Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John George Gibbes (1787–1873)

by A. F. Pike

This article was published:

View Previous Version

John Gibbes, by William Nicholas, 1847

John Gibbes, by William Nicholas, 1847

National Library of Australia, 8178116

John George Nathaniel Gibbes (1787-1873), military officer and public servant, was born on 30 March 1787 in London, the son of John Gibbes, planter, of Barbados and later of London. Part of his education was by Rev. D. Geary Dejether, North Wales. In 1804 he entered the 40th Regiment as an ensign and became a lieutenant in 1805. Next year, as captain in the 4th Garrison Battalion, he went to South America and saw action at Montevideo and Buenos Aires. He returned to England as aide-de-camp to the earl of Craven and in 1809 joined the disastrous expedition to Walcheren as deputy adjutant general in the 55th Regiment. Suffering severely from fever, Gibbes returned to England before the campaign ended and went on half-pay. He was then appointed brigade major in the Malta Regiment and served in England until 1819 when he accepted the post of collector of customs at Falmouth, Jamaica. In 1827 he returned to England on leave and requested successfully to be removed to the collectorship of Great Yarmouth at a much smaller salary. He held that post until 1833 when he exchanged with Michael Cullen Cotton, the collector of the customs in New South Wales. In April 1834 Gibbes arrived in Sydney in the Resource with his wife Elizabeth, née Davis (b.1792), whom he had married in 1808 in London, and several children. In 1837 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel.

As a collector of customs at a salary of £1000 Gibbes found his department inadequate to cope with the growing volume of shipping and trade and he constantly appealed for more and better-paid staff. He carried out his duties with more zeal than discretion and, when his suspicions were aroused, he seized whole cargoes which often led to tedious litigation. His accounts were always confused because of his inefficient clerks and often showed him liable for surcharges which were removed only after long and acrimonious correspondence with the Board of Customs in London. All these irritations frayed his temper and he gained a reputation for irascibility.

Gibbes was a member of the Legislative Council from 1843 to 1855. On 10 May 1859 he retired on a pension of £500 to Yarralumla, a property that he and his son Augustus held in trust following the death in 1857 of his daughter Mary, the late wife of (Sir) Terence Murray. Gibbes died on 5 December 1873 survived by three daughters and two sons. His wife died on 23 June 1874 and was buried with her husband in the family vault at Yarralumla. A pulpit window in St John's Church, Canberra, was erected in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 19-26
  • manuscript catalogue under Gibbes (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

A. F. Pike, 'Gibbes, John George (1787–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Gibbes, by William Nicholas, 1847

John Gibbes, by William Nicholas, 1847

National Library of Australia, 8178116

Life Summary [details]


30 March, 1787
London, Middlesex, England


5 December, 1873 (aged 86)
Yarralumla, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship