… this is a continuation of the biography of Arthur Phillip, Australia’s first Governor written by John McClymont. part 1part 3part 4part 5 

Europe at War (1755-60) – ‘captain’s servant’ to midshipman 1755

France and Britain were moving steadily towards war in 1755, the immediate cause being in the French endeavouring to secure Canada. In October 1755, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Phillip was posted to, and joined, HMS Buckingham, a 70 gun battleship as a ‘captain’s servant’. The captain was Michael Everett whose two sons, Robert and George, were cousins and were also under his care to be trained as officers, a common occurrence in those days. In this situation Phillip progressed to ‘able bodied’ and then to ‘corporal’. In November they captured a French 74 gun ship but had to burn it to the waterline. Phillip had seen his first action.

In 1756 the Buckingham was ordered to join the Mediterranean squadron under Admiral Byng and participated in the unsuccessful sea Battle of Minorca when they were beaten by the French, resulting in Byng being court-martialled for cowardice. Phillip was transferred to the 60 gun Princess Louisa  as a captain’s clerk and cruised the Mediterranean on station. In December, at Gibraltar he was transferred to the 90 gun ship Ramilles and, in the following year to Michael Everett’s 90 gun ship Neptune. [interestingly John Hunter, Australia’s second Governor also served on board this vessel]

Between August 1757 and November 1758 he was again with Everett on Union, possibly pending his appointment as a midshipman, then on Jason, a ship captured from the French, he was posted as a supernumerary aged 20. By June 1759, aged 21, he had progressed to the rank of midshipman on Auroraa 36 gun frigate whose task was to escort merchant fleets until he winter of early 1760. In his progression he would have learned the elements of navigation, learned how to draw coastal profiles, calculate latitude and longitude and the techniques of battle. However this learning process was just the first steps to becoming a competent naval officer.

The War of 1760-1763 – to the West Indies

Antigua – Phillip was posted then to the 64 gun ship, HMS Stirling Castleunder the command of Captain Everett and in October they reached Antigua, where they had been stationed to guard British trade interests in the West Indies. Cargoes of sugar, rum, ginger and mahogany were carried to England and North America while American shipments of flour, timber, Portuguese wine and African slaves had to be protected from plundering French privateers operating out of Martinique.

Another reason was to further the British war efforts against the French. In 1758 first Louisbourg and then in 1759, Quebec was captured from the French and gave the British command of Canada, which had to be protected. The islands of the Caribbean, -The Bahamas, Cuba, San Domingo, Puerto Rico, the Virgin, Leeward Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica and St Lucia) and the Windward Islands (Barbados, St Vincent, Grenada and Tobago) – were really unknown to most Europeans. It was the British Navy’s task to protect their islands and possibly gain French Islands such as Minorca (which they did) and the rich Martinique (where they failed).  Planters used slaves to cultivate the rich tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas, coffee, coconuts and melons. Sugar, for which Europeans hungered, was also produced here.

Cuba and the Siege of Havana 1761 – promotion to lieutenant

Phillip learned a lot during the Seven Years War. As a sailor he learned the principles of navigation, the ways of war and surviving in battle, the beginnings of man-management and discipline, experience that ‘opened the career he desired in the Royal Navy’. As a man he had experienced the horrors of the brutal slave trade, he was to state later that ‘there can be no Slavery in a Free Land -& consequently, no Slaves’.

Also he had learned how to adjust to shipboard and service life, ‘of guarding his inner self closely’. In 1761, the fleet of eighteen line-of-battle ships, including Stirling Castle with the recently promoted fourth lieutenant Arthur Phillip,  began a successful offensive to capture or regain the French islands.

In 1762 the Stirling Castle was part of the fleet and a force of over 6000 soldiers that gallantly conducted the siege of Havana harbour in Cuba, then a Spanish possession. The British won the siege at a huge cost of lives but captured 22 ships of the Spanish fleet. However the Stirling Castle was so in need of repair that it was decided to scuttle it and transfer the crew to one of the prize ships, Infant.  The war seasoned Phillip sailed with Infant back to England, having come under the notice of Augustus Hervey, the naval divisional commander who later became one of Phillip’s patrons.  Hervey was of the patrician family, the Earls of Bristol while Phillip, the poor boy from inner London, was educated in a charity school.

Phillip, now 24 years of age, had gained experience in an officer’s authority over men. The Records of punishment on Stirling Castle ordered by the captain were commonplace, frequent and severe but at the time thought necessary to maintain the strict discipline required on shipboard. Records of 200 lashes were common and hanging for desertion – or 600 lashes – were little deterrent to the motley naval crews. As a junior officer, Phillip often had to oversee these punishments.

… part 3 of Arthur Phillip’s biography commemorating 200 years since his death in 1814 will be published in a few days time

by-saby John McClymont, Parramatta Historian, from the manuscripts donated to the Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Centre. 2014

The basic information for this biography has been drawn from Alan Frost’s most comprehensive biography, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging. This has been supplemented with and corroborated by the following sources:

Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, Glasgow, Brown, Son and Ferguson, 1969 (2nd edition); FM Bladen (ed), Historical Records of New South Wales, Sydney, Charles Potter, Government `Printer, 1893. In nine volumes. Facsimile reprint pub 1978 by Lansdown Slattery & Company, Mona Vale.
Part 1, Cook’s Charts, 1768-1770.
Volume 1, Part 1, Cook (1762-1780)
Volume 1, Part 2, Phillip (1783-1792)
David Collins, (Brian Fletcher, ed), An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vol 1, Sydney, Reid and RAHS, 1975. Originally published London, 1798
M. Barnard Eldershaw, Phillip of Australia, Sydney, Discovery Press – Penrith, 1972. (First published by G. Harrup 1938)
Brian Fletcher, ‘Arthur Phillip’, ADB, vol. 2.
Alan Frost, Convicts and Empire: A Naval Question, Melbourne, OUP, 1980.
Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, OUP, 1987.
Molly Gillen, The Founders of Australia, Sydney, Library of Aust History, 1989.
Terry Kass, Carol Liston & John McClymont, Parramatta, A Past Revealed, Sydney, Parramatta City Council, 1996.
Arthur Phillip – The Voyage to Botany Bay, [1789, Facs, Adelaide, Library Board of Australia, Hutchinson, 1982 edn.
Edward Spain, Manuscript Journal; ML mss C266
Ralph Sutton, ‘Arthur Phillip (1738-1814), Our First Captain-General and Governor of New South Wales’, United Service, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 7-17.
Watkin Tench, (LF Fitzhardinge, ed.), Sydney’s First Four Year, Sydney, Library of Australian History and RAHS, 1979..
For greater detail on Henry Dodd and Henry Brewer, refer to my mss ‘Phillip’s Household. A background to his personal staff and their performance in the colony’.