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HIBBERT, ROBERT (1770–1849), founder of the Hibbert trust, third and posthumous son of John Hibbert (1732–1769), a Jamaica merchant, and Janet, daughter of Samuel Gordon, was born in Jamaica in 1770; hence he speaks of himself as a creole. His mother died early. Between 1784 and 1788 he was a pupil of Gilbert Wakefield at Nottingham. At a later period (1800–1), when Wakefield suffered imprisonment at Dorchester for writing a political pamphlet, Hibbert, though not wealthy then, sent him 1,000l. He entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1788, and graduated B.A. in 1791. At Cambridge he formed a lifelong friendship with William Frend [q. v.] In 1791 Hibbert went to Kingston, Jamaica, as partner in a mercantile house founded by his father's eldest brother, Thomas Hibbert. Returning to England about 1803, he bought the estate of East Hide (now called The Hyde), near Luton, Bedfordshire. In Jamaica he acquired considerable property, and he was not convinced by the arguments of Frend that his ownership of slaves was immoral. Besides plans for their material benefit, he sent out as a missionary to the negroes on his estates, in October 1817, Thomas Cooper (d. 25 Oct. 1880, aged 88), a unitarian minister, recommended by Frend, who remained in the island till 1821, endeavouring, with little success, to improve their moral and religious condition. A somewhat acrimonious controversy followed the publication of Cooper's report. After 1825 Hibbert's Jamaica property declined in value, and about 1836 he sold it at considerable loss. He had previously (1833) sold his Bedfordshire estate, and removed to London. He died at Welbeck Street, London, on 23 Sept. 1849, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married while in Jamaica Elizabeth Jane, daughter of John Frederic Nembhard, M.D., who died on 15 Feb. 1853.

On 19 July 1847 Hibbert executed a deed conveying to trustees fifty thousand dollars in 6 per cent. Ohio stock, and 8,000l. in railway shares. The trustees, on the death of his widow, were to apply the income ‘in such manner as they shall from time to time deem most conducive to the spread of Christianity in its most simple and intelligible form, and to the unfettered exercise of the right of private judgment in matters of religion.’ The trustees were always to be laymen. Appended was a scheme for the administration of the trust, which the trustees were empowered to revise, and were directed to revise at least once in every twenty-five years. In the original scheme the trust was called ‘the Antitrinitarian Fund,’ and its object was, by a provision of divinity scholarships, to encourage learning and culture among unorthodox Christians. The breadth of the actual trust is largely due to the counsels of Hibbert's solicitor, Edwin Wilkins Field [q. v.], but, in opposition to Field, Hibbert ‘determined on insisting that all recipients should be heterodox,’ his intention being ‘to elevate the position and the public influence of the unitarian ministry.’ In addition to scholarships and fellowships, the number and conditions of which are settled by the trustees from year to year, the trust, from the revision of 1878 until 1887, maintained an annual ‘Hibbert lecture,’ the first series being delivered by Professor Max Müller in 1878; it has since 1902 issued the ‘Hibbert Journal,’ a quarterly magazine.

Hibbert published:

  1. ‘Facts Verified upon Oath, in contradiction of the Report of the Rev. T. Cooper,’ &c., 1824, 8vo.
  2. A political paper, ‘Why am I a Liberal?’ (about 1831) signed ‘John Smith,’ reprinted in Murch's ‘Memoir.’
  3. A newspaper address ‘To the Chartists of England,’ 1840, advocating the abolition of the corn-laws and the adoption of the ballot.

[Monthly Repository, 1822, pp. 217 sq.; Christian Reformer, 1853, pp. 246 sq.; Murch's Memoir of Hibbert, with a Sketch of the history of the Trust, 1874.]

A. G.