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Cribb, Robert (1805–1893)

by Margaret Bridson Cribb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

This is a shared entry with Benjamin Cribb

Robert Cribb (1805-1893), baker and politician, and Benjamin Cribb (1807-1874), businessman and politician, were born at Poole, Dorset, England, sons of John Galpin Cribb, master mariner, shipowner and designer, and Mary, née Dirham. The family, long resident in the area, were rigid Nonconformists and foundation members in 1670 of the Poole Independent Church. J. G. Cribb was killed in action at sea in the Napoleonic wars. His widow opened a dame's school and apprenticed the two boys to merchants. By 1832 the family was settled in Covent Garden, where Robert (b.7 January 1805) owned a confectionery and baking business and Benjamin (b.7 November 1807) manufactured blacking and sold household appliances and matches. At 22 Robert married Sarah Sanson of Wareham, Dorset, and on 28 August 1839 Benjamin married Elizabeth Brideson of Douglas, Isle of Man. Robert joined the Anti-Corn Law League and was associated with the work of Cobden and Bright. Strongly influenced by the ideas for the development of John Dunmore Lang's 'Cooksland' the brothers emigrated to Moreton Bay. Robert, his wife, four of their five children and three relations arrived on 20 January 1849 in the first Lang ship, Fortitude. Benjamin, with his wife and three children and Robert's daughter Mary, reached Moreton Bay four months later in the second Lang ship, Chaseley.

Robert settled in Brisbane where he had a bakery for about six years but later acquired extensive land holdings in and around Brisbane through his commission and land agency. Lang's Nonconformist liberal ideas, tinged with radicalism in the English tradition, had a lasting influence on both brothers. Robert, tagged by the press 'Robert the Restless', skilfully used popular meetings and public agitation to win support for his policies. He was one of the leaders of Brisbane's so-called 'merchant group' and a founder of the Queensland Liberal Association which supported such parliamentary candidates as the two Cribb brothers. Robert represented East Moreton in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 18 June to 10 December 1859, sitting with the Liberal group. He worked for separation from New South Wales, but a separation without forced labour, whether Kanaka, coolie or convict. Elected to the first Queensland parliament, he represented North Brisbane in 1860-63 and East Moreton in 1863-67. On 13 October 1859 he became an alderman of the first Brisbane Council, holding office till 1861, although he had strongly opposed incorporation before separation was achieved.

Critics have suggested that Cribb's early motive was purely desire for office. If so, he was disappointed; but he achieved much through helping such organizations as the Liberal Association and from 1870 the Political Reform Association. He was an ardent supporter of the eight-hour day and instrumental in persuading some of the town's most important contractors to concede it. At 55, after his wife died, he married Sarah Walton. He died at his home in Milton on 16 April 1893, survived by three children of his first marriage.

Short of stature, thin, loquacious and contentious, he threw himself vigorously into political fights against any revival of convictism, large-scale Catholic immigration, state aid to religious establishments, but for manhood suffrage, National education and the separation of church and state.

Benjamin, who had brought goods with him, began business in Ipswich as a general merchant in 1849. From 1 February 1858 to 11 April 1859 he represented Stanley Boroughs in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly where, like his brother, he supported separation and opposed any revival of convictism. In Queensland's Legislative Assembly he represented West Moreton in 1861-67 and Ipswich in 1870-73, but his major achievements lay in the economic and social development of Ipswich. Although he opposed its incorporation as a municipality, he later served several terms as an alderman. His wife died in 1852 and next year he married Clarissa, sister of John Clarke Foote, who became his business partner.

Benjamin Cribb did much to found the Moreton Bay Immigration and Land Co., incorporated by private statute in December 1855 to promote immigration, buy land and resell it for cotton growing. Shares were £25 each and total capital was set at £1,000,000. The twenty-nine original shareholders included Lang, the Cribb brothers and J. C. Foote. Though directors' meetings were held, the company did not seem to flourish and it was largely left to Benjamin, through Cribb & Foote, to promote cotton growing in West Moreton. From 1862, helped by government provision of a free land bonus for cotton exports, the firm financed farmers and built ginneries at Fernvale and Churchbank. In one good year seven thousand bales were exported. The cotton industry in Queensland declined after the American civil war but Cribb & Foote continued to expand as a merchant banking house. In 1863 a German immigrant, Jacob Born, was employed as the firm's agent to the local German farmers; for long he attended all Ipswich Land Court sittings to help farmers in difficulty with their rents.

Benjamin Cribb died on 11 March 1874 at Ipswich, survived by ten children from his two marriages. Two sons, Thomas Bridson and James Clarke, sat in parliament, the former being treasurer in the Philp ministry in 1901-03. They and other descendants of the founding partners continued to guide the expansion of Cribb & Foote.

Select Bibliography

  • Select Committee on Moreton Bay Immigration and Land Co's Bill: Petition and Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1855, 2, 403
  • C. Melton, ‘Fortitude Valley’, JRQHS, 2 (1920-35)
  • I. Hannah, ‘The Parliamentary Representatives of S.E. Queensland: Some Electioneering Incidents’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 3, 1936-47, pp 193-208
  • A. A. Morrison, ‘Liberal Party Organisations Before 1900’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 5, no 1, 1953, pp 752-70
  • T. Mathewson, ‘Ipswich in the Eighteen Fifties’, Journal (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), vol 6, no 2, 1959-60, pp 435-53
  • Moreton Bay Courier, 15 Sept 1849, 4, 6, 11 Dec 1860
  • Moreton Bay Free Press, 2 May, 8 Aug, 24 Oct 1854, 19, 26 Apr 1859
  • Guardian (Brisbane), 12 Feb 1862
  • Queensland Times, 12, 14 Mar, 14 Apr 1874.

Citation details

Margaret Bridson Cribb, 'Cribb, Robert (1805–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cribb-robert-3289/text4997, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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