Gellibrand was born in London, England in about 1786 where he was admitted as an attorney in 1816. On 1st August, 1823 he was appointed the attorney-general of Van Diemen's Land and arrived in the colony to take up his post in March the following year, however his tenure in the position was short-lived. Within months of his arrival he came into conflict with Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur and by February, 1826 had been suspended from his position.
|Joseph Tice Gellibrand|
|The "Batman Treaty"of 1835, also known as the 'Batman Land Deed'.|
Item held by the National Museum of Australia
The pair, along with Mr John Sinclair from Launceston, landed at Point Henry, near Geelong on the 21st February, intending to spend a couple of days following the Barwon and then the Leigh Rivers upstream before turning east and passing behind the You Yangs to reach Gellibrand's own run on the Werribee River near present day Wyndhamvale. From there, they would return to the brig Henry which by then was expected to have finished unloading sheep and be waiting for them at Williamstown.
The confluence of the Barwon and Leigh Rivers today is a clear t-junction with high water levels and it is hard to imagine how a mistake was made, but this was prior to the construction of the various dams and weirs or the advent of water licences which today affect the flow of both rivers. In 1837 there clearly was not much to distinguish between the Leigh and the various other creeks which enter the Barwon from the north and so the party continued upriver throughout the day, despite Akers' protestations that they had missed the crossing point which they had expected to find around nine miles upstream of Pollock's station.
|The confluence of the Leigh and Barwon Rivers at Inverleigh, 2017. In this|
photo the Leigh flows from the left and the Barwon from the right and the
combined streams flow away from the camera towards Geelong
|This 1858 sketch by Eugene von Guerard shows the Warrion Hills which|
Gellibrand most likely mistook for the You Yangs. Image held by the
National Gallery of Victoria
By April, reports had begun to circulate that the missing men had been killed by "natives" (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25th April, 1837), that they had been murdered and the bodies found (The Sydney Monitor, 19th April, 1837), that Buckley had returned from searching but no trace of either men or horses had been found (The Australian, 25th April, 1837) and so on. On 18th April, a third search party led by Joseph Beazley Naylor and Charles Octavius Parsons, with the backing of the men's families set off for the Lake Colac district, accompanied by native guides and armed with the information that two white men had been killed by Aboriginals in that area.
And there perhaps, things rested until 10th July, 1844 when the Geelong Advertiser published the recollections of a squatter by the name of Henry Allan who - along with his brother - had settled on the Hopkins River. Allan claimed that a group of natives had shown him the location of a grave near Moonlight Heads a few months earlier. The description of the man fitted that of Gellibrand and the tribe claimed that he had lived with them for around two months after stumbling upon them, starving and exhausted, saying that his companion had died about 20 miles further upriver. Their horses it was presumed had been turned loose as they entered the thick bush some 20 miles or more to the north where presumably they were then found wandering by the Guldijin tribe of Tanapia.
where he exhumed the body and took with him the skull and and some personal effects which had also been buried. The general location of Hesse's body was indicated but the weather did not at that time permit travelling to the site. The same information, along with the opinion of a medical practitioner was sent in a letter to Captain Foster Fyans. The letter and details of the report were published in the Geelong Advertiser, 24th June, 1844 and as far as the Advertiser was concerned, solved the mystery of what had become of Gellibrand and Hesse.
Then in 1846, whilst on his third expedition attempting to reach Cape Otway (Clark, Ian D., Scars in the landscape: a register of massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Canberra Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1995) Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe noted that the Allans showed him what they believed to be the burial sites of Gellibrand and Hesse (Donovan et al., 'The remarkable disappearance of Messrs Gellibrand and Hesse'. What really happened in 1837?: a re-examination of the historical evidence, Victorian Historical Journal, Vol. 87, No. 2, Dec 2016: 278-297).
This however, was far from the end of the story. For about three years following Allan's discovery, the skull is said to have hung from the roof of his hut (The Colonial Times, 25th August, 1846) and it was not until that time that it was sent to Tasmania for further examination. Furthermore but somewhat at odds with this account is another, earlier description given by a traveller who met the Allans in September, 1839 and claimed that he was shown a skull with fractures - supposed to be from a tomahawk - which they believed to be that of one of the missing explorers (The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, 8th October, 1839).
In The Argus of 13th November, 1909 Donald Macdonald published several letters he had received all purporting to give some information on the fate of Gellibrand and Hesse. Mrs Jones indicated that she was shown a box containing Gellibrand's body during a visit to the Allans in 1846 whilst George Somerville recalls hearing that Joseph Gellibrand's son had arrived from Tasmania in 1847 and with the assistance of Allan and the local indigenous tribe had located the body which he was taking back to Tasmania.
And from there, things continue to get muddier, with differing reports of bodies being shipped to Tasmania or remaining some time with the Allans and with some even claiming that numerous skulls were sent for examination with no conclusive proof being found. Of course, Gellibrand and Hesse were not the only white settlers to have disappeared in the area over the years so it is not unlikely that other Caucasian skulls may have been discovered in the district.
It would seem however that by the end of 1837 it was generally accepted that the pair had perished as on 27th November notice was given of the intent to apply for probate of George's will in the Supreme Court (The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, 12th December, 1837). Things were a little more difficult in the case of Gellibrand whose life was the subject of an £10,000 insurance policy - the first in Australia it is claimed according to Asteron Life (formerly Alliance Assurance). It was also the first life insurance policy paid out - albeit after a three year wait as no proof of death was available. The payment was eventually made however, to Gellibrand's widow Isabella.
|A mahogany and rosewood writing case belonging to Joseph Tice|
Gellibrand. Item and photo from the Joseph Tice Gellibrand Collection,
National Museum of Australia
One such was Isaac Hebb who, styling himself as IZAAK, in November, 1888 wrote an account of the disappearance of Gellibrand and Hesse which appeared in consecutive editions of the Colac Herald. Dramatically titled "ROMANCE OF THE OTWAY--MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF MESSRS GELLIBRAND AND HESSE", it made the claim that no reliable evidence existed that the bodies were ever found, however more recently, there have been scholarly articles which cast the events surrounding the disappearance in a different light, particularly with respect to the role played by the various indigenous tribes of the region, whose oral testimony was of course not considered admissible evidence (Rogers, Thomas, 'Friendly' and 'hostile' Aboriginal clans: the search for Gellibrand and Hesse, History Australia, (2016),Vol. 13, Iss. 2, pp 275-285). Likewise, Donovan et al., 'The remarkable disappearance of Messrs Gellibrand and Hesse'. What really happened in 1837?: a re-examination of the historical evidence, Victorian Historical Journal, Vol. 87, No. 2, Dec 2016: 278-297 re-examines the available sources through modern eyes, concluding that there is significant evidence to suggest that the mystery of Gellibrand and Hesse is not as much of a mystery as we have been led to believe.
|Hesse St, Queenscliff, January, 2018|