Rear Admiral Phillip Parker King

Phillip Parker King was born on 13 December 1791 at Norfolk Island, the son of Philip Gidley King and his wife Anna Josepha, née Coombe. Young Phillip sailed for England with his parents in October 1796 in the Britannia. When his father left England in November 1799 to be Governor of New South Wales, Phillip was placed under the tuition of Rev S Burford in Essex. In 1802 he was nominated to the Portsmouth Naval Academy. In November 1807 he entered the Navy in the Diana. He became a Midshipman and served six years in the North Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean, being promoted Master's Mate in 1810 and Lieutenant in February 1814.

There is no record of King's early surveying experience but according to family tradition, Matthew Flinders, a friend of the family, interested him in surveying and introduced him to Captain Thomas Hurd, hydrographer to the Admiralty 1808-23, who gave him careful training. In 1817 the British Government decided that 'circumstances consequent upon the restoration of Peace...rendered it most important to explore, with as little delay as possible, that part of the coast of New Holland...not surveyed or examined by the late Captain Flinders', and appointed Lieutenant King to do this. Before he departed King married Harriet, daughter of Christopher Lethbridge, of Launceston, Cornwall. He arrived at Port Jackson in September 1817 in the Dick with instructions from the Colonial Office to Governor Macquarie that he was to be provided with the most suitable vessel and a carefully chosen crew. The 84-tonne cutter Mermaid was bought and the expedition sailed from Sydney on 22 December with a complement of nineteen including Allan Cunningham, JS Roe and Bungaree, an Australian Aborigine. By way of King George Sound they reached North West Cape where the survey began.

From February until June 1818 the expedition surveyed the coast as far as Van Diemen's Gulf and had meetings with Aborigines and Malay proas. In June the Mermaid visited Timor and then returned to Sydney the way she had come. Next December and January King surveyed the recently discovered Macquarie Harbour in Van Dieman's Land and sailed in May 1819 for Torres Strait. He took John Oxley as far as the Hastings River, and went on the survey the coast between Cape Wessel and Admiralty Gulf. He returned to Sydney on 12 January 1820.

King made his fourth and final survey in northern Australia in the Bathurst, 170 tonnes, which carried a complement of thirty-three, not counting a girl who had stowed away for love of the boson; in place of Bungaree King took another Australian Aborigine named Bundell. Between 26 May 1821 and April 1822 King travelled, surveying where necessary, from Sydney via Torres Strait to the north-west coast of Australia, on to Mauritius for rest and refreshment, then back along the west coast of Australia before returning to Sydney. On these four voyages he made significant contributions to Australian exploration by establishing the insularity of several islands, by investigating the inner geography of many gulfs, and by giving the first report of Port Darwin. When King reached Sydney he was ordered to return to England with his ship, arriving in April 1823. He did not return to Australia for eight years.

King was now recognised as one of Britain's leading hydrographers and in February 1824 was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He published his Australian surveys at London in 1826. In May 1826 he sailed in command of HMS Adventure, with HMS Beagle in company, to chart the coasts of Peru, Chile and Patagonia. This arduous task lasted until 1830. When the expedition returned to England in October 1830 King, who had been promoted Captain, was in poor health. In 1832 he reached Sydney in the Brothers, with the prospect of retiring to his Australian estates.

During the 1820s, King's Australian estates included 660 acres near Rooty Hill granted by his father in 1806, another 600 acres given to him by Governor Macquarie, and Governor Brisbane offered him a further grant of 3000 acres. In 1824 King became a shareholder in the Australian Agricultural Co, newly established with a capital of £1,000,000 and a promise of 1,000,000 acres in New South Wales. In February 1829 King had been appointed to the New South Wales Legislative Council but was not able to take his place since he was absent from the colony. King was appointed to the New South Wales Legislative Council in February 1839 by Governor Gipps who reported 'though connected by family ties with what is here called the anti-emancipist party' he was 'liberal in his politics, as well as prudent and moderate in his general bearing'. King was also appointed commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Co for ten eventful years of its history. They saw the transition from mainly convict to mainly free labour, drought and depression in 1838-45, the abandonment of the company's claim to a coal monopoly, and the initiation of a plan to dispose of much of the company's land to small settlers. As a pastoralist and manager King kept up his interest in exploration and drawing. In later life he made expeditions to the Murrumbidgee, Port Stephens, the Parramatta and Newcastle regions as well as visiting Norfolk Island and New Zealand.

King was seriously ill in November 1854. In 1855 he was promoted Rear Admiral on the retired list. On the evening of 26 February 1856 he dined on board the Juno as the guest of Captain SG Fremantle and later that evening collapsed at the gate of his home in North Sydney. He did not recover. He was survived by his wife and eight children.

King was the first and for years the only Australian-born person to attain eminence in the world outside the Australian colonies. In 1836 Darwin described him as 'my beau ideal of a captain', but later commented that his journal abounded with 'Natural History of a very trashy nature'.

Image: Admiral Phillip Parker King (undated)
John Oxley Library, State Library Of Queensland collection