Phillip Parker King

Rear Admiral Phillip Parker King, FRS, RN (13 December 1791 – 26 February 1856) was an early explorer of the Australian and Patagonian coasts.[1]

Phillip Parker King
StateLibQld 2 208545 Admiral Phillip Parker King.jpg
Phillip Parker King
Phillip Parker King

(1791-12-13)13 December 1791
Norfolk Island, New South Wales, Australia
Died26 February 1856(1856-02-26) (aged 64)
North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
OccupationNaval Officer
Known forExploration of the coastline of Australia
TitleRear Admiral

Early life and educationEdit

King was born on Norfolk Island, to Philip Gidley King and Anna Josepha King née Coombe, and named after his father's mentor, Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), (first governor of New South Wales and founder of the British penal colony which later became the city of Sydney in Australia), which explains the difference in spelling of his and his father's first names. King was sent to England for education in 1796, and he joined the Royal Naval Academy, at Portsmouth, in county Hampshire, England in 1802. King entered the Royal Navy in 1807, where he was commissioned lieutenant in 1814.

Expeditions in AustraliaEdit

Voyages of King

King was assigned to survey the parts of the Australian coast not already examined by Royal Navy officer, Matthew Flinders, (who had already made three earlier exploratory voyages between 1791 and 1810, including the first circumnavigation of Australia) and made four voyages between December 1817 and April 1822. Amongst the 19-man crew were Allan Cunningham, a botanist, John Septimus Roe, later the first Surveyor-General of Western Australia, and the Aboriginal man, Bungaree.[2] The first three trips were in the 76-tonne cutter HMS Mermaid, but the vessel was grounded in 1829.[citation needed] The Admiralty had instructed King to discover whether there was any river "likely to lead to an interior navigation into this great continent". The Colonial Office had given instructions to collect information about topography, fauna, timber, minerals, climate, and the Indigenous peoples and the prospects of developing trade with them.[1]

First voyageEdit

From February to June 1818, the coast was surveyed as far as Van Diemen Gulf (between the Northern Territory and Timor) and there were many meetings with Aboriginal Australians and proas sailed by Makassans. In June the Mermaid visited Timor before returning to Sydney using the same route, arriving on 29 July.[1]

Second voyageEdit

In December 1818 and January 1819, King surveyed Macquarie Harbour in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), sailing north in May 1819 for Torres Strait. King took John Oxley as far as the Hastings River on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, and continued further up the coast to survey the coastline between Cape Wessel (Northern Territory) and Admiralty Gulf (Western Australia). King returned to Sydney on 12 January 1820.[1]

Third voyageEdit

On King's third voyage, Mermaid ran aground on the Queensland coast, but the crew did not realise how badly it had been damaged until they had rounded the tip of the Cape York Peninsula, sailed through the Torres Strait and across the northern coast as far as the Kimberley in Western Australia. When the ship was taking on water faster than it could be pumped out by the crew, King selected a spot 600 km (370 mi) north-east of present-day Broome, now known as Careening Bay, on Coronation Island, after he was forced to execute a manoeuvre known as careening, or deliberately grounding a ship so that it could be repaired. The crew did not meet any of the local Wunambal people while they were stranded there for 18 days doing the repairs, but they observed that the area was occupied,[3] with Parker commenting in his journal on the dwellings that they observed. He described not only bark shelters on the beach, but more larger and more substantial buildings on top of the hill. He also observed the remnants of sago palm nuts, which were commonly eaten along the coast.[4]

King was concerned at this point of the crew's vulnerability to the armed Makassan proas, as the Makassans harvested trepang (sea cucumbers) and traded along the northern Australian coast at that time, so he ordered the cannons to be mounted along the beach. They managed to repair the ship without incident and sailed away in early October 1820, but not before the ship's carpenter had been instructed to inscribe "Mermaid 1820" on an ancient boab tree, which still stands today.[3]

Fourth voyageEdit

King's fourth voyage was undertaken in the 154-tonne sloop HMS Bathurst. The ship headed north, through Torres Strait and to the north-west coast of the continent, including the Dampier Archipelago. Further survey of the west coast was made after a visit to Mauritius.[1]

Expeditions to South AmericaEdit

King had been promoted to commander in July 1821, and in April 1823 returned to England. He subsequently commanded the survey vessel HMS Adventure, and in company with HMS Beagle, spent five years surveying the complex convoluted coasts around the Strait of Magellan (1826–1830) at the southern tip of South America. At the same time, King put together a unique collection of Patagonian objects from local tribes living in Tierra del Fuego, which was later donated to the British Museum in London.[5][6][7] In addition to written records, King also lent his hand to drawing and watercolour painting for illustrations,[8] some of which were later used to illustrate his accounts.[9] The result was presented at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society in 1831. His eldest son, also named Philip Gidley King,[10] accompanied his father and continued as a midshipman on HMS Beagle (1832–1836) on the continuing survey of Patagonia under Robert FitzRoy, in the company of noted scientist Charles Darwin (1809–1882). King owned a property at Dunheved in the western suburbs of Sydney where he entertained Charles Darwin on Darwin's last night in Sydney in January 1836.

