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Giblin, Ronald Worthy (1863–1936)

by Ian Pearce

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Ronald Worthy Giblin (1863-1936), surveyor and historian, was born on 3 January 1863 in Hobart, son of Thomas Giblin, banker, and his wife Mary Ann, née Worthy. He was grandson of Robert Wilkins Giblin, who had arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1827, and cousin to L. F. Giblin. Educated at The Hutchins School, he received the Tasmanian Council of Education's associate of arts degree in 1879. He then travelled and worked on the land in Tasmania and Queensland until 1884 when he joined the Lands Department in Hobart. Remaining there for less than a year, he went to New South Wales where, becoming a licensed surveyor in 1889, he worked briefly for the Public Works Department and then in the Department of Lands. His surveying work was apparently highly regarded, as in 1894 he was nominated by G. H. Knibbs, then lecturer in surveying at the University of Sydney, to be one of two Australian surveyors engaged to work in the Royal Survey Department of Siam. He left for Bangkok in October. He was director of the department from 1901 until 1910, retiring with a pension and the Order of the White Elephant. In 1906 he was a founding director of the Kombok Rubber Co. Ltd which, initially Singapore based, moved its headquarters to London in 1911.

After leaving Siam, Giblin went to England and settled in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. In 1915 he was registrar at the Cheltenham Red Cross Centre for wounded soldiers, and in September next year obtained the position of indent officer in the London office of the Tasmanian agent-general. Giblin's knowledge and interest in Tasmania's past had been recognized by the agent-general as early as 1914 when Giblin had provided advice on matters relating to Tasmanian history. It was not surprising that when, in 1921, the Tasmanian government requested detailed information on the first fifteen years of Tasmanian settlement Giblin was chosen for this task. He finished in November 1922 and was highly praised for both his research work and historical analysis.

This work provided the impetus for Giblin's proposed three-volume history of Tasmania (1642-1853); in November 1924 he resigned from the agent-general's office to devote his time to research and writing. By late 1926, with the first volume almost completed, he attended celebrations in Tasmania to mark the centenary of the Giblin family's settlement there, using the opportunity to work on local records for his second volume, although most of the research was done on material held in London supplemented by correspondence with acquaintances in Tasmania. He returned to London in May 1927. Next year, with the help of a Tasmanian government grant of £300, The Early History of Tasmania, volume one (1642-1804) was published, to favourable reviews. While his rather wordy style is somewhat difficult to read and perhaps at times reflects too much the preoccupations of a professional surveyor, Giblin is concerned both to describe the early exploration within the context of European expansion into Australasia and to provide a detailed account of the early visitors' explorations and impressions of Tasmanian geography, flora, fauna, and particularly Aboriginals. The quantity of information has ensured that the volume has remained the definitive work on this subject even though his interpretation of some events may be challenged.

Giblin's research for volume two (1804-36) progressed very slowly, partly because of sickness; by 1935 when his health began to deteriorate rapidly it became apparent that he would be unable to complete it. When he died, on 13 March 1936, in London, leaving a wife and two sons, his partially completed manuscript and notes were forwarded to Archer Collier, librarian of the Tasmanian Public Library. These were edited by Collier and published in 1939 as volume two (1804-18) although some material up to 1836 was included. Although the volume as a whole is less cohesive and comprehensive than volume one, the completed sections reflect the immense amount of research undertaken by Giblin and his efforts to immerse himself in the ethos of the period. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Colonial Institute. A member of the Royal Society of Tasmania from 1926, he also published articles on Tasmanian history in its Papers and Proceedings (1925 and 1929).

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Mar 1936
  • Giblin papers, correspondence (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Premier's Dept, correspondence, 1914-28 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Colonial Secretary, in-letters (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Ian Pearce, 'Giblin, Ronald Worthy (1863–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/giblin-ronald-worthy-6304/text10813, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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