KING, Philip Gidley (1758-1808)

KING, Philip Gidley (1758-1808)
third governor of New South Wales
was born at Launceston, Cornwall, on 23 April 1758, the son of Philip King, draper, and his wife, a daughter of John Galley, attorney-at-law. Educated at Yarmouth, he entered the navy as a midshipman in 1770, and was promoted lieutenant in 1778. In 1783 he was a lieutenant under Phillip (q.v.) on H.M.S. Europe, and in 1787 was second lieutenant on the Sirius and arrived at Port Jackson in January 1788. Almost immediately he was made superintendent and commandant of Norfolk Island, where he arrived with a small party of military and convicts at the beginning of March. Grain and vegetables were sown with success, and gradually other convicts were sent to the Island. In December 1789 he was made lieutenant-governor, but was recalled by Phillip and sent to England in the Supply with dispatches. He arrived in London in December 1790 and was able to give the English authorities particulars of the true state of things in New South Wales and at Norfolk Island. On 2 March 1791 he was promoted to the rank of commander, and returned to Sydney where he arrived in September. Almost immediately he went to Norfolk Island and resumed his governorship. He found much to do as new batches of convicts were constantly arriving, and by October 1792 the population of the island was over a thousand. In December 1795 he was seriously ill and a kindly letter from Governor Hunter (q.v.) to him suggested that he should not try to do so much. He obtained leave to go to England, sailed in October 1796, and arrived in May 1797. He endeavoured to obtain promotion without success, and in October considered resigning his position as lieutenant-governor in the hope of getting some other employment in the navy. In January 1798 it was decided that he should go out to New South Wales with a dormant commission as governor-general "in the case of the death or during the absence of Captain John Hunter". On 16 April 1800 he arrived in Sydney with dispatches advising Hunter that he was to return to England and place the government in King's hands. Hunter did not leave until 28 September 1800.
King was faced with similar difficulties to Hunter's. Macarthur (q.v.) was the leader of the military party and endeavoured to induce his brother officers to boycott the governor. His commanding officer, Colonel Paterson (q.v.), would not agree, so Macarthur involved Paterson in a duel and severely wounded him. King acted with decision and in November 1801 sent Macarthur to England to be tried by court-martial. An immense dispatch was prepared giving full particulars from the governor's point of view, which was found to have disappeared when the vessel bearing it reached England. A reasonable inference is that Macarthur or some associate of his must have been responsible for this and it gave him an immense advantage. No inquiry appears to have been held into the disappearance of the dispatch. King in Australia continued his fight against the traffic in spirits, encouraged explorations, made financial reforms, and refused to allow increases in the price of food. Every effort on one occasion was made to induce him to raise the price of wheat from eight to fifteen shillings a bushel. In 1802 he was able to inform the home government that "the colony has not, nor can have any further occasion for grain or flour being sent from England whatever accidents may happen". It was still necessary however to import salt meat.
The trouble with the military officers persisted, and in a dispatch dated 9 May 1803 King, feeling the strain of the imputations placed on his conduct, asked for leave of absence to enable him to defend himself. (H. R. of A., vol. IV, p. 244.) The dispatch in reply' dated 30 November, treated King's letter as though it were a resignation. He was notified in 1805 that Captain Bligh (q.v.) would be his successor. King's recall was probably due to Macarthur having been able to give his version of the trouble with the officers, while King had no opportunity of saying anything in rebuttal. Bligh did not actually arrive until 6 August 1806. King who had been in ill health for some time left for England on 10 February 1807. He visited his old friend Phillip at Bath in May 1808 and died at Tooting, Surrey, on 3 September. (Gentleman's Magazine, 1808, vol. II, p. 858.) He married in 1790 Anna Josepha Coombes who survived him with a son and three daughters. The son, Phillip Parker King, is noticed separately. Mrs King was afterwards given a pension of £200 a year.
King like Hunter was a humane man, Banks on one occasion reproved him for too often reprieving offenders. The free settlers appreciated his work, and in 1803 several addresses were presented to him thanking him for his efforts, especially in "suppressing the infamous and ruinous monopolies whereby the industrious settler was prevented from supporting his family". Four of these addresses were signed by a total of over 200 settlers, and must have given some comfort to King in the midst of his manifold worries. The colony during his time slowly began to emerge from the wretched conditions of the early years, and became self-supporting. The beginning of intellectual life was suggested in the issue early in 1803 of the first newspaper, and much exploratory work was done. King showed sound administrative powers both at Norfolk Island and at Sydney, but though a stronger man than Hunter he was not strong enough to cope with the military officers, who were determined to maintain their vested interests.
Burke's Colonial Gentry, vol. I; John Hunter, An Historical Journal, etc.; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. I to VII; Historical Records of N.S.W., vols. II to V; G. Mackaness, Admiral Arthur Phillip; H. V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion; Mrs Marnie Bassett, The Governor's Lady.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.