BookPick: Arthur Phillip

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Arthur Philip

Arthur Philip

I had several reasons to look forward to reading this book – at university I read Australian history and Arthur Philip had also served as a naval officer, as I had. As well under sail I’d explored much of Port Jackson and other New South Wales places central to this book, all with happy memories.

And this biography by Australian Michael Pembroke didn’t disappoint.

Phillip was the first governor of the colony of New South Wales. A somewhat mercurial man, I discovered to my surprise he had many other careers – soldier, mercenary, spy for the British Empire – long before he captained the First Fleet and founded Sydney.

Pembroke’s absorbing tale of Phillip’s life takes us through wars with Spain and France, battles, court martials, and the taking of Havana from the Spanish. In his 20s he married a wealthy widow and briefly became a gentleman farmer. The marriage ended in divorce, before such a thing existed in England, but Phillip then became a successful merchant in France and likely spy for England. In 1774 he became a paid mercenary for the Portuguese navy at the behest of the Admiralty – his enemy again was Spain but now in South America. Upon his return to London some years later, the revolution in the American colonies triggered another war with France and then Spain as well. England faced the possibility of its first invasion since 1588 and Phillip became the captain of a 74 gun ship with a crew of 600 men defending the channel. Phillip is here revealed to have undertaken secret missions for the Admiralty throughout his career and perhaps was among the first to be a part of the Secret Service.

For those wishing to explore the subject matter of this book further, the author provides extensive notes and references to his sources.


Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy by Michael Pembroke RRP £20.00
Published by Hardie Grant. ISBN 978-1742708058

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