19 Bennett Street, Bath
Admiral Arthur Phillip, the First Governor of Australia lived at 19 Bennett Street in Bath from 1806 and died here in 1814. The Dictionary of National Biography gives th efollowing account of his life and career. ‘PHILLIP, ARTHUR (1738–1814), vice-admiral and first governor of New South Wales, was born in the parish of Allhallows, Bread Street, London, on 11 Oct. 1738. His father, Jacob Phillip, a native of Frankfort, was a teacher of languages; his mother was Elizabeth (née Breach), the widow of Captain Herbert, R.N. The boy, being intended for the navy, was educated at Greenwich, and in 1755 became a midshipman in the Buckingham; this vessel was on the home station till April 1756, and then went as second flagship under Admiral Byng to the Mediterranean, where Phillip first saw active service. He followed his captain, Everett, to the larger ship, Union, and then to the Stirling Castle, which went to the West Indies in 1761. He was at the siege of Havannah in 1762, and was there promoted lieutenant on 7 June 1762.
In 1763, when peace was declared, Phillip married and settled at Lyndhurst, where he passed his time in farming and the ordinary magisterial and social occupations of a country gentleman. But it would appear that about 1776 he offered his services to the government of Portugal, and did valuable work in that country. On the outbreak of hostilities between France and Great Britain in 1778, he returned to serve under his own flag. On 2 Sept. 1779 he obtained the command of the Basilisk fireship; on 30 Nov. 1781 he was promoted post-captain to the Ariadne, and on 23 Dec. transferred to the Europe of 64 guns. Throughout 1782 he was cruising, and in January 1783 was ordered to the East Indies, but arrived home in May 1784, without being in action.
In 1786 Phillip was assigned the duty of forming a convict settlement in Australia. There seems to have been some reluctance at the admiralty as to his undertaking the work (Rusden). ‘I cannot say,’ wrote Lord Howe to Lord Sydney, ‘the little knowledge I have of Captain Phillip would have led me to select him for service of this complicated nature.’ But Phillip proved exceptionally well suited for the work. From September 1786 he was engaged in organising the expedition, and on 27 April 1787 he received his formal commission and instructions. The ‘first fleet,’ as it was so long called in Australia, consisted of the frigate Sirius, Captain (afterwards admiral) Hunter (1738–1821) [q. v.], the tender Supply, three store-ships, and six transports with the convicts and their guard of marines. On 13 May 1787 it set sail, Phillip hoisting his flag on the Sirius. Dangers began early, for before they cleared the Channel the convicts on the Scarborough had formed a plan for seizing the ship. Making slow progress by way of Teneriffe and Rio Janeiro, the fleet left the Cape of Good Hope, where the last supplies were taken in, on 12 Nov. On the 25th Phillip went on board the Supply, and pushed on to the new land, reaching Botany Bay on 18 Jan. 1788. Not satisfied with this situation, Phillip set out on 22 Jan. to examine Port Jackson, a harbour mentioned by Captain Cook, and here, without hesitation, he pitched the new settlement. On 26 Jan. 1788 he founded the city, which he christened Sydney, after Thomas Townshend, Viscount Sydney, the secretary of state; on 7 Feb. he formally inaugurated the new government with such pomp as he could command. But anxieties soon tested Phillip’s capacities; the supply of food was limited, and before the end of February a plot for a raid on the stores was discovered.
