Admiral Phillip/Chapter 16

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The Story of the growth of Australia, after Phillip left it, need not be told here. Things did not, indeed, go smoothly under his immediate successors, and the officials in England soon found the despatches from 'Botany Bay' more worrying than the mild requests of Phillip for something to eat. In 1808 Governor Bligh, the hero of the Bounty mutiny, was forcibly deposed by the military, who took the government of the colony into their own hands. This revolt led to the appointment by the Home Office of Governor Macquarie, under whose rule the colony made rapid progress.

Other milestones in Australian history are the settlement of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), West Australia, South Australia, Port Phillip (Victoria), and Queensland, and their formation into independent colonies; the stoppage of convict transportation; the establishment of representative government; and the discovery of gold. With all these things we have nothing here to do, for they all happened long after Phillip's day. It only remains to tell what little is known of the after life of the first Governor.

Phillip arrived in England in May 1793, and a couple of months later, in this letter to the Home Secretary, he formally resigned his office:—

'London, 23d July 1793.

'Sir,—Being convinced by those I have consulted that the complaint I labour under may in time require assistance which cannot be found in a distant part of the world, and that the time in which such assistance may become necessary is very uncertain, I find myself obliged to request that you will, Sir, represent my case to His Majesty, and that I may be permitted to resign the Government of New South Wales.

'It is. Sir, with the greatest regret that I ask to resign a charge which, after six years' care and anxiety, is brought to the state in which I left it; but I have the consolation of believing that I have discharged the trust reposed in me to the satisfaction of His Majesty's Ministry, and hope that I may still be of service to a colony in which I feel myself so greatly interested.

'As I remain in town in consequence of the message I received from Mr King that you would speak to Mr Pitt respecting my enjoying the moiety of the salary for my life, I shall, Sir, take it as a favor if you will inform me if my continuing in town is still necessary, or whether that matter, to me of such consequence, is or will be settled, and that I am at liberty to leave town; for, although I have given up all hopes of the Bath waters being of any service in my complaint, they may in other respects be beneficial.—I have, etc.,A. Phillip.'

For his colonial service the Government granted him a pension of £500 a year, which reward he acknowledged in the following letter:—

'I should long since have done myself the honor of writing to acknowledge the obligation I am under for the pension which His Majesty has been pleased to grant me, but that I flattered myself I should have an opportunity of doing it in person, as I was so frequently at the office on matters relative to the colony. I now, sir, beg leave to assure you that I shall ever retain a due sense of the obligation, and trust that my hope of having the pension fixed, so as not to cease on my attaining any one of those places to which officers look up as rewards of past services, or to which in the course of service a commanding officer might find it expedient to appoint me, will meet with your approbation. I allude to a seat at either of the Naval Boards, Colonel of Marines, or Greenwich Hospital, places to which I may hope hereafter to lay a just claim, independent of my services in New South Wales.'

Many letters are in existence showing that, despite his failing health, he never lost interest in the colony. For example, in November 1793, remembering what delay in the despatch of store ships meant to the exiles, he wrote privately to the Home Office:—

'By a letter I have just received, I am informed that the Mangoff George has been examined and approved of; but that the captors' demands are something more than what the surveyors have valued her at, though the difference is very small. If that ship is calculated to answer the purpose, and I understand she is, do, for God's sake, point out to the Naval Board that every day lost is attended with a very considerable expence to this country. It is exactly the value of the animal food consumed by 4000 people when the freight is added. The state of the colony, probably without any vessel on the station, is still of more consequence.'

His old officers often wrote to him to confirm their statements of their services, and he frequently interceded on their behalf at the Home Office. King he was especially anxious to see promoted for his good work, and he strongly recommended his appointment as Governor of New South Wales, a recommendation which, after Hunter had been consulted, was acted upon.

When King was at Portsmouth in 1799, preparing to leave England to take command at New South Wales, we find Phillip still his warm friend and among the last to wish him good-bye. Writing to Sir Joseph Banks in reference to the matter of conveying plants across the sea, King says:—

'Captain Phillip, who is now standing by me, says that he has no doubt, if the Atlantic had been able to furnish a tarred or painted canvas to cover the plants, but that the most part of those he brought from New South Wales would have arrived home. The precautions they took, and those he would have taken if he had the means, he has communicated to me, and I shall be happy to give my assistance in making that alteration.'

