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Ibbetson, the second child of Richard Ibbetson, a Yorkshire clothier, is thought to have gained his unusual middle name because he was delivered by caesarean section. Little is known of his early education, probably supervised by Quakers, before his apprenticeship to John Fletcher, a ship painter in Hull, between 1772 and 1777. In 1777 he moved to London where his principal employment was as a picture restorer. In 1785, he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy, where he was to continue to exhibit over the next thirty years. Through the intervention of the conniosseur Captain William Baillie, Ibbetson accompanied Colonel Charles Cathcart on the first British embassy to Peking. On his return in 1789, he toured Wales with Viscount Mountstuart (later 1st Marquess of Bute), which he later revisited in 1792, with another patron and connoisseur, Colonel Grant.