Founder of the city of Sydney and first governor of New South Wales, the earliest European colony in Australasia, Arthur Phillip (1738-1814) was a Londoner who joined the Royal Navy as a teenager. After serving in the Mediterranean during the Seven Years War, he left the sea to farm in Hampshire in the late 1760s and early 1770s, but he returned to his naval career in 1778 when France took the side of the American colonists against Britain in the War of Independence. In 1786, partly through the agency of his Hampshire neighbour George Rose, Undersecretary of the Treasury, he was put in command of an eleven-ship fleet bound for the east coast of Australia to establish a penal settlement as a means of relieving England's overflowing prisons. Phillip decided on arrival that Botany Bay was unsuitable. He chose Port Jackson (now known as Sydney Harbour) as a site instead. He proved a perceptive governor, fair-minded in his treatment of convicts, willing to establish friendly relations with the Aborigines of the area (although the British government did not recognise their land rights).
Intended for British consumption, Phillip's account of his voyage plays up the strangeness of Australian fauna and flora -- especially in the accompanying illustrations. Although there were skilled hydrographic surveyors among the officers under Phillip's command, no official artists accompanied the First Fleet. Made by amateurs, the drawings of wildlife sometimes have suspect proportions. Nomenclature has changed since the 1780s too. The bird designated a 'great brown kingfisher' by Phillip and his companions is now known as a kookaburra and the 'dog of New South Wales' is, of course, a dingo. The improbable-looking creature described as a 'spotted opossum' is probably and eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), now extinct on the Australian mainland but still found in Tasmania.
Donated by Henry Shaw, the Library's copy of the book was once the subscription copy of the Scottish nobleman William Duff, second Earl Fife. It is unusual in that the copperplate illustrations are duplicated, appearing in both black-and-white and hand-coloured versions.