Clive Pearson from South Australia contacted me recently regarding the website gibbsbrightclub.org that he had established some years ago in order to organise the exchange of information and annual reunions for ex-employees. He was the South Australian Branch Manager for the Building Materials Division of Gibbs Bright & Co Pty Ltd, for seven years, leaving two years before the Company was dissolved by HSBC, and said “… my seven years with GB were the most enjoyable of my professional career of 50 years … and I was very sad to see the Company disappear…”. At 87 years old, Clive indicated that he would be pleased if I would take over his website or incorporate whatever information I wished into the Gibbs Family Tree website. I have transferred a copy to this site at https://gibbsbrightclub.gibbsfamilytree.com to preserve Clive’s achievement (but too many years have passed to maintain members and activities), which has some interesting bits such as a 1970 Gibbs Bright & Co. group bulletin.
So what is the history of Gibbs Bright and Co., and the company’s relationship with Antony Gibbs & Sons? From 1881 onwards Gibbs Bright and Co. was the Australasian branch of Antony Gibbs & Sons, but before that it had been an independent merchant shipping company with similar family roots. Antony’s elder brother, George Gibbs (1753-1818), was already an established Bristol merchant while Antony was still struggling to make his way, becoming head of the firm which he had apprenticed with in 1802. The same year his son, also George Gibbs (1779-1863), who had trained is his business from the age of 12, became a partner, and when his father retired in 1818 became head of the firm. Robert Bright became his partner in Bristol; a good friend from another renowned Bristol merchant family, with the firm becoming Gibbs Sons and Bright. His brother Samuel Bright was made a partner in the Liverpool firm in 1824, its name being altered to Gibbs, Bright & Co. With George’s retirement in 1839, Robert Bright replaced him as managing partner.
A prospector discovered flecks of gold in a waterhole near Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia in 1851, triggering the Australian Gold Rush, with over 500,000 “diggers” rushing to the gold fields within a year. A son of Robert Bright, Charles Edward Bright (1829-1915) was sent to Melbourne with his brother Reginald in 1853 to establish the firm of Bright Bros. & Co., steamship and insurance agents, which later became Gibbs, Bright & Co. Many migrants to Australia travelled on ships managed or owned by the company, two of the most famous being the SS Great Britain, now in Bristol harbour, and the tragic Royal Charter, ship-wrecked in a huge storm off Anglesey with returning “diggers” drowning with their pockets weighted down with gold nuggets. I have written about both of these early steel steam ships previously: 160th Anniversary of the ‘Royal Charter’ Tragedy and SS Great Britain – 50 years back home in Bristol.
Branches of Gibbs, Bright & Co. were established at Brisbane (1862), Dunedin (1864) and Sydney (1875). With George and William Gibbs and Robert Bright passed on, in 1881 the firm was fully acquired and absorbed into Antony Gibbs & Sons, with the Bright brothers Tyndall, Charles and Reginald continuing as partners. There were numerous family exchanges between the firm in UK and Australia; 3 of Henry Hucks Gibbs (Head of the firm from 1875, Baron Aldenham from 1896) spent periods in Australia: Antony G.H. in 1881-1882, Vicary in 1883-1884 and Henry L in 1893-1895 and 1903. A tradition continued with both a Bright and a Gibbs on the Board in Australia when HSBC took over.
Further branches were established across Australia and the company diversified into numerous areas. By 1963 Gibbs Bright & Co. was the largest trading partnership in the Southern Hemisphere with interests in mining, shipping, pastoral activities (with several million acres of sheep and cattle stations), insurance, building materials, timber and merchant banking.
In 1983 the parent Antony Gibbs &Sons Limited, one of the few remaining accredited London Merchant Banks on the Board of the Bank of England, was acquired by the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, who then closed down all global non-banking operations of the Group, bringing Gibbs Bright & Co. to an end.
Clive reported that at the time, a group of employees led by John Cincotta attempted to float the company, but was unsuccessful. When the Australian operations were closed down, two of the secretaries told him that they had been instructed to destroy all records of correspondence between Australia and London. When he took over the Adelaide Branch, he found that the accountant had preserved copy notebooks correspondence dating back to the arrival in Adelaide of the first company representative. Head office instructed him to destroy the lot immediately. He really hated to see all that history destroyed