GIPPS, Sir George (1790-1847)

GIPPS, Sir George (1790-1847)
governor of New South Wales
was the eldest son of the Rev. George Gipps and was born at Ringwold, Kent, in 1790, or possibly early in 1791. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and the military academy, Woolwich. He entered the army as a second lieutenant of the royal engineers in January 1809, and in March 1812 was wounded at the siege of Badajoz. He continued to see service in the Peninsular campaigns, and in September 1814 became a captain. From November 1814 until July 1817 he was with the Duke of Wellington's army in Flanders and France, but missed Waterloo because he was engaged in preparing fortifications at Ostend. On his return to England he was for some years at Chatham, and from 1824 to 1829 in the West Indies, where he showed good administrative qualities A report he made on the question of the emancipation of the slaves in these colonies impressed the ministry of the period, which appointed him to two government commissions dealing with the boundaries of constituencies in England and Ireland. He became private secretary to Lord Auckland, who was then first lord of the admiralty, in 1834, and in the following year was appointed a commissioner with the Earl of Gosford and Sir Charles E. Grey to inquire into grievances in Canada. Their report was drawn up by Gipps and was adopted by the house of commons. He was knighted, was promoted to the rank of major, and returned to England in April 1837. He was appointed governor of New South Wales on 5 October 1837, and arrived at Sydney on 23 February 1838.
Gipps's term as governor was a stormy one. The transition towards responsible government that was taking place gave many opportunities for differences of opinion, and the fight was often waged with a bitterness difficult to conceive. It was still proceeding when the governor left the colony. Another contentious matter was the education question. The practice brought in by Sir Richard Bourke (q.v.) of granting a pound for pound subsidy on all private subscriptions had resulted in the formation of several small sectarian schools in the same district. The effect was that these schools were neither efficient nor economical and they led to sectarian strife. Various schemes were brought forward, but one could not be found which received general approval. The chief opposition came from the Church of England, the largest religious body in the colony, and Gipps was not to blame because no solution was found during his period of office. Another problem was the government of the settlers in the Port Phillip district, which was partially solved by the appointment in 1839 of Charles J. La Trobe (q.v.) as superintendent under Gipps's direction. Provision was also made that in the new council there should be six representatives of the Port Phillip district. But Melbourne in the then state of communications was very far away from Sydney, and it was impossible to find local representatives able and willing to live part of the year at Sydney. A still more pressing question was the problem of the land held by the squatters who as their flocks increased had gone farther and farther afield seeking grazing land. They naturally desired some security of tenure, but the system of occupation grew more and more confused, and in 1844 Gipps endeavoured to put some order into it. His regulations issued in April 1844 required a licence fee of £10 a year, in most cases the area of each station was limited to 20 square miles, and no one licence covered a station capable of depasturing more than 500 head of cattle and 7000 sheep. This brought a storm of protests from the squatters and led to the foundation of the Pastoral Association of New South Wales, and the struggle continued until the departure of the governor. His term of office expired in February 1844, but the colonial office valued his work and extended his appointment. In August 1845 he received a dispatch from Lord Stanley intimating that his successor might be expected to arrive towards the end of the year. Sir Charles Fitzroy (q.v.), however, did not actually reach Australia until 2 August 1846. Gipps had departed on the previous 11 July. He had felt the strain very much, and shortly before his departure mentioned in public that he had stayed too long for the good of his health. He arrived in England on 20 November 1846 and died suddenly from heart failure on 28 February 1847. He married in 1830 Elizabeth, daughter of Major-General George Ramsay, who survived him with one son, afterwards Sir Reginald Ramsay Gipps, a general in the British army. A monument to Sir George Gipps is in Canterbury cathedral.
Gipps was a man of great ability and wisdom, conscientious, self-reliant, hard-working, and determined. Unfortunately for his own peace of mind he had to deal with difficult problems arising out of the movement towards responsible government. He also came in conflict with the vested interests of the squatters and incurred much abuse. Sir) James Martin (q.v.) when a young man wrote an article for the Atlas in which he said of Gipps: "He showed himself to be possessed of every quality necessary for a bad governor, with scarcely any one of the requisites of a good one, and his eight years' administration will be a sort of plague spot in our history" (quoted in G. B. Barton's Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales, p. 67). When he left, both the Sydney newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Empire, called Gipps "the worst governor the colony had ever had". That has not been the verdict of history. Gipps may possibly have had rather too exalted an idea of the powers of the governor, and he could on occasions be arrogant and tactless, but he was none the less a great man and a great governor in a difficult time. Jose, in his History of Australia, speaks of "his clear judgment . . . his great qualities. . . . No governor has been more unpopular, none less deserved unpopularity". Sir Ernest Scott, in A Short History of Australia, referring to his unpopularity says "he was, in truth, a singularly able and most conscientious and high-minded governor". Frederick Watson, editor of The Historical Records of Australia, takes a similar view (see p. VIII, vol. XIX and p. XVII, vol. XXIV), as does also S. H. Roberts, in his The Squatting Age in Australia. During his term as governor Gipps did much to encourage exploration, the amount of land under cultivation was very largely increased, and the population was more than doubled.
The Gentleman's Magazine, April 1847; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XIX to XXV; S. K. Barker, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XVI, pp. 169-260, a careful and balanced study of the period; S. H. Roberts, The Squatting Age in Australia; Official History of New South Wales; Men and Women of the Time, 1899.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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