James Phillis 1797-1889

Phillis__James-0   James Phillis was born 1797 at Eastry, Kent, England, and aged 42 years when he arrived in South Australia aboard Duchess of   Northumberland on 19th December 1839, finally stepping onto land on the 21st December 1839 at Port Misery. Six of his eight children, George, Charlotte, Eliza, Emma, Harriet and James, accompanied he and his wife Susanna (nee Chapman) with an assisted passage, (Application 5146, Embarkation 3237). Sons William (Application 5303, Embarkation 3238) and Thomas (Application 5304, Embarkation 3239) also arrived on the same ship, but travelled as adults in their own right.

An account of the journey can be found here

Susanna Phillis had given birth to youngest child, James, in October 1839, and with the conditions experienced on board, often with poor food lacking in quantity and quality, she died just a few days after the arrival in South Australia. Recorded in the Burial Register of the Holy Trinity Church on 30th December 1839, she is probably buried at West Terrace Cemetery.

This left James Phillis senior with a young family. He decided to join forces with his brother-in-law, Henry Bushell, and his sister, Charlotte, who had arrived in South Australia on board ship Africaine in 1836, and initially settled at Kangaroo Island where Henry built a ship for the South Australian Company. They had moved to Adelaide by 1840, therefore being able to assist in the upbringing of the Phillis children.

James began work as a watchman at Old Port Adelaide, but was planning to purchase land on which to bring up his family. Family folklore states that he spent weekends exploring the Mount Lofty Ranges, looking for suitable farming land, and by 1842 he with sons, William, Thomas and George, were squatting, and preparing land in the Mount Pleasant area with built accommodation for the family. The family moved to the region in 1843, and raised the first crop of wheat, harvesting it and carting it to market in Adelaide.

In 1844 Land of the Eastern Sources of the Torrens Special Survey became available and James procured the lease of a large section.

James Phillis and family are credited with having named this area Mount Pleasant; perhaps as a reminder of the farming property (and hill) near their Eastry home in Kent; property names in the district commemorate those farming areas from whence the family came in Kent, but it could also perhaps have been in honour of James’ sister, Pleasant; there is no definitive explanation, but it can certainly be appreciated that the name is a most suitable one.

James is credited by the family as having returned to England in 1843, after the sale of his wheat and bringing back to South Australia a selection of Romney Marsh sheep, from which a stud was established at Updown Park, the pioneer property at Mount Pleasant. (Much searching of the newspapers of the day has not found any evidence of the importation of Romney Marsh sheep at this time, nor can a return to England be found until 1855.)

When land on the Eastern Sources of the Torrens Special Survey became available, James purchased sections in the Hundreds of South Rhine and Talunga, along with his sons William, Thomas and George.

By 1853 the name of Mount Pleasant was in use, with the Mount Pleasant Inn lease being granted to William McBeath. In 1856 Henry Glover surveyed the township known as Mount Pleasant, with Totness and Hendryton being surveyed by Henry Giles and John Hendry respectively, afterwards.

James travelled to England in 1855 and returned to Australia on the ship Carntyne to Melbourne and thence via ship Havilah to Adelaide with 29 family members. Whilst in England he placed a headstone on his parents grave, at St Mary the Churchyard, Eastry, Kent. It reads – John PHILLIS died 13th March 1836 aged 66. Also Charlotte, wife of the above John Phillis died 1st July 1850 aged 84. This stone was erected by their son Mr James Phillis of Adelaide, Australia. 

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Wednesday 10 January 1855 p 3 Article

Family Colonization. — A worthy settler named Phillis, of the Sources of the Torrens, who left the colony a few months ago on a visit to the place of his birth in England (Eastry, near Sandwich, Kent), has returned with two whole generations of his relatives, twenty-nine in number, for whose passages he disbursed a sum very little short of £500. It is said that he took the money with him to make purchases, but finding so many of his kindred desirous of embarking with him for the land in which he had prospered, he determined to forego his previous intentions, and to lay out his cash in enabling those who were dear to him to make his adopted home their own. Such generous conduct ought not only to command esteem but recompence.

