Joseph Tice Gellibrand – (b. c 1792 – d. c 1837)

Joseph Tice Gellibrand was born in London, England c 1792.  He was the second born son to William and Sophia (nee Hynde) Gellibrand.

Joseph Gellibrand was admitted as an Attorney in London in 1816.  He practised there until his departure for Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania, Australia) in 1824.

He married Isabella Kerby of Lewes, England, in 1819, who bore him nine children.

Van Diemen’s Land . . .

On the 1st August 1823, Joseph Tice Gellibrand was appointed the Attorney-General of Van Diemen’s Land.

Joseph and William Gellibrand arrived in Van Diemen’s Land aboard the ‘Hibernia’ on the 15th March 1824.  Presumably, Gellibrand’s wife, children, and mother also migrated on the same journey ? . . .

His father, William, is also a much celebrated pioneer of southern Tasmania, Australia.  He was granted 2,220 acres of land on the South Arm Peninsula, Van Diemen’s Land, and assigned ten convicts, which was common practice at the time.  His son, Joseph, later added his grant of 3,000 acres to the property thus roughly extending it to the eastward, to what is now known as Calverts Lagoon.  Many convicts, both men and women, served him.  He was known for his care and kindness, providing comfortable huts and clothing.  William Gellibrand appears in the registrar of Magistrates, Hobart Town, 1826 to 1827.  He was also instrumental in establishing banking in Hobart.

On the 7th May 1824, Joseph Tice Gellibrand was sworn in as the Attorney-General of Van Diemen’s Land.Gellibrand - Small

On the 10th May 1824, Joseph Tice Gellibrand was entered on the ‘Roll of Practitioners from 1824 to 1831’ as:  Barrister, Attorney, Solicitor, Proctor.

The following transcript of an article published in the Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser on the 17th February 1826 would best describe the events that led to the dismissal of Joseph Gellibrand as Attorney-General of Van Diemen’s Land:

” . . . The Inquisition Report, it appears, has been of a nature to require the suspension of Mr. GELLIBRAND from the high office of Attorney-General, to which he was appointed by His Majesty.  This is a bold and decisive measure, and no doubt will produce a trial of strength at home between the friends of the Learned Gentleman, and those of the Lieutenant Governor.  We have inserted in another place, an extract from The Courier,(the Ministerial Newspaper), by which it appears, that General Murray, Lieutenant Governor of Demarara, has been severely censured for suspending Mr. ROUGH, the Judge of that Colony, and has been subsequently removed from his Government.  The Lords of the Privy Council censure both parties.  Mr. Rough is as much reprehended as General Murray.  Yet the latter is re-called.  The report of the Lords of the Council is extremely important; and it is most extraordinary that it should have reached us at the present moment.  We call the earnest attention of the Tasmanian Public to this important document; strongly expressive as it is of the paternal regard evinced by His Majesty’s enlightened Government, for his Colonial subjects.  In the most perfect ignorance as we are of the grounds upon which the measure of removing Mr. Gellibrand has been decided upon, we cannot of course venture to speak upon them.  The charges exhibited against him by Mr. Stephen, are before the Public.  The statements made by the persons brought by him (Penitentiary men, discharged and punished servants, and others), in support of these charges, will be shortly also before the Public.  The pamphlet (which will contain at least 200 demy octavo pages,in small type), in which the whole proceedings are embodied, being now nearly ready for publication.  We are unwilling however to touch upon them.  Upon the first charge, an action is pending in the Supreme Court and we have too perfect a sense of what is due to every defendant, to further allude to what is in a course of judicial investigation.  Legal proceedings are also depending upon other of these charges; until the decision of which we forbear comment upon this extraordinary proceeding, further than to draw the Public attention to the mere facts, which in few words are as follow:- Mr. Stephen prefers charges in the Supreme Court against the Attorney-General.  His Honor the Chief Justice dismisses them.  They are then, with an additional one, transmitted by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor to three Commissioners, viz. the Chief Justice, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Thomas.  These Commissioners sit; they hear statements, and they report upon them; and to whom do they so report ?  To themselves !  The Lieutenant Governor, the Chief Justice, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Thomas.  The Commissioners then having as such reported to themselves and to the Lieutenant Governor as the Executive Council, they decide upon their own Report; and the Attorney-General is suspended!  And so the matter rests for the present . . . “

