This morning on 2SER, Lisa & Mitch talked about Arthur Phillip, the British naval officer who led the First Fleet and became the first governor of New South Wales as this Sunday, the 31st August, marks 200 years since his death.

His name probably rings a bell for most Sydneysiders – especially if you went to school in Australia. But how much do you really know about him?  Here are some fast facts about Governor Phillip:

Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786, by Francis Wheatley, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (a928087 / ML 124)

Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786, by Francis Wheatley, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (a928087 / ML 124)

    • He was born in London on 11 Oct 1738
  • HMS Sirius was the flagship of the First Fleet, which transported convicts and their guards from England to the new colony of Botany Bay in the late 1780s. The Sirius was commanded by Captain John Hunter and carried Arthur Phillip, the governor of the colony. The Sirius was wrecked off Norfolk Island in 1790. Its anchor and cannon were retrieved and were placed in Macquarie Place down near Circular Quay in 1907.
  • Arthur Phillip governed the penal colony of NSW for its first five difficult years. He ruled the colony and its 1500 inhabitants with absolute power and responsibility for its survival.
  • He laid the foundation for the first Government House only three months after the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove.
  • the site of Sydney’s first Government House is where the Museum of Sydney now stands. One of the most significant items in the Museum of Sydney collection is an inscribed copper Foundation Plate that was laid on 15 May 1788 by Governor Arthur Phillip during the construction of Australia’s first Government House. Remarkably the plate was discovered between two sandstone foundation blocks by a telegraph line worker in 1899.
  • Governor Phillip tried to obtain information about the Aboriginal people, their country, life and language by abducting men. Arabanoo was the first, but he died of small pox. Bennelong and Colebee were next. Bennelong travelled to England and back, and taught the settlers much about Aboriginal language and culture. Colebee became familiar with the Europeans but disappeared after 1806.

Arthur Phillip named many bays and suburbs around Sydney.  Here are just a few:

  • Field of Mars (around Ryde and Eastwood)
  • Looking Glass Bay – after giving a looking glass (mirror) to an Aboriginal man they met there in the bay, whilst exploring the Parramatta River
  • Manly – The first official dispatch in 1788 from Arthur Phillip, governor of the newly founded imperial outpost in New South Wales, noted the ‘confidence and manly behaviour’ of the Aboriginal people encountered on the northern side of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Thus Manly derived its name.
  • Neutral Bay – Neutral Bay was named by Governor Phillip, when he decreed in 1789 that all non-British ‘neutral’ ships visiting Port Jackson were to anchor there.

But wait – there’s more!

On 5 September the Museum of Sydney is hosting a full day symposium about the life and times of Governor Arthur Phillip. You can hear from some of Australia’s most significant scholars of colonial history, including Dictionary of Sydney board member and author Grace Karskens, on Phillip and the Eora. More info about this and other events marking the bicentenary here:

If you missed this morning’s broadcast, you can still listen to the podcast here:

Arthur Phillip Bicentenary events at Sydney Living Museums

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