Philip Gidley King

Philip Gidley King

Governor King’s Headstone
180 years Later
The Kings have played an eminent part in Australian history since the very early days of the colony.  Many of them became closely linked with the district around St May’s.  It is now wonder, therefore, that some of their most distinguished family members, who included the Lethbridges and the Goldfinches, are buried in the graveyard of St Mary Magdalen’s Anglican Church.
The Church itself owes its very existence to the Kings.  Dating back to 1840, it bears the name, and is a replica of the sanctuary that was the Kings’ family church at Launceston, in Cornwall.  One of the very early Kings, Admiral Philip Parker King, RN, the Governor’s son, presented the land.  He did so to honour his mother’s wish to see the family church rebuilt on Australian soil.
Launceston born Philip Gidley King was the third Governor of New South Wales (1800-1806).  He had come to Australia with the First Fleet.  Appointed superintendent and commandant of the newly established settlement of Norfolk Island, he fathered two sons, Norfolk and Sydney.  Their mother was Ann Inett, a convict.
On a visit to England in 1791, King married Anna Josepha Coombes, who returned with him to New South Wales.  She must have been a person of sterling qualities, a ‘faithful and courageous woman’.  Without hesitation, she adopted her husband’s two sons, whom she treated as if they had been her own.  When they were old enough to be educated, King sent them to England, where they are said to have joined the navy, gaining commissions.  King never lost contact with them.  Their mother married a free man.

St Mary Magdalene’s Anglican Church NSW

After completing his term of office, King returned to England.  He died in Tooting (near London) on 3 September 1808.  After her husband’s death, Anna Josepha, with her family went back to Australia.  When, thirty-six years later, in 1844, she passed away, she was buried at St Mary’s.
In 1988 – 180 years after his passing and burial – on the occasion of the bicentennial celebrations the memorial slab covering King’s grave in the old country was shipped all the way to Australia, to be set in concrete next to the enclosure surrounding his wife’s grave.  It is a stone without a tomb, though its text still reads:

                                                            Here lyeth the body of
                                                            PHILIP GIDLEY KING
                                                            Captain R.N. and late
                                                         Territory New South Wales
                                                      Died Septr. 3rd. Aged 49 Years
When the idea of transferring the memorial was first mooted, it was suggested that the former Governor’s remains be exhumed, and also taken to Australia, but this proposal was rejected.  Indeed, even to move the stone roused opposition on the part of some clergymen, and permission was only granted when it was agreed that another memorial would be erected in its stead.  It was further stipulated that this had to contain the identical inscription with the additional words that The original stone was moved to St Mary’s Australia in 1988.

King Grave, St Mary Magdalene’s Anglican Church NSW

Once the original stone had been placed at its new Australian site, a consecration service was held on 31 January 1988, attended by almost 300 of King’s descendants.  It was an auspicious occasion, recalling the early history of the colony in a most personal way.



Brasch, R (1989) Even More Permanent Addresses, Collins Publishers         
Article featured in the First Fleet Folio June 1994
Church: St Mary Magdalene’s Anglican Church web site
Philip Gidley King: Wikipedia free encyclopedia on- line

The Children of Governor King
Contributed by Myrna Lethbridge and is an Appendix to The Governor’s Lady Mrs Philip Gidley King by Marnie Bassett (Melb 1961)

Phillip Parker King 13 December 1791 (Wikipedia)

The children of Governor and Mrs King were Phillip Parker (b. Norfolk Island, 13 December 1791), Anna Maria (b. Norfolk Island 22 April 1793), Utricia (b. Norfolk Island October 1795), Elizabeth (b. at sea on board East Indiaman Contractor, 10 February 1797), and Mary (b. Sydney 1 February 1805)

Phillip (m. Harriet Lethbridge 1817) had eight children: Maria (m. Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur, 1812) had eleven children, and Mary (m. Robert Copland Lethbridge 1826) had seven children.  The numerous Australian descendants of Governor King trace their connection with him directly through one of these three, Phillip, Maria or Mary.  Elizabeth married a widower named Runciman, an artist, and apparently remained in England.  Utricia died prior to August 1799.

Maria’s marriage to a Macarthur joined two families that had often been bitterly opposed; Phillip’s and Mary’s strengthened an old association.  While King was in Norfolk Island a former friend wrote to him from Cornwall to renew a broken intimacy If this gets to your hands, he wrote, I shall hope to have an answer with an account of yourself and family who no doubt begin to be numerous and a young King born in Norfolk island may perhaps some twenty years hence be ye husband of a Cornish wife.  The writer was Christopher Lethbridge of Launceston.  King kept the letter and the prophecy came true.  Indeed, not only did Phillip marry Lethbridge’s daughter Harriet in 1817, but in 1826 Lethbridge’s son Robert married Mary King.

