Originally from England, Philp was a painter, lithographer, architectural draughtsman and amateur actor who migrated to Melbourne in 1853. He lived there until 1865 when he suddenly disappeared, reportedly with a great sum of money he had stolen.
painter, lithographer, architectural draughtsman and amateur actor, was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, son of James George Philp (1816-85), a painter of Cornish marine subjects, and Jane, née Gluvias. His father was a well-known stationer, printer and publisher and his sister Elizabeth became a noted singer, composer and writer of popular songs. In 1836 the Philp family moved to Bristol then in 1846 to London where young Philp trained as a lithographer and his father exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy. During 1852, until he left for Australia in November, J.B. Philp was in partnership with Franklin Philp in a lithographic and printing business at 2 Copthall Buildings, London.
Philp reached Melbourne aboard the Arrogant in April 1853. That same month he attended the meeting founding the Victorian Fine Art Society. At the society’s exhibition in August he showed three pictures. Two subjects (for sale) were frequently painted by his father – Padstow, Cornwall, England and Burning of the Steam-Ship Amazon – and the third was Scene in Switzerland . The unreliable catalogue attributed the first to 'J.B. Philps’, the second to 'J.B. Phelp’ and the last to 'Phelps’. Philp (as 'Phelp’) was listed as a resident practising artist of 8 Right-of-Way, 135 Little Bourke Street West. At the first exhibition of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 1857, he showed Mouth of the Umvoti River, Indian Ocean , a drawing also for sale.
Initially Philp established his lithographic business at his Little Bourke Street residence, but by October 1853 he had moved it to 123 Little Collins Street East, advertising as a lithographic and wood draughtsman able to undertake sketches of gentlemen’s residences and draw ground plans and elevations. About this time he lithographed sketches by Edmund Thomas published by Huxtable & Co. as well as views of the Unitarian Church, Melbourne, and Trinity Church, Williamstown, possibly from his own sketches. Succeeding F. Cogné in 1864, he lithographed plates for The Melbourne Album printed and published by Charles Troedel . He was secretary of the short-lived Melbourne Lithographic and Engraving Association, secretary of the Civil Service Cricket Club and, in 1861, secretary of the Garrick Club in whose amateur dramatic performances he acted.
In November 1853 Philp had joined the Department of Crown Lands as a lithographic draughtsman. He continued to work there until he left Melbourne in 1865, presumably in a great hurry, as he was reported in September to have 'absconded with moneys to the amount of £200 belonging to the St Kilda Savings Bank, and £70 belonging to the committee of some Civil Service Athletic Sports, got up in aid of the Leichhardt Search Fund’.