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Edward Pulsford (1844–1919)

by W. G. McMinn

This article was published:

Edward Pulsford (1844-1919), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Edward Pulsford (1844-1919), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23355857

Edward Pulsford (1844-1919), free trade publicist and politician, was born on 29 September 1844 at Burslem, Staffordshire, England, son of James Pulsford, Baptist minister, and his wife Mary Ann, née Cutler. Edward was educated privately. By 1870 James and his son were in business as commission agents at Hull, Yorkshire. In 1884 Edward transferred his business activities to Sydney while his father went to New York as resident secretary of the Liverpool, London & Globe Insurance Co.

Coming from a Nonconformist liberal background in which free trade was an essential article of faith, Pulsford threw himself into the controversy with the protectionists. In 1885 he and B. R. Wise established the Freetrade and Liberal Association of New South Wales, originally intended as a forum for liberal economic ideas; but in the election of February 1887 it became the first free trade party machine. As its secretary until 1891 Pulsford was the party's principal organizer and propagandist, publishing dozens of newspaper articles, essays and pamphlets in defence of the cause. They varied from a thoroughly researched and heavily statistical prize essay on the beneficial influence of free trade on New South Wales in the Year-Book of Australia (1887) to such polemical tracts as Freedom in New South Wales Versus Oppression in Victoria (1887). He was particularly adept at countering the efforts of 'the exceedingly wise men' of the protectionist movement to appeal to working-class voters. These early writings won him an honorary membership of the Cobden Club, London.

His writing was not restricted to the advocacy of free trade. In 1884 he wrote Thoughts and Suggestions on the Commerce and Progress of New South Wales for the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. Later he wrote on the history and commercial prospects of New Guinea and contributed the biographical supplement 'One Thousand Noteworthy Australasians' to the Australasian edition of Webster's International Dictionary. He was a regular correspondent for the colony's leading newspapers on financial and commercial matters; in 1890-98 he was proprietor of the Armidale Chronicle. An active Federationist, he took part in a controversy with the government statistician (Sir) Timothy Coghlan over the probable cost of Federation to New South Wales.

Pulsford was an important link between free trade politicians and the Sydney mercantile community; by the 1890s Sir George Dibbs was representing him as a sinister extra-parliamentary influence on the colony's politics. Pulsford never contested a Lower House seat, but in 1895 (Sir) George Reid nominated him to the Legislative Council after winning resounding electoral endorsement for a policy of free trade and direct taxation.

In 1900 Pulsford organized the Intercolonial Freetrade Conference in Sydney which set up the Australian Freetrade Association to fight the first Federal elections; he was president of the New South Wales branch and edited a weekly paper, Our Country, for nine months. Pulsford himself was elected to the Senate in 1901 and held his seat until 1910. His Commerce and the Empire (London, 1903) argued the case for bringing 'all parts of the Empire into line with British fiscal policy' and condemned the 'delusion' of Imperial preference. Commerce and the Empire, 1914 and After (1917) developed the argument that fiscal freedom was an essential part of the political freedom for which the Empire claimed to be fighting. Though more readable than the earlier book it was much more polemical, the product of long experience becoming clouded by the petulance of an aged, and increasingly derided, prophet.

Pulsford was out of step with prevailing attitudes to Asian immigration. Though not absolutely opposed to restrictions as such, he was, from the time Sir Henry Parkes instituted his prohibitive poll-tax on Chinese in 1888, a strong critic of the 'brutal disregard for the susceptibilities of other nations' which he detected behind such measures. He entered formal objections in the Legislative Council protest book over the passage of restrictive bills in 1896 and 1898 and was one of the few members of the Federal parliament to vote against the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. As late as 1905 he was still attempting to swim against the tide in his pamphlet supporting Japanese protests about the administration of the White Australia policy.

Pulsford was married twice: on 23 February 1870 at Hull to Mary Charlotte Stainforth, and on 2 March 1919, in Sydney to Blanche Elspeth Brown. He died suddenly on 29 September 1919 at his home at Chatswood and was buried with Anglican rites at Gore Hill cemetery. His wife and three sons of his first marriage survived him. A keen cricketer in his youth and in later years a devotee of chess, Pulsford is most notable as one of the last survivors in Australia of the spirit of nineteenth-century liberalism.

Select Bibliography

  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 16 June 1894
  • Town and Country Journal, 14 Sept 1895
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Sept 1919
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1919
  • Henry Parkes correspondence (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

W. G. McMinn, 'Pulsford, Edward (1844–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Pulsford (1844-1919), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Edward Pulsford (1844-1919), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23355857

Life Summary [details]


29 September, 1844
Burslem, Staffordshire, England


29 September, 1919 (aged 75)
Chatswood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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