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Dibbs, Sir Thomas Allwright (1833–1923)

by G. J. Abbott

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Sir Thomas Allwright Dibbs (1833-1923), banker, was born on 1 November 1833 in Sydney, the second son of John Dibbs, master mariner, and his wife Sophia Elizabeth, née Allwright. He attended the Australian College and at 14 began work in the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney. He became its accountant in 1857, inspector in 1860, manager in March 1867 and general manager in 1882. At his retirement in 1915 he was voted a pension of £2000 and made an honorary director. He was also a substantial shareholder of the bank, having begun to buy shares in the early 1850s; he thereafter accumulated more by purchase.

The bank's annual report for 1923 recognized that 'the Bank, as it stands today is a monument to [Dibbs's] ability and faithful service'. Under his prudent management the bank progressed and was extolled for its success, particularly for its high annual dividends in 1867-92. In 1893 when several Sydney banks foundered, it weathered the crisis by closing its doors in May to permit reconstruction. This action, instituted on Dibbs's insistence, was justified but much criticized as completely unnecessary because the bank was then considered solvent. Its reopening in June in a healthy condition was later credited to Dibbs's ability to do 'the right thing at the right time', and increased his repute for skilful management, clear judgment, quick perception, decisive action and genuine concern for the welfare of the bank's employees.

In his last thirty years with the Commercial Bank Dibbs became a doyen in the Australian banking community; his opinions on banking and finance were much respected and his advice was often sought by the New South Wales government. His brother George who was premier in 1891-94 may not have been as dependent on his advice as has sometimes been claimed, because Thomas was in England in 1892 and because the brothers were temporarily estranged. Dibbs published a useful booklet, Interest Tables, in 1877 and was also responsible for shaping some important banking practices in Sydney, particularly the form of the daily settlement and the exchange system set up in 1888. He also had a long association with the Bankers' Institute of New South Wales and was its president in 1901.

His family connexions, his standing in financial circles and his wide interests won Dibbs prominence in New South Wales. He was appointed to the Civil Service Inquiry Board in 1887 and was president of the committee of inquiry into public accounts in 1900. A keen yachtsman, he was a commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. He was active in diocesan affairs of the Church of England and his philanthropic interests included the Sydney Naval Home and the Queen Victoria Home for Consumptives; in June 1915 he gave his home, Graythwaite, to the Commonwealth government as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. Equipped and furnished from the proceeds of a public appeal it was opened in 1916 under the control of the Red Cross Society. Dibbs was knighted in 1917. He died in Sydney on 18 March 1923, survived by his wife Tryphena, née Gaden, whom he had married at Sydney in 1857, and by six daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at more than £133,000.

A portrait is at the head office of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1915, 19, 20 Mar 1923
  • Dibbs family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. J. Abbott, 'Dibbs, Sir Thomas Allwright (1833–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dibbs-sir-thomas-allwright-308/text5181, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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