Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Buncle (1822–1889)

by A. G. Thompson

This article was published:

John Buncle, n.d.

John Buncle, n.d.

Melbourne Library Service

John Buncle (1822?-1889), manufacturer and inventor, was born in Edinburgh, son of John Buncle, engineer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Wood. After education at private schools in Edinburgh, he served apprenticeships in engineering and pianoforte-making in Edinburgh and Lancashire; later he worked with several firms designing steam engines and locomotives. For six years he was chief draftsman and designer at the London and Northwestern Railway workshops at Crewe, Cheshire. On 18 July 1846 at Newton in Makerfield, Lancashire, he married Mary Ann, daughter of William Binns, in whose Vulcan foundry he was working; of their eleven children three sons and five daughters survived infancy.

Buncle arrived in Melbourne in December 1852 to find the town dominated by the gold rush atmosphere in which cupidity and economic instability prevailed. He had no difficulty in obtaining a position at Langlands' foundry and quickly demonstrated his versatility; amongst the tasks he performed with credit was hanging the peal of bells at St James's Old Cathedral. Soon afterwards he was promoted general foreman of the foundry. Six months later he left the flourishing Langlands to enter business on his own account. Melbourne then had an acute shortage of skilled tradesmen and Buncle was able to turn his great manual dexterity and adaptability to good account, finding profitable employment as patternmaker, woodturner and carver, signwriter, general engineer and contractor, as well as selling hardware as a sideline. As the flurry of the gold decade subsided he settled to his engineering and contracting interests, supplying the ironwork for several large bridges in Melbourne, including the Johnston Street bridge across the Yarra, and for other parts of Victoria. Gradually he turned to the design and construction of agricultural implements and machinery with which his name is chiefly associated. He became a prominent member of that extraordinary group of men whose inventions put Australia in a notable place in the history of the evolution of 'extensive' farming techniques in the nineteenth century. The knowledge and experience of the Australian implement makers had a wider application than was apparent at the time because the conditions they faced were in many ways similar to those experienced in extensions of the wheat belt in the United States, Canada and Argentina.

With his ironworks at North Melbourne Buncle was held in great esteem by his contemporaries. He was an active member of the Chamber of Manufactures and its president, and a commissioner of the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 and the Centennial Exhibition in 1888. He was himself a successful exhibitor at exhibitions throughout Australia. Prominent in local politics, he was elected as a councillor at the foundation of the Municipality of Hotham (North Melbourne) and twice chosen as mayor. He took an active part in founding the Hotham School of Design and in its early years taught mechanical drawing. He was a strong supporter of intercolonial free trade and of Federation. He also served on several committees of inquiry for the Victorian government, including the royal commission into the construction of the Murray River bridge at Echuca.

In 1888 Buncle published his Experiences of a Victorian Manufacturer, with amusing anecdotes of conditions in early Melbourne. At 67 he died on 26 December 1889, leaving property worth £20,000 to his family and relations.

Select Bibliography

  • Manufacturer (Melbourne), May, June 1890
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 Dec 1889, 6 Feb 1890
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

A. G. Thompson, 'Buncle, John (1822–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 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

John Buncle, n.d.

John Buncle, n.d.

Melbourne Library Service

Life Summary [details]


Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


26 December, 1889 (aged ~ 67)

Cultural Heritage

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