Arthur Phillip

Arthur Phillip (1738 – 1814) admiral and governor
Governor Phillip based his policies, not on any particular religious creed, though he was a nominal member of the Church of England, but rather on a broad humanitarianism. Nevertheless, he believed that Christianity was good for the rehabilitation of the convicts, which included a large percentage of professional criminals.

Arthur Phillip, admiral and governor, was born in London, of Jacob Phillip, a language teacher and Elizabeth nee Breach, the former wife of Captain Herbert, a relative of Lord Pembroke. His mother was instrumental in Phillip’s choosing a seafaring career. From 1751-55 he was apprenticed in the mercantile service, which included two years at sea. He joined the navy and served in the Seven Years’ War. In 1763 he retired on half-pay, and for the next fifteen years Phillip spent much of his time on his two farms in Hampshire. In 1763 he married Margaret Denison, the widow of a prosperous London merchant, but six years later they were separated. In 1774-78 Phillip served with distinction in South American waters with the Portuguese fleet. In 1778 he was made a post captain with the British navy and had command of two ships, which included service in India. He was engaged in survey work for the navy when he was appointed first Governor of New South Wales.

Phillip’s navy background and his farming experience had prepared him for the task ahead. The Portuguese described him as “brave, honest, obedient and self-sacrificing”. He demonstrated maturity and ability in commanding men, and as yet, had not become hardened. The Southland had always held a fascination for the adventurer and Phillip was inspired by the vision of a new Empire growing up in the southern seas. He planned to encourage the emigration of free settlers. He had a better grasp than his supervisors of the degree of planning and administrative detail required in transplanting a civilisation to the other side of the world. Thus he took an active part in the planning, and in drawing up rules of conduct and discipline and job descriptions for all. He was also anxious to preserve harmonious relationships with the Aborigines, and used the wide governmental powers that he was granted to accomplish this end.

The distance from Britain and indifference of Parliament gave Phillip a free hand to paint his dream in the colony of New South Wales. Indeed, Phillip had absolute power over almost every area of the lives of the inhabitants. He had both legislative and executive functions, and could remit sentences. Only treason and murder were exempt.

When viewed within the context of his times, Phillip was a moderate and able governor. His administrative skills found expression in an organised and practical prison system. His discipline was firm; yet he refused to tolerate any ill-treatment of the Aborigines. He was quick to punish evil with the lash (a standard punishment in the army and navy), and to reward industry and good conduct of the convicts by shortening their prison sentences or by giving them grants of land. Some were selected for positions of authority such as supervisors and policemen, while others were assigned to posts which carried certain privileges. Phillip used great care in distributing the food rations, insisting on complete equality for all, regardless of their position. In face of an atmosphere of defeatism (and opposition at times), he always maintained an optimistic attitude which was reflected in the regular reports that were dispatched to Britain. Phillip’s positive style of leadership was largely responsible for sustaining the morale of the colony.

Governor Phillip based his policies, not on any particular religious creed, though he was a nominal member of the Church of England, but rather on a broad humanitarianism. Nevertheless, he believed that Christianity was good for the rehabilitation of the convicts, which included a large percentage of professional criminals. Thus he was untiring in his efforts to attract emigrants, though this was sometimes difficult because of the stigma of convictism.

The settlement was at first confined to a restricted area around Sydney. Phillip encouraged exploration and took some trips himself, but opposed the settlement of the outlying Hawkesbury area because of the lack of “proper people to conduct it”. He favoured Parramatta because of its good soil and water supply, and its accessibility to Sydney. A small town developed and it quickly became the centre of the colony’s economy. Convict labour was used for the construction of buildings and public farming. The growth of private farming was slow due to a lack of resources, tools and experience. The governor was under much pressure from the military, who wanted grants of land. But Phillip had refused them because he felt farming could interfere with their duties. However, in Phillip’s second Commission, dated April 1787, he was instructed to give grants of land to approved persons, including the military and ex-convicts (emancipists) to encourage the growth of the settlement.

In December 1792, Phillip returned to England because of some health problems. His work in New South Wales had been highly commended. By 1796, Phillip had sufficiently recovered his health to resume his naval duties. He successfully commanded several ships, and continued to receive promotions until his death in 1814, shortly after receiving his last promotion to Admiral of the Blue.

There were several practices that started about this time that helped cast the structure of colonial society for years to come. After Governor Phillip returned to England, Major Francis Grose of the New South Wales Corps replaced him. He made grants of land to officers and encouraged them to work their land with the help of convict labour. They sold their surplus goods to the government stores with the result that the quantity of goods in the colony increased dramatically. However, power became concentrated in the hands of a group of wealthy free settlers, mainly officers, known as the “exclusives”.

It was from this class that John Macarthur, an officer in the New South Wales Corps, emerged. His wife, Elizabeth, was a devout Christian. Their family farm in Parramatta became a model for the colony. Macarthur was one of the early pioneers of the wool industry in Australia. Although he quarrelled with every governor, it was Macarthur’s ability to convince the British government that Australian wool would be saleable to English mills that put Australia on the road to economic independence. The “exclusives” tried to take over control of the colony, but the power of the officers was so entrenched that none of the next three governors–Hunter, King, Bligh–was able to break it.

Source with the references quoted above : http://www.chr.org.au/fpbooks/SL/slhs9.html

Refer also : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020292b.htm

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