George Gibsone was born in Deptford, Kent in 1762, the son of an architect. George was brought up to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined his father’s practice on leaving school. Like his father he travelled to Italy before commencing practice, later designing several London residences and country mansions.
In 1796 Gibsone married Elizabeth, daughter of Prebendary Waring and some time later the whole family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne. Father and son worked with local lead works owner Richard Fishwick on designing and erecting an iron works at Lemington. This venture was short lived and ended with the collapse of the enterprise and the ruination of all three partners. Gibsone then became manager of his brother John’s colour manufactury at Bill Quay, near Gateshead.
In 1812 Gibsone’s wife, Elizabeth, opened a school for girls in Forth House, Newcastle. By 1827 the school is listed in a Newcastle directory as a “ladies’ day and boarding school” at 5 Saville Row. It is not known whether George took any part in the running of the school but it is possible that he taught drawing. However, this enterprise proved so successful that the couple were able to retire in 1831 to Belle Vue Cottage in Low Fell, Gateshead.
For many years after moving to Newcastle, Gibsone had taken a keen interest in the natural sciences, and was a member of what is today the Natural History Society of Northumbria. He painted coins, plants, minerals, shells and acquired great dexterity in illustrating conchology. He travelled the coasts of England, Scotland and France to obtain specimens for his illustrations and olleagues provided him with specimens from more distant countries.
When he died, in 1846, he left behind him a vast number of watercolours consisting of 7,260 prints of 3,025 species in 16 portfolios. This collection was purchased by public subscription in 1890 and presented to Newcastle Public Library where it has been housed ever since.
In 2007, with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the collection has been preserved and made more accessible for future generations to enjoy.