Phillip, annually since 1992, when the bronzememorial on the west wall of this renowned and historic church of St Mary-Le-Bow was dedicated. The memorial came from a larger 1932 monument in St Mildred’s church in the adjacent Bread Street Ward where Arthur Phillip was born. In 1941, that church and much of that memorial were destroyed by a parachute mine. The services of commemoration of Admiral Phillip at St Mildred’s thereupon ceased.
Charles Cheers Wakefield, 1st Viscount Wakefield, GCVO, CBE, was Alderman for the Bread Street Ward before he became Lord Mayor of London during the First World War. An admirer of the armed services, he visited the War Front in full Lord Mayoral regalia. In 1899, Cheers Wakefield had founded an oil company in his name, which he later changed to Castrol to salute the Castor oil he inventively added to his oil.
Cheers Wakefield had also established the Admiral Phillip Memorial Trust and installed the memorial and its bust at St Mildred’s. The bust survived that bombing of 1941, the year Viscount Wakefield died [at 81]; and was reinstated first on Bowater House in Cannon Street. Another fine Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Gadsden GBE AC, inspired the subsequent move of the Phillip bust to its proud present position here in St Mary-le-Bow, and the reintroduction of this annual service. The memorial’s plaques and a replica bust were erected in Watling Street where the Bread Street Ward Club keeps an eye on them, and where, during this service some years ago, the wreath was placed.
Cheers Wakefield’s Trust remains responsible, now under the Chairmanship of former Lord Mayor Sir Michael Savory, for these Phillip memorials and this Service. The Trustees invite school-children to attend the Service so that future generations learn of the history of a national hero born in the City. How good that the children come.
Wider and formal national recognition of this true hero of Great Britain and of Australia has come a long way, especially here in his own country, and notably in 2014, the bicentenary of Admiral Phillip’s death. This Address allows a brief reminder of earlier history, an account for the record of the 2014 national recognition, and a few other relevant facts and recent judgements.
Educated in Greenwich, where his Headmaster’s report in 1753 warmly praised his “diplomacy and mildness”, and him for being “unassuming, reasonable, business-like… in everything he undertakes, always seeking perfection”, young Arthur soon went to sea. He sailed in the Arctic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the North and South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, the Western Pacific and more. He served briefly aboard a whaler in the Merchant Navy, but mostly by far in the Royal Navy. Two years ago, we heard authoritatively from this pulpit, in words by First-Lieutenant Bruno Gonçalves Neves, formerly of the Portuguese Navy and now Head of Research at that Navy’s Maritime Museum, of Phillip’s much admired secondment from 1775 to1778 as a Captain, later Commodore, to the Navy of Britain’s oldest ally; Portugal and England having signed the bilateral military and commercial Methuen Treaties in 1703. For Portugal, Phillip sailed in command on both sides of the Atlantic with distinction, and incidentally pursued some direct British interests in South America, providing valuable material for later Royal Navy strategic planning. In late 1784, Phillip was also sent to France to report on the French fleet’s composition, capability and growth.
Despite the last two words of the rather commercial title of Judge Michael Pembroke’s recent and well-researched book, Arthur Phillip, Sailor, Governor, Mercenary, Spy, Phillip, who served on secondment to Portugal and as a naval intelligence officer in France, was neither a true ‘spy’ nor a ‘mercenary’– as Michael has since acknowledged.
Arthur Phillip’s multiple and varied experiences were:
- of navigation the hard way, in unknown and in many ill-charted waters around the world, using sextant, armillary sphere, time-pieces and mathematics – centuries before GPS;
- of the hard, hard life of an 18th Century sailor – centuries before any comfort beyond a hammock or cot and very salt beef;
- of battle joined successfully, from the siege of Havana in 1762 as a junior Lieutenant to senior command of several ships in the Napoleonic Wars – centuries before radio telegraphy;
- of observing, and consequently hating, slave shipping – decades before its abolition;
- and of much more, including farming in Hampshire while on half-pay; and learning, through languages, of other cultures.
