Gipps, George (DNB00)

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GIPPS, Sir GEORGE (1791–1847), colonial governor, born at Ringwould in Kent in 1791, was the son of the Rev. George Gipps, rector of the parish. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and at the Military Academy at Woolwich. In 1809 he joined the royal engineers, receiving his commission as second lieutenant 11 Jan., and that of first lieutenant 21 Dec. in the same year. In May 1811 he embarked for Portugal, and in 1812 was present at the siege of Badajoz, where he was wounded while leading one of the columns of assault on Fort Picurina (25 March). In 1813 and 1814 he was with Sir John Murray's army in Catalonia, taking part in the fight at the pass at Biar, the battle of Castalla, the capture of Fort Balaguer, the siege of Taragona, and the blockade of Barcelona. In November 1814, holding then commission as captain, he was ordered to Flanders, but was not present at the battle of Waterloo, having been detached for the purpose of putting Ostend in a condition of defence. On the withdrawal of the army of occupation from French territory, he was permitted to remain for some time out of military service, and occupied himself in European travel. Returning home, he was employed at Chatham, but in November 1824 was sent to the West Indies, where he remained five years, arriving home 18 Dec. 1829. He drew up elaborate reports on those colonies, with especial reference to the question of slavery (some are still extant in manuscript), and thus impressed the government with some idea of his capacity. He was subsequently a member of two government commissions appointed to define the boundaries of constituencies under the first Reform Bill. In 1834 he became private secretary to Lord Auckland, first lord of the admiralty. The next year he was sent as commissioner, together with Lord Gosford and Sir Charles Grey, to Canada, to endeavour to allay the discontent then fast rising in the country. The commission, though not wholly successful, did much by its attempts to extend the principle of local self-administration. He returned home in April 1837, and was appointed to the governorship of New South Wales. He sailed in October, and on 24 Feb. 1838 assumed the government of the colony, which was just entering the stage of self-government. Gipps devoted himself to the maintenance of order and to the development of the colonial resources. In the first direction he declared (1839) his intention of protecting the aborigines, an intention emphasised by the new Border Police Act, and by the punishment of those concerned in the Myall Creek murders. But the most strenuous of his efforts were devoted to the attempt to open up the country by means of exploration, an equable land system, and immigration. Unfortunately, some friction was excited in 1840 between himself and the popular party owing to a quarrel with W. C. Wentworth, mainly caused by the frankness with which Gipps commented on Wentworth's claim to purchase enormous tracts of land from the New Zealand chiefs at an almost nominal value.

The work of exploration was vigorously promoted by Gipps and by private adventurers. In 1838 the Clarence River was discovered; in 1840 there were the expeditions headed by m'Millan and Count Strzelecki, in 1844 those of Leichardt and Mitchell. With regard to the land system and immigration Gipps was ‘determined to apply the whole of the money derived’ from the land to the encouragement of immigration (September 1842; as to immigration, cf. resolution of the legislative council, 22 Sept. 1840). The land revenue he looked upon not as the property of the colonies only, but in great part as the property of the empire. He offered bounties on immigration to such an extent as to provoke a sharp reprimand from Lord John Russell (cf., however, despatches, Parl. Papers, 1844, xxxv. 10). He determined to prevent a too sudden dispersion of the population over the land by instituting sales by auction with high upset prices, and by only placing small lots of land in the market at a time (Lang, i. 287). Thus he was led to consider the scheme of Gibbon Wakefield, which he criticised with much vigour. In 1840, acting with the approval of the legislative council, he suspended the operation of the instructions to sell at a fixed price transmitted from home ‘in the most authoritative way,’ and in consequence of his opposition these royal instructions were, in part, revoked. Thus far he had acted in general harmony with his legislative council, though conflict had threatened; he was obliged (1840) to withdraw the Local Government Bill which he had promoted. His proposal to enforce payment of the arrears of quit rents also occasioned complaints.

The remainder of his career was one of unceasing strife. In the first place the popular party, supreme through the alteration of the constitution in 1842, attacked the settlement of judicial salaries, the appropriation of the civil list, and the liability of the colony to bear the gaol expenses. In the second place, the governor in April 1844 issued new squatting regulations, whereby, without obtaining the consent or asking the advice of the legislative council, he placed new imposts upon the squatting runs according to the number of sheep they could depasture. He had further demanded the payment of all arrears of quit rents. These measures, conducted as they were in a somewhat arbitrary manner, united all classes against him. He was denounced for asserting the absolute right of the crown to the territorial revenue, and for claiming authority on the part of the crown and the governor to impose taxes arbitrarily and without consent of the council (cf. Parl. Papers, 1846, vol. xxix.) The Pastoral Association of New South Wales was formed, and for the first time the squatters claimed rights of pre-emption over the runs. Gipps was upheld by Lord Stanley, whom he counselled, however, to permit a purchase of homesteads with 320 acres on terms assuring a temporary security in the tenure of the run. Early in 1846 Gipps sought relief from his post, the usual term of office being already exceeded. When accepting his resignation Lord Stanley complimented him both publicly and privately on his official conduct.

He arrived in England 20 Nov. 1846. He died at Canterbury 28 Feb. 1847, leaving a widow and one child, afterwards General Sir Reginald Gipps, G.C.B. There is a monument to his memory in Canterbury Cathedral.

[G. W. Rusden's Hist. of Australia; Lang's New South Wales; Parl. Papers, 1843–6; colonial newspapers, and private information.]

E. C. K. G.