Peter James Phillips graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1956. He was on the staff of St Vincent’s Hospital for three years and then spent some time in London. In 1965 he was appointed Medical Officer at the Echuca District Hospital, a position he held until 1996.

Living in Echuca, Phillips soon became interested in the history of the River Murray paddle steamers and he got to know some of the old river boat captains. He became president of the River History Study Group in Echuca. In the course of his research, he accumulated a large collection of old photographs of river boats, some of them lent by other enthusiasts, such as Howard Buderick. Phillips himself took photographs of some of the surviving boats. His research lead to the publication of three books:

River Boat Days on the Murray, Darling, Murrumbidgee (1972)

Redgum & Paddlewheels: Australia’s Inland River Trade (1980)

Riverboat Ways: Australia’s Inland Paddlewheelers (1983).

He also wrote:

A spirit of care : Echuca District Hospital, the first hundred years (1982)

To comfort always : a hospital and its community

Kill or Cure? Lotions, Potions, Characters & Quacks of Early Australia (1978)


The Phillips Collection was acquired by the Library in instalments between 1969 and 1979. The photographs were either donated or lent for copying by Phillips.


The Phillips Collection comprises about 350 photographs, including glass negatives, and a small number of pencil sketches made by Phillips. The great majority of the photographs depict paddle steamers sailing or moored on the Murray or Darling rivers and were taken over a period of a century or more. The photographers are not usually known, but all the boats are identified.

There is a small number of photographs on other subjects, mainly Echuca and the Echuca District Hospital.


The photographs are held in the Pictures Collection. They have not been kept together as a collection, but most of them can be found filed by the name of the boat under the heading Paddle steamers. Other relevant subject headings are Bridges: Victoria, Echuca, Hospitals: Sydney, Hospitals: Victoria, River Darling, River Murray and Wharves and ports: Victoria. The photographs have not been catalogued, but a small number have been digitised.


Arnold, Sue, The Old Men and the River, The Sun (Sydney), 29 July 1981, p. 78.