Black Sheep – is he or isn’t he?

Was he or wasn’t he the black sheep of the family? Certainly, when family members talked about him they had whispered conversations and used words like Remittance Man, harsh and cruel. Will we ever know the truth about Thomas GIBBS or will it be lost in the mist of time.

Chrch yard of St mary the Virgin Vernham Dean
Church Yard St Mary the Virgin, Vernham Dean

Thomas GIBBS was born on 30 July 1811 and baptized on the 11th of August 1811 in Vernham Dean, Hampshire(3) to James GIBBS and Harriot SHIN or CHING. He was the eldest 8 children born to James and Harriot. The names of the Thomas’s brothers and sisters are repeated through the next generations of the family. Thomas lived and worked in Vernham Deans as a woodman and agricultural labourer (4).

One of the many stories always stated behind closed hands and whispered was that Thomas GIBBS was a remittance man. A remittance man is generally seen as an emigrant who was supported from home or assisted with payments. While today, we may view this person through more rose coloured glasses or decide he was a black sheep and that is why he was a remittance man, there is no actual evidence to suggest that this was the case for Thomas. In 1839 – 1840, Thomas applied for assisted passage for himself, his wife Elizabeth and his two children Elizabeth and Thurza. This application suggests that rather than being a remittance man he was seeking to improve his lot by emigrating to the colony of South Australia.

mount torrens bible christian church
Mount Torrens (8)

Thomas and his family set sail for the colony on 6th March 1840 on the Charles Kerr from London. Thomas’s first son Charles was born during the voyage (5). The birth record of Alexander GIBBS (6) in 1842 in Gumeracha helps us to place the family after their arrival in the colony. The family either took up a lease or had land around Mount Torrens and used the land to agist sheep, Thurza one of the daughters was used as a shepherd (7). One year later we learn through Trove that Thomas had deserted his wife and children at Mount Torrens. The newspaper article tells us that the children and wife had been living on herbs from the field and were suffering from exhaustion and cholera. While the children survived the mother died and was buried in the Mount Crawford chapel yard (9). No death record has survived for Thomas’s first wife and the assumption is that the newspaper report is of her death. At the time of her death Thomas had 6 children, the eldest Elizabeth would have been close to twenty.

trinity church B15897
Holy Trinity Church (11)

Thomas married Mary Ann IRWIN on 12 March 1855 at Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide (10). the story goes that Thomas hired Mary a young Irish woman as a maid child minder for his children, she refused to work for him when she became aware that he had children older than her. At the time of his second marriage both his daughters had married and there would have been no one at home to do the cooking and the cleaning for the family as well as mind the younger boys.

Robe view
Robe (

Mary and Thomas moved to the South East living around the Robe and Kingston area. They had ten children that have been accounted for . Family history states that Thomas had twenty three children. This number has not been accounted for. Of course there could have been additional children who died early or at birth and so the births were not registered. While Thomas worked as a labourer and shepherd around the South East, Mary would teach the children using the Bible to read. She would often sew clothing for the children and babies but would need to hide this from her husband as it was seen as being frivolous.

Thomas has a reputation of being a hard man and that all his family had to call him Mr Gibbs. The folk lore also suggested that during his time he ran a sly grog shop around Kangaroo Inn which he sold alcohol to the Chinese on their way to the gold fields. There is no evidence to support this story. Trove tells us in 1869 two of Thomas’ sons were caught stealing sheep, while he was in the vicinity at the time he was able to convince the court that he was innocent. His sons William and John were sent to the reform school for 5 years. The newspaper reports show how Thomas allowed his sons to take the blame and responsibility for the act, while he denied all knowledge and involvement (13). This may have been an agreement between the family in the hope that the sentence would be lighter for the boys. In this day and age it is a betrayal of a parent to their child.

Thomas lived a long life dying in Mount Benson on 3rd of October 1900. He had  survived the perils of emigrating to to a new colony along with his family. A total of 16 children are known in the family, the majority of children survived and went on to marry and have large families as well. In these families may stories are told of Thomas GIBBS and at times it is hard to tell fact from fiction. So was he a black sheep, highly likely. Certainly he comes across as a harsh man who often put his own needs ahead of others.

kingston SE
Kingston South East (14)



#52 ancestors 52 weeks

Week 26 Black Sheep

1. State Library of South Australia – Kingston 1890 B10035. Public Domain. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from

2. Commons Wikimedia. Church Yard of Saint Mary the Virgin Vernham Dean. Retrieved 24 June 2018 fromvernham dean

3. Baptism Record Vernham Dean acccessed Hampshire Records Office

4. Index to register of emigrant laborers applying for fee passage 1836-1841 accessed State Library of South Australia

5. Family History SA. South Australian Shipping and Immigration. Accessed June 24, 2018

6. Border Watch. Obituary Alexander GIBBS 17 July 1926. Retrieved 24 June, 2018

7. LAW AND POLICE COURTS. (1850, September 12). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved June 24, 2018, from

8. Mount Torrens. The 1854 Bible Christian Methodist Church now Uniting

9. IMMORALITY IN CALIFORNIA. (1851, June 20). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 2. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from

10. Holy Trinity Church record: 2640, p. 209 microfiche, State Library SA

11. State Library of South Australia – Trinity Church B10035. Public Domain. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from State Library of South Australia – Kingston 1890 B10035. Public Domain. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from

12. State Library of South Australia – Robe view B 75367. Public Domain. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from

13. ECONOMY IN THE CIVIL SERVICE. (1869, October 26). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 2. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from

14. State Library of South Australia – Main Street of Kingston B2645. Public Domain. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from

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