Osborne-Gibbes Baronets

Osborne-Gibbes Baronets

The Gibbes, later Osborne-Gibbes Baronetcy, of Springhead in Barbados, was a title in the Baronetage of Great Britain. It was created on 30 May 1774 for Philip Gibbes, a wealthy Barbadian plantation owner, lawyer, and author of books dealing with the management of slaves and sugar estates. He also chaired the West India Planters' and Traders' Association.


The First Baronet

Sir Philip Gibbes, the First Baronet (1731–1815), was a cultivated, well-read English gentleman. His friends included Jeremy Bentham, John Wesley and Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke. He also conversed extensively in Paris during the 1770s with Benjamin Franklin on the subject of the American Revolution. The First Baronet was considered to be a humane slave owner and an enlightened economic manager by 18th-century standards and the influential 1789 autobiography written by the ex-slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano contains a positive description of him.

A member of London's Middle Temple, he was appointed to the Barbados legislature, advising the island's governor in Bridgetown on legal matters. According to the Website of the British Museum, he designed and privately issued copper penny and halfpenny coins for Barbados in 1792 in order to help satisfy the island's need for small denomination units of currency. The coins were minted in England, as was an earlier issue inititiated by the First Baronet in 1788.

The First Baronet had been born into a life of colonial privilege in St James' Parish, Barbados, on 7 March 1731 and baptised that same year. Subsequently, he studied law in England before returning to the West Indies to take up his father's sugar estates. In his capacity as the head of the principal lobby group representing the interests of the Caribbean plantation owners, he was received by King George III and the Prime Minister, Lord North, and enjoyed ready access to senior politicians in London, where he leased a town house at 4 New Burlington Street from 1798 onwards. He acquired a country house, too, at Tackley in the English county of Oxfordshire.

The First Baronet's health deteriorated in old age and he was afflicted with a severe loss of eyesight. He died at Springhead House on 27 June 1815, while under the care of a trusted plantation manager, and was buried in the grounds of St James Church, Barbados, where his tomb can still be seen. At the same church, in 1753, he had wed Agnes Osborne—the only child and sole heiress of another Barbadian planter of English origin, Samuel Osborne. (County Kent was the ancestral home of the Osbornes; the family established a presence in Barbados in 1634 with the arrival of Richard Osborn[e] in St James' Parish.)

Lady Gibbes predeceased her husband, dying in London in 1813.

The First Baronet and Lady Gibbes had four children, all born on Barbados. They were raised largely in England by Lady Gibbes so that the First Baronet could concentrate on his business and political affairs in Barbados, London and Bristol. During the 1780s, she and the children resided near Wolverhampton—at Hilton Park (the ancestral seat of the Vernon family) in rural Staffordshire.

The children of the First Baronet and Lady Gibbes were, in chronological order: Philip (a Cambridge University graduate and judge on the Barbados bench) and Samuel (a sugar planter), both of whom married but predeceased their father in 1812 and 1807 respectively; Elizabeth (who wed Charles Abbot, 1st Baron Colchester in 1796); and Agnes, who remained a spinster but was reputed to have had an affair with Frederick, Duke of York, allegedly producing an illegitimate child with him named Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes (1787–1873). During the early 19th century, the First Baronet became estranged from his two sons. He criticised their standards of behaviour in letters written to his daughters and expressed disapproval of his younger son's choice of bride.

The Second Baronet

A British Army officer, Freemason and plantation owner, the Second Baronet was born in England on 27 August 1803 and christened Samuel Osborne Gibbes. He was the grandson of the First Baronet—by the First Baronet's younger son, Samuel, and Samuel's wife, Sarah Gibbes (née Bishop), of Exeter, Devonshire.

The Second Baronet assumed the additional surname of Osborne some years after his inheritance of the title in 1815. He thus became known as Sir Samuel Osborne-Gibbes during the latter part of his life, with his middle and last names joined by a hyphen.