Just before King sailed, Phillip wrote to him this letter, which shows both his generosity and the esteem in which he always held his comrade:—

'As two of the cows lost' (in the bush) 'soon after our landing in New South Wales were my property, I have an undoubted claim to a share in the cattle, since found to have increased in so extraordinary a manner, and as Government puts the care of such part of their cattle, to which they have a claim, under the protection of the Governor for the time being, I now give you all my interest therein, to dispose of as you may judge proper; and in doing this I may, and certainly shall, render a very essential service to that country, as no cattle can be killed without the consent of the Governor and yourself, or whoever you vest your property in when you leave the country.

'When the cows were lost, they were five in number; three were the property of the Crown, and two were mine. The bull and heifer belonged to the Crown also.'

And in a subsequent letter, he says:—

'You will not forget that before you left England I gave you a full power to take possession of, and dispose of, as your property, my claim on and share in the cattle running wild in the woods, and two cows belonging to me, having strayed with the cows belonging to the Crown.'

Long after he left the colony he was being continually quoted by his successors as an example of a 'good Governor.' Hunter, on his arrival in 1795, for instance, wrote thus:—

'Had the original regulations of Governor Phillip, as they stood when I left the colony in 1791, remained, with such alterations or amendments as the various existing circumstances might have rendered necessary, I should have known at once what I had to do; but to find upon my arrival in 1795 that the whole had been abolished as soon as he departed, I own, surprised me. There surely were some good rules amongst those he had established; and I can venture to say from my own knowledge that there was order and discipline in the colony then, and not near so many robberies. But by this rather too sudden and indelicate abolition of these regulations, which certainly had the appearance of a reflection on the conduct and measures of that gentleman, we would suppose there had not been one fit to be continued.'

And again in a reply to a petition from some settlers, enclosed in a despatch written in 1800, Hunter uses these words:—

'The settlers should recollect that there is a wide difference in the situation of the colony from the years 1791 and 1792 to 1800. At the former period there was no commerce, and but little farming. Governor Phillip … gave every encouragement to agriculture in his power. The number of farmers was few, and the little stock that was brought into the country in 1788, after an interval of four years, enabled him to issue the increase to such people his goodness led him to consider as deserving. Whether they were does not admit of a doubt. It is notorious they (almost to a man) approved themselves undeserving of this indulgence. The Governor, therefore, wishes to contrast that time with the present. At Governor Phillip's departure in 1792 there were not above sixty settlers throughout the whole territory—Port Jackson and Norfolk Island. Of these a few received sheep; some goats; but several had neither the one nor the other. Now, there are upwards of a thousand settlers.'

A year later King wrote to the Home Office, describing the state of the colony, and he tells us how:—

'Previous to Governor Phillip's departure, he gave each settler two ewes belonging to the Crown; to some officers he had been equally liberal. As these sheep were given with an expectation and an injunction not to be parted with, it was hoped that each settler might raise a good stock; but on his departure, every ewe, except those belonging to one settler, was purchased from those unthinking people at five gallons of spirits a head. This accounts for so great a proportion of sheep being in the hands of officers, and those which do not now belong to officers have been sold by them to the present possessors.'

Even Margarot, most contumacious of men, one of the 'Scotch martyrs' transported just after Phillip reached England, seems to have found something to admire in the first Governor. In a letter written by the 'Martyr' expressing his views upon the way in which the colony should be governed, he says: 'When you recalled one gentleman you ought to have given us another. The first error of the Ministry was the suffering Major Grose to succeed to that worthy man, Governor Phillip.'

After leaving the colony, Phillip saw very little further sea service, the only recorded appointment of his that we can find being the command of the Alexander from March to October 1796. He was promoted, in 1801, Rear-Admiral of the Blue; in April 1804, Rear-Admiral of the White; in November 1805, Rear-Admiral of the Red; in October 1809, ViceVice-Admiral of the White; in July 1810, Vice- Admiral of the Red; and on the 4th June 1814, Admiral of the Blue.[1]

Phillip's old friend wrote to his son in 1808 two letters which give us a last glimpse of the old admiral. The first letter is from Tooting in Surrey, written in July, 1808, and in it King says:—

'I was with Admiral Phillip a week; he is very much altered, having lost the entire use of his whole right side, arm, and leg; his intellect and spirits are as good as ever. He may linger on some years under his present infirmity, but, from his age, a great reprieve cannot be expected.'

