UNB Alumni
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A sterling donation with historical significance

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Jan 4, 2021

Category: UNB Fredericton

No one knows exactly how it was first acquired, but a unique sterling silver tea service donated to the university has been in the Tibbits family for at least four generations. And given the Tibbits family’s long and historic connection to UNB and the province, its return to New Brunswick is cause for a bit of celebration, if not a full-fledged formal tea.

It all began with the Honourable James Tibbits (1804-1890), a successful operator, manufacturer and shipper of lumber, initially based in Andover, NB, and later near Levis, QC. According to the Graves Papers in the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, he “was one of the earliest lumber operators on the upper St. John River.”

James Tibbits was also elected to the Provincial Parliament (as it was then known), representing Carleton, and later Victoria, counties, but it was most likely his business, which involved shipping lumber to England, that brought the tea service into the family. Dating from the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign in the 1830s, the four sterling silver pieces that comprise the original set are engraved with an intricate Chinese motif characteristic of that period, and the initials of his wife, ‘AJT.’  The tea and coffee pots also have small Chinese figures affixed to their lids. 

The tea service passed to James and Ann’s son, Richard White Longmuir Tibbits, when James died in 1890. And this is where the UNB connection comes to the fore.

Richard Tibbits was the uncle of Mary Kingsley Tibbits, the first woman student admitted to UNB in 1886 after a long and determined battle with the authorities beginning in 1885.  (The fact Richard was a member of the provincial Parliament from 1882 to 1884 was no doubt helpful in turning the tide.) 

What’s more, Richard was the father of Annie Isabel Tibbits, who followed her cousin Mary to UNB, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1896. Annie was among the founders and served as the first president of the UNB Alumnae Society, the organization representing women graduates, established in 1910.  Annie, who married Harry G. Chestnut of the Chestnut Canoe family, remained very active in the alumnae society, as did her daughter, Maggie Jean Chestnut (BA’27), for whom UNB’s first women’s residence, now the home of Renaissance College, located on Charlotte Street, is named.

Annie inherited the tea service upon her father’s death in 1924, adding a hot water pot, waste bowl and large tray engraved with the initial C. Upon her death in 1962, the tea service passed to her great niece, Joann Lamb of New York, who spent many summers at her great aunt Annie’s cottage on Grand Lake.  It was Lamb who decided with her sister this spring that the tea service belonged at UNB.

The tea service will reside at Renaissance College in a display case outside the office of Dean Carol Nemeroff, who is pleased to have such a historic artifact come home. It will have a place of honour at special occasions such as the annual Dean’s List Tea.