Admiral Arthur Phillip was born in London on 11 October 1738, and died on 31 August 1814 at Bath, England. He was a British naval officer who was appointed the first governor of the first European colony on the Australian continent - New South Wales. Phillip commanded the First Fleet to Australia and was the founder of the city of Sydney. He remained in Australia from 1788 to 1792.
Phillip's life before Australia
Admiral Arthur Phillip was originally a farmer who then became a sailor in the British Navy. In 1786 he was chosen by Lord Sydney as the Captain General of the proposed settlement at Botany Bay. Phillip had a very difficult time arranging a fleet to make the voyage to Australia. People were unsure of what they might find when they reached Australia. Phillip suggested that people with experience in farming and building be included, but most of the convicts on the fleet were thieves from the slums of London. Refer Image 1
Phillip arrived at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, with instructions to establish a permanent British colony. He was also instructed to establish good relations with the Indigenous people in order to gain useful knowledge of the area. The land rights of the Indigenous peoples, however, were completely ignored.
First contact with the Aboriginal peoples
Governor Arthur Phillip was aware that the Aboriginal peoples might be hostile to the British, but he wanted to establish friendly relations so that both the British and the Indigenous peoples could live peacefully.
At Botany Bay, Phillip was confronted by the Aboriginal people of that area. Unlike Captain Cook who had shot at the Aboriginal peoples, Phillip put down his weapons and they did the same. Contact with the Indigenous people at Botany Bay from that time was tense but friendly.
At Sydney Cove, the Eora people were more unwelcoming and generally avoided Phillip and the rest of the First Fleet. The Aboriginal peoples may have thought that the white people were the returning spirits of the dead. As time went on, and the British stayed, there was more contact. Some Aboriginal people stole food and tools, and threw stones at the British boats. The British soldiers and convicts also stole spears, fishing implements and canoes from the Aboriginal peoples.
Attempts to understand
There were immense differences between the customs and beliefs of the Indigenous people and those of the British colonisers. The British had little understanding of the social structure and spiritual beliefs of Indigenous society and thought them to be primitive and uncivilised; and the Indigenous peoples could not understand the European practices regarding farming and land ownership.
Phillip had ordered that the Aboriginal peoples must be well-treated, and that anyone killing Aboriginal people would be hanged. Even after Phillip was wounded by a spear, he was still keen to befriend the Aboriginal peoples and to learn about their language, culture, and the land. He captured some Aboriginal people so that they could be taught English and be trained as interpreters.
The first Indigenous person captured was Arabanoo from the Eora people. He was captured at Manly and quickly learnt to speak English. He, however, died within a year from the smallpox epidemic.
Bennelong and Colbee were the next Aboriginal people to be captured. They quickly escaped but Bennelong eventually returned and built a strong relationship with Governor Phillip. When Phillip returned to England in 1792, Bennelong and another Aboriginal man named Yemmerrawanie, sailed with him. Yemmerrawanie died of pneumonia. Bennelong stayed in England for almost three years and at one point met with King George III. Refer Image 2
Bennelong was never accepted as an equal in England, and when he returned to Australia with the new governor he was unable to fit in with the Aboriginal communities. He died at Kissing Point (Ryde) in 1813. Bennelong Point, the land on which the Opera House sits, is named after him. Refer Image 3
Phillip had wanted to live peacefully with the Aboriginal peoples and 'civilise' them, but he also took their land away from them. Towards the end of his term as governor, he formed the view that contact with the Aboriginal peoples was not always going to be peaceful. He began to order his soldiers to shoot at Aboriginal people to keep them away from the British settlements. The general conflict and claiming of land caused a battle for survival that, in some respects, still continues today.