PHILIPPS (Phillips, Phillipps), JOHN, surgeon, politician, apothecary, merchant, army officer, and office holder; b. c. 1736, the illegitimate son of John Philipps of Coedgain, Wales; m. 17 Nov. 1761 in Halifax, N.S., Judith Wood, daughter of the Reverend Thomas Wood* (she died in May 1775, survived by two daughters and four sons); d. 3 Jan. 1801 in Kensington (London), England, aged 65.
John Philipps’s early career remains a mystery, although he may have arrived in Halifax about 1760 as an assistant to the naval hospital. He is not to be confused with his contemporary, John Phillipps, a surgeon and ranger officer in Lunenburg between 1753 and 1766. On 26 April 1773 Philipps received the government appointment of medical and surgical attendant to the Halifax orphan house, presided over by Richard Wenman*. This institution was denounced by Governor Francis Legge* the next year as “a decayed, inhospitable Building, Just falling into ruins.” The management was equally decadent; rife with patronage and plagued by poverty, it eagerly received even such items as “2 Dozen ratt nawed Hatts” from government stores for the pitiful inmates.
Legge’s planned reforms for the orphan house did not include the retention of Philipps’s salary, which was stopped in October 1774. He petitioned for reimbursement in 1776, noting the “considerable expence and trouble” he had been put to on behalf of the institution, in addition to his “having Inoculated [with smallpox] Twenty of the Orphan Children and many more poor persons” during the epidemic of 1775–76. Although his salary was reinstated, it was not placed on the civil list, and in June 1778 it was again discontinued. A new petition by Philipps in 1784 resulted in a grant of £130 for attendance and medicine. In retrospect, he appears to have been merely a victim of reduced government spending, since his services, given the level of medical expertise of his time, would seem to have been both adequate and competent. Indeed, Philipps was commended in 1783 for his duty as surgeon to the Royal Nova Scotia Volunteers, in which capacity he displayed “great attention and regularity in the disposal of the hospital” on George Island in Halifax harbour.
In 1773 Philipps was elected to the House of Assembly as a member for Halifax County; he held this seat until 1785, although his political career was apparently unremarkable. Indeed, Philipps’s reputation in Halifax ultimately rests with an aspect of his career about which little is known. He expanded his medical practice about 1780 into a chemical and drug business located near the dockyard. In a vigorous, growing community, such a venture was a lucrative enterprise with little competition. Philipps reputedly used his business and medical practice to amass a considerable fortune and became a highly respected Halifax citizen, as is evidenced by his appointment as a magistrate in 1794. He returned to England about 1800 and died shortly thereafter; his will unfortunately gives no indication of his financial position.
PANS, RG 1, 163–70; RG 5, A, la–b. PRO, IND 16663 (Chancery bill book, no.58, Corbyn v. Pollock, 18 March 1843). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PANS). Gentleman’s Magazine, 1801: 90. Harry Piers, “The fortieth regiment, raised at Annapolis Royal in 1717; and five regiments subsequently raised in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 21 (1927): 115–83.