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William Kinsey Bolton (1860–1941)

by J. N. I. Dawes

This article was published:

William Kinsey Bolton (1860-1941), by Richards & Co.

William Kinsey Bolton (1860-1941), by Richards & Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23251721

William Kinsey Bolton (1860-1941), soldier and politician, was born on 1 November 1860 at Lostock Gralam, Cheshire, England, son of John Hammersley Bolton, corn-dealer, and his wife Hannah, née Kinsey. In 1868 he migrated with his parents to Victoria where his father was a storekeeper at Camperdown, Darlington and Mortlake.

After education at Darlington State School and apprenticeship as a carpenter in Mortlake, Bolton went to Melbourne and then in 1879 to Sydney, where he studied architecture for three years while working as a foreman-carpenter. In 1884 he set up as a builder in Warragul, Gippsland. From 1890 he was inspector of works in the Victorian Public Works Department, employed in the Bendigo and Ballarat districts.

In 1878 Bolton had joined the Southern Rifles and was commissioned lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Victoria, on 12 December 1891; he was promoted captain in 1897, major in the 7th Australian Infantry Regiment in 1903 and lieutenant-colonel in 1910. In 1900-01 he had led the officers' team at the inauguration of the Commonwealth and won the officers' shooting-match.

In 1912 Bolton took command of the 70th Regiment. On 19 August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was sent to command the Queenscliff Fort, but was soon back in Melbourne mobilizing the 8th Battalion, which sailed for Egypt on 19 October. They landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and Cape Helles on 9 May. After the gruelling Battle of Krithia (7-8 May) and brief command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, Bolton's age and collapsing health led to his repatriation in the hospital ship Ballarat. Charles Bean described him as 'a soft-hearted commander very solicitous for his men'. A hill and ridge on Gallipoli were named after him.

From August Bolton commanded successively the Ballarat Training Depot and the Defended Ports of Victoria, retiring as honorary brigadier general in 1920. He had been a founder of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League, and became its first national president on 3 June 1916. Soon he was embroiled in the conscription debate and he attended the inaugural meeting of the National Party in January 1917. At the invitation of W. M. Hughes Bolton ran for the Senate and was elected on 5 May 1917. His early attempt to have aliens and their descendants barred from holding commissions in the Australian Military Forces was unsuccessful. Next year he was appointed C.M.G.

Bolton insisted on orthodox, polite representation of R.S.L. views through recognized channels and he discouraged undisciplined demonstrations by returned men. As dissatisfaction grew with government treatment of ex-servicemen, Bolton's 'law and order' policy met with opposition in the R.S.L. In 1917 the central council had approved his nomination to the Senate but by 1919 he was criticized for his inability to devote enough time to league affairs. A Victorian faction campaigned for his replacement by (Sir) Gilbert Dyett and he was defeated as president on 15 July.

In December 1919 Bolton was re-elected to the Senate after a campaign embittered by accusations that he had been cowardly at Gallipoli. He successfully refuted these charges. After his defeat as R.S.L. president, he was less prominent in politics, and in the December 1922 election he was defeated.

Bolton occupied himself as partner in a building firm and in other business concerns. He contested the Federal seat of Henty unsuccessfully in 1929. For many years he lived at Ballarat and owned a house at Brighton and a small property near Camperdown. He died of cancer at Brighton on 8 September 1941 and was cremated. Bolton was married twice: on 29 December 1881 at Warrnambool to Jane Morpeth Gillies (d.1893), and on 18 August 1894 at Bendigo to Margaret Ford, both times with Presbyterian rites. He was survived by two sons and a daughter of the first marriage and a son and three daughters of the second. Three sons and a daughter served in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. McCallum, Ballarat and District Citizens and Sports at Home and Abroad (Ballarat, 1916)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • L. Hills and A. Dene, The Returned Sailors & Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia: Its Origin, History, Achievements and Ideals, vol 1 (Melb, 1927)
  • H. Copeland, The Path of Progress (Warragul, 1934)
  • W. F. Whyte, William Morris Hughes (Syd, 1957)
  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Mar 1917, 9 Sept, 9 Oct 1941
  • Ballarat Star, 8, 10-13 Dec 1919
  • Geelong Advertiser, 25 Apr 1936
  • Age (Melbourne), and Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 9 Sept 1941.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. N. I. Dawes, 'Bolton, William Kinsey (1860–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 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

William Kinsey Bolton (1860-1941), by Richards & Co.

William Kinsey Bolton (1860-1941), by Richards & Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23251721

Life Summary [details]


1 November, 1860
Lostock Gralam, Cheshire, England


8 September, 1941 (aged 80)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.