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Philip Gidley King, naval pioneer and colonial governor

Captain Philip Gidley King RN (23 April 1758 – 3 September 1808) was a British naval officer and colonial administrator. He is best known as the official founder of the first European settlement on Norfolk Island and as the third Governor of New South Wales.

Early years and establishment of Norfolk Island settlement

King was born at Launceston, Cornwall, England and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 12 as captain's servant, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1778. King served under Arthur Phillip who chose him as second lieutenant on HMS Sirius for the expedition to establish a convict settlement in New South Wales. On arrival, in January 1788, King was selected to lead a small party of convicts and guards to set up a settlement at Norfolk Island.[1][2]

On 6 March 1788, King and his party landed with difficulty, owing to the lack of a suitable harbour, and set about building huts, clearing the land, planting crops, and resisting the ravages of grubs, salt air and hurricanes. More convicts were sent, and these proved occasionally troublesome. Early in 1789 he prevented a mutiny when some of the convicts planned to take him and other officers prisoner, and escape on the next boat to arrive. Whilst commandant on Norfolk Island, King formed a relationship with the female convict Ann Inett — their first son, born on 8 January 1789, was named Norfolk. (He went on to become the first Australian-born officer in the Royal Navy]] and the captain of the schooner Ballahoo.) Another son was born in 1790 and named Sydney.[1][2][3]

Following the wreck of Sirius at Norfolk Island in March 1790, King left and returned to England to report on the difficulties of the settlements at New South Wales. Ann Inett was left in Sydney with the boys; she later married another man in 1792, and went on to lead a comfortable and respected life in the colony. King, who had probably arranged the marriage, also arranged for their two sons to be educated in England, where they became officers in the navy. Whilst in England King married Anna Josepha Coombe on 11 March 1791 and returned shortly after on HMS Gorgon to take up his post as Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island, at an annual salary of £250. King's first legitimate offspring, Phillip Parker King, was born there in December 1791, and four daughters followed.[1][2]

On his return to Norfolk Island, King found the population of nearly one thousand torn apart by discontent after the strict regime of Major Robert Ross. However, he set about enthusiastically to improve conditions. He encouraged settlers, drawn from ex-convicts and ex-marines, and he listened to their views on wages and prices. By 1794 the island was self-sufficient in grain, and surplus swine were being sent to Sydney. The number of people living off the government store was high, and few settlers wanted to leave. In February 1794 King was faced with unfounded allegations by members of the New South Wales Corps on the island that he was punishing them too severely and ex-convicts too lightly when disputes arose. As their conduct became for mutinous, he sent twenty of them to Sydney for trial by court-martial. There Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose censured King's actions and issued orders which gave the military illegal authority over the civilian population. Grose later apologised, but conflict with the military continued to plague King.[1][2]

Governor of New South Wales

Suffering from gout, King returned to England in October 1796, and after regaining his health, and resuming his naval career, he was appointed to replace Captain John Hunter as the third Governor of New South Wales. King became Governor on 28 September 1800. He set about changing the system of administration, and appointed Major Joseph Foveaux as Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island. His first task was to attack the misconduct of officers of the New South Wales Corps in their illicit trading in liquor, notably rum. He tried to discourage the importation of liquor, and began to construct a brewery. However, he found the refusal of convicts to work in their own time for other forms of payment, and the continued illicit local distillation, increasingly difficult to control. He continued to face military arrogance and disobedience from the New South Wales Corps. He failed to receive support in England when he sent an accused officer John Macarthur back to face a court-martial.[1][2]

King had some successes. His regulations for prices, wages, hours of work, financial deals, and the employment of convicts brought some relief to small holders, and reduced the numbers 'on the stores'. He encouraged construction of barracks, wharves, bridges, houses, etc. Government flocks and herds greatly increased, and he encouraged experiments with vines, tobacco, cotton, hemp, and indigo. Whaling and sealing became important sources of oil and skins, and coal mining began. He took an interest in education, establishing schools to teach convict boys to become skilled tradesmen. He encouraged smallpox vaccinations, was sympathetic to missionaries, strove to keep peace with the indigenous inhabitants, and encouraged the first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette. Exploration led to the survey of Bass Strait and Western Port, and the discovery of Port Phillip, and settlements were established at Hobart and Port Dalrymple in Van Diemen's Land.[1][2]

