Frequently Asked Questions about Arthur Phillip

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Schooling and Education

Phillip was baptised at All Hallow’s Church in Bread Street in the City of London. His father Jacob was a tenant of Martha Meredith’s house in Bread Street, which was part of a labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys that ran from Cheapside to the River Thames. Nearby was the parish workhouse for the poor and not far away was the old Newgate Prison. Its stench pervaded the neighbourhood. (p5)

Phillip’s only known formal education was at the Charity School of the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. The school was available for boys who were ‘objects of charity’, whose fathers had been slain or disabled in the Sea Service. Phillip entered the school in June 1751, aged twelve years. Once admitted, the boys were lodged, clothed and maintained at the expense of the hospital for up to three years. Their daily routine was laid down with resolute strictness and their diet was parsimonious – bread and cheese, broth, gruel and pease pottage. Each boy was nonetheless entitled to a daily quart of beer – half a pint for breakfast, a pint for dinner and half a pint for supper. (pp9-11)

Education focused on arithmetic and navigation, trigonometry, sailing and currents. Phillip’s headmaster was the Reverend Swinden, who is reputed to have made the observation that ‘Arthur Phillip is noted for his diplomacy [and] mildness. [He is] nervously active, unassuming, reasonable, business-like to the smallest degree in everything he undertakes, always seeking perfection’. In December 1753, Phillip was bound out from the school with a sea chest, all necessary clothing and the books and instruments he used at school. (pp11-12)

Whaling Apprenticeship

On 1 December 1753, aged fifteen years, Phillip was apprenticed to William Readhead for a term of seven years. Readhead was the master of the 210 ton whaling ship Fortune and bound himself to instruct Phillip ‘in the best Way & Manner for making him an able Seaman’. He also promised not to ‘immoderately beat or misuse him’. (p12)

Phillip embarked on his first whaling expedition in the spring of 1754 to Spitsbergen (now Svalbard) in the Barents Sea – within the Arctic Circle between 76° and 80°N. The waters around Spitsbergen were a cradle of life for large numbers of whales, especially the Greenland Right whale or Bowhead whale. Of all the whales, the Bowhead’s blubber was the thickest and it was the easiest to hunt and harvest as it swam languorously, feeding at the surface. (p13)

An apprenticeship on a whaling ship in the Arctic was the toughest of schools in the harshest of environments. The rations were austere, the physical conditions unhealthy and the work dangerous. And the apprentice could expect the worst and the last of everything. Phillip survived two spring-summer seasons in the Arctic in 1754 and 1755. Much of the work on a whaling ship was too dangerous and physically demanding for a boy apprentice but he would watch everything from the ship’s rails – the harpooning, lancing, stripping and flensing. More often, the apprentice was employed in fetching, carrying and washing the deck clear of the slippery and hazardous whale blood. (p14)

Battle of Minorca

On 16 October 1755, aged seventeen years, Phillip was entered in the muster book of the Buckingham as one of the ‘servants’ of Captain Michael Everitt. When French troops overran the island of Minorca in April 1756, and threatened the British garrison, the Admiralty despatched a dozen line-of battle ships from the Western Squadron under the command of Admiral Byng. The Buckingham – on which Phillip served – was part of the squadron. The objective was to relieve the British residents and the garrison on Minorca. (p20)

On 20 May Byng’s ships engaged the French squadron off Minorca. This was the opening sea battle of the Seven Years War, but it ended in disgrace when Byng chose not to relieve the garrison and instead took his squadron off to Gibraltar. During the battle the Buckingham and the Defiance were exposed to the most intense French fire. Phillip and the other servants, together with the lieutenants, most of the midshipmen and the majority of the seamen, would have taken their positions on the gun decks, amid the deafening noise and choking smoke of the great guns. Boys like Phillip were the powder monkeys, fetching the gunpowder cartridges from the magazines for the gun crews. Everyone on the gun decks was blackened and the air was ‘so completely filled with smoke that no one can see two yards before him’. (p21)