All that experience, crammed into 48 years, equipped Captain Arthur Phillip uniquely for his biggest and best job, the twin rôles to which he was appointed in 1787: first, as Commander of what Prince Phillip firmly instructed me was a convoy, but which later became known, initially in Australia, as the First Fleet, of eleven ships carrying some 760 convicts, 180 or so of them women, some 240 Marines (not Royal Marines; not until 1803) with a few wives and children, and a small group of civil officers – over a thousand souls in all, from Portsmouth to Sydney Cove; and, second, as “Captain-General & Commander in Chief in & over the Territory of New South Wales”: in effect Founder of New South Wales and hence of modern Australia.
I believe Arthur Phillip was brought up an Anglican, and that while not obviously or over-religious, he practised the decent Anglicanism of the day; which was, and largely remains, common in the Royal Navy. He made attendance at church services compulsory for all in the new colony. I like to think, but cannot prove, that he asked, perhaps instructed, that the two lessons at the first service in Sydney Cove, in February 1788, should be the Isaiah Chapter 42 passage that speaks of bringing out the prisoners from the prisons, and of singing a new song – “ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles and the inhabitants thereof”; and from Matthew Chapter 6, the equally apt injunction to take no thought for raiment …… Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like a lily of the field.
Further, Arthur Phillip practised a convinced and principled humanitarianism. He, and his political master in London, Lord Sydney, in charge of the Colonies, were Men of the Enlightenment.
That formative background, and that conviction, guided and inspired Governor Phillip in New South Wales. Hence his leniency with recidivist convicts. Hence his learning some of the Aboriginal Eora tribe’s language and his befriending of Aborigines. Hence, too, his firm speaking of often unwanted truth to power in London. And hence his patience with his otherwise insufferable, cantankerous and disloyal Lieutenant Governor, Marines Major Robert Ross.
Arthur Phillip, enlightened Governor through almost the first five years of the nascent colony, would certainly have studied the best charts, and the laws of the day appertaining to the establishment of the colony and the founding of New South Wales. Those laws included those under which, in August 1770, then Lieutenant James Cook had claimed possession for King George III of the eastern seaboard and all its hinterland of then New Holland, and renamed it New South Wales. The land ownership laws in 1770 and 1788 would have been known in detail, and carefully followed, by Cook and Phillip.
There has been discussion among academics recently of Terra Nullius, the meaning of which has altered over time, as the authoritative international historian and lawyer, Damen Ward, Senior Crown Counsel of New Zealand, has kindly explained. Law Professor Paul McHugh of Cambridge has also been helpful and illuminating. The relevant 18th Century understanding is of land belonging to no-one; territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, thus without a sovereign. A further relevant definition – or interpretation – of Terra Nullius has to do with paucity of inhabitants, and, as opposed to nomadic hunting, the absence of permanent cultivation or agriculture that could establish proprietorial rights. Some modern Aboriginal leaders have spoken of their people belonging to the land, rather than the other way around.
The British authorities were also clear that sovereignty over territory which was Terra Nullius could be acquired through occupation. I believe that it would never have entered the minds of officials or politicians in London, nor of the carefully instructed James Cook, that his land claim on behalf of George III represented or implied anything other than peaceful and lawful occupation. Nor could Arthur Phillip ever have considered that his peaceful and – firmly against the early odds, ultimately successful – endeavours were remotely comparable to invasion. His endeavours were to create, not a convict gaol half a world away, but a new economy and country; and to foster the development and subsequent acquisition of an ally for Great Britain. In accordance with his royal commission (much of which I suspect he may have drafted himself), Phillip’s careful instruction to the early colony that the Aboriginals were to be treated kindly and with respect, and his own actions in that regard, are further witness to his peaceful intent and policies.
While the senior academic lawyers and historians I have consulted and studied are mostly clear that law in this field evolved over the years, via, inter alia, the law made by judges on the spot in the States of what became Australia; and while some argue that later law (jus naturae et gentium – law of nature and nations) could run counter to Terra Nullius, and while still others dispute that contention, it is to me conclusive and critical that the law as it stood at the time of Governor Phillip’s establishment of New South Wales was Terra Nullius as I have described it. The Mabo decision of 1992 in effect overturned the older legal treatment of Aboriginal interests in land: the modern Australian Court holding that Aboriginal interests were a proprietary title which common law now recognised.
