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Phillips, Samuel Pole (1819–1901)

by Rica Erickson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Samuel Pole Phillips (1819-1901), 'Squire' pastoralist, was born on 11 March 1819 at Culham, Oxfordshire, England, youngest son of John Phillips and his wife Anne Francis, née Shawe. Though educated for the Anglican ministry at Winchester College, he migrated in the Montreal to Western Australia, arriving in 1839. With Edward Hamersley, a relation by marriage, he bought land in the Toodyay Valley where he built his homestead, Culham.

Phillips was a director for the Toodyay District on the Western Australian Roads Trust in 1840-42 and 1847. Appointed a district magistrate in 1840 and a justice of the peace in 1855, he served for many years. In 1847 he married Sophia (1829-1902), eldest daughter of J. S. Roe; she was the first child born to any of the official party after the Parmelia arrived in 1829. Roe commemorated his son-in-law in Phillips River and Culham Inlet on his southern exploration in 1848-49.

Like most others Phillips faced ruin in the depressed years and talked of leaving the colony but when convicts arrived in 1850 his fortunes soon recovered. Hamersley & Co. with Lockier Burges as working partner, took up a vast cattle run on the Irwin River and next year overlanded cattle there. Phillips periodically visited the station but devoted most of his time to horse-breeding on his Toodyay runs. He was a founder of the Western Australian Turf Club in 1852 and the Newcastle Race Club in 1865. In his English drag and four fine horses he followed every race meeting and was noted for skilful driving and fearless riding. While on a visit to Adelaide in 1865 he was presented with a silver jug from the citizens and a silver medal from the Humane Society for riding into stormy seas to rescue drowning men from the immigrant ship Electric.

St Phillips's Church at Culham, opened on 19 July 1857, was begun in 1849 after a visit by his brother-in-law, Bishop Short, but work was suspended when the Phillipses visited England in 1853-55. They returned with two family friends and three thoroughbred stallions. The three men became partners in breeding horses for the lucrative India market. Phillips's already large pastoral leases north of Culham were extended beyond Bolgart Springs for several miles. The partnership broke up in 1858, and in the depressed 1870s Phillips had to relinquish many of his Toodyay pastoral leases.

Phillips led a very active public life. In 1857-72 he was a nominee in the Legislative Council. He was then elected to the Toodyay Roads Board in 1872-78 and 1881-83, mostly serving as chairman. He boasted that the roads from Perth to Culham were the best in the colony, but his high-handed methods lost him his seat. For short periods in 1876, 1878 and 1880 he acted as resident magistrate for the Toodyay District. Long accustomed to undisputed rule on the bench, he met his match in Octavius Burt, resident magistrate in 1880-84, and Phillips was obliged to apologize for his rudeness and offensive behaviour. He then retired from public life.

About 1880 his eldest son Samuel James (1855-1920) took over the management of his father's share of the company's property on the Irwin River. In 1883 he was elected to the Irwin Roads Board and sometimes chairman. In 1885 he was appointed a justice of the peace and represented Irwin in the Legislative Assembly in 1890-1904. In 1891 he had planned the town of Mingenew, the only privately surveyed townsite in the colony, when the Midland railway was built across his land. He died unmarried on 20 June 1920. The second son John Hugh (1860-1917) married Laura Lukin in 1881 and managed his father's properties in the Toodyay Valley.

Culham was always conducted in the best English county tradition and the 'Squire' continued to dominate the valley until he died on 13 June 1901. Over six feet (183 cm) tall and bearded to his chest, he had an imposing appearance. His abrupt manner and quick temper were offset by fondness for children, practical joking and generous hospitality. His hunts for kangaroo and wild cattle were featured in the Illustrated London News (1857). For years house parties were held in Toodyay Fair week, and at Easter in the 1890s a special train from Perth brought cricketers and supporters to the Culham cricket match and race meeting. In pampered old age, beset by gout, he was wheeled round Culham in a bathchair and sometimes driven in a low dogcart with his wife to call on neighbours. These he regarded as his tenants and they humoured him by springing to attention and pulling forelocks, an English custom scorned by the young folk but treasured by their elders. Despite his faults they recognized him as 'a gentleman born'.

Phillips, his wife and several of their nine children were buried at St Phillips's. Culham is still held by descendants, and incorporated in a wing of the old homestead is the original stone building in which the 'Squire' first lived.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years' Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
  • A. T. Thomas, History of Toodyay (Perth, 1949)
  • F. W. Gunning, Lure of the North (Perth, 1952)
  • P. U. Henn (ed), Wollaston's Albany Journals (Perth, 1954)
  • R. Stephens, ‘Mingenew story’, JRWAHS, 5 (1959), pt 5
  • R. Erickson, ‘Early days at Bolgart’, JRWAHS, 6, (1964), pt 3
  • Northam Advertiser, 13 June 1901
  • Newcastle Herald and Toodyay District Chronicle, 11 Oct 1902
  • Sophia Phillips diary (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Toodyay records and Toodyay Roads Board minute books (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Rica Erickson, 'Phillips, Samuel Pole (1819–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/phillips-samuel-pole-4397/text7167, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 16 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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