Biographies of the Early Aldermen

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Martin Gibbens

Councillor/Alderman in 1867-February 1869

Martin Gibbens is thought to have been born in 1825. He and Anne and their children, Abel, Emmanuel and Alice, lived in Australia Street during the 1860-70s in a terrace house four doors up behind the Town Hall.

He was a building contractor who did some brickmaking. His job by necessity involved horses and he traded horses on the side as well as farrier work. This profession made him a ‘phenomenally strong man’ and the Municipal Silver Jubilee Souvenir tells an anecdote of him placing himself in the shafts and pulling a fully-laden brick cart along King Street with ease.

One of the sites he worked at was Sydney’s Railway Station Yard which was then located around Cleveland Street. We know this because a tombstone in Camperdown Cemetery is marked with the words ‘William Morris, killed on 12 October 1861, by a fall of earth at the yard while in the employ of Martin Gibbens’ and is ‘erected by his fellow workmen’.

Gibbens opposed the 1860 petition to the governor which proposed a municipality stretching from Parramatta Road to Botany Bay. His first dealings with the new Council were in 1863 when he supplied 100 tons of ‘rubbish’ (ie stone or brick rubble) as ballast to be laid down on Australia Street at two shillings and sixpence per ton. He made a culvert in Denison Lane in January 1866.

The Municipal Silver Jubilee Souvenir says he owned land on the corner of King and Mary and built two shops there.

Perhaps the stunt pulling the brick cart was part of his first election campaign in 1867 which urged ‘Working men, and all opposed the Clique to do your duty’. He was elected to represent Kingston in 1867 and served on the Works and Improvement Committees where he often raised issues relating to the day labourers and kerbing and guttering.

Council’s minutes sometimes spell his surname as ‘Gibbons’. He and the Mayor and Aldermen Galvin represented Council in a joint-committee on 12 August 1868 inquiring into Thomas Holt’s fanciful plan for water supply from Cooks River and decided it ‘was not a desirable one to adopt’. In April 1868 he asked about the cost of erecting flagpoles on the Newtown Road in anticipation of a visit from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. This was a sore point as it had been revealed earlier by the Honorable Eliot Yorke that ‘His Highness was prevented by previous engagements’ from visiting the municipality–much to the chagrin of local schoolchildren.

An altercation three meetings into the new Council’s term in 1869 acts as a marker to Gibbens’ sympathies. On 23 February 1869 a sacked builder named Leslie Meredith interrupted the meeting accusing Mayor Curtis of being responsible for Meredith being discharged from his employment. The minutes record that ‘at this stage of the proceedings Alderman Gibbens retired from the Council Chamber.’ Never to return, though he was asked back eight years later to advise about the widening of the railway bridge.

Martin Gibbens had declared back in his 1867 campaign that he ‘only carries one face under one hat’. This not strictly true, as he was also elected as a trustee on the Cooks River Road Trust. The Trust maintained this and Enmore Road and had some say in the sometimes controversial choice of locations for the bus stands.

He attended a protest meeting, reported in ‘The Town & Country Journal’ of January 1871, which demanded the omnibus depot be reinstated at ‘Boland’s Corner’. Gibbens stated he knew something about the transaction which had brought about its removal and believed that one man had been the cause of the grievance [most likely Judge Joshua Josephson of Enmore House]. It was said that the omnibuses would ‘cut up’ Enmore Road, and that there not sufficient rates to keep it in repair, and there was a ‘public’ that would be benefited by the removal (most likely James Anderson’s Terminus Inn on corner of Enmore and Cooks River Road).

He died in 1905. His son Abel worked as stationmaster at Stanmore in the 1880s, there is one person with the surname ‘Gibbons’ in St Peter’s Cemetery and a DN Gibbens is listed on the memorial for those Newtownsmen killed in the Great War. A street at the other end of Australia Street within Camperdown municipality between Salisbury Road and Camperdown Park is named as Gibbens Street.

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