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Dibbs, Sir George Richard


Son of Captain John Dibbs of St. Andrews, Scotland, was born at Sydney on 12 October 1834. He was educated at the Australian College under Dr Lang (q.v.), 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. He travelled abroad, and on one occasion ran the Spanish blockade of Valparaiso. 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. He entered parliament in 1874 as M.L.A. for West Sydney, but lost his seat at the 1877 election. Five years later he was returned for St Leonards. In January 1883 he was given the portfolio of colonial treasurer in the Stuart (q.v.) ministry, and when Stuart resigned in October 1885, Dibbs became premier, but his ministry lasted less than three months. He was colonial secretary in the Jennings (q.v.) ministry from February 1886 to January 1887, and became premier again on 17 January 1889, but was succeeded by Parkes (q.v.) 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 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. 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 (q.v.), 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, retired from public life, and was appointed managing trustee of the savings bank of New South Wales. He held this position until his death on 5 August 1904. He was survived by Lady Dibbs, two sons and nine daughters. He had been created K.C.M.G. in July 1892.

Dibbs was not an orator though ready enough in speech. He was a plain, blunt man of simple manners, quick-tempered yet kindly, staunch in his friendships, able, but lacking in tact, a courageous figure in the political life of his time. Though premier three times, he was in power little more than three years altogether, and during nearly all that time New South Wales was facing grave difficulties.


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