Thomas Gilbert (sea captain)

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Thomas Gilbert was an 18th-century British mariner.[1][2]


Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall were the captains of two East India Company vessels of the First Fleet, the Charlotte and the Scarborough, returning from carrying convicts to Botany Bay in 1788, when they sailed through the Gilbert Islands and described Aranuka, Kuria, Abaiang and Tarawa.

The vessels had been part of the First Fleet carrying convicts to Australia. They had sailed in a convoy under the command of post-captain Arthur Phillip, New South Wales' first Governor.

The two vessels encountered their first island in the Gilberts on 17 June 1788.[2] In a 1941 article in Life Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that this Island was told to be Abemama, but might have been Aranuka.[3] Gilbert visited Tarawa on 20 June 1788. Sketches he made survive.


The First, Second and Third Thomas Shoals in the Spratly Islands are named after Gilbert. They, along with the Scarborough shoal, were discovered during the Scarborough's voyages through the South China Sea.[4] Gilbert has living descendants thought to be in the Gulf Coast region of the United States.

The modern country of Kiribati and its national language are also named after Gilbert, "Kiribati" being the pronunciation of his surname in the nation's indigenous language of Gilbertese.


Gilbert is portrayed by James Mason in the 1953 film Botany Bay.


  1. ^ Barrie Macdonald (1982). Cinderellas of the Empire: towards a history of Kiribati and Tuvalu. Australian National University Press. ISBN 982-02-0335-X.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b Samuel Eliot Morison (22 May 1944). "The Gilberts & Marshalls: A distinguished historian recalls the past of two recently captured pacific groups". Life magazine. Being now abreast of this island, the extremity ending in a beautiful clump of trees, I hauled up to look at the bay. It appeared to be safe and commodious, sheltered by a long reef running parallel with the island, with two large inlets into the bay. The reef is about 3/4 of a mile from the beach, and has several small islands which appear like flower pots.
  3. ^ [1] by Henry Evans Maude, Jps.
  4. ^ Sailing Directions - South China Sea. Taunton: UK Hydrographic Office.
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