Phillip was indignant at Byng’s conduct and wrote to his sister Rebecca from Gibraltar recording his feelings. (pp22-23) There was national hysteria in England, fuelled by a press that was as jingoistic then as it is now. Byng was court-martialled, found guilty of breaching the Twelfth Article of War and executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of the Monarque at 12 noon on 14 March 1757. Phillip cannot have failed to have shared in the controversy, which engulfed England. (pp24-25)

Siege of Havana

When Great Britain declared war on Spain in January 1762, Havana, Cuba became its primary target. It was Spain’s strongest naval and military base in the Americas. All the Spanish galleons and treasure ships carrying the riches of Mexico, Peru and Columbia came to Havana before crossing the Atlantic on the return voyage to Europe. (p31)

The British plan of attack on Havana was one of the riskiest feats of navigation of the age. They approached from the east, through the virtually uncharted Old Bahama Passage, where the waters were perilously cluttered with reefs, shoals, cays and islands. Small craft were sent ahead to take soundings and mark shoals and hazards by anchoring over them or by mooring buoys where reefs and cays broke the surface. Phillip’s ship the Stirling Castle was part of this unwieldy flotilla. (pp32-33)

During the siege, the seamen were led by naval lieutenants such as Phillip – hauling cannon across the pestilential land and carrying ammunition and stores to the batteries. The heat was oppressive and the English soldiers and seamen had little resistance to yellow fever and other diseases carried by the ubiquitous mosquitoes. (pp33-34) When Havana finally surrendered on 13 August 1762, approximately 8000 British soldiers and sailors had died of exhaustion and disease. Relatively few were killed by the enemy. Samuel Johnson said that it was ‘a conquest too dearly obtained’. But the riches that fell to the survivors were stupendous. More than £737,000 was distributed as prize money, of which Phillip received a lieutenant’s share. (pp35-36)

Marriages and Wives

When Phillip returned to London from the Seven Years War in March 1763, he was a half pay lieutenant aged 24 years and the proud possessor of £138-10s representing his share of the prize of Havana. As Jane Austen often stated, a half pay lieutenant, even with a small prize, was usually a man in need of a wife, especially one with means. (p39) Within four months of his return, Phillip married Charlott Denison, a 41 year old widow who had been left a fortune by her previous husband, John Denison, to whom she had been married for only ten months. (p41)

On 18 July 1763, on the day before the wedding, Phillip and Charlott entered into a pre-nuptial agreement to protect her fortune. Its value in current money terms was about £200 million. (p42) The newly married couple lived fashionably, first at Hampton, an Arcadian idyll on the Thames about fifteen miles upstream from the City, and later at Lyndhurst in the New Forest, where Phillip was a gentleman farmer and was accorded the status of ‘Squire’. (pp43-6) After six years of marriage, Phillip and Charlott concluded a formal ‘Indenture of Separation’ on 22 April 1769. (p47-8)

Charlott died in 1792. On 8 May 1794, a year after his return from New South Wales, Phillip married Isabella Whitehead. Her parents were from prominent families involved in the cotton and linen weaving trades in the industrial northwest of England. (p231) Phillip and Isabella appear to have met in Bath, where Phillip had gone to take the waters. On consecutive days in August 1793, they joined one of Bath’s circulating libraries. (p230) Phillip and Isabella subsequently spent the rest of their lives together, mostly in Bath. When Phillip died in 1814, Isabella continued to live in their house in Bennett Street, Bath and at her request, was later buried alongside her husband in St Nicholas’ Church, Bathampton.

Lost Years in France

After the breakdown of his marriage to Charlott, Phillip spent most of the years 1769-1774 on the continent at St Omer, Lille and St Amand les Eaux – towns of north east France that were central to the linen and wool trade. According to one newspaper, he made enough money during these years to repay his estranged wife what he had spent of her fortune. (pp48-49)

Although the Admiralty records suggest that the reason for Phillip’s absences in Flanders was for the benefit of his health, the formal explanations probably concealed the truth. These towns were not Flanders health resorts. They were part of an axis of trade and commerce; textile towns in one of the most densely populated and urbanised regions in northern Europe. If Phillip genuinely wanted to tend to the rejuvenation of his health, there were better places to go. (pp49-50).