Both of the Second Baronet's parents died when he was still a small child, living in the West Indies. Accordingly, he was brought back to England and placed under the legal guardianship of his uncle, Lord Colchester, until he reached his legal majority. He served as a page of honour to the Prince of Wales—later King George IV of Great Britain—and prior to entering the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1817 as an officer cadet, he was educated by private tutors in London and Paris under the daily supervision of his maiden aunt and chaperone Agnes Gibbes (1761–1843). The Second Baronet served in the 96th Regiment following his graduation from Sandhurst in 1819 and was aide-de-camp to the Governor of Nova Scotia for a time; but opportunities for military promotion were limited in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and he eventually resigned his commission, having attained captain's rank.

He appears to have resided mainly on Barbados from 1821 until 1833, when the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and freed the island's slaves. The Second Baronet received financial compensation from the government for the loss of his "human chattels"; but this did not prevent him from selling Springhead and his other plantations, which would have been far more costly for him to operate in the absence of an enslaved workforce. He returned to England to live with his wife, Margaret (née Moore, the grand niece of the Earl of Clonmell), whom he had wed in Ireland in 1825. Margaret died in 1847, however, and he married for a second time the following year. His new bride, Anne Penny, came from the County of Dorset. The Second Baronet's two marital unions produced a number of children, including the initial heir to the baronetcy, Lieutenant Philip Osborne-Gibbes, of the 41st Bengal Native Infantry, who died while on military service at Multan in 1850, aged 24.

During his time in England, the Second Baronet dwelt chiefly in Exeter and in the seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, where he owned a house. In late 1850, however, he quitted the country of his birth for good. Accompanied by the second Lady Gibbes, he set sail for Sydney in the burgeoning Australian colony of New South Wales. His decision to come to Sydney may have been influenced by the presence there of his kinsman, Colonel Gibbes (see above), who been appointed the city's Collector of Customs in 1834. Colonel Gibbes and the Second Baronet became friends and newspaper notices list them as attending Government House receptions together during the early 1850s.

The Second Baronet would remain in Sydney for about four years, residing in Argyle Place and being embraced by the upper tier of colonial society. In 1855, he was made Provincial Grand Master of New South Wales—a senior Masonic office. That same year he, his wife and their children left Sydney and moved permanently to New Zealand, where further offspring would be born. The Second Baronet acquired 279 acres (1.13 km2) of farming land at Whangarei, on New Zealand's North Island, erected a house (which he called "Springhead" after his former abode on Barbados), and went on to play a prominent role in the public affairs of the surrounding district and the local Masonic lodge . He was a member of the New Zealand Legislative Council from 1855 to 1863. Among his wide circle of colleagues and acquaintances in New Zealand was the prominent parliamentarian and pastoralist Alfred Ludlam, who was married to one of Colonel Gibbes' daughters.

The last decade of the Second Baronet's life was clouded by financial difficulties and he was obliged to dispose of most of his land and other assets. He died on 12 November 1874 and was interred at Christ Church, Whangarei. The Anglican Bishop of Auckland conducted the funeral service which was attended by a large number of friends, community leaders, Masons and soldiers. The dowager Lady Gibbes outlived him by 44 years, dying at Mount Eden in 1918. She was survived by two sons (including the Third Baronet) and four daughters.

The Third & Fourth Baronets

The Third Baronet, the eldest surviving male child of the Second Baronet, was born at sea, en route to Sydney, in November 1850. (Some genealogical sources state that he was born in Colchester, County Essex, England, but his birth was registered in Sydney—see the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, certificate number V1850502 37A/1850.) He was taken to New Zealand by his parents when still a small child and later educated St John's College, Auckland. He became a regular church-goer as a consequence of his schooling and upbringing. In 1879, he married Sarah Mitchell, the daughter of a property owner and captain in the New Zealand militia. They had several children, including Alice Anne (born 1880), Hinermarama (born 1882) and Philip Arthur Osborne-Gibbes (born 1884)—who would become the Fourth Baronet.

A civil servant, the Third Baronet had entered the New Zealand Department of Education in Wellington in 1871 as a clerk. He rose to become the head of the entire department, laying the foundations of the country's modern public education system during his 16-year term in office. (See T.J. Bertram's 1993 biographical article on the Second Baronet, cited below, for an assessment of his career as Secretary of Education.) The Third Baronet was a Freemason like his father and a keen sportsman. He died in Wellington on 29 September 1931. His surviving brother, Philip Osborne-Gibbes, a retired Gilbert Islands trader, died in a Sydney hospital three years later without male issue.

