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Arthur Wilberforce Jose (1863–1934)

by Ross Lamont

This article was published:

Arthur Jose, n.d.

Arthur Jose, n.d.

Navy Archives (Sea Power Centre)

Arthur Wilberforce Jose (1863-1934), journalist and historian, was born on 4 September 1863 at Clifton, Bristol, England, eldest son of William Wilberforce Jose, merchant and alderman, and his wife Sarah Maria, née Woodward. His father was a governor of University College, Bristol, and chairman of the Bristol School Board's technical education committee. Arthur was educated at Clifton College. After a year at Balliol College, Oxford (scholar 1881-82), his health broke down. Recuperating in Australia in 1882, he learned of the loss of his father's fortune and spurned the offer of a clerical position at Bristol, choosing to go bush in Australia. Often living rough, he cut wood for the Victorian Railways, picked hops and apples, made bricks and tutored in Tasmania.

In 1885-87 Jose was assistant master at All Saints' College, Bathurst, New South Wales — he had met the headmaster Edwin Bean in Hobart. He edited the Bathurstian and wrote several school songs. In 1888 he became a university extension lecturer and as 'Ishmael Dare' wrote Sun and Cloud on River and Sea (1888), a collection of verses. He was a reader for his publishers Angus & Robertson for many years and, although he never practised, was admitted to the Bar on 28 August 1891. Temporary lecturer in modern literature at the University of Sydney in 1893, he was organizing secretary of the University Extension Board in 1894-99.

Jose's first major work, The Growth of the Empire, was published in Sydney in 1897 (John Murray later produced enlarged English editions). His A Short History of Australasia appeared in 1899; with an added chapter on literature it became his History of Australasia, ran to fifteen editions by 1929 and was translated into French. Briefly editor of the Australian Magazine, Jose went to South Africa as war correspondent in 1899. After a spell in London, he was sent to India in 1901 to promote Murray's books and next year was acting professor of English and modern history at the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh. In England in 1903, he lectured for the Imperial Tariff and Tariff Reform leagues. He returned to Sydney in 1904 as correspondent for The Times, having had published in London Australasia (1901) and Two Awheel and Some Others Afoot in Australia (1903), illustrated by George Lambert. At St James's Church he married Evelyn Agnes Absell (d.1967) on 2 November 1905; her sister Amelia had married Lambert.

As Times correspondent Jose sought confidential information from governors, ministers of the crown and officials. He corresponded at length with Alfred Deakin, who became a close friend, and advocated the political centre where Deakin and Labor sometimes joined and sometimes jostled — a position destroyed by the Fusion of 1909. A disciple of Joseph Chamberlain, Jose believed wholeheartedly in the unity of the Empire and also in White Australia and Imperial preferential tariffs. His dispatches (not always welcome to his employers or to Whitehall), with Deakin's letters to the Morning Post, gave Australia publicity abroad on a hitherto unknown scale. In 1909-11 he also wrote a bi-monthly letter for the National Review. An early member of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society, he frequently contributed to its Journal and Proceedings and wrote for other magazines. Almost half of New South Wales—Historical and Economic (1912) was his.

A Sydney founder of the Australian National Defence League in 1905, Jose was appointed provisional lieutenant in the Australian Intelligence Corps in July 1909 and was promoted honorary captain. In March 1911 he went to Britain to spend a year with The Times. He parted company with the newspaper in 1915 when as honorary captain in the Australian Military Forces he was attached to the intelligence branch of the Royal Australian Navy to compile a history of naval operations and to analyse intelligence about China, Japan, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. At Charles Bean's request he was released in 1920 to write the naval volume of the Australian official war history. Owing to many delays and the determination of the Naval Board to censor it, The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918 did not appear until 1928. The largely uncensored revision was done by Bean on the basis of new material, some of which Jose had located in Paris.

Appointed editor-in-chief of The Australian Encyclopaedia (1925, 1926) in 1920, Jose left for England in 1926 leaving volume two, according to Robertson, 'in a state of chaos'. Disillusioned by politics and in pecuniary difficulties, he turned increasingly to historical scholarship—his publications included Builders and Pioneers of Australia (London, 1928), and Australia, Human and Economic (London, 1932). In 1932 he returned to Australia, settling in Brisbane, and reviewed books, lectured, and wrote articles and his autobiographical Romantic Nineties (Sydney, 1933).

Bespectacled and with a soldierly moustache, Jose had an astonishing memory and was quick witted and rigidly independent, oblivious of financial gain. If to some his cocksure manner appeared arrogant, he was quick to admit and correct his own errors. His vivid prose was easily recognizable and had a 'didactic and often contentious flavour'. His history was scholarly. Jose was passionately interested in cricket, on which he often wrote for The Times, and intensely musical. 'To see him seated at the piano' wrote Bean, 'head thrown back, nostrils dilated, body swaying, and the long sensitive fingers tearing from the keys one rolling arpeggio after another, was to see a picture of the Spanish ancestor who, many generations ago, had settled in Cornwall'.

Jose died in Brisbane Hospital of peritonitis on 22 January 1934 and was buried in Toowong cemetery with Anglican rites. His wife and son survived him.

His younger brother George Herbert Jose (1868-1956), was born on 15 December 1868 at Bristol and educated at Clifton College, Monkton Combe School, Bath, and Worcester College, Oxford (B.A., 1903; M.A., 1906). He came to Australia in 1888, married Clara Ellen Sturt (d.1925) in 1890 and went with her to China as a lay missionary next year. He was ordained in 1893 and was a missionary at Taichow until 1899. He was Davis Chinese scholar at Oxford in 1900 and in 1903 went to Adelaide where he had charge of several churches until in 1906 he was appointed rector of Christ Church, North Adelaide, where he remained until 1933. During World War I he was chaplain in the Australian Military Forces and from 1916 deputy senior chaplain.

A canon of St Peter's Cathedral in 1918-29 , Jose was archdeacon of Mount Gambier in 1927-29, archdeacon of Adelaide in 1929-32 and dean of Adelaide in 1933-53. He compiled a three-volume history of The Church of England in South Australia (1937, 1954, 1955); his other writings include Annals of Christ Church (1921) and The Story of Jesus Christ (1930). He died in Adelaide on 26 November 1956, survived by one of his three sons; another had been killed in action in France in 1917.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Newbolt, My World in My Time (Lond, 1932)
  • W. A. Steel and J. M. Antill, The History of All Saints' College, Bathurst, 1873-1963 (Syd, 1964)
  • A. W. Barker (ed), Dear Robertson (Syd, 1982)
  • Historical Studies, 20 (Apr 1983), no 80
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Jan, 8 Feb 1934
  • Times (London), 23 Jan 1934
  • C. E. W. Bean papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Arthur Jose papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Navy Dept files (National Archives of Australia)
  • family papers.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ross Lamont, 'Jose, Arthur Wilberforce (1863–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Arthur Jose, n.d.

Arthur Jose, n.d.

Navy Archives (Sea Power Centre)

Life Summary [details]


4 September, 1863
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


22 January, 1934 (aged 70)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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