Admiral Arthur Phillip

Admiral Arthur Phillip built the foundations for a successful colony in New South Wales, the beginning of what would eventually become the nation of Australia. Born in London on 11 October 1738, he attended the Greenwich Naval Seamen’s College, and at 15 joined the Royal Navy as a Midshipman.

In 1763, at the age of 24, he married Margaret Charlotte Denison (aged 41), the widow of a wealthy London merchant.  During their five year marriage they lived in Lyndhurst, where he became Overseer of the Poor. Settling into country life, he farmed at Vernals Farm and Glasshayes – now Lyndhurst Park Hotel.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-Portuguese war, he served in the Portuguese Navy as a Captain sailing to Brazil in 1774, and in 1786 he was appointed Captain General of the First Fleet and Governor-designate of the (Penal) Colony of New South Wales. Phillip commanded a fleet of 11 ships with more than 2,500 people on a voyage to the other side of the world. The fleet left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787 and arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788.

Phillip immediately realised that Botany Bay would be unsuitable for a settlement. Exploring further north he found ‘the finest harbour in the world’. On 26 January 1788, he raised the flag for the new Colony named Port Jackson, later known as Sydney Cove. 1,030 people went ashore: marines, civil officers, 27 wives, 37 children and 736 convicts, including 188 women.

Phillip faced serious obstacles in setting up the colony including food shortages, major supply difficulties and trouble by the officers, who thought their military duties should not include overseeing convicts. The convicts were also upset that unlike emancipists (those who had served their sentence or been pardoned because of good behaviour) they were denied free grants of land. Despite his officers’ unhappiness, Phillip managed to keep the venture positive and alive in official circles in London, whilst promoting optimism and leadership on the ground. Without this, morale in New South Wales might have crumbled completely.

His discipline was firm, but by the standards of his time not unduly harsh or severe. Crimes against others were rare. Good behaviour and signs of industry were rewarded by personal commendation or even appointment to positions of trust with privileges.

In 1793, after nearly five years away, Phillip returned to England, ill and emaciated. During his time in New South Wales his first wife had died. In 1794 he married again, this time to a lady named Isabella Whitehouse.

Old houses on the corner of  Ashley Lane, by TT Colborne

Phillip had served briefly in the Napoleonic Wars and in 1787 was appointed commander of the Hampshire Sea Fencibles to defend the Martello fortifications. He rented a house on the corner of Ashley Lane in Lymington (1798 to 1803) as his base. Working with two captains he recruited a defence force of 300 fishermen and men from Lymington, Redbridge and Gosport, all trained in the use of cannon and pike, and ready to go to sea in small boats if the French invaded. By March 1801, peace negotiations with the French began, the Sea Fencibles were disbanded, and Arthur Phillip had been promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue.

In 1803, following a thorough national assessment of the Impress service – to recruit men for naval service by offering them a financial incentive (an ‘imprest’) or by coercion, he became Inspector of the Impress Service and the newly reformed Sea Fencibles Force, then in April 1804 was appointed Rear Admiral of the White Squadron. 

Phillip and Isabella retired to Bath, and little is known about his last years. He died on 31 August 1814 just three months after receiving his promotion to Admiral of the Blue Squadron, and was buried in the Church of St Nicholas in Bathampton.

Various anniversaries over the years have commemorated his achievements. For the 2014 Bicentenary of his death, an Australian delegation visited the UK, placing a plaque in Lymington near the house where he lived and unveiling a memorial in Bath Abbey and another in Westminster Abbey.

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