Joseph Tice Gellibrand

Between Winchelsea and Colac there is a distance of 36km on today’s Princes highway, which doesn’t take too long by car. 160 years ago was slightly different.

One mystery from the area, and that era, concerns the driving force behind the Port Phillip Association, Joseph Tice Gellibrand. He had begun his life in Australia as the Attorney-General for Van Diemens Land in 1824, only to be removed from office two years later after a dispute with Lt. Governor George Arthur over a newspaper editorial.

He continued to work on the island as a barrister, and was instrumental in drawing up the ‘treaties’ with the natives of the Port Phillip district which drew (and continue to draw) such contempt. In 1837, knowing that Governor Bourke was going to visit the colony, he and a lawyer friend Mr. George Brooks Legrew Hesse paid a visit (not Gellibrand’s first) to Geelong.

On 21st February 1837 Gellibrand and Hesse landed at Point Henry, and after procuring horses and a few provisions, they left the next day from Dr. Thomson’s station. Their intended route was to head west to the Barwon river and then to travel up the Leigh river, calling on a couple of the stations along the way, and then turn east to Bearbrass in time to meet Bourke.

One of Dr. Thomson’s employees, a man by the name of Akers, had been along the Leigh previously, and Gellibrand and Hesse obtained his services.

Instead of crossing the Leigh above the Barwon river, they crossed the Barwon itself and Akers got lost, but didn’t let on. The others were confident they would reach the stations, and when Akers refused to go further Gellibrand told him he might return to Dr. Thomson’s – which he did. And that was the last seen of Gellibrand and Hesse.


Later, there were some doubts cast on Mr. Akers, and investigations carried out into his part in the whole affair, but as James Bonwick coyly put it "...unable to charge him with the committal of any crime."

There were searchs made and theories put forward, but to this day it remains one of the great mysteries of the Otway Ranges. One of the contemporary writers has left us his own thoughts, and I’m going to let him tell them in his own words. The following extract is from his handwritten memoirs “written at different times when shepherding”.

“A Smal Scetch concerning the later part of Mr. Gellibrand’s life in Port Philip.

Mr. Gellibrand and Mr. Essia came to our station on the river Ax and stoped theire that night. The next morning thay whent away but never came back, on the thiere way thay fell in with Doctor Thompsons bullock driver who accompaned them has far has Austans ford, thiere being no other station theire at that time them, then this man, along with a black man left them, would not go aney farther with them, the mans name was acors, then thay went in direction of mount Gellibrand, so called since on the account of them passing thiere.

Then thay proceeded on thiere Jorney till thay came to the top of the laake Colack, betwixt the lake and the hills, being then lost, taking the colack lake to be a lake at the back of the Yowyang hills, mistakin them hills at the Colack for the Aunikayoyang hills, which thay are called the mistaken Aunikayoyangs to this day, and that was the place thay was killed, about a year and half after. The riter was living at the Colack when it was first inhibited, during my time thiere was two drays and number of men with them from Vandimansland to go in sarch of them, thay came to the Colack and camped one night, and the next morning whent away in direction for the warnamboole lake, but did not go far before the Colack blacks fell in with them.

Thay had a skirmish with them and one of the white men got a blow to the side of his head, another got a blow on the Jaw, so frightened them that thay turned back, and them all having guns and plenty of powder and shot. About two years after that I went to the Grampians, staying thiere two months, came back Along with eight more coming from the frenchman Publick house, 25 miles from the Leigh.

Has we was coming past the warnamboole lake, we saw a great many blacks thiere, two sawers was going to Vandimansland, thought to get some inteligence from them about Mr. Gellibrand, weather he had been killed thiere, so almost all of us whent with our guns amongst them to inquire weather they new anything about them. Two of the blacks whent into their tents and brought two Sculls to us for to look at, the two sawers brought the sculls with them and tooke them to Vandimansland, one of the sculls wanting a tooth in front, the same has Mr. Gellibrand did, but when thay got to Vandimansland thay was not wanted, the Bank had given up his property.”

Nathaniel Gosling, was born 14th November 1774 in England, and had been a member of Wellington's army during the Napoleonic Wars. At the time the Port Phillip Association was establishing itself on the northern side of Bass Strait, he
was a shepherd in Tasmania, and was aboard the “Norval” on her first trip to Melbourne with 23 passengers, along with 52 cattle and 500 sheep in 1835, and made several more trips before settling permanently in the District.


Hobart's "True Colonist", in May 1837, published a detailed account of the whole saga, and ended by expressing the hope that the mystery would soon be resolved. It was popularly believed that a "hostile" clan from the Otways - the Karakoi - were responsible ("had the credit for the murder"), with the inevitable results.



See also Joseph Tice Gellibrand in the Australian Dictionary of Biographies Online