It was of the first importance to make the colony self-supporting, and the soil around Sydney turned out disappointing. The unwillingness of the convicts to work became daily more apparent, and it would be long before free settlers could be induced to come over. In October 1788 Phillip despatched the Sirius to the Cape for help. The frigate returned in May 1789 with some small supplies; but even in January 1790 no tidings from England had yet reached the colony; the whole settlement was on half-rations; the troops were on the verge of mutiny, and their commanding officer was almost openly disloyal. Phillip shared in all the privations himself; kept a cheerful countenance, encouraged exploration, and made every effort to conciliate the natives. It was not till 19 Sept. 1790 that the danger of starvation was finally removed. About the same time Phillip’s efforts to enter into regular relations with the natives bore fruit. On a visit to the chief, Bennilong, he was attacked and wounded by a spear; but he would allow no retaliation, and his courage produced a good effect. Bennilong sent apologies. By the firmness with which he dispensed justice to native and to convict alike, Phillip gradually won the confidence of the former, and when he left the colony in 1792 the native chiefs Bennilong and Yemmerawanme asked to accompany him to England. To exploration Phillip had little time to devote. As early as March 1788 he examined Broken Bay at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, calling the southern branch Pitt Biver, after the prime minister. In April 1788 he made an inland excursion, but did not get far. In July 1789 he explored the Hawkesbury River to Broken Hill. In April 1791 he set out with a party to explore the Nepean River, taking natives with him, and, not being successful, he sent another party in June 1791, which produced better results. The settlement of Norfolk Island was entirely due to Phillip and his lieutenant, King. In September 1791 his confidential envoy, King, arrived from England, and brought from the home government formal approval of his policy. But Phillip’s health was failing, and in November he asked permission to resign.
His government was still full of difficulties. In December the convicts made a disturbance before Government house by way of protest against Phillip’s regulations for the issue of provisions; Phillip repressed such disorder with a strong hand. The home government begged him to withdraw his resignation. But his state of health compelled him to return to England on 11 Dec. 1792, and final permission to resign was granted him on 23 July 1793.
Phillip’s energy and self-reliance, his humanity and firmness, made a lasting impression on New South Wales. He per- manently inspired the colony, despite the unpromising materials out of which it was formed, with an habitual respect for law, a deference to constituted authority, and an orderly behaviour (Rusden).
On his return to England Phillip’s health improved, but he lived in retirement on the pension granted ‘in consideration of his meritorious services.’ On 1 Jan. 1801 he became rear-admiral of the blue, on 23 April 1804 rear-admiral of the white, and on 19 Nov. 1805 of the red. On 25 Oct. 1809 he was made vice-admiral of the white, and 1 on 31 July 1810 of the red. He died during November 1814 at Bath.
He was buried in St Nicholas’s Church, Bathampton. A Perth Now article by Charles Miranda, entitled ‘Move to return remains of Admiral Arthur Phillip to Australia for state funeral’ (17th May 2013) suggests his body’s location may be lost. ‘IN the past three months they’ve found the bones of King Richard III and unearthed Alfred the Great, so some in Britain think the mood is right to exhume Australia’s founding father and return him for a state funeral.
There’s just one problem.
What lies beneath the weathered headstone of Admiral Arthur Phillip, the first governor of the then-British colony of New South Wales and the founder of Sydney, may not be the nation’s revered founder and statesman, his remains possibly lost due to a century of indifference. Now, on the eve of the 275th anniversary of Phillip’s birth, prominent barrister, academic and amateur super sleuth Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has called on Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr to finish the job and bring the admiral home.
Ten years ago, when he was NSW premier, Carr gave Robertson a secret commission to investigate the whereabouts of Phillip and look at the possibility of exhuming and repatriating his remains to Sydney.
Records showed Phillip’s grave, rediscovered in 1897, was below the tiny St Nicholas Church in the village of Bathampton, close to the city of Bath in England’s southwest.
But a detailed survey found he was unlikely to be where his marked grave was, a move Robertson said was a travesty for a man who meant so much to Australia.
“They (the British) lost interest in him after his burial in 1814. The coffin was moved and it’s not been located,” Mr Robertson said.
“I believe he is somewhere under the floorboards, but just not where the arrow is pointing.
“I think it is important to find him and bring him back.
“I’d like him to have a state funeral and be buried at the botanical gardens. There is a monument to him there overlooking the harbour, which he described as the finest in the world, and he can see, so to speak, the country he alone in 1788 believed would amount to something.”
