GIBSONE, SIR JOHN, colonel, commander of land forces sent to Newfoundland in 1697; b. Ratho, near Edinburgh, 1637; d. 24 Oct. 1717.
Gibsone entered the Dutch army and gained a captain’s commission in 1675. He came to England in 1688 with the invasion forces of William of Orange and obtained an English commission as lieutenant-colonel in February 1689. He got his first regimental command in 1694 and was lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth from May 1689 until his death.
In 1697 Gibsone was appointed commander of the 2,000 men sent to Newfoundland with a naval force under Sir John Norris*. The combined expedition was to recover the English settlements captured for the French in 1696 by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Brouillan [Monbeton], to remove the French from Placentia (Plaisance), and to secure a permanent military establishment at St John’s. Early in 1697 the Board of Trade had received accounts of the “devastation of the English settlements in Newfoundland,” in which the inhabitants and fishermen of St John’s described the hardships and deprivation they had endured before finally capitulating, gave details of the number of colonists who had been killed or forced to leave, and reported the French threat to seize the whole of the Newfoundland fishing trade and even “to take all New England next year.” In spite of the urgency of the situation, the punitive expedition under Gibsone and Norris was late in arriving in Newfoundland and inactive when it did arrive.
St John’s was found to be deserted and was reoccupied. Handicapped by lack of materials and provisions, Gibsone nevertheless set about the construction of shore batteries and a fort. These were not completed, however, nor was anything done about driving the French from Placentia. When a French naval squadron under the Marquis de Nesmond appeared off St John’s in August 1697, neither side attacked. Gibsone returned to England in October 1697, leaving behind a garrison of 300 under Major Thomas Handasyde, and the situation in Newfoundland was temporarily resolved by the Peace of Ryswick.
Gibsone had no further direct contact with Newfoundland but was frequently in attendance on the Lords of Trade and Plantations to advise on the situation at St John’s; he regularly pressed for better support to be given to the colony. He thus became involved in the long-standing dispute between the colonists and the Western Adventurers. Unlike Norris, who favoured the West Country men, Gibsone urged stronger and more extensive fortifications and the establishing of a settled government: “I do not mean a military government but the civil and Church government also.” Gibsone’s recommendations were to go unheeded for another 30 years, however, and a cryptic marginal note was added to one of his letters: “he will accomplish nothing.”
Although after 1700 Gibsone was mainly concerned with affairs at Portsmouth, as late as 1710 he was still advocating a new fort at Ferryland (Forillon). He died in 1717, aged eighty.
PRO, Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1680–1720; CSP, Col., 1696–97, no.586 (account of the capture of St John’s by the French); 1697–98, 1704–5, 1706–8, 1710–11. DNB. Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld. Prowse, History of Nfld.