Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/King, Philip Gidley

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KING, PHILIP GIDLEY (1758–1808), first governor of Norfolk Island and Governor of New South Wales, was born 23 April 1758 at Launceston in Cornwall, where his father, Philip King, was a draper; his mother was a daughter of John Gidley, attorney, of Exeter. He was educated at Yarmouth by a Mr. Bailey, but went to sea at the of of twelve as a midshipman in the Swallow frigate. Captain Shirley, and served five years in the East Indies, returning to England with much knowledge of his business and, some acquaintance with the world' (Phillip, Voyage). In 1775 he went to Virginia with Captain Bellew in the Liverpool. His ship, after seeing some service, was wrecked in Delaware Bay, whereupon King entered on board the Princess Royal, October 1778. He was promoted to the Renown, with the rank of lieutenant, 26 Nov. following. In 1779 he again returned home, and for four years served in the Channel on board the Kite cutter and Ariadne frigate. He was associated as lieutenant with Captain Phillip of the Europe in 1783, and this officer's high appreciation of his qualities—his merit as a seaman and perseverance—led to his selection of King (25 Oct. 1786) for the post of second lieutenant on his own ship, the Sirius, when he commanded the famous 'First Fleet' which sailed for Australia on 13 May 1787, and arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788. Immediately after his landing Phillip appointed King commandant of Norfolk Island. King set sail thither on 14 Feb. 1788, taking with him only a petty officer, a surgeon's mate, two marines, two men who were supposed to understand the cultivation of flax, and nine male and six female convicts, for the purpose of settling the island branch colony. At that time Norfolk Island was covered with scrub, and to convert it into a source of supply for flax for the navy (an object dear to the home government, but never realised), and to form gardens and cultivated fields, was no easy task with the small force at King's command. In two years, however, by unflagging energy, he had some life; acres of land under cultivation, and the population had risen to 418, besides the eighty men belonging to the Sirius. His duties were manifold; he was at once magistrate and chaplain, farmer and governor of convicts. Though be was obliged to have recourse to the lash, he was not unduly severe, and never abused his almost autocratic powers; indeed Joseph Banks found fault with his too ready clemency (letter to King, 1894; Barton, i. 239). In March 1790 he left Norfolk for Sydney Cove, whence he was sent in April with despatches from Phillip to the government. He sailed by way of Batavia, where he embarked on a small vessel of the Dutch East India Company. The captain and most of the crew fell ill with fever contracted at Batavia, and King had to navigate the ship with a crew of only four sound men. Seventeen of the crew died before they made Mauritius, and it was not till eight months after leaving Australia that he reached England (December 1790). Phillip had recommended him for promotion to the rank of master and commander in a letter to the secretary of state, 10 July 1788, as 'a very steady officer' who was doing good work in a difficult situation (ib.. i. 329); and on his arrival in London with his despatches he was informed that the government had already appointed him lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island with an allowance of 250l. a year (commission dated 28 Jan. 1790; letter from Lord Grenville, 1 Feb. 1790; Barton, i. 194, 526). He obtained the rank of commander in March 1791. After giving the government every information in his possession on the condition, prospects, and present necessities of the new colonies at Sydney Cove and Norfolk Island, King sailed, 15 March 1791, with his wife, Anna Josepha Coombes of Bedford, whom he had recently married, on board the Gorgon, Captain Parker, and arrived at Port Jackson 21 Sept. (the voyage is described by Mrs. Parker, Voyage, &c., London, 1795); and on 26 Oct. he departed for Norfolk Island, where be remained at his post till he was appointed Governor of New South Wales, 28 Sept. 1800. He retired on 12 Aug. 1806, returned to England, and died at Tooting, Surrey, 3 Sept. 1808. His son, Rear-admiral Philip Parker King, is noticed separately.

[Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay, 1789, with a portrait of King facing p. 95, drawn by J. Wright. 1789, and engraved by W. Skelton; John Hunter's Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, 1793, containing King's Journal as commandant at Norfolk Island, 1788-90, and an account of his voyage home, at pp. 287-448; G. B. Barton's History of New South Wales from the Records, vol. i. 1880; Heaton's Australian Dict. of Dates. 1879. A manuscript journal by King (311 pp.), describing the voyage of the First Fleet is in the possession of the Hon. P. G. King, M.L.C. of New South Wales]

S. L. P.