Seven days before his death in September 1808, King wrote another letter from Bath, in which he says:—

'As this letter may probably reach you before you sail, I just write to say that I came here on Tuesday with Mr Lethbridge, on his return to London, merely to see Admiral Phillip, whom I found much better than I possibly could expect from the reports I had heard, although he is quite a cripple, having lost the entire use of his right side; but his intellects are very good, and his spirits are what they always were.'

Phillip lingered on until the 31st of August 1814, when he died at Bath at his residence. No. 19 Bennett Street, on the lower slopes of Lansdown Hill. For eighty-three years his burial-place remained unknown, until, through inquiries instituted by the New South Wales Government nine years ago, his tomb[2] was finally discovered in St Nicholas's Church, Bathampton—a short distance from Bath—by the present vicar, the Rev. Lancelot John Fish. It is a quiet and beautiful spot, in spite of its proximity to the Great Western Railway, and has been chosen as the last resting-place of many distinguished servants of the State.

The first Australian newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, which had then been in existence about ten years, thus briefly records the death of the first Australian Governor:—

'A London paper of a recent date announces the death of Vice-Admiral Arthur Phillip, at an advanced age. This event took place at Bath on 31st August last. To this gentleman the colony of New South Wales owes its original establishment in 1788; and in taking a retrospect of the arduous duties of such an undertaking, the many difficulties he had to struggle with, and the perils to which he was exposed, it will be only rendering a just tribute to him to remark that Governor Phillip manifested, during the period of his administration, much fortitude, zeal and integrity; and that to the wisdom of his early regulations and indefatigable exertions, the present flourishing state of the settlement bears most honourable and ample testimony. Governor Phillip died in the 77th (sic) year of his age.'

Phillip's contemporaries have left little enough material from which biographers can to-day create a personal interest in the man, and the writers feel that in their attempt to describe the first Governor of New South Wales and the manner of his governing, Phillip never stands out distinctly from the picture of his work. His quiet, self-contained nature gave Collins, Tench, and the others no chance to write of what the Governor said or how he behaved on this or that occasion. They can only tell us what the Governor did. His own letters speak for themselves, but all they reveal is that he invariably knew how to go about the work in hand, and that he had every confidence in himself to carry it through successfully. With a mind large enough to write in 1787 that 'I would not wish convicts to lay the foundations of an empire,' with the statesmanlike foresight that could in the next year add, 'I do not doubt that this country will prove the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made,' Phillip was still so thorough, so possessed of that capacity for detail, of that thoughtfulness in little things which counts for so much in the management of all great concerns, that he could in the very despatch which contained these 'memorable sentiments ask for iron pots for cooking, and remember that the women were short of gowns.

His perfect self-reliance and belief in his ability to pull the colony through its worst misfortunes, led him sometimes, perhaps, to write too cheerfully for his own and his charges' comfort. Even in the dismal time of famine, a month after the wreck of the Sirius, when the settlement was on the brink of starvation, he sent to the Home Secretary such moderately worded letters that Lord Sydney either affected to think or actually believed that the colony was almost flourishing; for in April 1790, Sydney stated that he had received two letters containing three requests from 'our friend Phillip, who represents the new settlement as having nearly overcome its difficulties. … The last (letter) refers to his request for leave to return home for the regulation of his private affairs. … He makes his last request with much the least earnestness. …'

And this was the nature of the man. Is it not the nature of most true Englishmen? Does not this habit of working silently, 'putting a good face on it,' doing the thing given them to do, and not talking of it—does not this, above all, characterise the best of the men who have gone out from home to the uttermost parts of the earth, and there so wrought that to-day we know them as 'Builders of a Greater Britain?'

  1. For the verification of these particulars the Authors have to thank Mr Ferdinand Brand, Librarian to the Admiralty.
  2. It is a plain flat slab in the passage leading from the door into the aisle, and the inscription upon it is as follows:—'Underneath lie the remains of Arthur Phillip, Admiral of the Blue, who died 31st August 1814, in his 76th year. Also of Isabella, relict of the above Admiral Phillip, who died 7th March 1823, in the 71st year of her age.' There is also a small and unobtrusive monument, high up on the north wall of the tower, on which is stated that 'Near this Tablet are the Remains of Arthur Phillip, Esq., Admiral of the Blue, First Governor and Founder of the Colony of New South Wales.' It would certainly seem fitting that some more worthy memorial of so good and great a man should be placed in the church, and the vicar has suggested that one of the windows in the aisle facing the tomb might be filled with stained glass.—[Ed.]