Other factors provide a clue as to Phillip’s true activities in this period but the picture is shadowy. Charlott’s first husband John Denison had been a prosperous cloth merchant. And later in his life Phillip showed a keen interest in the cultivation of cochineal, the insect that is the source of the brilliant red dye that was essential to the eighteenth century cloth trade. In addition, courtesy of his patron Michael Everett, Phillip had acquired a personal and professional connection with John Lane and his merchant banking firm Lane, Son & Fraser, which combined trade with banking and finance. (pp49-50)

The Mercenary Years

From 1775 to 1778, Phillip served in the Portuguese navy in Brazil in the Third Colonia War between Portugal and Spain, where he was remunerated at double the pay received by Portuguese captains. His engagement served British interests and was encouraged and facilitated by Augustus Hervey, the Naval Lord on the Admiralty Board, and approved by Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty. (p55, pp58-9)

In the parlance of espionage, Phillip was a sleeper. He was in a position to acquire the confidence of the Portuguese Viceroy in Brazil and make charts of the coast. He surveyed thousands of miles of the South American coastline; made observations of the Portuguese and Spanish colonies; and assessed the effectiveness of fortifications, the layout of harbours and all the points of vulnerability. (p60) He acquired a detailed knowledge of the cochineal industry and the diamond trade in Brazil, and observed firsthand the Portuguese slave trade. (pp72-74) And his service brought with it valuable testimonials that helped to advance his career when he returned to England.

Phillip served with distinction in Brazil and his success was a springboard for his later advancement in England. The Portuguese Viceroy said of Phillip that he was ‘very clean-handed; an officer of great truth and bravery’. (p70) Famously, he said of Phillip’s character that: ‘he gives way to reason … and does not fall into those exaggerated and unbearable excesses of temper which the majority of his countrymen do …’ (p60)

The Voyage of the Europe
In December 1782 Phillip was commissioned as the captain of the 64-gun Europe. It was his first command of a line-of-battle ship in the Royal Navy. She was part of a squadron of four ships intended to provide reinforcements to the British India Squadron in the Bay of Bengal, where the last distant battles of the American Revolutionary Wars were being waged. (pp92-96)

In January 1783, when violent gales and storms in the Bay of Biscay swept through the squadron, all but the Europe returned to England. Only Phillip pressed ahead. At Rio de Janeiro, after an initial misunderstanding, Phillip earned the enduring respect and friendship of the new Portuguese Viceroy Vasconcelos. He then sailed for the Comoros Islands off the east African coast, where he replenished wood, water and food, before setting his course for Madras. (pp103-104)

When the mission was completed, and the Europe repaired, Phillip’s ship joined a squadron of eleven other ships being sent home from Madras. In the turbulent waters and stormy conditions off Cape Agulhas at the southern tip of Africa, a number of the ships were damaged. And by the time of the squadron’s arrival in Table Bay, a huge number of the seamen were afflicted by scurvy. One ship, the Monarca, had buried 180 men at sea since leaving Madras. (pp105-106)

At Cape Town, Phillip gained valuable insights into the Dutch town’s structure, resources and society, observed its slave culture and negotiated with the Dutch for food and supplies – all of which served to prepare him well for his future role. The Europe’s voyage to Rio de Janeiro, the Bay of Bengal and the Cape of Good Hope was a significant factor in enhancing Phillip’s reputation and credentials. And on the return voyage from Cape Town in 1784, he earned the honour of being sent ahead with the Admiral’s despatches. (pp106-108)

The Espionage Years

Phillip’s first engagement as a British secret agent probably occurred in 1773-4. At that time, there was considerable consternation and alarm in London that the French were aggressively rebuilding their navy. Whitehall urgently needed intelligence concerning France’s military intentions. (pp52-52) The Admiralty records in 1773 state that Phillip was going to St Amand les Eaux for ‘the recovery of his health’. In truth, it appears more likely that he went to the south of France, to observe and report on the state of the French marine at Toulon, the major French dockyard and arsenal on the Mediterranean. (p52)

Phillip’s subsequent engagement as a secret agent during the period 1784-6 is documented. His spymaster was Evan Nepean, the Under-Secretary of the Home Office. Nepean recorded in the Secret Service Ledger, in his own hand, payments to Phillip from the Secret Service fund on account of his salary and expenses. Phillip used the subterfuge of travelling to Grenoble ‘on account of his private affairs’ but his instructions from Nepean were to go to Toulon and other ports of France to ascertain the strength of the French naval force and the stores in its arsenals. (p111) Two reports by Phillip from Toulon survive. They were sent by Phillip to Nepean in January and March 1785. (p122)

