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Cimitiere, Gilbert (?–1842)

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

Gilbert Cimitiere (d.1842), soldier and commandant, joined the army as a French migrant and saw service in Flanders in the ranks of the 14th Regiment in 1793. For distinguished conduct in leading the regiment to safety he was commissioned an ensign in the 6th Regiment in 1795. Next year he transferred to the 48th as a lieutenant; he served in the West Indies, was promoted captain in 1804, and in the Peninsular war in 1809-14 won a gold medal at the battle of Albuera, and promotion to the rank of major in 1811. He arrived with a division of the 48th Regiment in Sydney in September 1817. Next March he was appointed commandant at Port Dalrymple in place of Major James Stewart and with three other officers and eighty men arrived at his Launceston headquarters in April 1818.

Cimitiere found no suitable residence for himself or quarters for his men; convict labour was scarce and the government store poorly equipped. A succession of half-hearted and often incompetent commandants had dissipated their scanty resources, bickered with their officers and magistrates, and neglected the northern settlers they were supposed to protect, while Launceston had languished because Governor Lachlan Macquarie had set his heart on creating new headquarters for Port Dalrymple at George Town, close to Bass Strait.

Cimitiere's first report to Macquarie was hopeful and won for him promises of plentiful supplies, labour, tools and a chaplain when he moved to George Town; but although convicts were sent and building pressed forward, Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell disapproved the settlement of this 'seaside resort', showed little sympathy for Cimitiere's linguistic difficulties and disciplinary problems, and frequently disapproved of his actions. In turn, Cimitiere became resentful and infected his officers with his sense of impotence. In May 1819 he moved to his new headquarters, and the greater isolation of George Town made it easier for him to control his personnel, but he was soon in trouble for exceeding his powers and ignoring Sorell's instruction to visit Launceston regularly. His promotion to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 12 August 1819 stiffened his independence after he heard the news early in 1820, and Sorell's wrath was provoked when his motives were questioned in a 'most disrespectful' letter; though Cimitiere apologized, Sorell complained to Macquarie in May about Cimitiere's 'want of Judgment … and a petulant and latterly an insubordinate tone' in his communications.

By this time Commissary Frederick Drennan had made yet another of his frequent allegations about the misuse of government cattle and the improper issue of stores. Into these accusations Cimitiere asked for an inquiry by court martial; instead, Macquarie referred them to Commissioner John Thomas Bigge. He visited Port Dalrymple in September 1820, acquitted Cimitiere of dishonourable and fraudulent conduct, but directed severe strictures at Macquarie for the decay and dilapidation at Launceston.

When the governor visited Port Dalrymple in May 1821, six months after receiving Bigge's criticisms, he had to abandon his carriage on the impassable road from Launceston and finish his journey to George Town in a barge. There he found that Cimitiere had built a comfortable commandant's house, quarters for civil and military officers, barracks for the troops, huts for the convicts, as well as a gaol, guardhouse, store, chapel and schoolhouse. He praised these improvements and commended the 'Zeal and attention' of the commandant; but on the question of the suitability of George Town, no comment had been received from London before Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cameron relieved Cimitiere in December 1822. He returned to Sydney, soon took over command of the 48th Regiment, and for twelve months acted as lieutenant-governor under Sir Thomas Brisbane. He sailed with the regiment in 1824 for India but returned to England next year in bad health and retired in 1828. He died in Jersey on 14 October 1842.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-11, series 3, vols 2-4
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1934)
  • L. Macquarie, Journals of His Tours in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1810-1822 (Syd, 1956).

Citation details

'Cimitiere, Gilbert (?–1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cimitiere-gilbert-1895/text2233, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 December 2018.

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

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