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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gellibrand, Joseph Tice (1792–1837)

by P. C. James

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Joseph Tice Gellibrand (1792?-1837), lawyer, was born in England, the second son of William Gellibrand of London and later of South Arm in Van Diemen's Land, and Sophia Louisa, née Hynde. He was admitted as an attorney in London in 1816 and practised until his departure for Van Diemen's Land. In 1819 he married Isabella Kerby of Lewes, England, who bore him nine children. By a warrant of 1 August 1823 he was appointed attorney-general of Van Diemen's Land, arrived in Hobart Town next March and was sworn on 7 May 1824.

Gellibrand offended Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur by his independent stand and refusal to institute actions which he thought it improper for the Crown to bring, such as the case of an officer of Arthur's who had been maligned by a Hobart newspaper editor, Robert Murray. Gellibrand was strongly opposed to many of Arthur's actions and as Murray's friend assisted him with editorials for the paper. Legally Gellibrand was correct in refusing to bring the actions, but he was imprudent considering his association with Murray and his differences with Arthur. Arthur mentioned his distrust of Gellibrand in dispatches to England. The opportunity to remove Gellibrand arose when the solicitor, Frederick Dawes, at the instigation of the solicitor-general, Alfred Stephen, laid complaints of unprofessional conduct before Arthur. Arthur set up a committee presided over by Chief Justice (Sir) John Pedder to investigate the public and private life of Gellibrand. Gellibrand wanted a hearing in court but Arthur would not have it. However, the solicitor-general brought a motion before the Supreme Court to have Gellibrand struck off the rolls, but after lengthy hearing this motion was dismissed. The committee continued its investigations and found Gellibrand guilty of conduct not befitting his high office, criticized his association with Murray and raised doubt as to his professional behaviour. The report was made to Arthur in December 1825. In February 1826 Gellibrand was suspended and upon confirmation from London removed from office. Gellibrand fought his dismissal until his death. The Colonial Office appointed the deputy judge advocate of Gibraltar to investigate Gellibrand's complaints but he found them groundless. However, a later opinion from Mr Serjeant (Mr Justice) Talfourd of the English Bar held Gellibrand innocent of all the charges. But this was too late as the Crown had exercised its prerogative in dismissing Gellibrand and no appeal lay as of right.

Gellibrand continued to practise as a barrister in Van Diemen's Land; he acquired property at Swanport, Lawrenny, Sorell and Tasman Peninsula and made his home at Derwent Park. In 1827 he was editor of the Tasmanian. He later became involved in the Port Phillip Association and disappeared on an expedition to explore the hinterland of Port Phillip in 1837. He and his companion, G. B. L. Hesse, probably lost their horses and perished in the summer heat. The mystery was not solved.

Gellibrand was an intelligent and able lawyer. His report to London on the need for changes in the legal system in the colony, soon after his arrival, showed that he had ideas for reform and the courage to put them into effect, but he had little knowledge of the workings of colonial politics. His conduct as a barrister was above reproach; as attorney-general he always acted in what he thought the best interests of the Crown, but his association with Murray was unwise and the real cause of his dismissal.

Of his sons, Walter Angus Bethune (1832-1909) was a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council in 1871-1901, and its president in 1884-89; Thomas Lloyd (1820-1874) was a member of the House of Assembly in 1856-61; William St Paul (1823-1905) was a member of the House of Assembly in 1871-72, and 1874-86; and Rev. Joseph Tice (1826-1887) held several cures in Tasmania and became editor of the Tasmanian News in 1886. Mary Selina (1837-1903), his youngest daughter, played an important part in the Tasmanian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was its honorary secretary at her death. Major-General Sir John Gellibrand (1872-1945) was a grandson.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1939)
  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Tasmanian News, 27 Oct 1887
  • Tasmanian Mail, 19 Dec 1903
  • correspondence file under Gellibrand (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

P. C. James, 'Gellibrand, Joseph Tice (1792–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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