George Hibbert

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George Hibbert by Thomas Lawrence, 1811

George Hibbert (13 January 1757 – 8 October 1837) was an eminent English merchant, politician, slave- and ship-owner, amateur botanist and book collector. With Robert Milligan, he was also one of the principals of the West India Dock Company which instigated the construction of the West India Docks on London's Isle of Dogs in 1800. He also helped found the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1824.

Family background[edit]

See also: Robert Hibbert

Like Milligan, Hibbert came from families made rich from cultivating sugar plantations in the West Indies. Hibbert was actually born in Stockfield Hall, Manchester, the son of Robert Hibbert and Abigail Hibbert (née Scholey). The Hibbert estates were in Agualta Vale, Jamaica, and Hibbert was appointed agent-general for the island[1] before eventually retiring in 1831. He was also head of several trading companies such as Hibbert, Purrier and Horton. He inherited Munden House near Watford from his wife's uncle, Rogers Parker, and moved in in 1829.[2]

He was an Alderman of London from 1798 to 1803. He was the first chairman of the West India Dock Company which promoted the construction of the West India Docks from 1800 to 1802, and Member of Parliament (MP) for Seaford from 31 October 1806 until 5 October 1812.[3] As an M.P. he vigorously opposed William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery on the grounds of As an M.P. he vigorously opposed William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery on the grounds of the economic interest of English manufacturers. "The Colonies would not exist without the African Trade. The Manchester & Sheffield Manufactories would instantly go to ruin & their people set a starving."[4]

He was a respected botanist and bibliophile, a founder of the London Institution in 1805 (vice-president in 1806) and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1811.[5] He was also a fellow of the Linnean Society and the Antiquarian Society of London.

He married Elizabeth Margaret, the daughter of Philip Fonnereau, MP; they had five sons and nine daughters.[2]

Botanist[edit]

Perhaps due to his planting interests in Jamaica, Hibbert became interested in gardening and botany. According to JCL Loudon's 1835 Encyclopedia of Gardening: 'The collection of heaths, Banksias, and other Cape and Botany Bay plants, in Hibbert's garden, was most extensive, and his flower-garden one of the best round the metropolis."[6]

Hibbert funded various botanical expeditions, notably that of James Niven, an avid gardener and collector of plants, who was sent to the Cape region of South Africa in 1798. He remained for five years, sending home a 'valuable herbarium of native specimens' and new plants, including five new species of proteas – Hibbert's passion.[7] Niven collected seeds of Nivenia corymbosa which were sent back and grown at Hibbert's Clapham estate in London.[8] Hibbert's gardener, Joseph Knight, was reputedly one of the first people to propagate Proteaceae in England,[9] and the genus Hibbertia is named after him.[10] Hibbert was also one of the first people to grow Hostas in Europe.[11]

Book collector[edit]

He lived for some years London, dividing his time between a house in Portland Place and another in Clapham in south-west London, where he accumulated a considerable collection of books, including Gutenberg's Bible on paper (now at New York), the 1459 Psalter on vellum (now at The Hague) and the Complutensian polyglot, also on vellum (now at Chantilly). When he moved from London in 1829, his book collection was sold at auction raising the then princely sum of £23,000.[12]

Hibbert Gate[edit]

The Hibbert gate, situated at the western end of the West India Docks, was commissioned by Canary Wharf Group plc, and is a replica of the original gate that stood at the visitors' entrance to the West India Docks. The original 1803 gate was called the “Main Gate”, but became known as the “Hibbert Gate” after the model of the ship that stood on top of it. The "George Hibbert" was a barque built in London in 1804,[13] used to import sugar, rum, cotton, coffee, and tropical hardwoods from the West Indies and later, c.1834,[14][15] used to transport convicts to Australia). The archway of the original gate, which had a pair of tall wrought-iron gates, was large enough to admit carts and wagons onto the quays. It became an emblem of the West India Docks and formed part of the arms of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar. Hibbert Gate and its flanking walls were dismantled in 1932 as its narrow archway impeded traffic.[16]

RNLI[edit]

As a shipowner and chairman of the West Indies Merchants, Hibbert associated with philanthropist Sir William Hillary and Thomas Wilson, Liberal MP for Southwark, to help found the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck – an institution better known today as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – on 4 March 1824.[17][18]

Hibbert's portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1812 and by John Hoppner (c.1800).

Notes and references[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Richard Joseph Sullivan and
John Leach
Member of Parliament for Seaford
18061812
With: John Leach
Succeeded by
Charles Rose Ellis and
John Leach