Convict Histories

John McGibbon (1819 – ?) (Reg. No. 1425)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

On 20 May 1850 John McGibbon, aged 32, a respectable businessman of Hull, was found guilty of having forged an acceptance to a bill of exchange with intent to defraud Messrs. Thomas and Raikes, bankers. He was a partner in the firm of Galbraith and McGibbon, merchants and commission agents.[1] Evidence was given that before his arrest McGibbon had attempted to destroy other forged bills of exchange, one in the name of his brother-in-law Thomas Toutill, who tragically died after becoming deranged and cutting his throat during the trial. Investigators found that McGibbon had been tracing and copying other people’s signatures with the intention of perpetrating more frauds. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to fifteen years’ transportation.[2] He was held at York Castle.

McGibbon left Dartmoor Prison and was taken onboard the William Jardine, arriving in Western Australia on 1 August 1852. His behaviour during the voyage was reported as good.[3] He was described as a merchant, aged 33, height 5’4½”, dark hair, hazel eyes, a long face, sallow complexion, of slight build, with no marks, married with one child.[4] He had married Elizabeth Toutill at Pontyfract in Yorkshire in the December quarter of 1849. Their child William Toutill McGibbon was christened on 15 September 1850 at Birkin in York, months after his father’s arrest.[5]

On 1 November 1853 McGibbon received his Ticket of Leave. His accounting skills were soon recognised and in 1854 he was appointed 2nd clerk in the convict establishment.[6] In 1856 he was given his Conditional Pardon.

He quickly saw business opportunities in the colony, especially in the timber industry, and is said to have employed 78 Ticket of Leave men, mostly sawyers, in the South-West at Quindalup, Beelup and Mandurah between 1855 and 1873.[7] It was reported in April 1865 that the brig Nile cleared out from McGibbon’s station near Wonnerup for Fremantle with about 56 loads of timber and intended calling at the Murray to complete her loading.[8] That year he also shipped timber to South Australia:

Timber Trade. — Our timber trade with South Australia, has for some time been somewhat extensive, and appears to be increasing; our Vasse Correspondent, under date 29th May, stating that the Harriet Hope, 233 tons burden, had arrived at Mr McGibbon’s beach-station on the 25th, to load with tuart timber for Adelaide.[9]

Over several years McGibbon tendered for Government contracts for construction work, including one to effect repairs to the Abba Bridge in the Sussex District for five pounds in 1865.[10] A much larger contract won in 1872 involved the carting and fixing of insulators and wiring on the Newcastle to Champion Bay telegraph line.[11]

Like several other acquaintances in the convict fraternity, he was overly ambitious and ended up in financial difficulties. In the late 1850s he became associated with businessman Henry Yelverton in Busselton and former convict Hyram Lipschitz.[12] Several references in the journals of Marshall Waller Clifton indicate that in 1860 McGibbon called in at Australind on his way up to Fremantle several times, breakfasting with him on one occasion.[13]

In April 1860 co-partners John McGibbon and Henry Yelverton, storekeepers and timber merchants of Busselton, operating under the name of H. Yelverton and Co., announced that all of their real and personal estate would be transferred over to their creditors Shenton, Carr, Manning and Newman of Fremantle.[14] In June that year Jewish businessman and former convict Hyram Lipschitz disassociated himself from the two men:

NOTICE is hereby given that the partnership hitherto existing between the undersigned, under the firm of H. Lipschitz and Company, has been this day dissolved by mutual consent, and the business will, for the future, be carried on by Hyman Lipschitz solely, who will collect the assets of the late firm; and all persons having claims against them are required to furnish those claims forthwith to the said Hyman Lipschitz.

Dated 10th May, 1860.

H. LIPSCHITZ,

JOHN McGIBBON, for HENRY YELVERTON,

JOHN McGIBBON. Witness—G. W. LEAKE.

Solicitor, Perth,

H. Lipschitz returns thanks for past favours, and begs to inform the public that he has on hand a large supply of very superior goods, and will always have a good supply on hand.

