26 Jan, 1788 to 10 Dec, 1792
Captain Arthur Phillip

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Arthur Phillip, RN

[Courtesy of Government House,
Historic Houses Trust]
  • First governor of New South Wales. Known at the time as "Captain General and Governor-in –Chief".

  • Born in England.

  • Appointed 12 October,1786 as the representative of the British Crown in an area embracing roughly half of eastern Australia and Norfolk Island.

  • His powers in the colony of New South Wales were absolute. He was only accountable to the Colonial Secretary in England then to the Prime Minister and then to the King. This meant he had complete authority over the inhabitants and gave him the right to make regulations touching practically all aspects of their lives. He could also had the authority to grant land to approved persons.

  • The NSW Army Corps was a group of men that were sent out from England to replace the original marines that Phillip had with him. The marines claimed that they were not accountable to Phillip but to the Admiralty. After Phillip wrote to his superiors in England about this matter, they were replaced except for some who volunteered to stay and join the newly arrived corps. Having some of the originals in the corps caused the whole corps now to be less respectful than the original marines and Phillip advised the home office to that effect. This would cause problems later on.

  • He combined executive and legislative functions and could remit sentences imposed by the Civil and Criminal Courts within the new colony. In this way, he had the powers of the Chief Justice.

  • He named and helped design Sydney and established Parramatta in 1788 for agricultural purposes. Parramatta soon became the main economic centre of the colony.

  • He established a building program and built the first government house.

  • He sought to maintain harmony with the Aboriginal people while gradually persuading them of the superiority of the British civilization. Official British policy was "to endeavour…to open intercourse" and to punish any person who destroyed or interrupted them. This policy was to continue without amendment for the next fifty years.

  • Between 1792 and 1795, the colony was commanded by the Lieutenant Governor, the commander of the New South Wales Army Corps, Major Grose. When he left two years later, Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson, the senior military officer in New South Wales, assumed control. During Grose and Paterson’s rule law and order was disorderly. Grose allowed the soldiers to be paid in rum. The Army Corps became known as the Rum Corps.

B.H.Fletcher, 'PHILLIP, A', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, ed. Douglas Pike, pp 326-33 (Melbourne University Press)