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Arthur Phillip: Founder of Sydney, Resident of Bath

1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley (National Portrait Gallery, London)
1786 portrait by Francis Wheatley
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip RN (11 October 1738 – 31 August 1814) was the first Governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement which became Sydney.

After much experience at sea, including command of a ship that was saved in a storm by convicts, Phillip sailed with the First Fleet, as Governor-designate of the proposed British penal colony of New South Wales. In February 1788, he selected its location to be Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour).

Phillip was a far-sighted governor, who soon saw that New South Wales would need a civil administration and a system for emancipating the convicts. But his plan to bring skilled tradesmen on the voyage had been rejected, and he faced immense problems of labour, discipline and supply. Also his friendly attitude towards the aborigines was sorely tested when they killed his gamekeeper, and he was not able to assert a clear policy about them.

The arrival of the Second and Third Fleets placed new pressures on the scarce local resources, but by the time Phillip sailed home in December 1792, the colony was taking shape, with official land-grants and systematic farming and water-supply.

Phillip retired in 1805, but continued to correspond with his friends in New South Wales and to promote the colony’s interests.

Early life and naval career
Arthur Phillip was born 11 October 1738 in London England, the son of Jacob Phillip, a Frankfurt-born language teacher, and his English wife, Elizabeth Breach. His father died a year after he was born. His mother Elizabeth was originally married to a sailor named Herbert who died at sea of yellow fever. Phillip’s mother claimed him as the father of her son so he could be enrolled in the Greenwich Hospital School, part of Greenwich Hospital,a free school for the orphans of men lost at sea supported by Queen Mary. The treatment of the students was spartan but educational. Phillip learned how to navigate, draw (a skill necessary for making navigation charts) .At the age of 13 was apprenticed to the merchant navy. He spoke a number of languages in addition to English, including French, German and Portuguese.

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