Joseph Gellibrand

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Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1792–1837) was the first Attorney-General of Van Diemen's Land (known as Tasmania since 1856). He came into conflict with the authoritarian governor Sir George Arthur over his attempts to establish full rights of trial by jury, he later became an explorer in mainland Australia. He and a companion disappeared during one exploration and their fate has never been determined.

Early life[edit]

Joseph Tice Gellibrand was born in England, second son of William Gellibrand and Sophia Louisa, née Hynde, he studied law, was called to the bar, and on 1 August 1823 was appointed Attorney-General of Van Diemen's Land with a salary of £700 a year, with the right "to practise as a barrister under the same restrictions as are observed in this country".[1]



Gellibrand arrived at Hobart accompanied by his father on 15 March 1824, and at the opening of the Supreme Court gave an address as leader of the bar, in which he spoke of trial by jury "as one of the greatest boons conferred by the legislature upon this colony"; the full benefit of trial by jury had, however, been withheld from the colony, and Gellibrand's speech is held by some to have been the opening of a campaign for an unconditional system. Gellibrand was a believer in the liberty of the subject, and he was consequently bound to fall foul of a man with the autocratic tendencies of Governor George Arthur.[1]

At the beginning of 1825 Robert William Lathrop Murray, editor of the Hobart Town Gazette, began criticising the colonial government in his paper. Arthur believed that Gellibrand was acting in "close union" with Murray. Eventually Gellibrand was charged with unprofessional conduct in having, as a barrister, drawn the pleas for the plaintiff in a case, and afterwards as Attorney-General, acted against him; as a consequence of the charge Alfred Stephen the Solicitor-General applied to have Gellibrand struck off the rolls.[2]

As a result, Gellibrand lost his position and began practising as a barrister, he established a high reputation in Hobart. In 1830 he acted for Roderic O'Connor in a case brought by sheriff Dudley Fereday, who was also a moneylender. Fereday accused O'Connor of libel after O'Connor had publicly attacked his business practices. Gellibrand gave "a detailed account of Fereday as the prince of usurers, lending money at 35 per cent interest". Fereday won damages of £400, but his reputation was severely damaged by Gellibrand's speeches.[3]

With John Batman, Gellibrand applied for a grant of land in January 1827 at Port Phillip, the petitioners stating that they were prepared to bring with them sheep and cattle to the value of £4000 to £5000; this application was refused and in 1828 Gellibrand made some efforts to obtain a government appointment at Sydney without success. In 1835 Gellibrand made an attempt to obtain a revision of his case, and counsel's opinion on it was obtained from Serjeant Talfourd, his opinion was "that the charges have been grounded in mistake or malice, pursued with entire inattention to the rights of the accused, and decided in prejudice and anger. The charges respecting professional practice are too absurd to stand for a moment".[1]


Also in 1835 Gellibrand became one of the leaders of the Port Phillip Association, for whom he drew up the invalid Batman Treaty. In January 1836 he crossed Bass Strait and, landing at Western Port, walked with companions to Melbourne. From there, on 4 February, he went to Geelong accompanied by William Buckley, and then proceeded north in the direction of Gisborne. After returning to Melbourne a journey to the north-east brought him to the Plenty River.

Gellibrand returned to Tasmania and, in company with George B. L. Hesse, again crossed to Port Phillip and landed near Geelong on 21 February 1837, they decided to follow the Barwon River to its junction with the Leigh River, and afterwards make their way to Melbourne across country. The two men did not arrive at their destination and, though search parties were organized, no trace of them was ever found, it is probable that their horses were lost and they died around the end of February 1837 in the heat of summer.


Gellibrand married and was survived by at least three sons, one of whom, Walter Angus Gellibrand, was a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council from 1871 to 1893, and was its president from 1884 to 1889. Another son, Thomas Lloyd Gellibrand, became the father of Major General Sir John Gellibrand, K.C.B., D.S.O., who was born in 1872. His youngest daughter, Mary Selina (1837-1903), played an important part in the Tasmanian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Australian electoral Division of Gellibrand and the Gellibrand River are named after him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Serle, Percival (1949). "Gellibrand, Joseph Tice". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 1 November 2008.
  2. ^ The many complications of this case are fully discussed in chapter XVIII, vol. II of R. W. Giblin's 'Early History of Tasmania'.
  3. ^ "Dudley Fereday", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, Manchester University Press, 1967.