In other words, Gellibrand had offended the Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur by his refusal to institute actions which Gellibrand had thought improper to the Crown.  Legally, Gellibrand was correct in refusing to bring the actions.  However, practically, opportunities to remove ‘nuisances’ such as Gellibrand were by design.  The ‘opportunity’ arose when the solicitor, Frederick Dawes, at the instigation of the solicitor-general, Alfred Stephen, laid complaints against Gellibrand, of unprofessional conduct before Arthur.  Gellibrand’s appeals for a hearing in Court were denied by Arthur.  The solicitor-general then brought a motion before the Supreme Court to have Gellibrand struck off the rolls.  Following a lengthy hearing, this motion was dismissed.  The ‘committee’ continued its investigations and found Gellibrand guilty of ‘conduct not befitting to his high office’.  The report was made to Arthur in the December of 1825.  In February 1826, Gellibrand was suspended and upon confirmation from London, removed from office.  Gellibrand fought his dismissal until his death in 1837.  It is interesting to note that a later opinion from Mr Serjeant (Mr Justice) Talfourd of the English Bar, held Gellibrand innocent of all charges. However, once the Crown had exercised its prerogative to dismiss Gellibrand, reversal of the action was no longer possible . . .

Gellibrand continued to practise as a Barrister in Van Diemen’s Land.

He acquired a number of properties in southern Tasmania and made his home at Derwent Park.

The year of 1827 saw him become editor of the ‘Tasmanian’.

Port Phillip

During this time Gellibrand also became involved with the vision of John Batman – the dream to explore the land on the mainland, just north of his island home.  He and John Batman applied for a mainland grant in the January of 1827.  The application was, refused.

” . . . In the meantime there was a decided reluctance in Sydney to permit private initiatives in the new territory called the Port Phillip District.  Westernport had proved unattractive as a place of settlement sanctioned by government and, were there to be settlement, it was going to take place as the government decided.  Unaware of any obstacles, in January 1827 Batman applied together with Joseph Tice Gellibrand, for a land grant in the territory, which Governor Darling refused.  The result was that any authorised move to develop settlement, including what was to be Melbourne, was set back for another eight years . . . “

– Source:  Excerpt – The Native-born: The First White Australians by ANU Emeritus Professor of History, John Molony, published 2000

As John Batman formulated the idea to explore and settle Port Phillip, Joseph Gellibrand was there for the entire journey, ensuring that the everything was correct in the legal sense.

Upon the return of Batman from his trip of exploration to Port Phillip, the Port Phillip Association was formalised, again with the expertise of barrister, Joseph Tice Gellibrand.

John Helder Wedge ventured to Port Phillip in the August of 1835, to confirm and map Batman’s observations.

The Port Phillip Association was very thorough.

Gellibrand boarded the ‘Norval’ on the 17th January of 1836, heading for Port Phillip.  The expedition was to deliver 1,124 of Captain Swanston’s sheep, to traverse the entire lands held under Treaty and thereby confirm both Batman’s and Wedge’s reports, and, to view his own sector of land, being Sector 12.

It was to be a rough journey.

The transcript of Gellibrand’s ‘Memorandum of the Port Phillip Expedition’ during the January and February of 1836, describes the expedition as it happened, the devastating weather that forced the ship into Westernport – and terrain and lack of fresh water that caused the loss of all the sheep, the heat, the thirst, the long trek to The Settlement . . . until, finally, the utter joy of the quality of land that Batman had secured, being the area surrounding the western half of Port Phillip Bay.

As the British governance began to understand the value of the find and realised that they were at risk of The Port Phillip Association setting a precedence, they quickly moved in to quash the Treaty and all those involved.

Although the terms of the 18th-19th century International Law of Terra Nullius had been abided to; although the expertise of Gellibrand had ensured that all documentation had been completed to the letter of the law, although the association had communicated with the governance the entire time:

 – somehow, Governor Bourke was able to revoke the Treaty in the October of 1835, and thus, claim the new territory as belonging to the Crown . . .

Ironically, the loss of two of the leaders of the venture was to assist the governance to achieve their goal.  Gellibrand was to lose his life just a few months later, and Batman, became seriously ill at the same time, losing his battle in mid 1839 . . .

Finale . . .

Gellibrand, and his companion George Hesse, disappeared whilst attempting to ride from Geelong to Wyndham in 1837.