The Fourth Baronet was born in Wellington on 17 May 1884. He wed Mabel Jeanetta Warner in 1913. Their marital union did not produce any children, however, and consequently the Osborne-Gibbes Baronetcy became extinct with the death of the Fourth Baronet on 8 February 1940 (although descendants of the Second and Third Baronet, through various female lines, are still living in New Zealand and Australia). The Fourth Baronet was a veteran of military service with the New Zealand armed forces during the First World War but unlike his predecessors, he had never felt comfortable with his aristocratic title, believing that it was an anachronism in a modern democratic society such as New Zealand's.

Early history of the family

The surname of Gibbes is of Norman origin. During the Middle Ages, the Gibbes family put down roots in a cluster of counties in England's West Country—namely, Devonshire, Somerset and Dorset—as well as settling in the Midlands' county of Warwickshire and the south-eastern county of Kent. The standard British heraldic dictionaries show that members of the various county branches of the Gibbes family bore similar coats of arms. Their blazons normally featured three battle-axes and the Latin motto Tenax Propositi (Firm of Purpose).

More specifically, the forebears of the Barbados baronets can be traced back to 14th-century Devonshire. Belonging to the landed gentry, they intermarried with other propertied families and grew in importance during the reign of King Richard II of England. They possessed a semi-fortified stone manor house and barn complex named Venton and raised livestock near the edge of Dartmoor. The British Listed Buildings' Website (under listing NGR: SX7506460515 for Venton house) states that: "The Gibbes were notorious local insurgents, who maintained a small private army from about 1501 to 1549." During the Tudor era, members of the particular line of the Gibbes family that is the subject of this article left Devon for the neighbouring county of Somerset, and are recorded in official documents as possessing a considerable amount of property in and around the small northern Somersetshire town of Bedminster. (See Betham's Baronetage, cited below.) Nowadays, Bedminster is a heavily built up urban area but was in medieval times—prior to the town's sacking in the English Civil War and the later onset of coal mining in the region—a fertile and well-watered farming area.

Before long, the Gibbes had expanded their interests outside of Bedminister, acquiring further property in the nearby trading port of Bristol, where they flourished as Merchant Venturers with links to the wool and cloth export industry and, later on, with the brewing industry as well. (After London, Bristol was England's biggest medieval port and commercial hub.) One of the direct ancestors of the future baronets, Henry Gibbes (1563–1636), of Redcliffe Street, was a mayor of Bristol and an "alderman of the city". He married Anne Packer (1561-1631), of Cheltenham, and an engraved brass memorial commemorating them and their children can be seen in Bristol's Priory Church of St James (see the church's Website).

Twelve months before his death, an ailing Henry Gibbes had sent the youngest of his three sons, Philip, to the newly colonised West Indian island of Barbados to seek his fortune. He would be joined later on Barbados by some other members of his immediate family—as well as by representatives of the wider Gibbes clan from different parts of England, who were fleeing the social turmoil and the widespread property destruction and loss of life wrought in the 1640s by the English Civil War. Barbados was in those days a proprietary colony of Great Britain. It became a refuge for the Royalist supporters of King Charles I of England during the war, which culminated in the execution of the king, the victory of the parliamentary forces under Oliver Cromwell, and the imposition of a Puritan Protectorate throughout Britain and her colonies which lasted from 1653 to 1659. (The British monarchy was restored in 1660 and Barbados was annexed by the Crown.)

Philip Gibbes was a supporter of the monarchy and a Cavalier by political and religious persuasion. He acquired land on Barbados' west coast and prospered through the propagation of sugarcane—an imported crop which thrived on the island. He died at his plantation in St James Parish of a tropical fever in 1648; but not before marrying a woman named Avis and founding an island dynasty that eventually led to his namesake great-grandson, Sir Philip Gibbes (the First Baronet)—among other male and female descendants. For details of their lineage, see the Gibbes pedigrees published in Burke's, Debrett's and Betham's baronetages cited below in the bibliography.