Phillip had a notable career.  After ten years of active service he distinguished himself as a hydrographer in South American and Australian waters and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.  In later life he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral.  In 1832 he settled on his colonial estate, Dunheved, where he brought up his family of eight and devoted himself to farming and to political interests.

Governor King had two illegitimate sons.  The elder Norfolk, the first child born on Norfolk Island, was born on 8 January 1789.  The exact date and place of the birth of the second son, Sydney, has not been ascertained but was probably early in 1790 and must have been either on the Island or at Sydney itself; he could have been named after Sydney Bay, Norfolk Island, or after the parent settlement in New South Wales.  Who was their mother?  Her name will not be found anywhere set beside Governor King’s, but the tale can be pieced together from records, some already in print.  It begins on the day after the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson, while the convicts were still imprisoned on the transports and the Cove was still a place of undisturbed enchantment.  The voyage, with its horrors of overcrowding, dirt and disease, was done; the squalor of the struggle on land had not begun.  King already knew that he was to have no part in that struggle but was to leave almost at once with a small party to form a settlement on uninhabited Norfolk Island to prevent its being occupied by any other European power.  On that Sunday afternoon he went aboard the Lady Penrhyn, female convict transport, to consult Lieutenant Bowes, the surgeon respecting the characters of 5 or 6 women whom he meant to take with him.

He has made choice of such of both sexes whose characters stand fairest, says Bowes, and has held out such encouragements to them upon their behaving properly as must render their situation very comfortable; at the same time he assur’d them that he sh’d not undertake to punish them in case of misbehaviour there, as the greatest punishment he c’d inflict upon them he sh’d sent them back to this place to be dealt with according to their demerits; he also assured them that they w’d not be hardwork’d and w’d be convey’d home to England (if they chose it) at the expiration of their term of transportation, and perhaps, if they wish’d it, they w’d be sent home even before the expiration of it.  He also informed them that it was the pleasure of the Governor (Phillip) if any of them had any person among he convicts who were going to whom they have an acquaintance, or if any partiality sh’d take place between any 2 of them on their voyage to Norfolk island or after their arrival there, they had his permission to marry; that he had authorized the surgeon to perform that office, and after a time the clergyman would be sent there to remarry them.

One of the six, despite these persuasive arguments, was unwilling to go, but for the other five the unknown island apparently held more promise than the cove in which they lay.  A few days later the five were landed by themselves, and before any of the other women, in a place withdrawn from the turmoil of the main encampment on the left site of the cove, near the Governor’s house.  Their characters stood the fairest and they were to be kept so.  Another woman being found to complete the party, King sailed a week later for the Island with his little group of marines and convict men and the six women – a Sarah an Olivia, three Elizabeth’s, and one Ann – Ann Inett, of Worcestershire; and it was Ann who became the mother of King’s two sons.

During his two years on ye isle King kept a daily tabular journal of events of importance to the little community, noting the weather and such items as the amount of fish caught, persons sick or punished and crops sown or cut.  In the entry for Thursday 8 January, after the routine note on the wind and state of the surf, King wrote, 1 male child born.  Ten days later, on the Sunday – a dear morning with not the least surf – he says At 10 am performed divine service, and baptized the new-born infant by the name of Norfolk, he being the first born on the island.  No hint there of his paternity or of the emotions that must have been aroused by the event; no word, of course, of the mother: but King turned back the pages of his journal and in the margin opposite the laconic entry of 8 January, he wrote in pencil the name Norfolk.

What did King do with his two infant sons when he left the Island and Sydney in a starving condition in 1790 and set out via Batavia for England?  Even in that age of disregard for infant welfare it is hardly credible that he would take them with him on a more than ordinarily hazardous voyage: and when Mrs Parker, in her account of her Voyage Round the World, says that the Kings came aboard the Gorgon at Spithead with their family, she is almost certainly using the word loosely to denote attendants.  The earliest Island record – The Norfolk Island Victualling List – shows that Ann had left before 1792, although her five companions were still there: the probability is that she was taken away by King when he left there himself and that she and the two children remained in Sydney during his absence in England.  The List’s later entries show that Norfolk (but not the younger boy) returned from Sydney to the Island with King when the Lieutenant Governor himself returned in 1791, bringing his wife.  A year later, Ann married at Parramatta.  Her husband John Robinson had been transported for life: something of King’s debt to Ann Inett may perhaps be considered as paid when he granted her husband an absolute pardon in January 1804.  Letters show that Sydney, a delicate child, was in England in 1795, under the somewhat resentful care of his Grandmother King.  Norfolk went to England in 1796, leaving the Island just before the Governor and Mrs King and their family, and travelling alone in the Marquis Cornwallis.  William Chapman, official storekeeper on the Island and King’s unofficial secretary and their friend and confidant, wrote to his mother:

Norfolk goes home in the ‘Cornwallis”, you will therefore most likely see him in London, he is going down to Mrs. King’s mother at Bideford, and as the Govr. does not wish any of his own relations to be troubled with him he begs you will not mention it to Mrs. King or indeed to anybody, as he wishes it to be kept a secret that he is sent home, if you should see him he will give you a very particular account of the Island, and every person on it, and particularly of me.

