Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Gibson, Alexander James (1876–1960)

by J. M. Antill

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

Alexander James Gibson (1876-1960), engineer, was born on 18 December 1876 at Hanover Square, London, son of Edward Morris Gibson, articled clerk and later solicitor, and his wife Martha, née James. He was educated at Alleyn's College of God's Gift (Dulwich College) and served an apprenticeship with the Thames Iron Works, Ship Building & Engineering Co. at Blackwall, London. An associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, from 1899, he went that year to Shanghai, China, with S. C. Farnham & Co., where he was again involved in shipbuilding and marine work. He served with the Shanghai Volunteers during the Boxer Rebellion.

Arriving in Sydney late in 1900, Gibson became a fitter at Mort's Dock & Engineering Co. On 11 March 1902 at St John's Church of England, Gordon, he married Marion Ellen Florence Hitchman (d.1947). Encouraged by Professor W. H. Warren, in 1903 he applied successfully for the post of assistant lecturer in engineering building and design at the University of Sydney. In 1910 he was appointed foundation professor of engineering in the University of Queensland; he designed and built the engineering laboratories, then the finest in Australia.

Commissioned in the Corps of Australian Engineers in 1904, Gibson transferred to the Australian Intelligence Corps in 1908 and was promoted captain in 1910. From August 1914 he was assistant censor and temporary censor in Brisbane. In 1917 he served in England as temporary major working on Professor (Sir) Henry Barraclough's munitions scheme for the Commonwealth Department of Defence. Returning to Australia he was acting general manager and chief engineer of the Australian Arsenal in 1918.

In January 1919 Gibson resigned his chair at the University of Queensland to become superintendent of construction at the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd's steelworks at Newcastle, New South Wales. In 1922 he went into partnership with Sir George Julius and William Poole, to form the consulting engineering firm of Julius, Poole & Gibson, Sydney; he was senior partner for many years. In 1933-34 he chaired the technical education commission appointed by (Sir) Bertram Stevens, and in 1938 visited London to discuss safety measures for Burrinjuck Dam. He was later chairman of the Advisory Council of Sydney Technical College. He helped D. H. Drummond with the Technical Education Act, 1940; it was nullified by the (Sir William) McKell government the following year.

In February 1931 Gibson had founded and was president of the All for Australia League, which aimed at 'purging politics' and called for unity; it attacked political parties and 'inept Parliaments'. After the dismissal of the premier Jack Lang by Governor Sir Philip Game in 1932, the league merged with the United Australia Party. Ten years later Lang described Gibson as 'a sinister figure', who had 'sold out' to Stevens at the price of becoming consulting engineer to the government, and accused him of having put the government to unnecessary expenditure on Burrinjuck Dam. The charges were never substantiated.

Awarded an honorary M.E. by the University of Queensland in 1919, Gibson was member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, its president in 1932, and P. N. Russell medallist in 1940. In 1934-39 he was a fellow of the Senate of the University of Sydney and in 1940-48 chairman of the Standards Association of Australia. He also served on the council of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and on the board of Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney; he was honorary consultant to Sydney Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. He was a member of the University and New South Wales clubs.

On 12 October 1954 Gibson married at Chatswood, Sydney, Ann Muriel Dent of Rockhampton, Queensland. Predeceased by her he died at Cammeray, Sydney, on 2 December 1960 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage. His estate was valued for probate at £38,000.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Sydney, School of Civil Engineering, Acta Structorum, Mar 1960
  • JRAHS, 50 (1964), pt 4, p 277
  • JRAHS, 57 (1971), pt 2, p 160
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 17 Feb, 10, 21 Mar 1931, 13 May, 5, 6 Nov 1942, 3 Dec 1960
  • MP 1044/1, 18/0458 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

J. M. Antill, 'Gibson, Alexander James (1876–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-alexander-james-6306/text10875, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014