Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Bidencope (1837–1915)

by Irene Schaffer

This article was published:

Joseph Bidencope (1837-1915), tailor and mercer, was born in 1837 in Poland, son of David Bidencope, tailor, and his wife Caroline. He lived for a short time with a sister in Paris before going to London in 1846. In 1857 he signed as crew in the Trade Wind and sailed for Tasmania. During the voyage he was flogged by the first mate but was defended by the carpenter, who was greatly praised by the passengers.

Arriving in Hobart Town in February 1858, Bidencope was employed as a tailor by Henry Cook in Elizabeth Street. Soon he opened his own business in Collins Street, moving in 1860 to new premises in the same street. At St David's Cathedral on 15 January 1861 he married with Anglican rites English-born Emma Jane Booker. She died in 1892. On 21 March 1894 in the Wesleyan Church, South Yarra, Melbourne, Joseph married Somerset-born Emily Maggs.

By 1862 the firm had become a well-known fashion house, with naval and military uniforms a continuing feature. In 1869 Bidencope established new premises in Murray Street, Hobart. That year hats were added to the business and in 1874 £3000 worth were manufactured and sold in Tasmania and Sydney. At first felt was imported from England. Later, hats were made at a Battery Point factory, where rabbit skins, purchased in hundreds of thousands, were made into felt. Orphaned boys were taken on as apprentices.

The fashionable and the fastidious shopped exclusively at Bidencopes. In 1874 the family moved to Barton Vale, Salvator Road, close to the foothills of Mount Wellington, where the garden became a showpiece, visited by many prominent Hobart residents. Bidencope's hats gained medals, awards and compliments for samples he sent to exhibitions at Philadelphia, United States of America, in 1876 and in Sydney in 1877. Duties imposed by other colonies forced him to close the hat factory before Federation.

In 1878 the firm had tendered to the Tasmanian government to make 470 scarlet patrol jackets, leggings and caps for the Volunteer Rifle Regiment, at a price of £2 per suit. Bidencope continued to prosper with government tenders for uniforms for the police, rail and tramway workers and for miners. Two sons of his first marriage worked in the company: Joseph Zelly (1866-1940) and Richard Booker (1868-1942), both educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, and Horton College, Ross.

The Hobart store was modernized in 1924 and a ladies department established. During World War II the firm made uniforms as it had in the Boer war and World War I. Joseph's grandsons sold the business in 1977. Its founder had been one of the best-known and respected businessmen in Hobart. A Freemason, sometime worshipful master of the Tasmanian Operative Lodge and an office-holder in the Grand Lodge of Tasmania, he was appointed a justice of the peace in 1902. Survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage and by his wife and their son and three daughters, Bidencope died in North Hobart on 19 February 1915, after his usual day at business in Murray Street.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Quarry (compiler), Trade Wind Voyage 1858 (Hob, 1992)
  • I. Schaffer, ‘Joseph Bidencope: Founder of a Hobart Clothing Business’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 45, no 2, June 1998, p 63
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Jan 1868, 20 Feb 1915, 21 July 1956, 9 Aug 1977
  • Colonial Secretary (Tasmania) dispatches, CSD10/61/1437 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Irene Schaffer, 'Bidencope, Joseph (1837–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




19 February, 1915 (aged ~ 78)
North Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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