Terra Nullius is, in my view, in some logical conflict with the modern, courteous practice and gesture, at the start of official speeches, of acknowledging the original or traditional owners of the land on which the speech is given. Given all we know about Governor, later Admiral Phillip, and his approach to the Aborigines; and given Terra Nullius, the law of the land when Cook’s August 1770 claim was made at Possession Island, and when Phillip established New South Wales in January 1788, I would argue that, as opposed to the modern Australian practice, which is a matter for Her Majesty’s Government of Australia, the recent British practice in speech-making in Australia need not, even perhaps should not, make that gesture, since by valid legal definition, the land was not in the possession of the Aborigines at the time the colony was established by Great Britain. The British practice today in Australia of acknowledging traditional owners is thus unnecessary in law, even arguably inadvisable in law, but is understandable as a matter of contemporary political judgment.
It seems possible (I owe this thought to our own Professor of Australian History and member of the Cook and Britain-Australia Societies, Carl Bridge, who gave this address in the year 2001) that the acknowledgement practice, which also exists in New Zealand and North America, may have spread from North America. In New Zealand, the Maoris were not nomadic and could properly be regarded as owning the land they both farmed and permanently inhabited. In North America, other legal considerations and proprieties applied. Australia, as in so much, stands alone.
Back to British, as opposed to Australian, acknowledgement of Admiral Arthur Phillip. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, Britain had a lust for heroes, but for heroes in battle, such as Lord Nelson. Nelson, of course, died at 47, a hero and a Vice-Admiral. Phillip became a full Admiral and died at 75. Though there is sound written evidence that Nelson thought well of Phillip, and while both were fine sailors, strategic thinkers and brave commanders, in almost all other ways, the two men were opposites. Horatio Nelson was a handsome social and political animal, skilled in networking and the promotion of both the Navy and himself. And I treasure the memory of a just retired modern Royal Navy Admiral from Yorkshire speaking at a Royal Yacht Squadron’s very formal (and men only) Trafalgar Day Dinner I was privileged to attend. He began the highlight of the evening, his commemorative toast to the Immortal Memory, with the accurate yet unexpected and courageous words, “Trouble wi’ Nelson: ’ee were a ratbag wi’t women”.
Arthur Phillip was the antithesis – a rather uncomely, quiet, low-key administrator, self-effacing, modest, achieving so much, but with no fanfare. None today could doubt that both men were national heroes – of signally differing kinds. Only one was nationally honoured in his lifetime. His famous column apart, Nelson was copiously decorated, and ennobled. Phillip was given a small welcome home dinner in the Admiralty.
While here in this City, Phillip’s memory has been honoured with proper ceremony and style since before the second World War, it took men and women of the 21st Century to recognise more widely Phillip’s heroism and service to his nation, and to resolve that Great Britain should right a wrong and ensure that, two centuries after his death, Admiral Arthur Phillip should be honoured not just in the City of London; in the City of Bath; at his resting place in the Church of St Nicholas in Bathampton; in Lyndhurst and in Portsmouth; but also, and vitally, at national level.
It took five long and worthwhile years. It took the hard work of members of the Britain-Australia Society and its Educational Trust. It took the warm support of the then President of the Britain-Australia Society, and now much-lamented, Lord Carrington, who instructed “go for it”. The Society did indeed “go for it”. It also took keen and knowledgeable Royal support; it took the thoughtful understanding and ready agreement of the Dean of Westminster, and of the Head of Heritage Services in Admiral Phillip’s retirement city of Bath; it took support from the Admiral Phillip Memorial Trust; from the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London; from former Lord Mayors; from many in the Cook Societies in Britain and Australia and the Australia-Britain Society and its sister societies in Australia; it took remarkable generosity of spirit and support from unaffiliated but concerned people in both countries, admirers of Arthur Phillip. It took the eager help of Phillip’s successor, the 37th Governor of New South Wales, Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO. It took the continuing inspiration of this annual service and the active, helpful involvement of the Rector, the Reverend George Bush.
