New Forest to New South Wales - Arthur Phillip's journey
- 14 July 2014
- From the section Hampshire & Isle of Wight
Two hundred years after his death, one of Australia's founding fathers is being remembered in the Hampshire village where he farmed before his epic journey to the Antipodes.
The rural knowledge Captain Arthur Phillip gained at Lyndhurst in the New Forest was to prove key in the survival of the first settlement in New South Wales.
Captain Phillip's connection to the area had been all but forgotten until historian Bev Major began investigating his local ties.
His six-year campaign to have Mr Phillip recognised in the forest is culminating with a visit from the current governor of New South Wales.
He believes he ranks alongside Captain James Cook in the early European colonisation of Australia.
The annual Australia Day on 26 January marks the anniversary of his arrival in Sydney Cove in 1788, leading the First Fleet of convicts, soldiers and settlers which began European colonisation.
Mr Major described Captain Phillip as an "exceptional seaman" who had served with distinction and rose quickly through the ranks of the merchant and royal navies.
His move to Hampshire at the age of 24 followed his marriage to the "fabulously rich" widow Margaret Denison, 15 years his senior, who owned the Vernalls estate at Lyndhurst.
Angela Trent, curator of a National Lottery-funded exhibition, Celebrating Arthur Phillip at Lyndhurst Museum, has unearthed more about his time living as a "gentleman farmer" at Vernalls.
Documents show £2,000 of improvements were carried out during Captain Phillip's tenure, including feather beds, mahogany furniture and a "well stocked fish pond".
The agricultural skills he learnt would prove invaluable when he led the First Fleet and more than 2,000 people had to sustain themselves in an alien land on the other side of the world.
"All his farming skills would have been learnt during his time at Vernalls," said Mrs Trent.
"The New Forest soil is not good and he used that experience when he arrived to find Botany Bay was no good for farming. He carried on to find Port Jackson - later named Sydney Harbour."
Mr Major found that Captain Phillip took Henry Dodd, his former gardener at Vernalls, on the voyage.
Dodd's horticultural knowledge would prove critical in helping the settlement survive its first winter, as he was able to work out when to plant vegetables in the reverse seasons of the southern hemisphere.
The ships had stopped at Cape Town and purchased 100 vines which Dodd planted on the land now occupied by Sydney Opera House - they produced grapes for the first Australian wine.
Mr Major has speculated the name of Captain Phillip's house in Lyndhurst, Glasshayes, could be a reference to glasshouses which were beginning to be used for growing exotic fruit such as grapes and pineapples which Dodd could have had expertise in.
Also on board the First Fleet as chaplain was the former curate of nearby Boldre, Richard Johnson.
As well as building the first Christian church and schools in Australia, Johnson also introduced limes, lemons and peaches from seeds he had picked up in Rio de Janeiro.
He was also the first to grow grain in Sydney, on an area known as The Glebe. A Georgian house called Lyndhurst is among the buildings currently on the site in central Sydney, although it is not known if there is a direct connection to the New Forest village.
Boldre Parish Church, as well as Lyndhurst, are those venues which Mr Major believes could be marketed as tourist destinations for Australians interested in tracing the origins of their nation.
"When I started barely anyone knew Arthur Phillip was in the New Forest - he was completely forgotten. There's lots more that can be made of this and the potential of tourism is unbelievable," he said.
Captain Phillip established a stable colony despite serious hardship, illness and conflict with the indigenous Australian population.
Such is the esteem Captain Philip is held in by Australians, newspapers in the 1940s reported an attempt to transport the Vernalls farmhouse to Australia, brick-by-brick, as happened to Captain Cook's cottage in North Yorkshire.
The idea came to nothing and the original farmhouse was demolished in the 1950s, although enough bricks were left to be incorporated into a memorial to Captain Phillip in Sydney's botanical gardens.
As part of the events marking the bicentennial of his death, The Duke of Edinburgh attended the dedication of a memorial stone at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday.
Mr Major said: "It's a fantastic story. The Australians are very proud of him and are keen he is remembered - and so should we be."