The following transcript of an article published in the ‘Port Phillip Herald’ on the 27th July 1844 describes:

“MESSRS. GELLIBRAND AND HESSE. – The following interesting narrative of the death of these unfortunate travellers has been furnished us by Mr. John Allan, brother to the actual discoverer of the skeleton of Mr. Gellibrand.  About two and a half years and a half ago the Messrs. Allan took station on of a station at the mouth of the river Hopkins, which is about twenty miles to the eastward of Port Fairy.  They had not been long in possession, before they were informed by the blacks that about three years from that time, there bad been a white man killed at a place called Barratt, (a river about fifteen miles to the westward of Cape Otway, which comes from the interior in a N. N. Easterly direction), and that another white man had been found dead about fifteen miles further up the river, both being described as “gentlemen.”

From this statement – although but imperfectly understood at the time – the Messrs. Allan suspected that the bodies alluded to must have been the remains of Messrs. Gellibrand and Hesse, who were last heard of somewhere about the locality pointed out by the natives; they accordingly lost no time in mentioning the circumstance to the settlers in the surrounding country.  The matter, however, owing to a want of confidence in the natives, and other causes, ceased to be considered of any particular moment, and was eventually dropped.

About three months ago, Mr. John Allan accidentally fell into conversation – with one of the Bethnangall tribe, residing near his own station, who had married a gin from the ‘Barratt’ country; from him he learnt that his gin had been present at the murder of Mr. Gellibrand, when suckling an infant, now about seven years old, and that she had seen the body of the second white man (Mr. Hesse) up the river, about fifteen miles distant, as before described, laying with its face uppermost, untouched by either dogs or birds of prey.

Mr. Allan lost no time in finding out the black woman, and from herself learnt that at the time before stated, a white man’s (Mr. Gellibrand’s) “cooey” attracted their attention and caused them great alarm, never having heard anything, of the kind before.  After considerable difficulty and persuasion, her tribe were induced to go up to him, when he made signs to show his urgent want of food, and at the same time gave them to understand that another white man (Mr. Hesse) was in extreme distress from the same cause farther up the river.  Having administered to his wants, a party proceeded in search of his comrade; but the proffered aid came too late – he was found dead.  The tribe did all in their power to make Mr. Gellibrand comfortable; but as he refused to sleep in their “Mia Mias”, they built him one expressly for his own use.  He lived with this tribe on terms of perfect friendship for about ‘two moons,’ when their privacy was invaded by a large body of natives from the river Panyork, distant about seven miles eastward of Cape Otway.  The Panyork tribe did all in their power to persuade Mr. Gellibrand to join them, but find – opposition not only from him but the Barratt people, the stronger party, in a fit of jealousy sought an opportunity to murder Mr. Gellibrand.  Accordingly on one fine sunny morning, the Barratt tribe being out seeking food, and Mr Gellibrand at the camp alone, mending his trousers with kangaroo sinews, three of the Panyork men went and talked to Mr. Gellibrand, and thus taking him off his guard, one seized him from behind the throat, whilst another put his two fingers up his nostrils, the third jumping on his chest till life was extinct; the murderers then decamped, taking with them only the coat of their victim.

When the Barratt tribe returned and found what had been done, they expressed great regret for the loss of their white companion – and went into mourning after the known native fashion – painting themselves white and cutting their foreheads, &c., but did not attempt to retaliate on the Panyork tribe, as they were too strong for them.  They then buried the body, and threw his pistols and (gold) watch into a creek adjoining the spot.

From the foregoing statement of the black gin, Mr. Allan made further enquiries, and being fully persuaded of the truth of the woman’s story, he sent his brother Henry with two lads belonging to the Barratt tribe to search for the skeleton.  His report is as follows:  After travelling about thirty miles along the coast, they fell in with the Barratt tribe, a very small one, only seven in all; one of the number was the very man under whose care Mr. Gellibrand had placed himself, and who had buried him and mourned over his grave.  Mr. Henry Allan immediately pressed him in his service, and travelled about twenty miles farther along the coast, the whole distance being one mass of scrub.  They at length arrived at a spot which the old man pointed out as Mr. Gellibrand’s grave, describing at the same time how he had placed the body, his hat and trousers under its head, &c. Mr. Allan then began to remove the sand very carefully, and – at the depth of about fourteen inches came upon the skeleton, exactly as described by the black; under the skull he found part of a black beaver hat, part of a pair of trousers, lined with leather, several buttons, and under the wristbone of one arm a pearl button.  The skeleton was perfect, with the exception of one knee, which was a little burnt. Mr. Allan having taken possession of the skull went in search of the pistols and watch; but the weather being particularly stormy, and the rain falling in torrents, the blacks refused to pursue the search any further.  They then, however, pointed out the place where the body of Mr. Hesse was last seen by them; and promised, when the weather would admit of it, to go another time.  They stated the white man had died from fatigue or hunger, and that he had dark hair.  The remains of Mr. Hesse, they said, were about fifteen miles distant up the river in a direct line from Lake Colac.

