At twenty-three he was serving as a lieutenant in the Stirling Castle, and later on, when peace came, after a turn of farming in the New Forest, he volunteered to serve under the Portuguese Government. Leaving the Portuguese service with distinction, he rejoined the English navy in 1778, and the Admiralty at once made him master and commander of the Basilisk, fireship, soon afterwards appointing him post captain. He commanded the Ariadne, frigate, later on the Europe, and was then selected for the command of the first fleet to New South Wales. All the remarkable story of the colonizing expedition does not belong to this chapter on Phillip, but it runs through the lives of the four naval governors.
Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary of the day, selected Phillip, and Lord Howe, then at the head of the Admiralty, expressed this opinion on the appointment:—
“I cannot say the little knowledge I have of Captain Phillip would have led me to select him for a service of this complicated nature; but as you are satisfied of his ability, and I conclude he will be taken under your direction, I presume it will not be unreasonable to move the King for having His Majesty’s pleasure signified to the Admiralty for these purposes as soon as you see proper, so that no time may be lost in making the requisite preparations for the voyage.”
It took a long time to prepare the expedition, and when the fleet sailed from Spithead on May 13th, 1787, the transports had been lying off the Motherbank with their human freight on board for months before; yet, through the neglect of the shore officials, they sailed without clothing for the women prisoners and without enough [Sidenote: 1787] cartridges to do much more than fill the pouches of the marine guard.
There were eleven sail altogether: the Sirius, frigate, the Supply, tender, six transports, and three storeships. The frigate was an old East Indiaman, the Berwick. She had been lying in Deptford Yard, had been burnt almost to the water’s edge not long before, and was patched up for the job. The Supply was a brig, a bad sailer, yet better in that respect than the Sirius, though much overmasted; she was commanded by Lieutenant Ball.
The expedition was a big affair, and it seems curious enough nowadays that so little interest was taken in it. There were more than a thousand people on board, and one would have thought that if the departure of the convicts did not create excitement, the sailing of the bluejackets and the guard of about 200 marines bound for such an unknown part of the world would have set Portsmouth at any rate in a stir. But the Fitzherbert scandal, the attack on Warren Hastings, and such-like stirring events were then town talk, and at that period there were no special correspondents or, for the matter of that, any newspapers worth mentioning, to work up popular excitement over the event.