Peter Hibbs: The First Fleeter who claimed he sailed to Botany Bay with James Cook
One of the few non-convict First Fleeters known to have settled in the Sydney region about whom considerable information is available through family records is Peter Hibbs, an Abel Seaman of the First Fleet flagship HMS Sirius. Hibbs played a significant role in the discovery and exploration of the eastern seaboard of Australia but his story is all the more intriguing for the fact that his arrival with the First Fleet may well have been his second landing on the shores of New South Wales. He himself claimed, and there is some evidence, albeit circumstantial, to support the belief that he had visited Botany Bay in 1770 as a cabin boy aboard James Cook's Endeavour. If that is so, he would be the only member of Cook's expedition to have returned to Australia with the First Fleet.
Officially, Peter's story began on Christmas Day in 1760, Peter's parents, George Hibbs and Mary Kenney, were married in the county of Dorset, England. On 24th January, 1762, their son, Peter Kenney Hibbs, was baptised at Swanage, a seaside town in Dorset, England. Peter grew up in Swanage, a place where he would have developed early the skills of fishing and seamanship and seen many a naval vessel passing by his village. His naval record commences with his appointment to the battleship HMS Goliath on 24th August, 1786 as an Abel Seaman. He was transferred at Captain Arthur Phillip's request less than a year later to HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet which arrived in New South Wales in January 1788.
He was selected in June 1789 as one of the crew of an exploratory expedition led by Gov. Phillip which resulted in the discovery of the Hawkesbury River. In March 1790 he sailed on the Sirius to Norfolk Island, at which time the vessel was wrecked. On Norfolk Island Peter met Mary Pardoe, a convict who had arrived in New South Wales aboard the Second Fleet transport, Lady Juliana. Unlike most of the crew, Peter stayed on Norfolk Island and the following year (1791) he received a land grant of 60 acres on the south side of the Cascade Run, Phillipsburg and soon had nine acres under cultivation. Peter and Mary were married on 5th November 1791, when the Reverend Johnson visited the island for three weeks.
A 25 tonne decked sloop, the Norfolk, was constructed on Norfolk Island in 1798 and Hibbs was appointed master of it. Gov. Hunter was delighted with the vessel and decided to use her as a supply ship for Matthew Flinders' proposed voyage to prove whether or not Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) was an island or a peninsula. The expedition left Sydney in October 1798. Hibbs, in his capacity of Colonial Master, commanded the Norfolk, with Matthew Flinders and George Bass aboard. The voyage proved that Van Diemen's Land was indeed an island and they returned to Sydney in January 1799. Flinders named a cluster of coastal features after Peter.
Pyramid Rock, Pt Hibbs, Tasmania
By September 1800, Hibbs was listed as being "in care of His Majesty's Ship Supply." Peter and his son George then both served on HMS Porpoise, an armed vessel of the Royal Navy, and were discharged from her at Port Jackson in August 1803. George Hibbs would have still been a youth of a similar age as his father when he first went to sea. At that time Peter moved to Sydney with his family and bought into a small 20 tonne vessel, Trimmer, which sailed between Sydney and the Hawkesbury River, servicing the farms established there. It was during these trips that Peter purchased a 100 acre property in the Mulgrave District on the Colo River and built the family home there.
After more years at sea, he took up a land grant at Courangra Point on Haycock Reach where he and Mary lived out their days with their children. Hibbs Point on the Hawkesbury River, marks the location of the Hibbs' farm. Mary Hibbs died on 19th May, 1844. Peter survived her until 12th September, 1847, when he died at Portland Head, age 90. Both are buried in the Laughtondale Cemetery near Wisemans Ferry.
According to a family legend, Peter Hibbs had first come to Australia with Captain Cook in 1770. The legend has persisted because another of Peter's sons, also named Peter, was the subject of a newspaper article on 30th April 1890 in The Australian. The article, which was reporting the son's death, recalled that Peter senior used to tell his family that on 28th of April, 1770, he came to Botany Bay with the "Endeavour", and when Lt. James Cook sent off a boat at Botany Bay with Sir Joseph, then Mr. Banks, to search for water and explore the coast, he was the next man to jump ashore after the distinguished naturalist.
At first the claim would seem to be little more than a fanciful yarn. Given that he was baptised in 1762, Peter would have been just 6 years old when James Cook embarked on his first voyage of discovery aboard the Endeavour. Though he was baptised in 1762, Hibbs himself as well as his gravestone indicate that he was born in 1757. It was common practice for people to give their date of baptism as their date of birth, often to hide their illegitimacy or to gain employment, and this may have been the case with Peter. This would have made him 11 years old when the Endeavour sailed for Australia's shores. It was not uncommon for youths of that age to be taken to sea as cabin boys, but since they were under-age, their names were never recorded. Joseph Banks recorded in his journal of the Endeavour's voyage that the boy Nicholas Young was the first to sight the coast of New Zealand yet Cook neither mentioned the sighting, nor had he listed Nicholas are part of the ship's complement. This would also explain the absence of Hibbs from the Endeavour's crew list had he sailed from Plymouth aboard her on 26th August 1768. Cook's journal on 11th October 1769 reads: "(we saw) at Noon the SW Point of Poverty Bay which I have named Young Nicks Head after the Boy who first saw this land".
By far the most compelling independent piece of evidence that indicates Hibbs had travelled with Cook to Botany Bay in 1770 came from the commander of the First Fleet himself, Captain Arthur Phillip. In a report on the First Fleet, Phillip recorded that Peter had been especially chosen to join the crew of the Sirius because Hibbs "had previously visited these shores". As no other vessel had ever reported visiting the coast of New South Wales prior to the arrival of the First Fleet other than the Endeavour, Hibbs must have been on the Endeavour if he had been there before. Phillip was a very exact man and would not have made such a statement had he not verified it first or had reason to believe that such was the case. Phillip was known by and in contact with Sir Joseph Banks before leaving with the First Fleet, so verification of Hibb's claim would have been a simple matter.
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Grave of Peter Hibbs