While still aware that Sydney was a convict colony, he gave opportunities to emancipists, considering that ex-convicts should not remain in disgrace forever. He appointed emancipists to positions of responsibility, regulated the position of assigned servants, and laid the foundation of the 'ticket of leave' system for deriving prisoners. Although he directly profited from a number of commercial deals, cattle sales, and land grants, he was modest in his dealings compared with most of his subordinates. The increased animosity between King and the New South Wales Corps led to his resignation and replacement by William Bligh in 1806, and he returned to England. Here his health failed and he died on 3 September 1808.[1][2]

Although he worked hard for the good of New South Wales and left it very much better than he found it, the abuse from the officers harmed his reputation, and illness and the hard conditions of his service eventually wore him down. Of all the members of the First Fleet, Philip Gidley King perhaps made the greatest contribution to the early years of the colony.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Mellor, Suzanne G. (1976). "Willoughby, Howard (1839 - 1908)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 2008-10-26.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Serle, Percival (1949). "Willoughby, Howard". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2008-10-26.  
  3. ^ Gillen, Mollie (1989). The Founders of Australia: a biographical dictionary of the First Fleet. Sydney: Library of Australian History. pp. 608. ISBN 0908120699.  
Government offices
Preceded by
John Hunter
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
William Bligh

Simple English

Philip Gidley King
File:Philip Gidley King - Project Gutenberg eText
Born 23 April 1758
Launceston, Cornwall, England.
Died 3 September 1808
London, England
Term 1800 - 1806
Predecessor John Hunter
Successor William Bligh
Spouse Anna Josepha Coombe
Children Philip Parker King

Philip Gidley King (April 23, 1758September 3, 1808) was a sailor in the British Royal Navy who became the third Governor of New South Wales.[1]


Early life

King was born in Launceston, Cornwall. His father was a draper, selling cloth and fabrics.[1] He joined the navy in 1770 at the age of 12. He was made the captain's servant on the HMS Swallow. He served in the West Indies and then fought in the American War of Independence.[1] He became a midshipman and later a lieutenant. He served with Captain Arthur Phillip in HMS Ariadne. He went to India with Phillip in 1783 in the ship HMS Europe. Phillip was very pleased with King.[1] He made King a lieutenant on HMS Sirius when he took the First Fleet to Australia in 1787 to start the penal colony.

Norfolk Island

Three weeks after the First Fleet got to Sydney, Governor Phillip sent King to Norfolk Island. His task was to set up a small penal colony that would make use of the timber and flax growing on the island. These would be of use to the British Navy. He arrived at the island on March 3, 1788.[1] There was no safe place to land on the island and this made it a difficult place to have a settlement. King had a group of 23 people including 15 convicts.[1] Over the next two years they began clearing land (removing trees) to grow crops and to raise cattle and other animals. King was made Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island. In March 1790, Phillip sent King back to England.[1] He was to go back and tell the British government about the problems of the new settlements in Australia.

King stayed in London for about four months. He married Anna Josepha Coombe on March 11, 1791, and they left for Australia four days later.[1] After reporting to Phillip in Sydney, they were back on Norfolk Island in November, where his son Phillip Parker King was born.

Return to Norfolk Island

While he had been away, Norfolk had been governed by Lieutenant-Governor Robert Ross. Phillip had moved Ross to the island because of his difficulties in working with him. When King arrived, the convicts, settlers and soldiers were very unhappy because of Ross's leadership. King made new rules, which made things better for people who wanted to settle on the island, many of whom had been marines or convicts. In 1794 the island was growing all of the wheat it needed, and had so many pigs it was able to send food to Sydney.[1]

The flax on the island was too hard to turn into cloth. Two Maoris from New Zealand were kidnapped and brought to Norfolk to teach people how to work the flax. The two men did not know about flax, in New Zealand it was work done by the women. In November 1793, King left the island for ten days to take the men back home. He did not have permission to leave and got into trouble from Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose. King also had problems with many of the soldiers. They said he punished them more than the convicts. King arrested 20 soldiers and charged them with mutiny, and sent them to Sydney. Grose released the soldiers and told the soldiers on Norfolk that they were in charge, not King. These orders were later changed by the Duke of Portland.

King became ill, and Governor John Hunter let him go back to England to get medical treatment.


Governor of New South Wales



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Shaw, A.G.L. (1967). "King, Phillip Gidley (1758-1808)". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Melbourne University Press. Retrieved December 27, 2008. 


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