Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Taylor, Adolphus George (1857–1900)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Adolphus George Taylor (1857-1900), journalist and politician, was born on 14 June 1857 at Mudgee, New South Wales, son of George Taylor, gentleman, and Mrs Sarah Burton, née Shellum. Educated at the local Church of England school, he passed the Junior Public Examination in 1872 and in 1875 was teaching in Mudgee. He may have worked for the Mudgee Independent before joining the New South Wales Permanent Artillery as a private. Court-martialled for 'insubordination' in June 1878, he was committed to Darlinghurst Gaol and was released on 4 December. He rejoined the Mudgee Independent where his writing on politics attracted attention.

On 11 December 1882 Taylor was elected to the Legislative Assembly as senior member for Mudgee. In his maiden speech next year he moved an amendment to David Buchanan's motion advocating the teaching of history in the public schools, arguing that it should be delayed 'until the publication of an impartial and lucidly-written history of England'. On 20 February, after an exchange of personal abuse, he accepted John McElhone's challenge to resign his seat and contest it with him; Taylor won handsomely. When called to account by the House he admitted that his list of thirty-five members who, he alleged, had been drunk in the assembly was false and 'an electioneering dodge'.

In 1883-84 Taylor introduced nine bills, mostly on law reform and parliamentary procedure, and one to abolish flogging. He repeatedly obstructed parliament, caused disorder by his violent language, raised points of order, challenged the Speaker Edmund Barton and displayed an embarrassing knowledge of constitutional law. In December 1883 he pointed out that F. B. Suttor and George Reid were improperly appointed as ministers; the Committee of Elections and Qualifications reluctantly agreed and the government had to amend the Constitution Act to increase the number of ministers. When Reid stood for re-election Taylor, helped by McElhone, John Davies and Edward O'Sullivan, secured victory for Sydney Burdekin. In 1884 he challenged the right of the governor to make appointments as commander-in-chief and accused him of interfering with the commandant.

Twice suspended for a week, Taylor successfully sued Barton for £1000 damages for illegal suspension. Re-elected in 1885 but often ill, Taylor rarely attended. On 19 January at Darlington, with Wesleyan rites, he married Rosetta Nicholls. Next year, when Barton appealed to the Privy Council, Taylor raised his fare by lecturing on 'The Iron Hand in Politics' and selling his stamp collection, took 'his wife, his mother, a cockatoo, a parrot and a magpie' to England and successfully conducted his own case. On his return he grandly refused to accept the damages.

Although returned for Mudgee in February 1887, Taylor resigned on 21 April and next month accepted Sir Henry Parkes's offer to become examiner of patents with a salary of £500. That year he published the Law and Practice of New South Wales Letters Patent …, the copyright of which was bought by the government, and compiled a patents index. In September he voluntarily sequestered his estate, explaining that 'long continued ill health' had caused his bankruptcy. He resigned on 13 May 1888 and published a satire, The Marble Man (1889). Preferred to P. J. Brennan by maritime unions, in 1890 Taylor won a by-election for West Sydney but was beaten in the 1891 election. In August 1894 he was defeated for Sydney-King despite the help of Sir George Dibbs.

In 1890-91 Taylor had become first editor of the scurrilous newspaper Truth and in May-June 1892 conducted the Spectator; from the end of 1893 to June 1896 he was again editor of Truth and nominal proprietor from 1894. About this time he established and conducted Echo Farm Home for Male Inebriates at Middle Harbour. In 1897 he worked for the Cumberland Free Press, then took to freelance journalism. In 1898 he was admitted to the Hospital for the Insane, Callan Park, where he died on 18 January 1900; survived by his wife, he was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. A contemporary politician described Taylor as 'a smart, incisive writer, a really good speaker when he likes, and can earn a living as a journalist any day'. Tall and gangling, he was known variously as 'Giraffe', 'Doll' Taylor, 'The Mudgee pet' and the 'Mudgee camel'. Rowdy, brilliant, unstable and addicted to the bottle, he sometimes drew attention to real evils.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1872-73, 3, 11, 1875-76, 5, 260, 1890, 1, 299
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1883-84
  • New South Wales Law Reports, 6 (1885)
  • Barton v. Taylor (1886) 11 App. Cas. 197 [P.C.]
  • Bulletin, 9 June 1883
  • Bombala Herald, 10 May, 6 Sept 1884
  • Australasian, 20 Dec 1884, 24 Mar 1888
  • Town and Country Journal, 23 Apr 1887, 27 Jan 1900
  • bankruptcy file 122831/14 (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO 201/598, 600-602, 606, 615.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Taylor, Adolphus George (1857–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-adolphus-george-4690/text7765, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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