The skull, which is in Mr. Allan’s possession, shews the loss of one of the front and three of the back teeth; the rest are very fine, rather large and regularly set, with the exception of one in the lower jaw, which is a little overlocked.  The murderers, Mr. Allen tells us, are well known, and have recently been seen by him; one of them is a ferocious looking character with a cut lip.”

“A History of the Colony of Victoria from its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia in Two Volumes” – A.D. 1797 – 1854, by Henry Gyles Turner provides the following interpretation of the loss of Hesse and Gellibrand:

” . . . But these depreciatory utterances fell in stony places and took no root.  The men who had set themselves to found a colony had shown a bold front to hardships, and to what they considered arbitrary dealing of the Government, and they were not to be cajoled into the abandonment of their enterprise ; so the summer of 1836 was passed in waiting and in anxious suspense.  Sheep and cattle continued to arrive, and were landed about the mouth of the Yarra and at Point Henry, on Corio Bay, to find their way experimentally over the occupied country to the grassy plains that stretched away to the north and west, leaving the question of tenure for future settlement.  The Governor was expected to visit the settlement in April, and in January, 1837, Mr. J. T. Gellibrand, the moving spirit of the Port Phillip Association, who had already twice visited Port Phillip, determined to go over again to renew with Sir Richard Bourke on the spot the conference he had held with him in Sydney on the Association’s affairs a few months previously.  Accompanied by his friend Mr. Hesse, a leading solicitor of Hobart Town, the ex-Attorney-General sailed from Launceston in the brig Henry, and arrived in Corio Bay on the 21st of February.  While the tedious progress of landing the stock was in operation, Messrs. Gellibrand and Hesse determined to pay a flying visit to some of their co-adventurers whose runs were in the neighbourhood, and then to ride overland across the Werribee Plains to the Yarra.  The accounts published of the course taken by the wanderers are as conflicting as the legends concerning their ultimate fate, and the assumed discovery of traces of their remains.

Perhaps the most detailed is that of Mr. George Thomas Lloyd, who accompanied one of the earliest search parties, but its very minuteness gives rise to suspicion of a free play of imagination.  The Hobart Town True Colonist of 19th March published the fullest information then obtainable, but owing to the prevalent ignorance of the geographical features of the new country it is rather confused.  It is known that they first visited Dr. Thomson’s station, ” Kardinia,” at Geelong, and having obtained the services of one of his stockmen, named Akers, who was said to be acquainted with the country on the Leigh River, they travelled under his guidance to the homestead of an old Tasmanian shipmaster, Captain Pollock, who had squatted on the Barwon about eighteen miles from Geelong.  Here they remained for the night, and started early next morning with a view of reaching the upper waters of the river Leigh, whence they could strike across north-easterly to Swanston’s Station, and so down to the settlement on the Yarra.  Believing that they could reach Swanston’s within twenty-four hours, they only provisioned themselves with a few ship’s biscuits.

It would appear that they crossed the Barwon at the wrong place, and missing the junction of its tributary continued to follow up the main river, which led away to the westward of their route. ‘ After travelling some fifteen miles they began to enter upon a more heavily timbered and broken country, and Akers, feeling assured that they were not on the Leigh, declined to proceed any farther.

Gellibrand was, however, in no humour to turn back, and pointing to the peaks of the Warrion Hills, on the Lake Colac, declared emphatically that they were the You Yangs, and his determination to verify his statement by reaching them.  There is something surprising in an experienced bushman like Gellibrand persisting in travelling in almost an opposite direction to the course he wished to follow, and the only explanation of his disregard of the points of the compass is in his mistaking the outline of the Warrion Hills for the well-known landmark named by Flinders Station Peak, to which at a distance they bear a strong resemblance.  Finding expostulation useless, Akers resolved to return alone.  He alleged that Gellibrand, rallying him on his faint-heartedness, offered to share with him the balance of the biscuits, but he refused to take any, emphatically declaring that if they persisted in their intended route it was the last food they would have in this world.