It also took expert and skilled study, thought, artistic design, planning and execution by two stone sculptors and a designer and sculptor in bronze, and their collaborators, to achieve two worthy national memorials.
The fine carved memorial stone to Admiral Phillip (complete with its modest kangaroo), imposingly set in the floor of the Nave in the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster and Royal Peculiar, Westminster Abbey, was unveiled in the summer of 2014. The Patron of the Britain-Australia Society, The Duke of Edinburgh, told Sir Christopher Benson well in advance that he, His Royal Highness, would indeed be at the unveiling – “even if you have to push me up the aisle in a wheelchair”. HRH proudly laid a wreath.
A little later that summer, the then Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Lady Gass [now Dame Elizabeth Gass, Lady Gass DCVO JP] and Sir Christopher unveiled, and the Reverend George Bush, dedicated, in Bath, the elegant and fitting tribute sculpture in Bath stone with a bronze armillary sphere atop, the bands engraved with 400 words about Phillip, and the armillary enhanced by a gnomon with globe showing the First Fleet’s track and the world as then known. Tasmania, for example, is depicted on the globe as conjoined to the mainland of today’s Australia – or, as today’s Tasmanians believe the mainland should correctly be called, the North Island. The armillary, which can show the time accurately in both Sydney and Bath, and its base reminiscent of Sydney Cove and the Royal Navy, stand alone in a Garden of the Bath Assembly Rooms, across from Admiral Phillip’s house in his City of retirement. Memorial wreaths have been laid at the sculpture by a number of senior Australians.
This St Mary-le-Bow service, and a good number of the Admiral Arthur Phillip Addresses given here, lent inspiration and succour to those campaigns for national recognition of Admiral Phillip in 2014, including the establishment by the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust (BASET) under the tireless Sir Christopher Benson and now John May, of the Arthur Phillip Legacy Scholarships and Grants. BASET, whose Patron is the Australian High Commissioner, HE the Hon. George Brandis QC, awards scholarships for Australian and British students and apprentices. Those young people are represented here today, as are the older Northcott scholarships. Both schemes celebrate values dear to Arthur Phillip – the rule of law, humanitarianism, science, maritime studies, languages and international relations. Both schemes help young Brits and Aussies in their development; and should be as enduring as the physical memorials to Admiral Phillip. To achieve that aim, the BASET scheme needs both further donations to its endowment fund, and suggestions for appropriate exchanges and scholarships.
Since 2014, this St Mary-le-Bow service has also acquired enhanced national significance. The service is admired and appreciated in Australia as well as here in Admiral Phillip’s own country; and is itself an enduring and crucial part of the Phillip Legacy.
The service is also an example of vision – comparable with Arthur Phillip’s when he surveyed Sydney Harbour and concluded, accurately, that a thousand ships of the line could ride at anchor there in perfect safety. Last year’s Address from this pulpit, by the distinguished New South Welshman, Scott Bevan, eloquently and movingly reminded us, following Scott’s own detailed study and survey by kayak, and his fine book, Harbour , of Governor Phillip’s deep and broad vision, determination and successful struggle against considerable odds.
Phillip’s vision included early plans for the city of Sydney. The obstacles in the way of any major construction then were overwhelming, but, back in England, Phillip continued to advise his successor Governors. He interviewed a West Country architect and felon, Francis Howard Greenway, convicted for forgery and sentenced to death, later commuted to 14 years transportation to Australia. Admiral Phillip recommended felon Francis to the fifth Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, as an architect who could help realise those early plans for Sydney. Very soon after his transport ship arrived in Sydney Harbour, Greenway was so employed, while a convict. His first design and construction job for Macquarie was the successful Macquarie Lighthouse on South Head. Greenway was thereupon emancipated and appointed Acting Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer responsible to the colony’s Inspector of Public works.
