MESSRS. GIBBS BRIGHT & Co., MELBOURNE 1897
An interesting stampless cover sent from SYDNEY/ JY 12/ 7-AM/ 97/ 1, per ‘Taiyuan’ with a rounded-boxed PAQUEBOT hand-stamp (Hosking # 1500, earliest recorded date by 6 years), with a large ‘T’ in an oval and a superimposed ‘5D’, and with a copy of the 5d Victorian Postage Due stamp, canceled by a dateless P.B.R/ G.P.O/ MELBOURNE hand-stamp. It is addressed to Messrs. Gibbs Bright & Co., Melbourne. The item sold at auction for AUD 2,000 (Figure 1).
The easiest part of this cover’s research was the ship ‘Taiyuan’ which was a steel single screw steamship built in 1886 by Scott & Co. Greenock, Scotland, of 2269 gross and 1459 net tons. The owners were the China Navigation Co., Ltd., registered in London, and it was built for the China-Australian trade. It was badly damaged on a rock off Bowen, Queensland in 1923, and it was sold to Chinese ship-breakers in 1925 (Figure 2).
In brief, Gibbs Bright & Company were traders, pastoralists, shippers and exporters. In 1853, the Bristol trading partnership of Gibbs, Bright and Co., was a collateral firm of Antony Gibbs and Sons Ltd, and they established a branch house in Melbourne, named Bright Bros. and Co., which became a leading colonial shipping agent and merchant. The name of the Australian branch became Gibbs Bright and Co. in 1884, on the threshold of an era of expansion that saw this company achieve prominence in mining, stevedoring, pastoral investment, shipping and exporting wool and timber, maintained by an Australian-wide network of offices and agents. In 1981 this company, together with the British-based group was acquired by the Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank.
Antony Gibbs (1756-1815) was the founder of Antony Gibbs & Sons, and George Henry Gibbs (1785-1842) was the senior partner; Herbert Cockayne Gibbs (1854-1935), the 1st Baron Hunsdon was a partner, as was Walter Durant Gibbs (1888-1969). The firm had been founded in 1808 and was based on trade with Spain and its colonies. It had enjoyed mixed fortunes up to 1840 when it signed contracts with the Peruvian and Bolivian governments for the import of guano, the phosphate rich droppings of seabirds. It was used in South America for fertiliser but was relatively unknown in England. The gamble paid off, and for the next 20 years it was the source for considerable profits. Thus was founded the fortunes of a large banking, merchant and shipping owner’s firm.
Charles Edward Bright (1829-1915) was born at Abbots Leigh, Somerset, England and his father, Robert Bright was a prominent landowner and partner in the mercantile and shipping house of Gibbs & Bright of Bristol, Liverpool and London. Charles arrived in Melbourne in January 1854 and was a co-founder, with his brother Reginald, of Bright Bros & Co., the fore-runner of the firm on the cover. Charles was a shrewd business man, gained the respect of the mercantile community, and he was the president of Melbourne’s Chamber of Commerce, where he urged that the Yarra River should be widened and more wharves be built. He was a member of numerous important Melbourne committees, including the Harbor Commission (1877-92, and as chairman 1879-81), the Public Library, Museum and National Gallery, and a director of several large firms.
In 1883 he was appointed KCMG, in recognition of his services to the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and was a Commissioner for the 1888 Exhibition. He returned to London in the mid-1890's and retired from the family business, giving his attention to his financial interests. He was on the Board of Advice to the Victorian Agent-general and chairman of directors in Great Britain & Ireland of the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia. He died in 1915, survived by three sons, and the eldest Alfred remained connected with Gibbs, Bright & Co.