Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Bulcock (1832–1900)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published:

Robert Bulcock (1832-1900), party organizer, temperance advocate and businessman, was born probably on 21 May 1832 at Clitheroe, Lancashire, England, son of Robert Bulcock, overlooker in a cotton factory, and his wife Ann, née Wilkinson. He was brought up in a strict Congregationalist atmosphere which influenced him all his life. He took the pledge at 8 and never departed from it. Following his father's footsteps as overlooker, he became interested in reform and an uncompromising Nonconformist Liberal.

Bulcock arrived in Queensland in December 1855. After two years farming he became a seedsman and produce merchant in Queen Street, Brisbane. For several years he was president of the Temperance Council and his strong adherence to its views made him unpopular in many quarters. He became a director of the City and Suburban Building Society, supported the more radical movements in Queensland politics and increasingly advocated strong local government. In the late 1870s the Queensland Evangelical Standard, a Nonconformist weekly described later as 'the hottest pot of Brisbane journalism', campaigned for the establishment of a strict party organization in Brisbane, and Bulcock began to build it with the help of R. P. Smith of the Standard. In 1879 Bulcock became one of the directors of the journal. In 1881 he did much to organize the large Liberal protest meeting against the profiteering of contractors for steel rails. Kindred movements developed but Bulcock wanted unity. He retired from business and in 1885-88 represented Enoggera in the Legislative Assembly, though retaining his position in the temperance movement and producing in 1887 and 1888 a religious and temperance journal, Joy Bells. He sought strict supervision of electoral rolls, according to him, to ensure their purity, according to his opponents, to stuff them; in the early 1880s he was accused of 'Bulcocking the Rolls'. For a time he supported (Sir) Samuel Griffith but became more conservative with the years and inclined towards the less radical wing of the party. His attempt to secure a pre-selection system for the Liberals aroused much hostility. In 1888 he won a libel action against the Boomerang, which had strongly attacked his political activities. Disappointed at the Liberals' failure to develop a united party, he began to look more to Sir Thomas McIlwraith.

The rise of socialist ideas and of the Labor Party aroused his fears and he concentrated still more on trying to build an extra-parliamentary political organization to back the McIlwraith-Griffith coalition. At first he was cold-shouldered by McIlwraith, but in 1891 he established the Patriotic League as a basis for party organization. Renamed the Queensland Political Association but still largely controlled by Bulcock and Smith, it exerted much influence in government party circles. His activities earned the animosity of Labor supporters, who called him 'Joy Bells' Bulcock and his party 'the Political Ass'. In 1894 he was nominated to the Legislative Council and held his seat until 1900.

A man of strong character he persisted once decided on a line of action, even if he lost some of his friends or associates. To the community at large he appeared too stern and severe, yet he was held in much respect. On 10 May 1900 he died suddenly from peritonitis. At 21 in Clitheroe he had married Elizabeth Grandidge, of Shipton, Yorkshire; of their eleven children, five sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1885-88, 1894-1900
  • Select Committee on Total Abstinence Society, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1889, 4, 705
  • A. A. Morrison, ‘Liberal Party Organisations Before 1900’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 5, no 1, 1953, pp 752-70
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 11 May 1900
  • Brisbane Courier, 11, 14 May 1900.

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Bulcock, Robert (1832–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 May, 1832
Clitheroe, Lancashire, England


10 May, 1900 (aged 67)
Queensland, Australia

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