The Artists

William Tibbits




29.9 x 68.0cm
Collection: Geelong Gallery
Gift of Miss Davison, 1918

Geelong is a modern seaport situated on Corio Bay, 72 kilometres south west of Melbourne. It is the largest provincial city in Victoria, the second largest city in Victoria, and the twelfth largest urban centre in Australia.

The Wathawurung Aborigines are thought to have occupied the area before European settlement.

Geelong was officially named in 1837 by Governor Bourke, however the name was noted as already in use as early as 1824 by Hamilton Hume and William Hovell who had travelled overland to the western shore of Corio Bay.

The name Geelong was derived from the Aboriginal term 'jillong'. It is generally accepted that the term 'jillong' means 'place of native companions', however other meanings have been given, such as 'place of the cliff' ( ie. East and West Beaches of today); 'white seabird'; 'curlew'; 'swamps where native companions live' and 'swamps where brolgas live'. Although convict, William Buckley had resided in the area with the local Aborigines for the previous thirty-two years, after escaping from David Collins's expedition to Port Phillip in 1803, European settlement of Geelong is considered to have dated from 1835, with the signing of the 'Geelong Deed' by John Batman.

On behalf of the Port Phillip Association, Batman acquired 40500 hectares of land in the area from eight Aboriginal chiefs. He had earlier landed at Point Henry and inspected the land.

Among the first European settlers to the area were J.A. Cowie, David Stead and Dr Alexander Thomson. In 1837, Thomson took up a property called 'Kardinia' on the Barwon River. 'Kardinia' was Aboriginal for 'break of day'. Part of Thomson's property is now known as Kardinia Park.

Cowie gave his name to Cowie Creek, an early name for the district of Corio. Corio derived its name from the corruption of the Aboriginal term 'coraiyo' meaning 'small marsupial' or 'sandy cliffs'. Corio Bay is the western arm of Port Phillip Bay, and the entrance to Inner Harbour is marked by Point Lillias in the north and Point Henry in the south. To the east of Point Henry is the Bellarine Peninsula extending into Port Phillip Bay.

Corio Bay was first noted by explorers Matthew Flinders and Lieutenant John Murray who both visited Corio Bay in 1802. Point Lillias was named after James Strachan's schooner, which bore his wife's name 'Lillias'. Strachan was a pioneer woolbroker in Geelong.

Point Henry was named after Captain Edwin Whiting's brig 'Henry' which anchored off Point Henry on 16 June 1836. Point Henry was later marked on Whiting's survey map of Geelong Harbour of November 1836. The Aboriginal term for Point Henry was 'maloppio'. Another Aboriginal term used in this area was 'moo-laa' which was corrupted to Moolap and meant 'men gathering to go fishing'.

The large sandbar stretching across Corio Bay from Point Henry inhibited the growth of the Port of Geelong, until the Hopetoun Channel was dredged through it in 1893.

This view of Geelong provided here by Tibbits is from the southern end of Corio Bay, looking north west across Eastern Beach and its many jetties and piers. The township of Geelong faces east across Corio Bay and into Port Phillip Bay. In the foreground of this work, and to the left is Eastern Park, within which is the Botanic Gardens and Geelong's first Customs House, being the oldest wooden building in Victoria, prefabricated in Sydney and shipped to Geelong in 1838. The old Customs House was used as the first Telegraph Office.

By 1874, when this work was painted, Geelong was already a flourishing township. Geelong was later proclaimed a city on 8 December 1910 after being incorporated in October 1849.

Geelong's only daily paper, the Geelong Advertiser was founded in 1840 as a weekly, and is the oldest morning paper in Victoria. Christ Church was opened in 1847, and is the oldest church in Victoria in continuous use. In the 1850's, Geelong saw tremendous growth and this was mainly due to Geelong being the major port for diggers making their way to the Central Highlands goldfields. Geelong City Hall dates from 1855, and the old Telegraph Station in Ryrie Street was built in 1857. Also in 1857, the Geelong to Williamstown railway line was opened, and this was connected with Melbourne in 1859. In 1862, a further railway line connected Geelong to Ballarat, making the journey for the diggers heading to the goldfields much easier.

William Taylor Smith Tibbits, watercolourist and lithographer, was baptised on 5 September 1837. He arrived in Australia around 1866, and between 1866 and 1870 produced works depicting shops and gold mines in the Ballarat area. He moved to Neil Street, Ballarat in 1870, and married Rose Fulton, sister of lithographer, Samuel Fulton, on 24 March 1871.

In 1873-74, he produced works of Scarsdale and Maryborough, and travelled the Ballarat district offering to paint 'houses for a guinea, with family members extra, and animals 5 shillings each'. His works were described as having 'obsessive attention to detail'.

In 1875, the year after he painted this work of Geelong, Tibbits moved to Melbourne, settling at 'Merivale', Coburg. Here he built up a large clientele in Melbourne and Geelong for his house paintings. He moved with his family to Sydney in about 1898, and died of bronchial asthma and cardiac failure at his residence, 'The Grange', Liverpool Street, Sydney on 15 December 1906. Among his other works of Geelong is the watercolour of 'Coronal, Geelong', painted in 1892 and purchased by the Geelong Gallery in 1992.

Other early artworks of Geelong, include the lithograph of Geelong produced by S.T.Gill in 1857 and the oil 'Geelong from Mr. Hiatt's, Barrabool Hills', painted by William Duke in 1851. There are also two significant oils of Point Henry by Walter Withers. These are 'A breezy day off Point Henry', 1901 and 'Breezy day at Point Henry, near Geelong', c. 1900.

Andrew Mackenzie

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Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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