Later lifeEdit

The funeral of Rear Admiral Phillip Parker King, 1856, painted by Conrad Martens

King was appointed to the first New South Wales Legislative Council in 1829, however he was absent from the colony and did not take his seat and was replaced by John Campbell.[11] When King returned to the colony in 1832 he pressed for his reappointment to the council, however he was not re-appointed until February 1839.[1] In April the same year King was appointed resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company, a position he held for ten years. King offered to resign from the council on accepting this appointment, but his resignation was not accepted until October.[1][12] King was again appointed to the Legislative Council in 1850, and was elected as the member for the Counties of Gloucester and Macquarie in 1851

In 1855 King was promoted to Rear admiral on the retired list. King was a Fellow of the Royal Society.[1]

King died on 26 February 1856 at North Sydney.[1][13]


King married Harriet Lethbridge in 1817 prior to sailing to New South Wales. Harriet died at Ashfield, Sydney, on 19 December 1874.[1] Together they had eight children including :


King and his crew made valuable contributions had to the exploration and mapping of Australia, particularly the northern and western coasts. Because he and his crew were prepared to risk the danger of going in close to the shoreline, they were able to complete the valuable work of charting the entire coastline of Australia.[3]


King was honoured on the 2-pound postage stamp of Australia in 1963.

The Australian native orchid Dendrobium kingianum was named after him.

King Sound in the Kimberley region was named after him.

Six species of reptiles are named in his honour: Amphisbaena kingii, Chlamydosaurus kingii, Egernia kingii, Elgaria kingii, Hydrophis kingii, and Liolaemus kingii.[19] Chlamydosaurus kingii, the frill-neck lizard, was first collected by the botanist Cunningham at Careening Cove on the third journey in 1820 (see above).[3]


  • King, Phillip Parker (1827), Narrative of a Survey of the intertropical and western Coasts of Australia : performed between the years 1818 and 1822, London: John Murray [1] [2] [3]
  • Extracts from a letter addressed by Capt. Philip Parker King, R.N., F.R.S. and L.S., to N.A. Vigors, Esq., on the animals of the Straits of Magellan. Zoological Journal London 3:422-32. 1828.
  • Notes on birds collected by Capt. King in Chile.Proceedings of the Committee of Science and Correspondence of the Zoological Society of London, 1831: 29–30.1831
  • King, Phillip Parker (1832), Sailing Directions to the Coasts of Eastern and Western Patagonia, and the Straits of Magellan and the Sea-Coast of Tierra del Fuego, London: Hydrographical Office, Admiralty
  • King, P.P. and Broderip, W.J. Description of Cirrhipedia, Conchifera and Mollusca, in a collection formed by the officers of H.M.S. Adventure and Beagle employed between the years 1826 and 1830 in surveying the southern coasts of South America, including the Straits of Magalhaens and the coast of Tierra del Fuego. The Zoological Journal, 5: 332–349.1832
  • King, P. P. (1839), FitzRoy, Robert (ed.), Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the first expedition, 1826–30, under the command of Captain P. Parker King, R.N., F.R.S., I, London: Henry Colburn.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "King, Phillip Parker (1791–1856)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 2. Melbourne University Press. 1967. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 21 November 2014 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  2. ^ Indigenous intermediaries: new perspectives on exploration archives. Konishi, Shino, Nugent, Maria, Shellam, Tiffany. Acton, A.C.T.: ANU Press. 2015. p. 88. ISBN 9781925022773. OCLC 917505639.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Collins, Ben (7 October 2020). "Boab tree bears markings of Phillip Parker King, an Australian explorer you may not have heard of". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  4. ^ "Careening Bay". Parks and Wildlife Service (Western Australia). Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  5. ^ British Museum Collection
  6. ^ British Museum Collection
  7. ^ British Museum Collection
  8. ^ "Drawing: [untitled] watercolour: drawings: Montevideo; and [untitled] (watercolour)". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  9. ^ "Phillip Parker King (1791–1856)". Australian Museum. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  10. ^ O'Grady, Frank (1974). "King, Philip Gidley (1817–1904)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 5. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 21 November 2014 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  11. ^ "The new Council warrant has arrived". The Australian. 17 July 1829. p. 2. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via Trove.
  12. ^ "Captain Phillip Parker King, RN (1791–1856)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Memoir of Rear-Admiral Philip Parker King, FRS, FRAS, FLS". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 February 1856. p. 5. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via Trove.
  14. ^ O'Grady, Frank (1974). "King, Philip Gidley (1817–1904)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  15. ^ a b c Rogers, Dorothy A (1974). "King, John (1820–1895), William Essington (1821–1910) & Arthur Septimus (1827–1899)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  16. ^ Cable, K J. "King, Robert Lethbridge (1823–1897)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  17. ^ "King, Charles Macarthur (1824–1903)". Obituaries Australia. Australian National University. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
    "The late Mr C Macarthur King". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 September 1903. p. 6. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via Trove.
  18. ^ "Family Notices: deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 July 1895. p. 1. Retrieved 19 April 2019 – via Trove.
  19. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("King, P.P.", p. 141).


External linksEdit


New South Wales Legislative Council
New title
Member for Counties of Gloucester & Macquarie
1851 – 1856
Council replaced by new parliament