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Bradley, Luther (1853–1917)

by Marguerite Mahood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Luther Bradley (1853-1917) cartoonist, was born on 29 September 1853 at New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America, son of Francis Bradley, estate agent, who later moved to Chicago. After a course at Northwestern University he went to Yale College, graduating in 1875. His education included no art training of any sort, although he drew occasional sketches of fellow-students and staff. After five years in his father's business he left Chicago in 1882 on a world trip for health reasons. He arrived in Melbourne from London, saw a cartoon magazine displayed in a bookseller's window and decided that he could do better himself. Soon he was chief cartoonist and proprietor of the journal, which he restored to new life on 19 June 1884 at 83 Queen Street, as the weekly Australian Tit-Bits (incorporated in Life in June 1886).

Fortunately, Bradley's individual, lively style coincided with the general introduction of photo-engraving which allowed artists to express their own individuality to the full. He contributed to various papers, among them the Sydney Bulletin, and on the retirement of Melbourne Punch's F. T. D. (Tom) Carrington, Bradley became the paper's chief cartoonist. His first full-page cartoon appeared on 12 January 1888. By then he had overcome the defects apparent in his earlier drawings: the insensitive wiry line and tentative approach arising out of his early lack of training. He lacked Carrington's satirical venom, but his joyous topicality was attuned to the optimistic outlook of young Australia. The former personifications of the colonies as massive matrons in classical draperies were replaced by Bradley with pretty girl types and fashionable young matrons. Bradley's 'You're a big girl now', on 26 January 1888, showed a smart matron, Britannia, advising her up-to-date teen-age daughter, Australia, to throw away her ugly rag dolls of parliamentary obstruction and clowning, and 'in future behave like one who has reached years of discretion'.

Bradley was important for his record of the significant days of the challenge of the trade unions, the golden colonial afternoon of the 'Boom' and the great strikes and financial collapse that followed. He is wrongly credited with being the creator of the 'King Working Man' image of the unions; in June 1892 Melbourne Punch published a special issue of Bradley cartoons under this title but Carrington had originated the character. Bradley's graphic imagination blew up the image into a mythical, menacing ogre, the embodiment of middle-class fears.

In mid-1893 news came of his father's illness and Bradley returned to Chicago where he worked successively for the Journal and Inter Ocean, until in 1899 he became art director and cartoonist on the Chicago Daily News. In 1901 he married Agnes Floyd Smith. On 9 January 1917 he died suddenly at his home in Wilmette, Illinois, survived by his wife and their four children. An album of one hundred of his cartoons was produced in America in March 1917 by Rand, McNally & Co.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Mahood, The Loaded Line (Melb, 1973)
  • Review of Reviews for Australasia, Aug 1892
  • Cartoons Magazine (Chicago), Mar, Apr 1917
  • M. H. Mahood, Australian Political Caricature, 1788-1901 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1970).

Citation details

Marguerite Mahood, 'Bradley, Luther (1853–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bradley-luther-5333/text9015, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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