Like other wealthy Barbadian landowners of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Gibbes family made their money by harvesting and milling bulk loads of sugarcane that they grew on their plantations, using black slave labour, imported from Africa, to carry out this demanding work under the control of white overseers. They then shipped out the refined sugar for sale, at a healthy profit, on British markets. They also distilled and exported rum and participated in the notorious Triangular Trade.

Unfortunately for them, however, a fall in the price of West Indian sugar during the 19th century—coupled with growing competition from other sugar producing regions of the world, the disruptive impact of the Napoleonic Wars, and the scrapping of the British slave trade in 1807 on humanitarian grounds—put an end to the so-called golden age of the Barbados "plantocracy". Despite this, landmarks along the western coastline of Barbados such as Gibbes Beach, Gibbes Bay and the village of Gibbes still commemorate the family's name. (For accounts of the economic and cultural influence of the sugar trade, see, [1], Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar by Peter Macinnis (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2002); and, [2], Sugar: The Grass that Changed the World by Sanjida O'Connell (Virgin Books Ltd, London, 2004).)

The genealogical & biographical sources used for this article

  • William Betham's Baronetage, Volume III (London, 1803), under "Gibbes";
  • Burke's Peerage and Baronetage (London, 1835, 1869 and other, subsequent editions), under "Gibbes";
  • Debrett's Baronetage of England (London, 1835), under "Gibbes";
  • Howard's Miscellanea and Genealogica et Heraldica, Volume I, Second Series, (London, 1886), under "Gibbes";
  • The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, Volume 4, 1773-1790 (Kershaw, London, 1827), online addition, accessed September 2010;
  • New Zealand Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, historical records, and the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, historical records, online indices, accessed September 2010;
  • The Papers of Charles Abbot, 1st Baron Colchester (1757–1829), held by The National Archives, Kew, London, PRO 30/9 — accessed from the National Archives (formerly known as The Public Record Office), October 1989. Among other items, this collection of papers contains an array of correspondence and other documents relating to the First and Second Osborne-Gibbes Baronets and their immediate families;
  • The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 23, 1776-1777, published by Yale University Press (New Haven & London, no date), pp. 281–285;
  • The Life and Times of Sir Samuel Osborne Gibbes, an article written by T.J. Bertram and published in journal 167 of the United Grand Masters' Lodge, Whangarei, New Zealand, Vol 29, Number 16, May 1993, pp. 226–240 – accessed from Whangarei District Library, July 1994; and
  • Augustus Gibbes: Squire of Yarralumla, an article written by S.J.J. Gibbes and published in The Ancestral Searcher, Volume 19, Number 2, by The Heraldry & Genealogical Society of Canberra Inc, Narrabundah, Canberra, Australia, June, 1996, pp. 65–74.

A full list of the Osborne-Gibbes Baronets (created 1774)

  • Sir Philip Gibbes, 1st Baronet (1731–1815);
  • Sir Samuel Osborne-Gibbes, 2nd Baronet (1803–1874)—the grandson of the 1st Baronet and the orphaned son of Samuel Gibbes, of Barbados, and Sarah Gibbes (née Bishop, of the City of Exeter, Devonshire, England);
  • Sir Edward Osborne-Gibbes, 3rd Baronet (1850–1931); and
  • Sir Philip Arthur Osborne-Gibbes, 4th Baronet (1884–1940).

The Osborne-Gibbes coat of arms

Their coat of arms, registered with the College of Arms in London and incorporating the Red Hand of Ulster (the baronets' badge), was as follows:

Shield: per fess argent and ermine, three battle-axes in pale sable. Crest: an arm embowed in steel armour, garnished or, and charged with a cross couped gules, the hand in a gauntlet grasping a battle-axe as in the arms. Motto: Tenax Propositi. (Source: Debrett's Baronetage of England (London, 1835), under "Gibbes", online edition, accessed September 2010.)

Originally, the Gibbes family's arms consisted of three vertical "Danish axes" depicted on an argent field; but due to the evolution of weaponry, the devices shown on the shield were changed over time from Viking-style battle axes to their more ornate late-medieval equivalents.


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  • John George Nathaniel Gibbes — Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes (30 March 1787 5 July 1873) was a British army officer who emigrated to Australia in 1834, becoming a Crown appointed member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and the Collector of Customs for the… …   Wikipedia

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