This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979
John Hutton Bisdee (1869-1930), soldier and pastoralist, was born on 28 September 1869 at Hutton Park, Melton Mowbray, Tasmania, eighth child of John Bisdee, pastoralist, and his wife Ellen Jane, née Butler. His grandfather, John Bisdee, had arrived in the colony in 1821. He was educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, and then worked on his father's property until April 1900 when he enlisted for service in the South African War as a trooper in the 1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmens' Contingent.
Bisdee sailed on 26 April and served in operations in Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. On 1 September, near Warmbad, Transvaal, he was with a scouting party ambushed by Boers in a rocky defile; six of its eight men were wounded, including an officer whose horse broke away and bolted. Bisdee dismounted, put the wounded man on his own horse and ran alongside, then mounted behind him and withdrew under heavy fire. For this action he received the Victoria Cross—the first awarded to a Tasmanian. Wounded during the ambush, he was invalided home but, on recovering, went back to South Africa as a lieutenant in No.1 Company, 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmens' Contingent, and served from March 1901 until the end of the war.
After his return to Tasmania Bisdee resumed farming at Hutton Park. On 11 April 1904, at St John's Anglican Church, Hobart, he married Georgiana Theodosia, daughter of Bishop M. B. Hale. Two years later he joined the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Tasmanian Mounted Infantry, as a temporary lieutenant and was promoted lieutenant in 1908 and captain in 1910; in that year he attended a course of instruction in India. In August 1913 he became commanding officer of his regiment, now the 26th Light Horse.
Bisdee joined the Australian Imperial Force as a captain in the 12th Light Horse on 26 July 1915. Accompanied by his wife, who was to do valuable work in the A.I.F. canteens, he sailed for Egypt in November. He served in operations against the Senussi at Mersa Matruh until a leg wound precluded him from active service; he was seconded as assistant provost marshal, first to A.I.F. Headquarters, Egypt, in March 1916, then two months later to the Anzac Mounted Division. Bisdee was promoted major in September, returned to regimental duty in December and served with the Light Horse throughout 1917. In January 1918 he became assistant provost marshal (Egypt section) of the Anzac Provost Corps; in June he was confirmed as lieutenant-colonel. He was mentioned in dispatches and appointed O.B.E. in June 1919.
Bisdee was discharged from the A.I.F. in May 1920. A major in the Australian Military Forces from 1915, he was placed on the reserve in 1921 and on the retired list, with the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel, in 1929. He had continued to farm at Ashburton, Bridgewater, in Tasmania, the property he had acquired in 1915. While travelling in France in 1926 his wife died. He returned to Tasmania and lived at Tranquility, Melton Mowbray, where he died of chronic nephritis on 14 January 1930; he and his sister (who died next day) were buried in St James's churchyard, Jericho, in the same grave. The Bisdee Memorial Cadet Efficiency Prize, awarded annually at St Virgil's College, Hobart, is named after him.
L. A. Simpson, 'Bisdee, John Hutton (1869–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bisdee-john-hutton-5245/text8835, accessed 25 May 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979