Robertson said extensive excavation would be required, but recent digs for old kings and the British government’s new mandate to repatriate the remains of other foreign heroes – most recently a Brazilian leader was sent home – suggested the time was right.
“I don’t think it would take very much except political will, but I fear Bob Carr doesn’t have much more time left (in office) and I don’t know whether his replacement will have the appetite for history he has,” he said in reference to the expected federal election outcome later this year.
St Nicholas rector the reverend Paul Burden rubbished suggestions Phillip’s final resting place was unknown and said it was exactly where his grave tablet said it was.
“I want to scotch those rumours,” Mr Burden said. “There was a report, which in my understanding was misrepresented, where they noted the tablet over his grave was moved but that was only in orientation. He is buried there in the normal east-west position. There are substantial records to show he is buried there.”
Mr Burden recently erected a small display in his church honouring the admiral, which he said had been popular with visitors. He also said it was Phillip’s express wish to be buried in the church with his wife and if the Australian Government took him they would have to take her too.
“He has to stay here,” he said.
Mr Robertson said his “shabby” resting place spoke volumes of what the British thought of the Australian hero and it was time they gave him up.
He was not buried at Westminster Abbey with other national heroes.
He said Australians should respect Phillip, to “whom we owe a great deal of our philosophy of egalitarianism and fair play”.
Whether or not his body lies in his grave, it has been suggested that his spirit certainly does not and his ghost is said to to have been seen dozens of times over the past fifty years. The Sydney Morning Herald mentioned the haunting in the following article entitled “The Admiral’s Ghost.” (Saturday 21 November 1931). (BY ARCHDEACON OAKES.) ‘The Rev. Gordon Tidy, formerly an Anglican clergyman in the dioceses of Bathurst and Sydney, and now rector of Stanton, St. Quintín, Chippenham, Wilts, sends some particulars of our first Governor’s English home, and of his burial, in Bathampton Church. Here with is a copy of a letter, written by Miss E. J. Phillips, a connection of the Governor, to Miss Boughey, daughter of Dr. Boughey, physician, of Bath, in whose house Governor Phillip lived, and where he died. The letter is dated April, 1914, and says:
You are living in the house where Admiral Phillip lived and died 100 years ago. He was my father’s cousin. I have a letter from his old friend Governor King, who says, “I have been with Admiral Phillip for a week, he is much altered, having lost the use of his right side, but his Intellect and spirit are as good as ever.” He died at Bath, and was buried in Bathampton Church on the 7th February, 1814.
The Rev. Gordon Tidy happened to be in Bath, soon after Miss Boughey’s death, when a sale was taking place, and he was shown the admiral’s dressing-room. There was a rope rigged along the wall, leading to the room; evidently this was done, because the Governor, being paralysed on the right side, needed help on the left. Mr. Tidy got the story of the “Admiral’s Ghost” from the author of a book entitled “Famous Houses In Bath,” which contained a picture of the Bougheys’ house, in Bennett-street, together with much letterpress about the admiral.
Mr. Tidy says:-“The author of this book had little doubt about the ‘ghost,’ which, he declared to me, Miss Boughey had frequently seen. He further assured me that a servant girl, who had recently entered the service, one day excitedly rushed to her mistress, ex-claiming that there was a gentleman walking about upstairs, dressed in the blue coat, with the breeches, silk stockings, and gold-buckled shoes, of the portrait now in the National Gallery of London. Miss Boughey, with that calm, majestic manner which appears to have characterised her, pointed to a miniature upon the mantel-shelf, and asked: ‘Was that the gentleman?’ Of course It was, and the miniature was a portrait of the admiral. That is all I can tell you of the ‘ghost.’ There is a garden attached to the house, and, within It, a well-foliaged, weeping ash tree. Did, in the summer, Governor Phillip and Governor King sit under that tree and talk about old times? Was Johnston ever sheltered by its shade? It may have heard much, that tree; but, alas trees do not report.”