James returned with his brother William Phillis and his wife Sarah (nee Munday), and sons Alfred and William; Robert Dewell with wife Anne (nee Phillis) and six children; James Penn with wife Frances (nee Dewell) and child; Henry Kemp with wife Pleasant (nee Phillis) and child; William Sherrif with wife Susannah (nee Phillis); John Munday with wife Sarah and two children.

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Friday 12 January 1855 p 3 Article

Prolific Wheat and Oats. — Our agriculturists will be pleased to hear that Mr. Phillis, of the Sources of the Torrens, has brought, with him from England a few bushels of wheat and oats, which he intends to sow on his own land here. Both kinds of grain were grown at Eastry, in Kent, the former yielding 64 bushels, and the latter 84 bushels per acre. We are assured by a gentleman who long resided in that exceedingly fertile district of England, that such crops are frequently produced there. Referring to the list of names of the relatives who accompanied Mr. Phillis from England, by way of Melbourne, and arrived here on the 8th instant, per steamer Havilah, some inaccuracies in the list transmitted to us have induced a revised publication ; it is as follows: — Phillis 8, Munday 4, Dewell 8, Kemp 3, Sheriff 2, Penn 3. Friend 1; total, 29.

In May 1855 James married Martha Jollop at Hindmarsh, South Australia. At this time there was no church at Mount Pleasant.

James, together with James Phillis Bushell, his son-in-law, donated the land for the Church of England church and rectory at Mount Pleasant and the first section of the cemetery in 1860, when Talunga Mission held monthly services for the Church of England community. His son, George and John Phillis Bushell, donated the second section for the cemetery, making it the size it is today, and there is a section set aside for members of the Phillis family and their descendents. James was also one of the Trustees of the church and thus responsible for the building and providing the stipend for the minister. Rev Boake and his wife arrived in 1862 and was collected from Adelaide by James Phillis, who is credited with being the first person to drive a wagon down the recently constructed Breakneck Hill, complete with furniture and goods. Some years later an organ was donated by John Phillis Bushell, a Phillis descendent.

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) Saturday 8 November 1862 p 3 Article

The Rev. Mr. Boake said he was well pleased to meet them that evening, he might say in a new capacity— viz , as one of themselves. Hitherto he had had but little opportunity of mixing amongst his people, on account of his residing at so great a distance. He continued at some length on the subject of the erection of the house, and dwelt on the great kindness he had received from the various members of the congregation, and especially referred to Mr. Phillis, who had provided him a home during the long time the parsonage had been in course of erection, and who kindly took two journeys from Mount Pleasant to Hindmarsh to remove his furniture. He was sure his friend Mr. Phillis would not regret having taken the trip, as it gave him the opportunity of being the first person who had driven a loaded wagon through the Breakneck Hill cutting….

Land purchases continued throughout many years, and there were 8 land sections left as legacies in his will to family members. The Phillis family and descendents prospered in the district.

There was a flour mill at Mount Pleasant, established in late 1860s, and having several new uses as the cropping of land declined with the advent of diseases in grain crops. The district was conducive to dairying and continues today as a grazing region, of mostly sheep and cattle.

After his second wife, Martha, died in 1875, his widowed sister, Frances Dixon, moved into Updown Park, as housekeeper. This property was left to her on his death, for her lifetime, together with furniture and effects ‘of a domestic nature’.

James lived a long and fulfilling life… he was a generous supporter of the community, but chose not to hold public positions, instead providing financial and moral support.


Register 6 September 1889

The late Mr James Phillis – This gentleman, who was the first settler at Mount Pleasant, died on August 31, at the age of 92 and was buried on September 3. The deceased gentleman landed at Holdfast Bay on December 21, 1839, and resided at the Old Port for a few years, doing duty as watchman at the landing stage. In 1843 he removed to Mount Pleasant and during that year raised the first wheat crop grown in the district.

Mr Phillis carted the grain to the city and disposed of it at half a crown a bushel. In those days there were no fences, tracks, or roads, and all the river and creeks had to be crossed in the best way possible. Mr Phillis had to send to Houghton for his letters. His career is noteworthy from many points of view, not the least being the fact that his surviving descendants include two sons, four daughters, 68 grand children, 117 great grandchildren and 3 great great grandchildren, or 194 in all. This of course means that his grand children have grandchildren, which is an unique occurrence of late years. Mr Phillis had lived in retirement on account of his age.