With this parting ends the known record of Gellibrand and Hesse. They passed out of sight into the silence of the unknown forest, and undoubtedly perished. A few days after Akers’ return to Pollock’s Station, Mr. Thomas Armytage and Mr. G. T. Lloyd being there on a visit, it was determined to undertake a search by following up the track of the missing men.  A well-mounted party was got together, armed and provisioned, and led by Akers to the spot where he had turned back.  The tracks of the horses in the soft sward were easily picked up, and followed without difficulty for three days.  Then in the dense scrub and deep gullies about the head waters of the Barwon they were finally lost.  They penetrated the thickets, ascended the hills to create bonfires on their tops, fired their guns at short intervals, and woke the silent echoes of the forest with their incessant cooees.  But there was no response, and they met no natives from whom they could seek information.  There is no doubt that the alarmed aborigines were concealed observers of these, to them, inexplicable proceedings.  Akers having informed the party of Gellibrand’s persistence in respect to the Warrion Hills, they crossed the plains to that range, and for a whole week searched around and over it.  Finally, at the end of the tenth day, they gave up the search and returned to Pollock’s Station.

But the family and friends of Gellibrand in Tasmania were not disposed to rest without further efforts.  A strong party was organised, which reached Geelong on the 18th of April.  It comprised the Rev. Mr. Naylor, Mr. C. O. Parsons, Mr. Cotter, young Gellibrand, two volunteer friends, four experienced bushmen, and two intelligent natives.  On the very day of their arrival in Geelong, a native had come in from the westward reporting the murder of two white men by the Karakoi tribe, whose hunting grounds lay around Lake Colac.  The natives of the Barrabool tribe, who had conceived a great regard for Gellibrand, were eager to revenge his death, and a large number of them, in battle array, attached themselves to the expedition.  As they neared the borders of the lake they suddenly came upon tracks of horses, which were easily identifiable as those of the missing men.

They were followed for a long distance, and led to the spot which had been described by the native as the scene of the murder. But the Karakoi natives were in hiding in the long reeds which margined the lake and could not be found.  The friendly blacks, however, succeeded in capturing one man, who, under threats of instant death, confessed that he was present at the murder, and that the bodies of the two white men had been stripped and thrown into the lake, but that the horses had escaped though wounded with spears.  The confession did not avert the fate of the captive, for he had scarcely finished when he fell with half a dozen spears in his body.  The Barrabool tribe having satisfied their vengeance at once returned to their own district, and the white contingent of the expedition, finding themselves surrounded by large numbers of hostile natives in ambush, were unwilling to risk further loss of life, now that they had ascertained definitely the fate of their friends.  So they returned to Geelong without having seen the bodies or recovered any of the effects of the lost travellers.  A public offer of a reward of £300 for accurate information as to the fate of Gellibrand failed to educe any fresh facts, and for over three years the company in which his life was insured for £11,000 refused to pay the policy, on the ground that he might still be alive.  Circumstantial as were the statements made by the blacks, and apparently purposeless if untrue, they were by no means universally credited.  Equally circumstantial accounts were received from other natives of two white men on foot in the last stages of exhaustion having tottered into their camp one evening, and though fed on fish and tended with care having died in a day or two.  More than one skeleton found in the neighbourhood of the Otway Ranges has been allotted to poor Gellibrand, and more than one skull has been sent over to Tasmania for identification by some dental irregularity.  It is quite as probable that they died of starvation as that they were murdered, but the latter supposition was readily adopted by the Tasmanian settlers, who had been used to conflict with a much more aggressive and warlike race of natives.  The supposition added a new terror to the interior, and hence the pioneers formed themselves into stronger parties for mutual protection as they pushed inland, and too many of them learned to be as free in the use of their gun on a blackfellow as on a kangaroo.

The untimely death of Gellibrand was a great loss to the Association, of which he was unquestionably the ablest and most prominent member.  It cast a gloom over the settlement, which even damped the ardour of the preparations for the Governor’s visit . . . “

Source:  Excerpt – “A History of the Colony of Victoria from its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia in Two Volumes” – Volume I – A.D. 1797 – 1854 – by Henry Gyles Turner – published 1904 – pp 159-163


View other important information on Founding Pioneers, Governors of Aus . . .

View other important events in Tasmania’s History . . .

View other important events in this Region’s History . . .

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