Henry Gibbon, born in 1824, is generally acknowledged as the founder of the company, although he died some 20 years before GMS Syndicate Limited was formed. Henry had got involved in the law working with William S Langley from an office first taken in 1841 at 32, Great James Street in London, which became the registered address of GMS and remains so to the present day.
In the mid 1800’s, one of Henry’s brothers, James Gibbon, arrived in Brisbane. Here was a city in its formative stages, and here was opportunity for those with a business head and some money to turn a tidy profit – a profit which was eventually to help fund the launch of property company GMS Syndicate, back in England. By the 1850s the town had closed its convict settlement and opened the area up to free settlement, where property development took off, and James quickly found a niche for his skills.
Back in England in 1872 when architect and builder, Henry de Bruno Austin failed to sell a number of properties in Bayswater and Ealing, he went bankrupt. Henry Gibbon decided to take the debt on from the Bankruptcy Trustees for a total of £53,000. All the properties had mortgages on them and Henry set about redeeming these, or replacing them with mortgages raised from relatives, but it was a long, complicated and expensive business and even by the time he died there were still some mortgages outstanding.
In 1885 James Gibbon returned to England, and on his death in 1888, he left an estimated fortune of nearly £500,000. Recording his death The Queenslander newspaper in August 1888 said that James had owned “an immense amount of land and property in the colony, the vast bulk of which has already been disposed of.” £100,000 was left to each of his three brothers, including Henry. One of the brothers died, resulting in Henry inheriting again. However he had already by this time built up his own very considerable portfolio of investments, and freehold and leasehold properties.
Home for Henry Gibbon was at Kent House, Ealing, a property with an interesting history tinged with royal scandal and upset. It goes back to the late 1700s when Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, son of George III and a brother of William IV, took a mistress and housed her in the grand Kent Lodge, Ealing. By the time he was 50 and heavily in debt he decided to leave his mistress and marry the widowed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. He could no longer afford to keep the Ealing property and despite several attempts to sell Kent Lodge it fell into disrepair. Eventually the whole site was bought by the architect Henry de Bruno Austin with a plan to turn the area into very expensive detached properties. The main property was rebuilt, renamed Kent House and occupied by the architect himself, before being bought by Henry Gibbon in 1882. It remained his home until his death in March 1905.
Much of the Ealing estate was bought by the British Land Company and some plots were subsequently sold to Henry Gibbon. He paid for alms houses to be built on part of the estate. Many of the roads in the area still recall the royal links and include Kent Avenue, Victoria Road and Albert Road.
Henry Gibbon died on March 29, 1905 leaving a very considerable estate consisting of investments and freeholds and leasehold properties; on his death the gross value was £246,762. Henry’s properties were left to his widow and were administered by solicitors Gibbon & Moore. Elizabeth died in 1915 leaving the properties to her three daughters Constance (Moore), Ethel (Simpson) and Marion (Gibbon),
Housing in the UK after the War was a fairly uncomfortable mix of superior-quality buildings, and accommodation for the poorer classes. The Gibbon properties included a large amount of working class terraced housing in Kentish Town, which were mostly without any indoor sanitation, and the only means of heating was by open fire. Rents were low and neither landlord nor tenant could afford to spend much money on repairs.