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Bird, Bolton Stafford (1840–1924)

by C. J. Craig

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Bolton Stafford Bird (1840-1924), minister of religion, farmer and politician, was born on 30 January 1840 at Hazlerigg, Northumberland, England, son of Thomas Bird, schoolmaster, and his wife Ann, née Stafford. He went to Victoria in 1852 with his parents who took up land at Clunes. In 1865 he was admitted to the Wesleyan ministry but in 1867 transferred to the Congregational Church and on 20 April at Melbourne married Helen, daughter of Robert Chisholm, a Glasgow banker who had migrated to Auckland, New Zealand. For three years Bird was minister of the Congregational Church at Ballarat and then had charge of several churches in the Avoca district of Victoria. In 1874 Bird was invited to the Congregational Church in Davey Street, Hobart. At the end of his three-year term he resigned because of ill health, and bought a farm near Geeveston in the Huon district. He named his property Waterloo, because of the 'battle' he fought there in felling trees, blowing up stumps with explosives, clearing and fencing the land and building a large home from the local timber. When his orchard came into bearing he shipped small consignments of apples to England, thus becoming one of the pioneers of the apple export industry. The inexperience of shipping companies brought such loss to the growers that Bird and others mortgaged their properties to the Bank of Van Diemen's Land which in August 1891 suddenly went bankrupt and closed its doors permanently. This bank failure posed many problems for the government which decided to free the properties mortgaged to the bank by means of a lottery. Parliament accordingly passed legislation to make provision for what was known as the Van Diemen's Land Bank Lottery, and tickets for £1 each were sold throughout the Australian colonies. Bird's home was won by a retired sea captain from Sydney who came to the Huon and took possession while Bird with his wife and family moved to a small property at Lunawanna on Bruny Island, where he had to work as a bush farmer.

Bird had been active in local affairs of the Huon district and in 1882 was elected for Franklin to the House of Assembly. In 1887 he became treasurer in P. O. Fysh's ministry and represented Tasmania at the Federal Council in 1889 and the Federal Conventions in 1890-91; later he published two pamphlets on federal finance. When the Fysh ministry was defeated in 1892 Bird was leader of the Opposition until 1894 when he was elected Speaker, an office he held until December 1896. In 1899-1903 he was treasurer in the Lewis ministry and in 1904-09 represented South Hobart. He then moved to the quieter atmosphere of the Legislative Council, and remained there until 1923 when he decided not to seek re-election. He died at his home on Bruny Island on 15 December 1924, survived by a son and two daughters, all of whom had left Tasmania.

When appointed C.M.G. in 1920 Bird was a prominent Hobart figure, tall, active and vigorous, with a long white beard. As a politician he had no pretensions to brilliance, but was useful, fair and conscientious.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Garnsey, The Romance of the Huon River (Melb, 1947)
  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Australasian, 2 Apr 1867
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Feb 1890
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 Dec 1924.

Citation details

C. J. Craig, 'Bird, Bolton Stafford (1840–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bird-bolton-stafford-1664/text4381, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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