H. Lipschitz.[15]

McGibbon was still involved with Lipschitz in 1863, when giving evidence at the trial of Adams, Haines and Brown on a charge of stealing bottles of beer from the cargo of the Speculator. McGibbon stated that on the 4th November he was agent for Mr. Lipschitz, the owner of the vessel where the prisoners were employed. McGibbon gave the prisoners an excellent character for honesty, they having been in his employ for some years. All three were found guilty.[16]

In 1865 McGibbon was in Fremantle, advertising as agent for the brig Nile.[17] Later that year he was declared bankrupt.[18]

In re McGibbon, Insolvent.

Mr. SAMSON,

(GOVERNMENT AUCTIONEER,)

HAS received instructions from the Official Assignee, to Sell by Auction, the TIMBER of this Insolvent, bought from the Trustees of Messrs. H. Yelverton & Co.’s Estate: THIS Sale of about 259 LOADS of WHITE GUM, or TUART, now lying on the Sea Beach at the Vasse, in the neighbourhood of Wannerup Inlet, will take place at Mr. Samson’s Store, in Cliff Street, Fremantle, on THURSDAY, 23rd November, 1865.

At 11 o’clock.

Terms at Time of Sale.

Fremantle, 6th November, 1865.[19]

In 1870 an unusual case arose in the colony, whereby a young solicitor, John Wells Young (Reg. No. 7316), declared in court his belief that an 80-year-old man named Vincent, who had requested that Young should draw up a will on his behalf, was of unsound mind. As a consequence Young was arrested and had his Ticket of Leave revoked by the Comptroller-General. Such was the uproar over the issue of the rights of Ticket of Leave holders to receive equal and fair treatment before the law, that a fund was set up to employ a lawyer to represent Young’s interests. John McGibbon, the hon. secretary pro tem of the group, explained the principles of the case at length in a letter published in the Herald newspaper, appealing for donations from both convict and free classes of society to pay for legal representation for Young.[20] SH Parker, the lawyer appointed, was fined for his outspoken criticism of the Comptroller-General’s actions, while editors of the Perth Gazette and the Inquirer newspapers were arrested for supporting the cause.[21]

In 1871 McGibbon was regularly importing goods from the Eastern colonies.[22] That year he was involved in a public spat over the proceedings of the Fremantle Literary Institute.[23] In August 1871 as a public accountant McGibbon was appointed trustee for the liquidation of the assets of his former associate, Bunbury businessman Hyram Lipschitz.[24] In 1872 he was appointed trustee in the affairs of bankrupt Alexander Francisco, the younger, of Fremantle.[25] He performed the same service for William Wagner in January 1873, and as a consequence ended up in the Supreme Court, facing a charge brought by Wagner’s cousin Horton Bateman over the ownership of goods taken from Wagner’s premises. The jury valued Bateman’s damages at one farthing.[26]

In June 1872 ex-convicts William Warden Miles and John McGibbon agreed to buy the Wild Wave from George Cross for £500, intending to take over after her return from the Vasse, but the vessel was beached there near the jetty in wild weather. They took Cross to Court in June 1873 for breach of contract, due to the length of time it took him to re-float and repair the vessel, during which time they bought the Clarence Packet for £800 while waiting for the boat to be re-floated, intending to employ it in the pearling trade. They were awarded what were considered to be inadequate damages of £12.[27]

McGibbon was a smart operator. He showed no compunction in claiming debts from former associates. A successful action was brought by him against William Miles in 1880 for payment of £240 compensation for the work involved in preparing a successful tender in 1874 for the conveyance of freight used on the Eucla telegraph line.[28] In another case in 1885 he pursued payment with interest from a former friend John Howie, who had borrowed £40 to set up a baker’s shop back in 1870.[29]

Another former convict known to McGibbon was Henry Gillman,[30] who began as a shopkeeper in Bunbury and rapidly expanded into the sandalwood and livestock markets. In 1875 Henry William Isaiah Gillman and John McGibbon, commission agents, surrendered to their recognizances and pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging the former with having unlawfully, knowingly and designedly obtained two sums of money by false pretences from Mr. Henry Albert, butcher, and the latter with conspiring to defraud Henry Albert of such sums of money. Both were sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour.[31] They were admitted to prison on 11 October 1875.[32] The lengthy report of their trials in the Herald newspaper concluded as follows:

