Arthur Phillip  1738-1814 - First Governor of New South Wales

Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip, first governor of New South Wales and founder of the colony, is buried just inside the church door.  His second wife Isabella, who outlived him by a number of years, is buried in the same grave.  The Church now hosts an informative exhibition devoted to the 'First Fleet' which is well worth a visit.

His life

From a background of both farming and service in the Royal Navy, Phillip was chosen by Lord Sydney, Secretary of State for the Home Department, as Captain-general of a proposed expedition in 1786 to New South Wales.  He was also to be Governor of the new settlement it was intended to establish there.

The expeditionary fleet of 11 ships carrying 1487 persons, of whom 759 were convicts, sailed from Portsmouth in May 1787.  Phillip reached Botany Bay the following January, but found it unsuitable on several counts and sailed on to the harbour he named Sydney Cove.  On 26th January 1788, a party was landed at Sydney Cove and the British flag hoisted.  This date is now Australia Day.

From the outset, Phillip faced daunting difficulties.  These included poor soil for crop-growing, inefficient labour, sickness and, at one stage, near famine.  Phillip’s remarkable qualities of fairness and perseverance saw the new colony through.  He survived mutinies, encouraged friendly relations with the natives and even maintained that his own injury – an aboriginal thrust a 10 foot spear into his shoulder – was the result of “a misunderstanding”.  Contemporaries described him as wise, kind, firm, amiable, wide-visioned, humane and gentle.

After nearly five years, in pain from his injury and suffering badly from arthritis, Phillip resigned as governor of New South Wales and returned to England exhausted.  He settled at 3 South Parade, Bath.  He resumed his naval service in 1796 and the following year was in command of HMS Swiftsure when it joined Nelson’s ships blockading Cadiz.

He left the Navy in 1805 as a Rear-Admiral, and the following year settled with his second wife Isabella at 19 Bennett Street, a handsome new Georgian house just above Bath’s Assembly Rooms.  He was made Admiral of the Blue in 1813, and died in 1814.

Why is he buried in Bathampton?

The choice of a small village church like St Nicholas for Phillip’s burial in 1814 may seem strange.  However, in his day it was a mark of status to be buried in one of the outlying country churches, rather than in Bath with all its new building, and other village churchyards hold the graves of notable people from the same era.  Additionally, the position of Phillip’s grave, which is where the church porch used to be, was also a mark of status.  It would ensure that everyone entering church would remember this important man.

The Australia Chapel

The side chapel of St Nicholas was redesigned and dedicated as the Australia Chapel in 1975.  The Phillip gravestone was turned from its original east-west orientation to north-south, so that the visitor is greeted by the inscription as they enter the church.  Stained glass windows were installed showing the coats of arms of the federal government and the six Australian states.  The floor is of Australian Wombeyan marble and all the woodwork of Australian blackbean wood.  The wooden chairs were given by many Australian cities and organisations, and the donor is noted on the back of each one.

The annual Phillip Service

On the Friday each year nearest to Phillip’s birthday, 11th October, a service is held in the church in collaboration with the West Country Branch of the Britain-Australia Society.  The Australian High Commissioner, or their representative, attends with other distinguished guests from Australia and the United Kingdom and lays a wreath on Phillip’s grave.  We are joined by many with Australian connections together with children from the village primary school, and the Australian flag is proudly flown from the church tower.


We welcome the many Australian visitors who come to see the last resting place of Arthur Phillip in St Nicholas Church.  We try to keep the church open during daylight hours, but we do ask that visitors show consideration for the different services that are held during the week.

The West Country Branch of the Britain-Australia Society can be found here :

Talk on Arthur Phillip by Revd Paul Burden

The talk on Phillip in Bath delivered by Reverend Paul Burden on Saturday, 19 July in St Nicholas Church, Bathampton, preceding the unveiling of the Phillip sculpture in Bath, can be found here