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John Brown Gribble (1847–1893)

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John Brown Gribble (1847-1893), missionary, was born on 1 September 1847 at Redruth, Cornwall, England, son of Benjamin Gribble, miner, and his wife Mary, née Brown. He arrived at Port Phillip in 1848 with his parents. They settled at Geelong where John was educated and on 4 February 1868 married Mary Ann Elizabeth Bulmer.

In October 1876 Gribble was admitted to the ministry of the United Free Methodist Church, but soon joined the Congregational Union of Victoria and became a home missionary at Rutherglen and Wahgunyah near the Murray River. His travels took him into the Riverina where he preached at Jerilderie, became its first resident missionary, had an encounter with the Kelly gang and made contact with the remnants of Aboriginal tribes. In 1879 he visited Maloga mission on the Murray, toured the Murrumbidgee with Daniel Matthews, at Jerilderie published A Plea for the Aborigines of New South Wales, and with £6 15s. and the help of his wife opened the Warangesdah Aboriginal Mission at Darlington Point. They built huts, dormitories and a church and made several converts. In 1880 the mission received a government grant and was visited by Bishop Mesac Thomas, of Goulburn, who baptized nineteen Aborigines and decided to sponsor the mission. Gribble was made a stipendiary reader that year, deacon in 1881 and priest in 1883. With help from the government, diocese and Aborigines Protection Association the mission prospered but the costs rose to £1200. In 1883 a report on Warangesdah by the protector of Aborigines provoked a government inquiry which led to the reform of the Aborigines Protection Board.

In 1884 Gribble was invited by Bishop Henry Parry of Perth to work in Western Australia and went to England where he raised funds and published Black but Comely, a description of Aboriginal life in Australia. In 1885 he opened a mission on the Gascoyne River but was strongly opposed by settlers who exploited native labour. In 1886 he published Dark Deeds in a Sunny Land: this fierce castigation of his opponents created a furore and the welfare of the Aborigines was obscured by much blackening of reputations until 1905. The booklet included an allegation that ‘quite sixty natives, men, women and children’ had been shot dead in one day in the Pilbara region, in what later became known as the Flying Foam massacre.  Gribble’s witness, one David Carly, claimed to have seen ‘the skulls of fifteen who were shot’.

In 1887 the mission was abandoned and Gribble returned to New South Wales where he opened a mission on the Darling River for the Aborigines Protection Association. In 1889-90 he was rector of Temora where he built the first church; after losing all his belongings when the rectory was burnt down he became rector at Batlow. In both parishes he continued to devote much time to the Aborigines. In 1892 he went to Queensland to open Yarrabah mission near Cairns. Suffering from malaria he retired to Sydney where he died on 3 June 1893. His tombstone in the Waverley cemetery described him as the 'Blackfellows' Friend'.

Gribble was survived by his wife, four sons and five daughters. His eldest son, Ernest Richard Bulmer Gribble (1868-1957), helped his father to found the Yarrabah mission and was in charge of it in 1894-1910. He was rector of Gosford in 1911-14, head of the Forrest River Mission, Western Australia, in 1914-28, chaplain of the Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement in 1931-41 and canon of North Queensland diocese in 1941-57. In 1932 he published The Problem of the Australian Aboriginal and in 1933 A Despised Race: The Vanishing Aboriginals of Australia. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1956.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937)
  • P. Hasluck, Black Australians (Melb, 1942)
  • B. Thorn (ed), Letters from Goulburn (Canberra, 1964)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1883, 3, 919, 937.

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Citation details

'Gribble, John Brown (1847–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 September, 1847
Redruth, Cornwall, England


3 June, 1893 (aged 45)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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