Gibbs, Bright & Co was established in Bristol in 1818, when George Gibbs and his son (also called George) began an association with Robert Bright.
The Gibbs family made its first fortune in the late 1700s as Bristol wool merchants - trading cloth to Spain and importing fruit and wine. The Gibbs established a monopoly on the import of guano from Peru for fertiliser and this success lead to the establishment of a merchant bank called Anthony Gibbs & Sons. The Brights owned sugar-producing estates in the Jamaica and a connection between the two families was established through their West Indies trading activities.
The company became the agents from Brunel's great steamships, the GREAT WESTERN and the GREAT BRITAIN, and held places on the governing board of the Great Western Railway. In the early 1850s, the company began to own their own vessels to be used on voyages to and from Australia. The company purchased Brunel's GREAT BRITAIN in January 1851. The GREAT BRITAIN set sail for Australia in August 1851. The clipper ship, EAGLE, 1065 tons, sailed for Port Phillip and Adelaide a month later. The acquisition of the ALBATROSS followed and this ship was the first to land gold from the New South Wales gold strike in August 1852. On 14 October 1852, the company acquired a Royal Charter to establish the Liverpool and Australia Navigation Company and, by the time of the loss of the ROYAL CHARTER, had some 8 vessels working on the Liverpool/Australia run.
The bankruptcy of Thomas Cram with a partially complete iron-sailing vessel on the stocks, provided the company with the opportunity to add to their fleet. The Port of Liverpool Shipping Register was notified of the ownership of the ROYAL CHARTER by Tyndall Bright, Acting Secretary, on 28 April 1855.
The company's adverts around the time of the ROYAL CHARTER's loss proposed to 'Steam to Australia under 60 days, passage money pound 14 and upwards'. Other vessels mentioned in adverts as being part of a line of the largest, finest and fastest merchant ships in the world include the MARCO POLO, LIGHTNING, C. OF THE SEA, DONAL MCKAY, SALDANHA, OCEAN CHIEF, BRITISH TRIDENT, GIPSEY BRIDE, GREAT TASMANIA, COMMODORE PERRY, and MONTMORENCY. The Melbourne branch of the firm Bright, Brother & Co had been established, and the company had agents in North Wales at Abergele (A F Watts) and Bangor (Edward Ellis Junior, Shipbuilding yard, Garth Point).
This cargo book, conserved by the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Merseyside Maritime Museum), includes references to cargo consignments for vessels such as the ELECTRIC, METEOR, KING OF ALGERIA, HILTON, EAGLE, ROYAL CHARTER and GREAT BRITAIN.
Use the People's Collection Wales zoom tool to see if you can spot the references to the ROYAL CHARTER on these two pages of Profit and Loss calculations.
Notice that the columns adding up the amounts are divided into three for the old imperial monetary system of pounds, shillings and pence. Try totalling up at one of the pages. Did the accounting clerk get his sums right? Don't forget that under the old monetary system there were 12 pence in every shilling and 20 shillings in every pound.
Visit one of the Gibbs, Bright & Co's surviving vessels: