Arthur Phillip (1738-1814)

Captain Arthur Phillip

[Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786], by Francis Wheatley, Oil painting ML 124

Governor Arthur Phillip diligently wrote letters while enroute to New South Wales. The first letter he wrote from the colony was on 2 July 1788 to Sir Joseph Banks. He wrote and sent two copies of this letter to increase the chances of its safe delivery by long sea voyage. Phillip's letters to Sir Joseph Banks were bequeathed to the Library by David Scott Mitchell in 1907.

In a long letter written to William Petty, Marquis of Lansdowne the following day, 3 July, Phillip records his first impressions of the Indigenous inhabitants and explains his reasons for establishing the settlement at Sydney Cove, rather than Botany Bay as directed. Sydney Cove offered a fresh water supply and a safe harbour. He famously describes Sydney Harbour: 'here a Thousand Sail of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security.’

Phillip’s letter was acquired in 2003.

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> Read the letter via the Library's catalogue

Transcript: Arthur Phillip - letter to the Marquis of Lansdowne, 3 July 1788

[page 1]

The Marquis of Lansdown

My Lord

As I was unwilling to trouble Your Lordship with letters that could only contain assurances of respect, I defer'd writing till I arrived in this Country. the few extracts from my journal, is all the information I am able to give your Lordship, at present, of the Natives; who never come to us & with whom I have never been able to remain but a very short time. the Rains now fall very heavy, & many of the Natives find it difficult to support themselves, as few fish are caught. I shall be able to give a better account of the Country when I have visited Lansdown Hills - they form part of a Range of Mountains that appear to be fifty miles in land & on which I have in

[page 2]

a late excursion seen Smoke; which, with my having traced the Natives thirty miles towards these Hills, leaves no doubt but that there are Inhabitants in the interiour parts of the Country. I thought these Hills worthy the Name I have giving them, and at the foot of which I flatter my self that I shall find a River, that communicates with the Sea, at no great distance from Port Jackson, which I have preferd to Botany bay as affording a more eligible Situation for the Colony, & being with out exception the finest Harbour in the World. my reason for thinking there must be a large River, is the having found pools of water which did not appear to be formed in the Rainy Season. the want of time prevented ye tracing them to their Sauce.

The Woods by which we are surrounded are not removed but with a labour of which no Idea can be formed, & unfortunately the Timber is only fit for fire wood, & I was obliged to fix on this Spot, on account of Water which in the dry Season is scarce, as here are not any Runs of fresh water but

[page 3]

what are drains from the Marshes, form'd in the Rainy Season. Botany bay, offerd no Security for large Ships, here a Thousand Sail of the Line may ride in the most perfect Security.

the clearing the ground will be a Work of time & it will be four Years at least, before this Colony will be able to support itself, & perhaps no Country in the World affords less assistance to first Settlers. still, My Lord, I think that perseverance will answer evry purpose proposed by Government, & that this Country will hereafter be a most Valuable acquisition to Great Brittain from its situation.

It has been my determination from the time I landed, never to fire on the Natives, but in a case of absolute necessity, & I have been so fortunate as to have avoided it hitherto. I think they deserve a better Character than what they will receive from Monsr. La Perouse, who was under the disagreable necessity of

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firing on them. I think better of them from having been more with them. they do not in my opinion want personal Courage, they very readily place a confidence & are, I believe, strictly honest amongst themselves.

most of the Men wanting the Right front tooth in the Upper Jaw, & most of the Women wanting the first & second joints of the little finger of the left hand, are circumstances not observed in Capt. Cooks Voyage.

Your Lordship will I hope do me the justice to believe me fully sensible of the polite attention I receiv'd when leaving England, & permit me the honor of subscribing my self with the greatest Respect & esteem

My Lord
Your Lordships
Obliged & Most Obedient
Humble Servant

A Phillip

Sydney Cove
July 3d. 1788.