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Bibb, John (1810–1862)

by Morton Herman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Bibb (1810-1862), architect, was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Samuel Bibb and his wife Phoebe, née Rogers. He arrived in Sydney in 1832 in the Marianne.

Bibb became assistant to John Verge who was Sydney's leading architect, and when Verge gave up his practice in October 1837 he appointed Bibb to collect all outstanding debts. Bibb began his own practice with offices at 3 Phillip Street; he described himself as a surveyor but the term was then practically synonymous with architect. His first work was the completion of Lyons Terrace, which Verge had begun. The terrace was at the south end of Hyde Park, Sydney, and was one of the most conspicuous buildings in the city for half a century. Works which Bibb did in his own right included the Union Bank at the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets, built in 1839 but later demolished. It was a handsome building in the Classic style which Bibb adopted for most of his work. By 1844 he had completed the first Baptist chapel and the first Masonic hall in Sydney, both in the Classic style; they too have disappeared.

In 1844 Bibb became auditor to the Floral and Horticultural Society and a committeeman of the Sydney School of Arts. He designed the headquarters for the school; and after 120 years it was one of the few buildings designed by Bibb still standing, although much mutilated. His most important work still remaining in 1966 was the Congregational Church in Pitt Street. Again the building was much altered, but the changes were made in complete harmony with Bibb's original design, contemporary drawings of which exist. This building reveals the importance of Bibb's work in the evolution of Australian architecture. Before his time most colonial buildings were in the simple Georgian style. The Congregational Church is a Classic revival building and an early example of Victorian architecture, with its elaborate details all following rigid architectural rules. It is a scholarly building almost pedantic in its correctness. Bibb was one of the foremost men who brought about this change in Australian architecture and his work marks the end of the Early Colonial period.

Four years after arriving in Sydney Bibb married Sarah Thompson McIntosh, by whom be had four children. In 1856 he married Sarah Nyland, by whom he had three children. He died on 5 February 1862 in his house in Cleveland Street, Redfern, after an illness of two months. His death certificate gave one cause of death as nervous exhaustion. He was buried in the churchyard of St Peter's Church, Cook's River.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fowles, Sydney in 1848 (Syd, 1848)
  • M. Herman, The Early Australian Architects and Their Work (Syd, 1954)
  • Australian, 31 Oct 1837, 28 Sept, 9 Oct 1838, 9 Apr 1839, 2 May 1841
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Sept 1842, 8 Feb, 10 July 1844
  • J. Bibb, plans (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Morton Herman, 'Bibb, John (1810–1862)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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