George Dibbs

Sir George Richard Dibbs KCMG (12 October 1834 – 5 August 1904) was an Australian politician who was Premier of New South Wales on three occasions.

Sir George Dibbs

George Dibbs Federation Conference 1884.jpg
Dibbs as depicted at the Federation Conference, while New South Wales Colonial Treasurer, 1884
10th Premier of New South Wales
ConstituencyWest Sydney (1874–1877)
St Leonards (1882–1885)
Murrumbidgee (1885–1894)
Tamworth (1894–1895)
In office
7 October 1885 – 21 December 1885
Preceded byAlexander Stuart
Succeeded byJohn Robertson
In office
17 January 1889 – 7 March 1889
Preceded byHenry Parkes
Succeeded byHenry Parkes
In office
23 October 1891 – 2 August 1894
Preceded byHenry Parkes
Succeeded byGeorge Reid
Personal details
Born(1834-10-12)12 October 1834
Sydney, Australia
Died5 August 1904(1904-08-05) (aged 69)
Hunters Hill, New South Wales, Australia
NationalityBritish subject
Political partyProtectionist Party
Spouse(s)Anne Maria Robey
Keystone set by Dibbs in Colonial Mutual Life Building, Sydney

Early yearsEdit

Dibbs was born in Sydney, son of Captain John Dibbs, who disappeared in the same year. He was educated at the Australian College under Dr Lang, obtained a position as a young man in a Sydney wine merchant's business, and afterwards was in partnership as a merchant with a brother. In 1857, he married Anne Maria Robey. He travelled abroad, and established a branch in Valparaiso in 1865, which involved running a Spanish blockade during the Chincha Islands War. In 1867 his business failed and he went bankrupt, but eight years later called his one time creditors together and paid them all in full.[1]

Political careerEdit

Dibbs entered parliament in 1874 as MLA for West Sydney,[2] as a supporter of business interests and compulsory, secular and free education, which involved withdrawal of the support from denominational schools, provided under the Education Act of 1866. He lost his seat at the 1877 election due to his support for assisted immigration, which gave him a reputation as an "enemy of labour". Subsequently, a seamen's strike broke out against the Australian Steam Navigation Co, because it had begun to employ Chinese sailors on the Australian coast, and he was obliged as a director of the company to defend its policy, further reducing his popularity.

In 1880 he was sentenced to HM Prison Darlinghurst for a year for refusing to pay a slander judgement to a lawyer named Shepherd who had committed adultery with Dibbs' sister-in-law. During his incarceration he was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as having a suite of rooms, his own manservant to make life tolerable, and a woodworking shop where he made gifts for some 3500 visitors. Ladies decorated his cell with flowers.[3]

Dibbs was perceived by the electorate as the virtuous underdog, Shepherd as the villain, and on his release on 6 May 1881, he found his political popularity restored.[4]

In 1882, he won St Leonards with the support of the unions. In January 1883 he was given the portfolio of Colonial Treasurer in the Stuart ministry, and was committed to continued railway-building although revenue was under pressure due to a suspension of land sales. The Assembly refused to pass an increase in property tax, so he decided to borrow an unprecedented £14m, giving him a subsequent reputation for extravagance. Stuart resigned due to ill-health in October 1885 and Dibbs became Premier. In the October 1885 elections, he was beaten by Henry Parkes in St Leonards, but he won Murrumbidgee. Although his government polled badly overall, he attempted to govern on, but he was forced to resign after less than three months when it became clear that there would be a budget deficit of over £1m.[4]

Dibbs was Colonial Secretary in the Jennings ministry from February 1886 to January 1887, and became Premier again on 17 January 1889, but was succeeded by Parkes a few weeks later. He had been a convinced free-trader, but gradually moved into the opposite camp, and was responsible for the first New South Wales protectionist tariff. When Parkes resigned in October 1891 Dibbs came into power following the 1891 New South Wales election, with Labour support, in a time of great financial stress. He went to England in June 1892 on a borrowing mission, not only as the representative of New South Wales but also of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, and carried out his negotiations successfully. During the banking crisis of May 1893 he showed himself to be a firm leader, saving the situation at Sydney by giving the banks power to issue inconvertible paper money for a period,[1] although most of them failed to take advantage and went bankrupt. In 1893, his electoral reform removed rural over-representation.[4] He was elected as the member for Tamworth in 1894.[2] He later received a substantial public testimonial for his services at this time.


Dibbs had little influence on the question of federation. He was a member of the 1891 convention and sat on the judiciary committee, but was never more than a lukewarm advocate for it. In June 1894, writing to Sir James Patterson, then Premier of Victoria, he suggested the unification of New South Wales and Victoria, in the hope that the other colonies would join in later on. A few weeks later his ministry was defeated at a general election and Reid became Premier in August. In the following year Dibbs lost his seat at the election held in July,[1] having been portrayed as reactionary and unprincipled by William Lyne.[4]

Later lifeEdit

Dibbs retired from public life, and was appointed managing trustee of the savings bank of New South Wales. He held this position until his death in the Sydney suburb of Hunter's Hill in 1904. He was survived by Lady Dibbs, two sons and nine daughters.[1]


Dibbs had been created KCMG in July 1892.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Serle, Percival (1949). "Dibbs, Sir George Richard (1834–1904)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Sir George Richard Dibbs (1834–1904)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  3. ^ Campbell, T.W. (2000). George Richard Dibbs. Canberra, ACT, Australia: T.W. Campbell. pp. 24–25. ISBN 0 646 37588 1.
  4. ^ a b c d Mansfield, Bruce E. "Dibbs, Sir George Richard (1834–1904)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 20 August 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.


Political offices
Preceded by
Alexander Stuart
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
John Robertson
Preceded by
Henry Parkes
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Henry Parkes
Preceded by
Henry Parkes
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
George Reid
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Joseph Wearne
Member for West Sydney
Served alongside: Booth, Cameron, Dangar
Succeeded by
James Merriman
Preceded by
James Farnell
Member for St Leonards
Served alongside: Holtermann
Succeeded by
Henry Parkes
Preceded by
Auber Jones
George Loughnan
Member for Murrumbidgee
Served alongside: Gormly, Bolton/Gale/Copland/Rae
Succeeded by
Thomas Fitzpatrick
Preceded by
William Dowel
Robert Levien
Member for Tamworth
Succeeded by
Albert Piddington