The other major French naval port was at Brest on the Atlantic coast. Lapérouse’s expedition was being fitted out at Brest in 1785 during Phillip’s period under cover. The British had apprehensions that Lapérouse was secretly going to establish a colony in New Zealand with convicts from the prison at Bicêtre. These apprehensions turned out to be wrong, but Phillip cannot have failed to be aware of Lapérouse’s expedition and can be expected to have visited Brest while carrying out Nepean’s instructions. (p118)

Selection as Governor

Phillip returned or was recalled from his covert service in France in August or September 1786. The British Cabinet’s decision to establish a colony in New South Wales was made on Saturday 19 August 1786. Three days earlier Lord Sydney had warned George III that France could soon collect a considerable naval force in the East Indies. There were no minutes of the Cabinet decision but on the following Monday, Sydney’s Under-Secretary, Even Nepean, drafted the letter announcing it. (p136)

History and circumstance combined to make Phillip an astute choice as commander of the fleet and Governor-elect. He knew the South Atlantic and was familiar with Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands and the Canaries. He had visited Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, doubled the Cape of Good Hope and crossed the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. He was cerebral, thoughtful and discrete and had served under cover in France. And he had impressed the Portuguese Viceroy in Brazil and gained the confidence of the administration in Whitehall. The austere and morose Howe, First Lord of the Admiralty, was not enthusiastic about Phillip but he did not know him and his views did not seem to matter. Phillip was Nepean’s man and the expedition was a Home Office responsibility. (p138)

Phillip’s credentials were no better pinpointed than by Captain John Faithful Fortescue, who commanded the 50-gun Trusty from 1783 to 1785. He is reputed to have said that “God Almighty made Phillip on purpose for the place, for never did man better know what to do, or with more determination to see it done’. (p139)

The Southern Ocean

After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, Phillip ran down the 40th parallel of latitude, knowing that this must eventually bring him to Van Diemen’s Land. This route was little known to Englishmen, for whom the orthodox and commonly used passage to India and the East was along the East African coast. Although the Dutch sometimes used the southern route to the East Indies across the Indian Ocean, it was still exploratory beyond the mid-ocean islands of St Paul and Amsterdam. These were unfamiliar waters without reliable charts. Gidley King nervously reflected in his journal that ‘no ship ever ran in this parallel of latitude before, so far to the Eastward’. (pp186-187)

The Southern Ocean is the largest stretch of unbroken water on earth. Nowhere else does the sea roll uninterrupted around the world nor the winds have such unimpeded force. For many days during the journey across the southern Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean, the eleven ships in Phillip’s fleet were battered by heavy gales and huge seas. The seas at various times were heaving and frequently broke over the vessels, which shipped water below and between decks, washing convicts and marines out of their beds and drenching everything in the watery chaos. On some ships, probably most, it sometimes seemed as if the vessel would go under. (pp189-190)

When the ships rounded Van Diemen’s Land and entered the home stretch, they received another battering along the south coast of New South Wales. Between 18 and 20 January 1788, they finally moored in the shallow and exposed waters of Botany Bay, only to see on 24 January two large ships under French colours standing off the entrance to the bay. (p192)

Convicts and the Enlightenment

The establishment of a settlement in New South Wales was a social experiment and a manifestation of the optimism that marked the Enlightenment – an age that was energised by the possibilities for improvement of the human condition. Phillip thought that the colony would one day be the ‘empire of the East’ and ‘the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made’. (pp155-6)

The notion that New South Wales was to be a mere dumping ground could not be further from the truth. A gulag where men and women simply worked and withered in useless and remote isolation was never the object. It was neither Sydney’s ambition nor Phillip’s intention. (p156)

It was hoped that the convicts would be improved and reformed; that the men would become peasant farmers and the women would raise children; and that the land would be settled and cultivated. These goals were infused by a utopian idea of a simple rural society, without money or slaves, where convict men and women would become reborn through hard physical labour and subsistence farming. The cental pillars of this scheme of ‘improvement’ were the cultivation of the land and the issuing of land grants to deserving convicts. (p157)

