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Sibson, Richard Broadley


Teacher, ornithologist

This biography, written by B. J. Gill, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Richard Broadley Sibson, known to his friends as ‘Sib’, was a popular and influential teacher for two generations of Auckland schoolboys, and one of the pioneers of modern bird-watching in New Zealand. He was born at Cliffe, Kent, England, on 27 May 1911, the elder child of Samuel Charles Sibson and his wife, Caroline Isobel Woodin. He attended the local Church of England elementary school, where his father was headmaster. From the age of 10 he was a boarder at King’s School, Rochester, where he was able to enjoy the natural and historical attractions of the surrounding countryside.

Sibson spent five years at Oxford University, graduating with an MA in Classics (1934) and a diploma of education (1935). There he came into contact with established ornithologists and continued his early interest in bird-watching, with trips as far afield as Scotland. He then taught for nearly four years at Sandbach grammar school, Cheshire, exploring the local countryside when he could, and making holiday excursions to the Mediterranean.

In October 1939 Dick Sibson arrived in Auckland to fill a position as Classics master at King’s College, Otahuhu. The solid and traditional atmosphere of this school suited him well, and King’s was to become the core of his existence for the next 30 years. He taught Latin, Greek and classical history until his retirement in 1971. The school grounds and nearby rural land gave ample opportunities for bird-watching, and Sibson ran a bird club which gave hundreds of boys an opportunity to join field trips to local sites. Smaller groups of selected pupils, many of whom went on to careers in biology, had a chance to join expeditions to offshore islands.

Sibson arrived in New Zealand just as the country’s small band of professional and amateur ornithologists, led by B. J. Marples and R. A. Falla, were forming a society, with the aim of fostering contact and producing a magazine that would be an outlet for members’ observations. The Ornithological Society of New Zealand was established in May 1940, and at its second annual meeting, in Wellington in June 1941, Sibson was appointed regional organiser for Auckland. He later served as president (1952–54 and 1980–83) and vice president (1983–85). As editor of the society’s periodical, Notornis (1955–64 and 1965–72), he worked with flair and wit, always setting a high standard of literacy. He was also a prolific contributor, recording his observations and opinions in some 170 chatty but elegantly written articles and notes, mostly dealing with the wading birds, his main interest. Dick Sibson received the society’s Falla Memorial Award for 1983.

During his early years in New Zealand he travelled extensively throughout the country in search of birds. Explorations by bicycle in 1941 led Sibson and companions to discover that the Firth of Thames was one of New Zealand’s most important wintering sites for migrant wading birds. He had a lifelong interest in the area and helped to found the Miranda Naturalists’ Trust in 1974, serving as its chairman from 1976 to 1980. In pursuit of his general interests in nature and the arts, he was a councillor of the Auckland Institute and Museum from 1960 to 1987.

On 30 January 1943, at St Mark’s Church, Remuera, Sibson married Joan Winifred Fleming, sister of the palaeontologist and naturalist Charles Fleming. They were to have a daughter and a son. For those travelling in Dick’s car, many local field trips ended with refreshments provided by Joan at the Sibson home in Remuera.

Co-author of the influential A field guide to the birds of New Zealand and outlying islands (1966) with Falla and E. G. Turbott, Sibson also wrote Birds of Fiji in colour (1972) and Birds at risk: rare or endangered species of New Zealand (1982). He was a tall, large-limbed man with a generous nature and an eagerness for books, language and birds that was contagious. He died at Auckland on 13 July 1994, survived by his wife and children.

How to cite this page:

B. J. Gill. 'Sibson, Richard Broadley', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5s16/sibson-richard-broadley (accessed 15 April 2024)