Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Phillips, Molesworth

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PHILLIPS, MOLESWORTH (1755–1832), lieutenant-colonel and companion of Captain Cook, born on 15 Aug. 1755, was son of John Phillips of Swords, co. Dublin. His father was a natural son of Richard Molesworth, third viscount Molesworth' [q. v.], whence Phillips acquired his Christian name. He first entered the royal navy, but on the advice of his friend Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.] he accepted a commission as second lieutenant in the royal marines on 17 Jan. 1776. In this capacity he was selected to accompany Captain Cook on his last voyage, extending over nearly three years [see Cook, James]. He sailed with Cook from Plymouth on 12 July 1776, and was with the marines who escorted Cook when he landed at Hawaii on 14 Feb. 1779. In Webber's picture of the 'Death of Captain Cook' Phillips is represented kneeling and firing at the native who was clubbing Cook. Phillips was himself wounded, but, having remained to the last on the shore, swam for the boats. Once he turned back and helped another wounded marine to the boats. His gallantry was in marked contrast with the conduct of John Williamson, a fellow-lieutenant of marines, who, having remained a passive spectator of the scene, frequently quarrelled with Phillips on the voyage home, and was eventually cashiered for cowardice at Camperdown, a sentence which Nelson thought ought to have been capital (Nelson, Despatches, iii. 2).

On 1 Nov. 1780 Phillips was promoted captain, and on 10 Jan. 1782 he married Susanna Elizabeth, third daughter of Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814) [q. v.], and sister of Madame D'Arblay and of James Burney [q. v.], Phillips's friend, who, like him, had accompanied Cook on his last voyage. This marriage brought Phillips into connection with the Burneys' literary and musical friends Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Thrale, and others. He had no further active service, but was promoted brever major on 1 March 1794, and brevet lieutenant-colonel on 1 Jan. 1798. From 1784, for the sake of his wife's health, he lived for a time at Boulogne, but after the French revolution the Phillipses resided chiefly at Mickleham, Surrey, not far from Juniper Hall, where Madame D'Arblay entertained numbers of French emigres. From 1796 to 1799, during the alarm of a French invasion of Ireland, Phillips felt it his duty to reside on the Irish estates at Beleotton, which he had inherited from an uncle. On 6 Jan. 1800 his wife died. She was buried at Neston on the 12th.

After the peace of Amiens, Phillips visited France in 1802, and he was one of those who were seized by Napoleon on the renewal of the war, and detained in France until the peace of 1814 (Alger, Englishmen in the French Revolution, p. 278). During this detention he made friends with Talleyrand and other well-known Frenchmen. After his return to England he became acquainted with Southey, Mary and Charles Lamb, who described him as 'the high-minded associate of Cook, the veteran colonel, with his lusty heart still sending cartels of defiance to old Time' (Lamb, Works, ed. Fitzgerald, vi. 75), and with John Thomas Smith (1766-1833) [q. v.], whom he supplied with various anecdotes for his 'Nollekens and his Times' (i. 164, 200, ii. 218). He died of cholera at his house in Lambeth on 11 Sept. 1832, and was buried in St. Margaret's, Westminster, where an inscription commemorates him and James aud Martin Burney (1788-1852).

By Susanna Burney Phillips had issue two sons, Norbury and William, and one daughter, Frances, who kept house for her grandfather, Dr. Burney, and married C. C. Raper (A. R. Ellis, Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1889, ii. 270). Phillips also left issue by a second marriage.

[Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 385–6; Annual Register, 1832; Army List, 1830, pp. 22, 361; Ledyard's Journal, 1783, pp. 143–9; Biogr. Britannica, ed. Kippis, iv. 233; Kippis's Narrative of Cook's Voyage round the World; Samwell's Narrative of the Death of Captain Cook, pp. 11, 13, 15; Cook's Voyage to the Pacific, ed. James King, iii. 42–6, 53–4, 425–36; William Ellis's Authentic Narrative, 1782, ii. 110–11; Manley Hopkins's Hawaii Past and Present, ed. 1866, p. 112; Besant's Captain Cook, pp. 154, 160–2, 179; Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay, ed. 1844–6, ii. 5, 110–11, 317, v. passim; G. T. Smith's Nollekens and his Times; A. R. Ellis's Early Diary of Frances Burney; notes and references kindly supplied by Lieut.-Gen. G. H. Johnston; authorities cited.]

A. F. P.