…The jury, after an hour’s deliberation, convicted Gillman on the two counts, finding McGibbon guilty of conspiracy only. His Honor in passing sentence said:

Henry William Isaiah Gillman, you have been charged with obtaining money by means of false pretences, and you John McGibbon have been charged with conspiring to defraud. The jury who have had you in charge have given their attention all day to your case, resulting in a verdict against you both. The judgement of the Court is that you each be confined to hard labor for twelve calendar months.

The Attorney General having intimated that he did not intend to proceed with any other indictments against the prisoners, they were removed and locked up, shaking hands with a number of friends as they passed out of the court.[33]

The WA Times commented on the findings as follows:

…The great case of the sittings was a charge of fraud and conspiracy against two bankrupt merchants, Henry William Isaiah Gillman and John McGibbon. These two clever business men by certain false representations as to sheep and stock owned by Gillman, managed to acquire considerable sums of money, the chief victim being Mr. Henry Albert of Fremantle. The facts of the case disclosed a determined and mutual swindling conspiracy on the part of the prisoners, who were found guilty, and each sentenced to twelve months’ incarceration. Some surprise is felt at the leniency of the sentence.[34]

During the 1880s McGibbon was outspoken in his criticism of the workings of the Fremantle Council, regularly attending ratepayers’ meetings and voicing his concerns over poor drainage of roads and expenditure on items such as the raising of a loan for construction of a town hall in 1883.[35]

In 1889 McGibbon was still working as an accountant when he took RN Waldeck to court over the cost of preparing financial statements for the firm of RN Waldeck and H. Smith. As a result McGibbon was awarded £68 8s for accountancy work, far less that the £121 being asked.[36]

John McGibbon is said to have left Western Australia on 3 June 1896 for New South Wales on the Bullara.[37]By that time he was around 77 years of age. Where he spent his latter years is not known, but the wealth that he had accumulated while in Western Australia should have ensured a comfortable retirement.

[1] Huddersfield Chronicle, 27 July 1850.

[2] Hull Packet, 26 July 1850.

[3] Series HO8, Quarterly Returns of Prisoners, England and Wales, Crime, Prisons and Punishment, 1770 – 1935.

[4] Convict Department Registers, (128/40 – 43)

[5] Family Search website at https://www.familysearch.org

[6] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, at http://www.friendsofbattyelibrary.org.au/the-bicentennial-dictionary-of-western-australians.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] Inquirer, 26 April 1865.

[9] Inquirer, 26 June 1865.

[10] Inquirer, 29 March 1865.

[11] Herald, 9 November 1872.

[12] Hyram Lipschitz, Convict Reg. No. 2685.

[13] Barnes, Cameron et al, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840 – 1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park WA, 2010, pp.611, 621 and 641.

[14] Perth Gazette, 12 April 1860.

[15] Perth Gazette, 15 June 1860.

[16] Inquirer, 14 January 1863.

[17] Inquirer, 8 March 1865.

[18] Inquirer, 23 August 1865.

[19] Perth Gazette, 10 November 1865.

[20] Herald, 22 October 1870.

[21] Inquirer, 21 December 1870.

[22] Perth Gazette, 15 September 1871.

[23] Inquirer, 1, 8 & 29 March 1871.

[24] Inquirer, 9 August 1871.

[25] Herald, 15 June 1872.

[26] Perth Gazette, 11 April 1873.

[27] Herald, 7 June 1873.

[28] Inquirer, 16 June 1880.

[29] West Australian, 13 August 1885.

[30] Henry Gillman, Convict Reg. No. 4440.

[31] Herald, 16 October 1875.

[32] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges, 1875 – 1877, 1880 – 1889 (RD9 – RD9A)

[33] Herald, 16 October 1875.

[34] WA Times, 2 November 1875.

[35] Herald, 17 February 1883.

[36] Daily News, 13 June 1889.

[37] Geraldton Family History Society.