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.
Like Milligan, Hibbert came from a family made rich from cultivating sugar plantations in the West Indies; the Hibbert estates run by his uncle Thomas Hibbert were in Agualta Vale, Jamaica; another uncle, John, had also settled in Jamaica. George Hibbert was born in Stockfield Hall, Manchester, the son of Robert Hibbert and Abigail Hibbert (née Scholey). Around 1780 he went to London to join the West India trading house of Hibbert, Purrier and Horton (later Hibberts, Fuhr and Purrier) at 9 Mincing Lane. He eventually became head of the firm, described in 1800 as the ‘first house’ in the Jamaican trade.
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.
In 1784, he married Elizabeth Margaret, the daughter of Philip Fonnereau, MP, a prominent Huguenot merchant and a director of Bank of England; they had five sons and nine daughters. Their sons were: George (1792-1795), Nathaniel (1794-1865), George (1796-1882), Edward (1797-1824) and Henry Roberts (1806-1825).
He inherited Munden House near Watford from his wife's uncle, Rogers Parker, and moved in in 1829. He died at Munden on 8 October 1837, and was buried at Aldenham. His son Nathaniel inherited Munden on the death of his mother in 1841.
Slave trade campaigner
The family counting house Hibbert, Purrier and Horton was extensively involved in the shipping and distribution of slave-produced goods, particularly sugar from Jamaica. As a result (and also perhaps influenced by his wife's family connections to Huguenot Peter Isaac Thellusson, whose uncle, Sir Ralph Woodford, Governor of Trinidad, was a leading exponent of “free labour” from the East Indies), Hibbert became a leading member of the pro-slavery lobby, and acted as chairman of the Society of West India Merchants.
Shortly after William Wilberforce first raised the abolition of slavery in Parliament in May 1789, Hibbert spoke at a meeting of merchants at the London Tavern, seeking to demolish Wilberforce’s speech with a 40-minute address entitled 'The Slave Trade Indispensable…'. He gave evidence to the committee of inquiry into the slave trade in 1790, arguing that abolition would ruin the West India interest, and stating that he annually imported produce worth between £200,000 and £250,000 and that he had heavily invested in Jamaica through loans to planters.
As an M.P., from his maiden speech on 10 February 1807 onwards, he declared his utter hostility to the slave trade abolition bill 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." ("Manufactory" is an obsolete term for "factory"; see factory system and History of Manchester.) He gave three speeches to Parliament in 1807 during the slave trade debates which were later published. He wrote a pamphlet on the Slave Registry Bill in 1816.
Perhaps due to his family's planting interests in Jamaica, Hibbert became interested in gardening and botany. A respected botanist and bibliophile, he was a founder of the London Institution in 1805 (vice-president in 1806) and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1811. He was also a fellow of the Linnean Society and the Antiquarian Society of London.
According to Loudon, "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."
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. Niven collected seeds of Nivenia corymbosa which were sent back and grown at Hibbert's Clapham estate in London. Hibbert's gardener, Joseph Knight, was reputedly one of the first people to propagate Proteaceae in England; the genus Hibbertia is named after Hibbert. Hibbert was also one of the first people to grow Hostas in Europe.
He lived for some years London, dividing his time between a house in Portland Place and another, The Hollies, on the north side of Clapham Common 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.
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, used to import sugar, rum, cotton, coffee, and tropical hardwoods from the West Indies and later, c.1834, 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.
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.
Notes and references
- "HIBBERT, George (1757–1837), of Clapham, Surr.". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
- Leigh Rayment's Peerage pages: constituencies beginning with "S"
- Colonial Papers 1816 – 1831 Slave Code F
- "George Hibbert (1757-1837)". George Hibbert.com. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- Cozens, Ken. "George Hibbert, of Clapham - 18th Century Merchant and "Amateur Horticulturalist"". Merchant Networks. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- "Hibberts in England". GeorgeHibbert.com. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- Sutton, Charles William. "George Hibbert (1757-1837) - biography written in 1891". A Web of English History. Marjorie Blow. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- Haggerty, Sheryllynne (2012). 'Merely for money'? : business culture in the British Atlantic, 1750-1815. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-1846318177.
- "George Hibbert: Profile & Legacies Summary". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. UCL. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- Hall, Catherine; McLelland, Keith; Draper, Nick; Donington, Kate; Lang, Rachel (2014). Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1107040052. p.204
- Source: Slavery Abolition Act (P.P. 1837–8, XLVIII); NA, Treasury Papers, slave compensation T71/852-900. - referenced in Draper, N. (2008). "The City of London and slavery: evidence from the first dock companies, 1795-1800". Economic History Review, 61, 2 (2008), pp.432-466.
- "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 9 March 2012.
- Loudon, J. C. L. (1835) George Hibbert Botanical Garden Encyclopedia of Gardening. Accessed 28 July 2015.
- i history of SA planthunting
- Adams, Trevor and Hitchcock, Anthony (2004) Nivenia corymbosa PlantzAfrica.com. Accessed 28 July 2015.
- Short Cuts
- Hibbertia empetrifolia. Australian National Botanic Gardens and Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research. Accessed: 28 July 2015
- "One of the first hostas to be grown in Europe, being brought to England in 1790 by George Hibbert." source: Ventricosa, MyHostas Database. Accessed: 28 July 2015
- A Catalogue of the Library of George Hibbert, Esq. of Portland Place; London: W. Nicol, 1829. see http://www.polybiblio.com/jahill/HillBibl-Selections92.0.html
- Our Ships A-I
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