Unlike the earlier system for sending convicts to the American colonies of Virginia and Maryland – which had been essentially a private commercial business – the convicts sent to New South Wales were a public investment underpinned by the prospect of their intended future emancipation. They were to be used to found a colony, by building a settlement and establishing a self-supporting community that would serve their own as well as British interests. (p156)

Aborigines and the Enlightenment

Phillip’s instructions required him to ‘conciliate the affections of the Aborigines’; to encourage everyone to ‘live in amity and kindness with them’; and to punish anyone who should ‘wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary interruption in the exercise of their several occupations’. (p206)

He regarded the life of an Aboriginal man as the equal of any Englishman. And at the outset, he did not let fly with shot, as Cook did. Nor did he regard the Aborigines as malevolent savages to be avoided, as Laperouse did. Before sailing from England, he memorably wrote that ‘Any man who takes the life of a Native, will be put on his trial as if he had killed one of the Garrison. This appears to me not only just, but good policy’. (p159)

On arrival in New South Wales, Phillip desperately wanted the Aborigines to appreciate the kindness and peaceful intentions that the British brought with them and the advantages of civilised life that they offered. And he hoped to learn about Aboriginal culture and language. He even went so far as to forcibly take several men from Manly Cove and bring them to the settlement in order to learn from them and teach them European ways. (p207-9)

However, Phillip and his officers were contradictory. They genuinely wished to be friends but could not see that they were invaders. They were enlightened, tolerant and chivalrous in accordance with the spirit of the age, but they viewed the Aborigines through the lens of prevailing European preconceptions. Their instructions were to achieve amity and kindness not to pillage or harm. Yet they appropriated Aboriginal lands and ruined Aboriginal hunting and fishing grounds. There was no generalised racist terror however. That would only come later, after Phillip’s time, when commerce, greed and land ownership took root, and a prevailing sentiment of hostility towards the Aborigines emerged. (p206)

Illness and Kidney Stones

Phillip’s health deteriorated severely during his time in New South Wales. Sir Joseph Banks said that when he left the colony in December 1792, Phillip was so ill that he felt little hope of recovery. In his private letters and official despatches, Phillip referred with repetitive regularity to a telltale pain in his side. (pp213-214) He told Sydney and Banks that he suffered from a violent pain in the left kidney that seldom left him for more than a few days. When William Chapman visited Port Jackson in May 1792, he wrote to his parents to say that Phillip ‘was not very well, his health now is very bad, he fatigues himself so much, he fairly knocks himself up, and won’t rest, till he is not able to walk’.

Philip’s symptoms were indicative of the presence of kidney stones, which can cause intermittent pain that comes in waves and is felt in the flank between the ribs and the hip. It can be one of the strongest known pain sensations. Phillip was so afflicted that he became unable to function effectively as His Majesty’s representative. From November 1791, he made a number of official requests to resign his commission. He said that the pain undermined him and wore him out. On the worst days, he was unable to walk, confined to his chair or forced to seek comfort in his bed. His sleepless nights would have made him disorientated, perhaps mildly delirious, certainly exhausted and debilitated. (pp214-215)

Eventually in October 1792, Phillip received approval to leave the colony and in early December he departed for England, suffering, as one historian has surmised, from ‘exhaustion of spirit and decay of body’. (p216)

The Return Journey

Phillip left New South Wales on 10 December 1792 on board the Atlantic. All of the principal officers of the colony accompanied the Atlantic to Heads, then gave three cheers before parting and returning. Phillip brought with him four fine kangaroos and dingoes, birds, other animals, plants and timber samples. Two Aboriginal men, Bennelong and his younger friend Yemmerrawannie, also came with him. (pp219-220)

Even for the fit and able-bodied, the homeward passage via Cape Horn was arduous and dangerous. For Phillip, ill and in pain, it must have been a sufferance. Ships sailed south from Port Jackson towards Stewart Island at the tip of New Zealand. There at latitude 47ºS, they turned east and ran more or less within the ice zone, staying as far south as possible and seeking the strongest winds until they reached Cape Horn, where they kept the rocky, barren and southernmost headland of Tierra del Fuego on the port bow. (p220)

