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Philip Parker King

naval surveyor

Philip Parker King

Philip Parker King was born on Norfolk Island on December 13, 1791, the son of Philip Gidley and Anna Josepha (Coombe) King, and, after 1796, grew up in England. When his father was made Governor of New South Wales in 1799, Philip was placed in the care of a minister in Essex.

Nominated to Portsmouth Naval Academy in 1802, King entered the Royal Navy as midshipman aboard HMS Diana in 1807. He subsequently spent a total of six years in the North Sea, the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean Sea. He was promoted to Master's Mate in 1810, and to Lieutenant in 1814. In 1817, he married Harriet Lethbridge, with whom he had eight children.

In 1817, King was appointed to explore and survey those parts of the Australian coast not previously charted by Matthew Flinders. He arrived at Port Jackson in September of that year, and set out from Sydney with the 84-ton cutter Mermaid and a 19-man crew on December 22. From February until June 1818, the expedition surveyed the coast as far as Van Diemen's Gulf. In June, the Mermaid visited Timor, and then returned to Sydney, arriving on July 29.

Next December and January, King surveyed the recently discovered Macquarie Harbour in Van Diemen's Land and, in May 1819, sailed for Torres Strait. He returned to Sydney on January 12, 1820.

The Mermaid sailed north from Sydney on June 14, 1820. At Bowen she ran aground and suffered much damage. Surveys were made between Admiralty Gulf and Brunswick Sound on the northwest coast, but in September the ship began to leak badly and ten days were spent repairing her. King then left the coast and sailed to Port Jackson where, after a narrow escape from wreck off Botany Bay, he arrived on December 9.

King's fourth and final survey in northern Australia was undertaken with the 170-ton Bathurst, which carried a complement of thirty-three. The Bathurst sailed on May 26, 1821 from Sydney by way of Torres Strait to the northwest coast. After a visit to Mauritius for rest and refreshment, the Bathurst resumed the survey of the west coast. King arrived back in Sydney in April 1822. On his four voyages, King 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.

voyages of Philip Parker King

King had been promoted to Commander during his final expedition (on July 27, 1821), and upon arriving at Sydney was ordered to return to England with his ship. Before departing, he read a paper, 'On the maritime geography of Australia', to the newly formed Philosophical Society of Australia. He was in poor health by the time he returned to England in April 1823. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in February 1824, and published his two-volume Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia. Performed Between the Years 1818-1822 in 1826. In May 1826, King sailed in command of HMS. Adventure, with HMS Beagle in company, to chart the coasts of Peru, Chile and Patagonia, a voyage that laid the foundation for Charles Darwin's expedition. By the time the expedition returned to England in October 1830, King, who had been promoted to Captain, was again in poor health. Sailing Directions to the Coasts of Eastern and Western Patagonia, and the Straits of Magellan and the Sea-Coast of Tierra del Fuego was published in 1832.

In 1832, King decided to take up residence on property he owned just outside Sydney. In February 1839, King was appointed to the New South Wales Legislative Council, and in April the same year, was appointed resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company, a position he held for ten years. In addition to managing his extensive land holdings and his other duties, King kept up his interest in exploration and drawing. In 1837-38, he made an expedition to the Murrumbidgee and recorded his observations. In December 1838 and January 1839, he visited New Zealand and Norfolk Island in the Pelorus. His field books of surveys in the neighborhoods of Parramatta, Newcastle and elsewhere in 1843-55 occupy eight volumes. In 1843, he made a survey of Port Stephens. He published articles in the Nautical Magazine and the Zoological Journal and printed some of his papers on a small private press. He was promoted to Rear Admiral on the retired list in 1855.

On the evening of February 26, 1856, King dined on board the Juno as the guest of Captain S. G. Fremantle. He was cheerful, but unable to enjoy his meal because of his poor health. He was put ashore and walked to his home in North Sydney, where he collapsed at the gate in an apoplectic fit from which he did not recover.


Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australian Museum

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This page was last updated on 12/13/2018.