In 1799 both boys were in the care of a Mr Chapman in Yorkshire, who educated them until they entered the Navy.  In July of that year, when King was expecting momentarily to sail from England to New South Wales and was making final arrangements for Phillip and Maria, he wrote detailed directions to Chapman respecting the Two Boys and their training in the three R’s and in religion – the observance of which he trust our Youth will never forget notwithstanding the atheistical example of our neighbours.  To the boys themselves he wrote letters that show that they were not debarred from their share of family love and care.

Dear Norfolk
I am sorry it has been out of my power either to send for you to this place, or to go and see you, as I have not been able to go out of sight of the ship for the last 18 months, and it is only now that we have received orders  … when you get on board the ‘Rowcliffe’ always say your prayes and do not forget your catechism and God will bless you and preserve you when you are fighting the French, never forget God Almighty and recollect that he sees all your actions.  If you hear others swear do not do as they do, as they have never been taught better… I hope to have a very log letter from you the first opportunity after you after you are entered a Midshipman in His Majesty’s Navy, which you must take care never to disgrace by being naughty while young or behaving ill when you are a man.  Phillip and Elizabeth desire their kind love to you.  Phillip is got to the end of subtraction, he is determined to be a sailor also.  When you go to London you will go to a gentleman who will carry you to see Maria at Greenwich.  Remember that you always love Sydney and think on all with that affection with which I am, dear Norfolk, affectionately,
        Philip Gidley King

To Sydney he writes at the same time:

You must write to Norfolk when he leaves you and always love him. You will write to me often and let me know what trade or profession you would like to be of, and I will do everything to make you a great man.  You must make yourself a good man (which you must be to be a great man) by attending to Mr Chapman’s advice and instruction.  Mrs King, Phillip and Elizabeth all desire their loves to you, and hope you will always pray for them as they do for you…

There is extant a letter from Norfolk to Phillip written in a large copy-book hand, when he was still happily one of the family and unaware of the difficulties that beset the path of children of irregular parentage.

                                                                                     January 17, 1801
                                                                                     Dear Brother
 I am with Admiral Phillip and have had the measles but am now well and taking Physick and when the Rowclift comes from Jersey I am to go on bord.  I hop you and Maria are both well and desire you will sent my Love to her when you writ to her ant when you see the Admiral who is coming to Town.  I shall be glad if you will let me hear from you being with Love and esteem
                             Dear Phillip
                                 Yours most affectionately
                                          Norfolk King
P.S. Mrs Phillip desires her Love to you and Maria and the Admiral does the same.

Australia Post pre stamped envelope First Fleet Sailors Philip Gidley King (C Timbury collection)

In 1816 when Norfolk was a lieutenant and twenty-seven years old, his father and his father’s friend, ‘the Admiral’, were dead.  The wars were over: for Norfolk they had ended with a period of captivity in American hands.  Now without influence, he was anxious to return to the part of the world where he was born.  He wrote to the Secretary of State, informing him that he was King’s son and supposed to be the first human being born on Norfolk Island, where he held a grant of land.  Settlement on the Island being now given up and the people moved to Van Diemen’s Land, he asked to be given land there to compensate him for the loss of his Island grant.  As a result, the Governor of New South Wales was directed to put Norfolk on the same footing as other ex-Island landowners, but Norfolk was informed that the Secretary of State could not grant his further request for his Lordship’s interest to enable to get out to settle in Van Diemen’s Land as free passages to the Colony were no longer given.  Norfolk’s claim to be an Island landowner was correct – at the age of four he had received 50 acres there, a property called Norfolk Farm; but the State Archives of Tasmania have no record of a compensatory grant in Van Diemen’s Land and his name continued in the Navy Lists until his death in 1839.  The Lists included Sydney, also a lieutenant, until he died 1840.  What sort of men they were, and how they spent their lives, is unknown?

Ann Inett and her husband ran an inn in Sydney for about 10 years.  They returned to England – both free and wealthy.

Article featured in First Fleet Folio April 1991


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