In early January 1793 the passengers and crew of the Atlantic had the surreal experience of encountering at least 60 or 70 icebergs. By 8 January, the ship had sailed 4,500 miles and was still 1,3000 miles from Cape Horn. A week later she cleared the snow-covered headland and beat up through the South Atlantic, reaching Rio de Janeiro on 7 February. We know not what Phillip did or where he stayed in Rio de Janeiro, although it has been suggested that he was honoured with extraordinary attention. This seems likely given his reception there in 1787. (p221)

Phillip did not know that the French Revolutionary government had declared war on Great Britain or that Louis XVI had been executed. But as the Atlantic approached the English Channel, it was fired upon by a French privateer. On 19 May 1793, almost exactly six years after he had sailed from Portsmouth with his complement of 800 convicts, Phillip came ashore at Falmouth, Cornwall with two Aboriginal men of the Eora people. (p222)

Later Naval Career

In May 1793 Phillip returned to England from New South Wales, almost exactly six years after he had sailed from Portsmouth with a complement of almost 800 convicts. (p222) The French revolutionary government had declared war on Great Britain in February. When Phillip recovered his health, he waited to be recalled for active service. This was a gilded period for the Royal Navy. (p234-5) But Phillip had not had command of a fighting ship for twelve years. He was now 57 years old and in the twilight of his active service career. In early 1796 he was appointed to command the Atlas, a 98-gun ship of the line, but this was a false start. (p237)

Over the next two years, Phillip successively commanded the Alexander, the Swiftsure and the Blenheim, all large ships of the line. He was well regarded by Earl St Vincent and Horatio Nelson, but command of a ship of the line in time of war was, for the most part, a young man’s game and Phillip was at a temporal disadvantage. He was old enough to have been the father of each of the young captains who comprised Nelson’s revered ‘band of brothers’. (p244)

By 1798, Phillip’s active service career had come to an end. In April 1798 he was appointed to a shore job, as the commander of the Hampshire Sea Fencibles. And in January 1799, he was promoted to rear admiral of the blue. In the following years, until full retirement arrived in early 1805, he was the inspector of both the Sea Fencibles and The Impress Service. (pp244-252) As was customary, Phillip’s rank and remuneration continued their stately progress by seniority. He continued through all the gradations of rear and vice admiral until he reached full admiral of the blue in 1814 – more senior even than Nelson, who had died at Trafalgar as a vice admiral of the white. (p253)

Jane Austen’s Bath

Phillip spent much of the last two decades of his life in Bath, the fashionable Georgian spa town in the west of England. In August 1793 he went to Bath for the ‘water cure’, taking up residence on South Parade. Kidney stones were a frequent target of the water cure and he hoped that taking the waters might be beneficial for the pain in his side. (p227-228)

On 12 August, Phillip joined one of Bath’s circulating libraries, probably Marshall’s in Milsom Street. On the following day, Isabella Whitehead joined the same library. She was 43 years of age, unmarried and the daughter of a gentleman of affluent means who was in Bath for the recovery of his health. (p230) Phillip and Isabella married on 8 May 1794 and spent the first two years of their married life enjoying a charmed social existence, oscillating between Bath and London, entertaining and being entertained, attending card parties, concerts and balls. As Jane Austen so often explained, central to the social whirl in Bath was the building known as the Upper Assembly Rooms. (pp228-231)

After Phillip’s retirement from active service in 1805, he moved closer to the centre of Bath’s social life, purchasing a large and commodious house at No 19 Bennett Street. The property was just along from the Upper Assembly Rooms, a short walk to the Royal Crescent and even closer to the Circus. Phillip enjoyed wine and carriages, laying down some 30 dozen choice bottles of maderia, sherry and port and acquiring a smart and colourful landaulet. Ownership of the landaulet was a singular mark of affluence. And Jane Austen would have warmly approved of Bennett Street, at the ‘upper’ end of town, as a suitable location for some of Philip’s rank and status. (pp257-258)

