Governor's house at Sydney, Port Jackson, 1791 (detail), William Bradley, from William Bradley – drawings from his journal ‘A voyage to New South Wales’, 1802 State Library of NSW

Who was Governor Arthur Phillip?

The life, achievements and legacy of Arthur Phillip were honoured at a series of commemorative events in 2014.

Phillip was the founding Governor of the Colony of New South Wales and 2014 marked the 200th anniversary of his death at his home in Bath, England, on 31 August 1814.  

As Commander of the First Fleet, Captain Arthur Phillip led 11 ships, some little bigger than a Sydney ferry, on a remarkable eight month voyage. The success of the voyage with minimal loss of life was due to Phillip’s care and planning prior to their departure from Portsmouth, England. On arrival at Botany Bay, Phillip found the site unsuitable and searched for a more habitable site for settlement which he found in Port Jackson - the site of Sydney today.

From Government House, where the Museum of Sydney now stands, Governor Phillip ruled the colony and its 1500 inhabitants with absolute power and responsibility for its survival. His determination and strength as a leader was tested during the first years of settlement when crops failed, supply ships did not come, his authority was challenged and initial attempts to broker a harmonious relationship with the local Aboriginal people were largely unsuccessful.

In spite of these hardships the colony prospered and Phillip is remembered today for his many achievements. His vision of a British outpost of free settlers helped grow an undistinguished penal colony into a global city.

Sydney Living Museums developed a strong and exciting program of events that sought to explore Phillip and his pivotal role in the early history of Sydney and the development of the modern nation of Australia.

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Governor Phillip Memorial at first Government House

Computer generated image of bust in situ in Museum of Sydney courtyard.
This photomontage shows how the bust will look on MOS forecourt. © Sydney Living Museums

A sixty year old memorial to Governor Arthur Phillip has been installed at the Museum of Sydney on the site of Australia’s first Government House.The public unveiling of the 1954 memorial formed the centrepiece of the NSW State Government’s program of events commemorating the bicentenary of Governor Arthur Phillip’s death and his long legacy of achievements.

First Government House foundation plate

Detail of copper plate engraved with the words "His Excellency Arthur Phillip Esq. Governor in Chief and Captain General"
First Government foundation plate (detail). Laid by Governor Arthur Phillip 1788, uncovered by Robert McCann telegraph line worker 1899. Sydney Living Museums collection.

The piece of copper plate that telegraph line worker Robert McCann uncovered in 1899 had been placed between the two sandstone blocks 111 years earlier by Governor Arthur Phillip. On 15 May 1788 Governor Phillip laid the foundation plate to mark the start of the building of Government House.  

Ambition and adventure: the early life of Arthur Phillip

Portrait of man in uniform with black hat, standing on beach with ship and small boat in background.
The pioneer, in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip R.N. proceeded from Botany Bay to Port Jackson, Henry Macbeth-Raeburn, 1936, hand coloured mezzotint. National Library of Australia

On the bicentenary of Arthur Phillip’s death we look back at the early life of this intriguing man, who had enjoyed an extraordinary career before he even set foot on a boat bound for Botany Bay.

Media release

Oil Painting of Arthur Phillip

Arthur Phillip

Arthur Phillip BicentenaryThursday 28 August 2014

Rob Stokes MP, Minister for Heritage today announced a program of special events, led by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, to mark the Bicentenary of the death of Governor Arthur Phillip on 31 August 1814.