Francis Greenway was responsible for many significant buildings in Sydney, including St James’ King Street church. Just one other is the renowned Hyde Park Barracks, operational in 1819, and now a Museum inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Francis Greenway’s face appeared on the first Australian decimal currency banknote: doubtless the only convicted forger to be so honoured. Greenway is now the eponym of an Australian Federal electorate (or, for us Brits, constituency), also of a Canberra suburb, a High School, a road, and the house of a distinguished modern Australian architect. A descendant of Greenway is a member of the West Country Branch of the Britain-Australia Society.
Arthur Phillip returned home reluctantly to England in 1793, after nearly five years supervising the birth-place and calming the birth-pangs of modern Australia: he was then quite seriously ill with painful renal problems, probably born of the privations of a life at sea. Phillip much wanted to return to New South Wales, to continue his gubernatorial work, but that was not to be. He did go to sea again, in command, during the Napoleonic wars. But he was not fit: hence his retirement to the spa town of Bath, and hence senior but hardly front-line jobs as an Admiral, in command of the Impress Service and the Sea Fencibles Force.
Unlike Macquarie, modest Governor Phillip named nothing in the colony after himself, but modern Australia has named and celebrated much in honour of her Founding Governor. There is thus now a considerable Anglo-Australian Phillip legacy. This St Mary-Le-Bow service and the Scholarships are vital parts of that legacy. May they endure for ever.
I mentioned earlier Arthur Phillip’s objective of the acquisition of an ally for Great Britain. I note in closing that the ally that became Australia exceeded even Phillip’s vision, and became an ally of incalculable worth. The bilateral relationship became – and remains – one of the world’s strongest in mutual advantage and in close, productive friendship.
Thank you for allowing me to place on record the long overdue national British recognition of this truly great Anglo-Australian hero, and to reflect a little further on his enduring legacy, one of key significance and importance to both our countries.
Floreat Admiral Arthur Phillip.
NB Footnotes refer to separate illustrations.
Bust of Admiral Phillip on West Wall of St Mary-Le-Bow
Press Photo of Sir Charles Wakefield and General Mackintosh, WWI
Sir Peter Gadsden arrives at Sydney Town Hall
Watling Street Memorial
Sir Michael Savory, Shrove Tuesday skills at
Admiral Arthur Phillip, the official portrait
Royal Naval College, Greenwich (Canaletto),
National Maritime Museum
The Portuguese Empire
His Honour Judge Michael Pembroke on Phillip
The world as then believed
Battle – Napoleonic Wars
The ‘First Fleet’ sails from Portsmouth, 13th
Captain General & Commander in Chief, in
& over the Territory of New South Wales
‘The Founding of Australia’ by Algernon Talmage,
1937 (State Library of NSW)
Major Robert Ross, Lieutenant Governor, NSW
Map from Wm Dampier’s book ‘A New Voyage Around
Lieutenant James Cook’s claim on behalf of King
George III, August 1770
Captain & Governor Arthur Phillip (Museum of
Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
of the Nile and Burnham
Thorpe, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB
Admiral Arthur Phillip
St Nicholas, Bathampton. Admiral Phillip’s ledgerstone and resting
Memorial Stone, the Nave, Westminster Abbey
Sculpture at Bath unveiled by Dame Elizabeth Periam Gass, Lady Gass, DCVO, JP,
then Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, and Sir Christopher Benson FRICS, JP, DL
Dedication by the Revd George Bush
The globe and gnomon within the armillary sphere
Some of the 400 words engraved on the armillary bands
Britain-Australia Society Education Trust
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, City of London
“The finest harbour in the world, in which a
thousand ships of the line may ride in perfect safety”
The Harbour, by Scott Bevan, Simon & Schuster
(Australia) Pty Limited, 2017 (now also in paperback)
Sketch plan of Sydney Cove, by Governor Phillip
Francis H Greenway, first convicted felon
honoured on a banknote
Governor Arthur Phillip……
…… Anglo-Australian Hero