Francis Greenway Connection

In his final years, Phillip developed and maintained an unlikely connection with Francis Greenway, the architect who was later responsible for some of the earliest and most important public buildings in colonial Sydney. History does not reveal the reason or the circumstances, but it appears that Phillip was friendly with the much younger Greenway. They may have met in Clifton near Bristol, where Phillip and Isabella holidayed during the summer of 1811. (p261-262)

In 1812, when Greenway was tried for forgery at the Bristol Assizes, he pleaded guilty ‘under the advice of his friends’ and was duly sentenced to death. He knew, one suspects, that his sentence would be commuted to transportation to New South Wales. Phillip then made it his business to recommend Greenway to Macquarie, the then current Governor of the colony. Phillip’s testimonial was so effective that within a few months of Greenway’s arrival in New South Wales, Macquarie consulted him about several government commissions. And within a few short years, he was emancipated. (p262)

Greenway regarded Phillip as his patron. At an official ball held at Government House on 26 January 1818 to commemorate 30 years since Phillip came ashore at Sydney Cove, Greenway publicly recorded his gratitude to Phillip. The Sydney Gazette warmly announced that Greenway ‘felt much pleasure in this opportunity of celebrating the memory of the Vice-Admiral who had ever been his friend and patron’. (p262)

Money and Assets

Although Phillip was an object of charity in childhood, he later demonstrated considerable financial acumen and accumulated substantial assets. After his separation from Charlott in 1769, he reportedly made enough money to pay his estranged wife what he had spent of her fortune. (p48) When he served as a captain in the Portuguese navy, he commanded double the salary paid to Portuguese captains. (p59) And when he was commissioned as the first Governor of New South Wales, his remuneration was fixed at £1,000 a year. This was several times the rate of pay for naval captains, double what Even Nepean received as Under-Secretary of a department of state and the same amount that was paid to six of the seven Lords of the Admiralty. In fact, Phillip’s remuneration was such that the authors of a nineteenth century biography referred to ‘the outstanding generosity of the government’. (pp143-144)

At his death in 1814, Phillip’s estate was valued for probate at £25,000 – a present value in excess of £40 million depending on the methodology and assumptions adopted. As well as cash, his assets included the property at No 19 Bennett Street, Bath, a substantial parcel of Old South Sea Annuities, a parcel of four per cent annuities, the Brazil diamond ring from Charles Slingsby Duncombe, an extensive collection of sterling silver and the pretty yellow landaulet with its Moroccan leather seats. (pp266-267)

Phillip’s will nominated many persons to share in his beneficence. The largest single legacy was the sum of £2,000 left to John Lane, his wife Eleanor and their daughter Harriet. There was also one legacy of £200 and nine legacies of £500 to cousins, nieces, nephews, friends and other relatives. After the legacies and specific bequests, there were four principal beneficiaries who were intended to share the balance of the estate. However the costs of subsequent Chancery litigation, which continued until the 1840s, ensured that not everyone received what was due to them.

Suicide Theory

No suspicious circumstances attended Phillip’s death on 31 August 2014. He died at home and was buried in the medieval church of St Nicholas, Bathampton in keeping with ‘the uniquely English tradition of the country’s elites being buried not in a grand metropolitan church but in their local parish church’. The actual place of burial was inside the church, just beyond the entrance. Interment inside the church was reserved for ‘persons of great sanctity or considerable wealth’. (p263-264)

Almost a hundred years after Phillip’s death, an improbable theory of his suicide emerged. Its unreliable origins can be traced to an elderly spinster named ‘Miss Bowie’ and an enterprising and unreliable Irish journalist named John Francis Meehan. Meehan made it his business to be constantly on the lookout for stories, real or imagined, about the famous houses and celebrities of Bath. Miss Bowie believed that Phillip’s former home was inhabited by his ghost. (p265)

Meehan took Miss Bowie’s fanciful story, stitched it together with his own journalistic embroidery and published it in a local Bath newspaper called the Beacon. Rumour then piled on conjecture, which piled on speculation. A theory that started from nothing, became Kafkaesque, entirely lacking facts, credibility and probability. Neither Meehan nor Miss Bowie even suggested that Phillip threw himself out of a window, but this became a common misconception. The regrettable suicide theory fails the simplest tests of reliability and should be finally despatched, ignored and laid to rest. (p265)

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