I was honoured recently to receive a copy of Primrose Bright’s magnificent new book “Tales of Opportunity – The Bright Family of Hereford & Bristol 1066 – 2020”, a beautifully produced bible of her husband Charles’ ancestors, replete with family photos and stories. The preface starts with:
On 7 September 1922, Allan Heywood Bright, Lord of the Manors or Brockbury and Farley. wrote from his home at Barton Court, Colwall, Herefordshire to his cousin Alfred Ernest Bright in Melbourne, Australia with the following proposal:
“After we have all the material together, I propose, if you agree, to try and write a small account for the private circulation of the family, drawn from these papers …”
The two cousins had long been fascinated with the history of their families, as had a third cousin, John Arthur Gibbs …
The three of them entered into a lengthy exchange as they sought to map out their family trees. By a quirk of circumstances I came into possession of one of their extensive notebooks last year; I was contacted by a woman who had found our family tree on the internet asking “… are you related to the Brights of Colwall, Herefordshire? If so, I have a handwritten book/record you may be interested in – it was found in the loft of my mother in law who died recently at Denmans Farm, Oxford. It appears to cover the history of the Bright family and the later the Wickham family, and has some letters and paper clippings – it looks as though someone was researching them in the early 1920’s …“. They could so easily have ended up in the skip, but she very kindly sent them to me – a total mystery how they ended up in an apparently unconnected farmhouse attic.
To my great surprise when I opened the package it was clear that it had belonged to John Arthur Gibbs (author of The History of Antony and Dorothea Gibbs & of the early years of Antony Gibbs and Sons) and contained his correspondences with his Bright cousins. His mother was Isabel Marianne Bright – one of several connections between our families. His wife Emily Bright, went to Oxford after his death, where her father had been Master of University College.
Luck has preserved an enormous quantity of Bright material – 26 boxes full of papers, books and documents dating for the most part from 1720 to 1870, covering land matters and 150 years of mercantile business. When this collection passed on to Alfred Ernest Bright he arranged for them to be shipped to Australia and stored at his house in Sorrento, Victoria. They were damaged by a fire and water in 1967, following which a professor realised the family was storing a priceless historical record in precarious conditions. They were gifted to Melbourne University for conservation, storage and research, and later joined by the business papers of Gibbs, Bright & Co. where they comprise 92 metres of shelf space in the archives! A 1998 paper for the British Records Association wrote of the this archive “I know of no other manuscript collections where the intertwining personal and business interests of two British merchant families with West Indian trading and plantation links can be investigated so comprehensively”. The preface continues …
The family’s involvement in the West Indian trade from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century was undertaken by three generations; the eldest with strong aspirations for restoring the family fortune; his son and nephew, who took more of a holding position regarding accumulated assets; and the grandson who showed distaste for the West Indian business and moved towards its abolition… Coming to terms with deeply shameful conduct of the past means to acknowledge that these events occurred, to resist the urge to sanitise history, to learn an understanding of the consequences and move towards a future that is kinder, more conciliatory and free of racial prejudice.”
Chapter 22 comes closer to home, about my 2x great-grandparents Isabel Marianne and The Reverend John Lomax Gibbs, vicar of Clifton Hampden, Oxford, and their 8 children, of whom our family historian JAG was the eldest, and my great-grandfather The Reverend Reginald Gibbs was the 3rd son. Reginald’s eldest was my grandfather, The Very Reverend Michael McCausland Gibbs, continuing a long line of church men.
Primrose was initially inspired some 40 years ago and has spent many hours researching these Melbourne records and other family resources, including support from Gibbs family in Melbourne and in UK. The result is a superbly illustrated comprehensive history of the Bright family, and a few closely related side shoots. The earliest roots of the family in England appear to be Richard Le Breton, or de Brito, who came over from Brittany with William the Conqueror in 1066, and was granted land near Clean in Shropshire. Could it be an inspiration for a revised Gibbs Family History book?
A recent comment to a previous post on this website about Gibbs, Bright & Co. in Australia threw up a further intriguing revelation. When HSBC acquired Antony Gibbs and Sons in 1983 and closed down all non banking operations, of which their were many in Australia, all old documents were ordered to be destroyed (fortunately many records from the London HQ vaults were recovered and are now in the London Metropolitan Archives). Phil reported that they destroyed several skip loads of records stored in a company timber yard showing slave transport and sales in the 1800s, and felt wrong destroying that history. How papers dating to before the founding of Gibbs Bright in Australia came to be in GBS timber yard is a mystery and no living family member seems to have been aware of their existence. It seems probable that these were more Bright Family papers that were shipped out to Australia last century, most of which were later donated to Melbourne University archives. What a lost treasure trove of history!