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William Eddrup Adcock (1846–1931)

by E. M. Finlay

This article was published:

William Eddrup Adcock (1846-1931), journalist and businessman, was born on 31 December 1846 in London, son of George Charles Adcock, cigar manufacturer, and his wife Mary, née Goodwin. George Adcock migrated to Melbourne in 1848 with his wife and infant son and became a bookseller in Bridge Road, Richmond.

William Adcock as a young man had some theatrical experience and dabbled in real estate. He was store-keeping at Gaffney's Creek when on 30 December 1865 with Congregational rites he married Emma Sharples. In 1871 Clarson, Massina & Co. appointed him editor of the Richmond Free Press, but the venture was short-lived. With his wife and three children Adcock sailed in 1872 to Palmerston (Darwin), where next year he opened a general store. He speculated in mining, wrote an article on the Northern Territory for the Australian Journal (1873), survived the shipwreck of the vessel in which he was returning to Melbourne for supplies, and was unsuccessful in the first election of councillors for the district of Palmerston in 1874. In 1878 his wife's health failed; Adcock sold out next year for £12,000 and rejoined her in Melbourne.

His successors failed, however, and Adcock took the business over again, in partnership with his brother Herbert Henry, and V. V. Brown. New premises were built at Palmerston and another branch was opened at Derby to serve the goldfields in the Kimberley district of Western Australia. Adcock Bros obtained steamship agencies and built the Victoria Hotel in Palmerston. Adcock himself returned to Melbourne and handled the firm's finances.

In 1885 he went again to the Northern Territory because of financial difficulties which, he claimed, resulted from expansion undertaken by his partners without his knowledge. The Town and Country Bank (South Australia) had failed, and its liquidators claimed repayment of overdrafts and loans of £23,000. Adcock formed a new limited liability company, but his offer of settlement was refused, and in February 1888 he was declared insolvent. Adcock appealed, thereby initiating proceedings which became unique in Australia's legal history. The adjudication was reversed by the Supreme Court of South Australia, but was reinstated twice before the Full Court confirmed the insolvency in December.

Adcock was advised by his Adelaide solicitors to remain out of the colony to avoid arrest, but guided by his Melbourne lawyer he went to Adelaide and was promptly arrested on 20 December. Except for short periods on bail, he spent the next four years in gaol or in court where, with his counsel (Sir) J. H. Symon, he waged a battle with the Insolvency Court, which could hold an insolvent until bail was paid or the case adjudicated. His claim that he could not legally demand the company's books from the Melbourne trustee prevented investigation into the assets of the former Adcock Bros' company, but his defiance of the court delayed his release. He strenuously resisted attempts to prefer the claims of the bank to those of individual creditors, and he bombarded the court, the governor and the Executive Council with affidavits, memorials and appeals for habeas corpus. The case became the subject of leading articles in the Melbourne and Adelaide press; Adcock himself published a booklet, Four Years Imprisoned and Refused a Trial (Melbourne, 1892). In November 1893 he was finally given his discharge, but with his assets liable to seizure if he ever ventured again within the South Australian jurisdiction. Mr Justice Boucaut was highly critical of his behaviour in court and of his refusal to make full disclosure. The Register called him either a 'terribly misunderstood man or a remarkably acute and daring one'.

After his release Adcock engaged in journalism and other business activities in Victoria. In 1900 he went to Coolgardie, Western Australia, to manage mining interests; he also retained a share in the Derby business. Later he helped to establish the mica industry in Victoria.

In 1894-95 Adcock's articles on the gold rush era of Victoria were published anonymously in the Australian Journal; a revised version appeared under his name in Melbourne in 1912 as The Gold Rushes of the Fifties. About 1910 he succeeded W. E. G. Symons as editor of the Australian Journal; he later assisted S. L. Massina until 1926 when he retired.

Adcock died on 18 May 1931 at his home in Kew. He was survived by his second wife Annie Mary Bowcott, née Wheeler, whom he had married in Sydney on 25 April 1898, by five children of his first marriage and by two of his second. He was buried in Burwood cemetery, leaving an estate valued for probate at £1463.

Select Bibliography

  • R. G. Campbell, The First Ninety Years (Melb, 1949)
  • E. Hill, The Territory (Syd, 1951)
  • D. W. Lockwood, The Front Door: Darwin, 1869-1969 (Adel, 1968)
  • Register (Adelaide), 21 Aug 1889–4 Nov 1893
  • Table Talk, 13 Feb 1891, 29 July 1892
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 May 1931.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

E. M. Finlay, 'Adcock, William Eddrup (1846–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 December, 1846
London, Middlesex, England


18 May, 1931 (aged 84)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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