Admiral Arthur Phillip RN, Founder and First Governor of Australia: A British View.
By Sir Roger Carrick, London Papers in Australian Studies No 17, Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King's College London, Strand Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS. 48 pp. £5 incl.p and p.
This is the little known story of Arthur Phillip RN, Commodore of the First Fleet who took 760 convicts to the new colony of Australia - between May 1787 and January 1788 - a voyage of 15,063 miles in 11 small ships .It was a feat of considerable seamanship and navigation, and the author of this book, Sir Roger Carrick, describes Phillip as a quiet hero.
Sir Roger is a former British High Commissioner to Australia and president of the West Country branch of the Britain-Australia Society. This book is based on talks he has given on Admiral Phillip to audiences in this country, Australia and cruise ships.
After outlining Phillip's background - a relatively obscure officer with little patronage - Sir Roger describes how he made his mark on secondment to the Portuguese navy where he was known as "an officer of truth and very brave, saying what he thinks, but without temper or want of respect." In 1787 as Commodore of the First Fleet he remained at anchor in Spithead for two months while arguing with the authorities for proper rations including limes, lemons and vegetables and the right equipment. Later one of the convicts wrote: "it would not be doing justice to Governor Phillip's humanity...was I not to mention particularly the manner in which he treated us, allowing us every indulgence which prudence and discretion would authorise."
The fleet arrived at Botany Bay, recommended as an anchorage by Captain Cook, but Phillip soon moved his ships a few miles north to Port Jackson, which he re-named Sydney Cove after Viscount Sydney, the Home Secretary responsible for the new colony. There on 26th January 1788, the Commodore led the Founding Ceremony - the first Australia Day.
Sir Roger explains how in this Age of Enlightenment Phillip believed the convicts should be fairly treated, and given a second start in life. He detested the slavery he had witnessed in Portuguese territory, and declared there would never be any slavery in Australia. The convicts' punishment was banishment from Britain, and by means of pardons, land grants, responsibility and earned rewards he hoped to turn them into valuable citizens of the new colony.
But life soon became very difficult for everyone. Crops failed, provisions from the ships ran out, and food had to be severely rationed. Ships bringing re-supplies sank en route, and Phillip even tried to buy supplies in China and Java. Despite all his problems, the Governor remained hopeful, and did his best to encourage good relations with the local Aboriginal people. One day an elderly tribesman thrust a spear through his shoulder but Phillip would allow no retaliation.
After four years the Governor's never very robust health began to suffer, and in December 1792 he sailed for England, hoping to return to Sydney when his health allowed. But it was not to be. He did recover, but went back to active service in the Navy, commanded several ships in the Mediterranean, and was eventually put in command of the Sea Fencibles Force, a coastal militia.
In 1814 at the age of 75 he died at Bath, where there are memorials to him in the Abbey and on his former home, 19 Bennet Street. The West Country branch of the Britain-Australia Society is planning a new monument in the grounds of the Assembly Rooms at Bath, hopefully in 2014 (details are on www.britozwest.org.uk).
Sir Roger is an admirer of Phillip, pointing out that the notoriously brutal treatment of convicts who re-offended only took place after Phillip had left the colony. In his account Sir Roger says that modern Australia's debt to Arthur Phillip as the founder of the country is immense and widely known and acknowledged. Sir Roger is determined that Phillip will receive the same recognition here.
Reviewed by Michael Pentreath
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