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Sir Claude Gibb (1898–1959)

by Gwenyth C. Moxham

This article was published:

Sir Claude Gibb (1898-1959), engineer, was born on 29 June 1898 at Queenstown, Adelaide, third of five children of John Gilbert Gibb, a South Australian-born carter, and his wife Caroline Elizabeth, née Dixon. Educated at Alberton Public and Lefevre's Peninsula High schools, Claude won a cadetship to the South Australian School of Mines and Industries where, in 1915-17, he studied mechanical and electrical engineering. He worked for the Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd as an electrician before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 December 1917; initially an air mechanic in the Australian Flying Corps, he was based in England from April 1918 and commissioned as a pilot in February 1919.

Next year Gibb obtained a post as senior research assistant to Professor (Sir) Robert Chapman at the University of Adelaide and found time for further study (B.E., Dip.Appl.Sc., 1923; M.E., 1932). An Angas scholarship enabled him to return to England in 1924. There he joined the engineering firm, C. A. Parsons & Co. Ltd, at Newcastle upon Tyne as a student apprentice; within five years he was a director and by 1938 general manager. At the Baptist Chapel, Totnes, Devon, on 26 December 1925 he had married Margaret Bate Harris (d.1969); they were to remain childless.

During World War II Gibb's work on steam turbines led to his employment in 1940 at the Ministry of Supply. He became director-general of weapons and instruments production (1941) and was said to have averaged two hours sleep per night. In 1943 he 'left guns to work on tanks' and helped to produce the Centurion. Returning to Parsons, as chairman and managing director from September 1945, over the succeeding years he also chaired A. Reyrolle & Co. Ltd, Parolle Electrical Plant Co. Ltd and Anglo Great Lakes Corporation Ltd, and was chairman and joint managing director of the Nuclear Power Plant Co. Ltd, Pyrotenax Ltd and Savage & Parsons Ltd. He realized the importance of developments in the peaceful use of atomic energy: Parsons supplied the turbo-alternators and gas-circulating blowers at Calder Hall, Risley.

Although Gibb found it difficult to delegate responsibility, he had prodigious energy, a flair for publicity, astuteness, wide experience and 'amiable pugnacity'. He was knighted in 1945. In 1956 he was appointed K.B.E. and elected a fellow (vice-president 1957) of the Royal Society. The universities of London and Durham awarded him honorary D.Sc. degrees. Sir Claude was vice-president (1945-51) of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, and twice received its Thomas Hawksley medal. An easy and natural speaker, he was much in demand. In 1954 he delivered the first Robin memorial lecture at the University of Adelaide on 'The Engineer in the Community'. His twenty-two publications included 'The Stresses in floors of elevated cylindrical tanks' (1923), 'The influence of operating experience on the design and construction of turbines and alternators' (1936), and the admired 'Report on Investigation into the failure of Two 100-MW Turbo-Generators' (1955).

At 49 Gibb recovered from a severe coronary thrombosis, as he did five years later from a second and a third. He continued to travel and work as hard as ever, and collapsed and died on 15 January 1959 at Newark airport, New Jersey, United States of America.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1951-60
  • D. A. Cumming and G. C. Moxham, They Built South Australia (Adel, 1986)
  • Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (London), 1959, p 47
  • Commonwealth Engineer, Feb 1959, p 86
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Jan 1947, 27 Sept 1954, 17, 19 Jan 1959
  • Times (London), 17, 21, 24 Jan 1959.

Citation details

Gwenyth C. Moxham, 'Gibb, Sir Claude (1898–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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