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Henry Fyshe (Fysche) Gisborne (1813–1841)

by Marnie Bassett

This article was published:

Henry Fyshe (Fysche) Gisborne (1813-1841), public servant, was born on 1 October 1813, the second son of Thomas Gisborne of Ridge Hall, Chapel-en-le-Frith, a Whig M.P. for Stafford, England, and country gentleman with business interests in Manchester, and his first wife Elizabeth Fysche, née Palmer.

Gisborne was at Harrow School (1826-29) and at Eton (1829-31); he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1831 and left without a degree. Arriving in Sydney in 1834 he was appointed by Governor Sir Richard Bourke third police magistrate next year. Resigning after two years through ill health he accepted an invitation to become Bourke's private secretary, because he 'did not think it proper to refuse'. When Bourke left the colony in October 1837 Gisborne was appointed police magistrate in the Wellington valley on the road from Bathurst to the western plains. Later, at an official inquiry into the rivalry between settlers and missionaries at Wellington, Gisborne's evidence showed him a clear thinker and a fluent speaker.

In 1839 Gisborne was appointed commissioner of crown lands in the Port Phillip District. In August he began his ride from Sydney to Melbourne with troopers, servants, government horses and forty mares for sale in Melbourne. In September 1839 the cavalcade reached Melbourne.

Gisborne was the sole commissioner and his district was enormous for one man: his duties involved long rides and much camping out, conditions he liked, thinking them good for his health. Between excursions he took a leading part in various activities of the growing town of Melbourne. He was a founder of the Mechanics' Institute, now the Athenaeum Library, and of the Pastoral and Agricultural Society. An accomplished horseman, he took part in race-meetings and in the decision to transfer them from Batman's Hill to Flemington. At the request of Count Strzelecki Gisborne wrote the first published report of the explorer's Gippsland journey and defended him ardently against claims that Angus McMillan had discovered that country first.

Before sending Gisborne to Port Phillip, Governor Sir George Gipps had 'thought him an active and intelligent fellow', but he became vexed by Gisborne's sociableness. La Trobe was bidden to give Gisborne a hint that 'it brings discredit on the Government to see his name figuring in the newspapers as a Steward at Races and at Balls when he ought to be otherwise employed' and that he might be replaced. La Trobe is unlikely to have conveyed the hint: when the governor's letter came, Gisborne was very ill. In May 1840 he resigned and became free to use his last energies in urging support for a petition for the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales. He drafted the petition, and at the public meeting on 13 June made what the Port Phillip Herald called 'the speech of the day', before his voice failed. Later that month he left Melbourne for Sydney where, before sailing for England, he interviewed Gipps about the petition. When his ship reached India he disembarked. He died on 30 April 1841, either in India or at sea.

Gisborne's love of good books on political philosophy, his ease of expression, lively personality and liberal outlook, all revealed in affectionate letters to his father and stepmother, show him as one who would have continued to contribute pleasantly to the intellectual side of Melbourne had he lived to return. A Melbourne street and a Victorian country town bear his name.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 19-20
  • S. Glover, History of the County of Derby, ed. T. Noble, vols 1-2 (Derby, 1829)
  • R. D. Boys, First Years at Port Phillip (Melb, 1935)
  • N. M. O'Donnell, ‘The Australian Career of Henry Fysche Gisborne’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 5, no 3, Mar 1917, pp 112-36
  • Australian, 11 July 1840
  • T. F. Gisborne letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Charles La Trobe papers (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • information from Harrow School, Eton College, and St John's and Trinity Colleges, Cambridge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marnie Bassett, 'Gisborne, Henry Fyshe (Fysche) (1813–1841)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 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

Life Summary [details]


1 October, 1813


30 April, 1841 (aged 27)

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